Microsoft Puts More Heat on Open Source

Recent remarks by executives add fuel to anti-Microsoft fire in the Linux developer community

Microsoft Corp. is showing no signs of softening its stance on the open-source software movement. In fact, executives with the Redmond, Wash., company have turned up the rhetoric in recent weeks about the Linux operating system and the open-source movement in general. CEO Steve Ballmer began the discussion two weeks ago when he said he considered Linux a threat.

So when Jim Allchin, Microsofts Platforms Group vice president, said last week that open source destroys intellectual property and stifles innovation, message boards all over the Internet were abuzz. For some open-source proponents, Allchins comments were only the latest example of Microsofts ongoing campaign to put a negative spin on a movement that threatens its dominance.

"As youre going through a time of tremendous change, as we are now, the players with a vested interest [in the status quo] are going to detract as much as possible, and thats what were seeing right now," said Allen Shaheen, CEO of ArsDigita Corp., an open-source e-business platform company in Cambridge, Mass.

"People feel Microsoft has a vested interest in maintaining ownership of the desktop, and now theyre working to make inroads in the server world," Shaheen said. "Linux presents a real threat to that because its an alternative to their platform."

Microsoft backpedaled last week, saying Allchins comments were "misunderstood." Allchin declined requests for an interview, but a company spokesman told eWeek that Allchin was primarily concerned about the impact of the GNU GPL (General Public License), a widely used set of open-source software terms and conditions introduced a decade ago by the Free Software Foundation Inc.

Allchins concerns stem from a GPL article that requires any work published under the GPL to be licensed as a whole at no charge to third parties. In other words, Microsoft representatives stated, "anyone who adds or innovates under the GPL agrees to make the resulting code, in its entirety, available for all to use ... [which] might constrain innovating stemming from taxpayer-funded software development."

Allchin, according to Microsoft officials, does not have the same concerns about all open-source approaches. However, to some, the distinction is a moot point born of damage control.

"Theyre just digging themselves into a bigger hole," said Jim Jagielski, executive vice president of the Apache Software Organization and chief technology officer of Zend Technologies Ltd., in Baltimore. "This makes a lot of people in the open-source community angry but also kind of sad. After all this time, Microsoft doesnt get it."

As far as innovation goes, several pointed out that the Internet itself was built using open-source techniques. Others say that it is possible to make money and use the GPL.

"I make my living writing open-source software. The only thing you cant do with open-source software is make monopoly profits," said Jeremy Allison, senior engineer with VA Linux Systems Inc. and co-author of Samba, in Fremont, Calif. "I really dont think [Allchins argument] flies. I can see why they dont like it—because theyre not used to sharing."

Open-source advocates also said they believe Microsoft would benefit if it opened up its source code, saying the result would be better software. However, Microsoft developers said no one in their camp is clamoring to open up the companys source code.

"I dont need to see the source code," said Chris Toomer, technical architect for Interlink Group Inc., in Denver, who added there is risk for developers if the code base is changed. "I dont think some things should be tampered with."