Can Open Source Trust Microsoft?

Opinion: Or, can a sheep trust a lion? I don't think so.

Microsoft is making friendly noises at the open-source community. Yes, Microsoft.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft was a platinum sponsor for the Open Source Business Conference.

Then, last week, Microsofts general counsel—the companys top lawyer—Brad Smith called for bridge building between Microsoft and the open-source community.

Specifically, Smith said, "Were going to have to figure out how we can bring the various parts of our industry closer together. Not necessarily in the sense of changing the way software is developed, but building bridges so that we all have the ability to collaborate with each other. And that will mean we will need some new rotations, I think, in how we work together, in how we license, in how we share technology or intellectual property rights with each other."

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts plan to reach out to the open-source community.

So do you want to meet Mr. Smith on his bridge?

I dont.

Its not that I think Microsoft is just playing a public relations game here. Were that the case, Id have expected Gates or Ballmer to make this announcement. When a general counsel says something, it usually means that a company is completely in earnest.

So, I do think that Microsoft is seriously trying to reach out to the open-source community … and strangle it.

Consider, if you will, the fate of the partnership of IBM and Microsoft that was to create a next-generation operating system called OS/2 or Stac Electronics, which had to sue Microsoft into paying for its disk compression software.

More recently, Microsoft had to pay InterTrust $440 million to settle matters related to Microsofts misuse of InterTrusts DRM (digital rights management) patents.

The list goes on and on. Heck, theres even a word for being screwed over by Microsoft in a business deal: Its "Microsofted."

It doesnt end there. Microsoft also has a long history of taking open standards and then twisting them in ways so that Microsoft benefits. The classic example is Kerberos, a popular open-standard network authentication protocol, which Microsoft made incompatible with other versions of Kerberos by adding proprietary extensions to it.

What it all comes down to is that Microsoft intends to dominate every market that it contacts. To do that, it first embraces, then changes and incorporates every technology it can.

If it can do that with open source it will.

Yes, it would be great if you could trust Microsoft. It would be wonderful if Microsoft would even do as little as open up Microsoft Words and Windows Medias formats. Or, heck, just make its protocol licensing GPL-compatible.

They wont. Or, if the boys from Redmond do, theyll immediately replace these once proprietary formats with something new that is proprietary.

No, when you look at Microsofts track record, when you look at its business plan, which is based firmly on proprietary software licenses, theres simply no way that Microsoft intends on building any bridges with open-source software that wont be one way: Microsofts way. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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