[NYT] Microsoft Is Set to Be Top Foe of Free Code

From: Adam Rifkin (Adam@KnowNow.com)
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 13:55:26 PDT


Craig Mundie: "This viral aspect of the G.P.L. poses a threat to the
intellectual property of any organization making use of it." Does someone
want to explain to him that the GPL isn't representative of all open source,
or would that be fruitless?

[Secretly wondering what would happen if one of the thousands of Microsoft
developers included some GPL'd code as part of Whistler or Windows XP...]

<http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/03/technology/03SOFT.html>

Microsoft Is Set to Be Top Foe of Free Code
By JOHN MARKOFF

SAN FRANCISCO, May 2 - Microsoft is preparing a broad campaign countering
the movement to give away and share software code, arguing that it
potentially undermines the intellectual property of countries and companies.
At the same time, the company is acknowledging that it is feeling pressure
from the freely shared alternatives to its commercial software.

In a speech defending Microsoft's business model, to be given on Thursday at
the Stern School of Business at New York University, Craig Mundie, a senior
vice president at Microsoft and one of its software strategists, will argue
that the company already follows the best attributes of the open-source
model by sharing the original programmer's instructions, or source code,
more widely than is generally realized.

The speech is part of an effort by Microsoft to raise questions about the
limits of innovation inherent in the open-source approach and to suggest
that companies adopting the approach are putting their intellectual property
at risk.

Advocates of the open-source movement say that making the code available
permits other developers to tinker with it, find problems and improve the
software. Although the movement has not yet had a significant effect on
sales of Microsoft's Office and Windows products in the personal computer
market, the company wants to enter the corporate software market, where open
source has gained ground.

In his speech, Mr. Mundie will argue that one aspect of the open-source
model, known as the General Public License, or G.P.L., is a potential trap
that undercuts the commercial software business and mirrors some of the
worst practices of dot- com businesses, in which goods were given away in an
effort to attract visitors to Web sites. G.P.L. requires that any software
using source code already covered by the licensing agreement must become
available for free distribution.

"This viral aspect of the G.P.L. poses a threat to the intellectual property
of any organization making use of it," Mr. Mundie said in a telephone
interview this week.

I.B.M. in particular has been heavily marketing the free Linux operating
system.

Mr. Mundie does not identify I.B.M. by name in his speech, which was
provided beforehand, but he says that large companies are na´ve in adopting
the open-source model.

"I would challenge you," he said, "to find a company who is a large
established enterprise, who at the end of the day would throw all of its
intellectual property into the open- source category."

An I.B.M. executive said that his company had considered the issues
surrounding the protection of intellectual property and had decided that it
was possible to follow both a proprietary and a shared business model, even
one based on the G.P.L.

The executive, Irving Wladawsky- Berger, an I.B.M. vice president, said, "If
we thought this was a trap, we wouldn't be doing it, and as you know, we
have a lot of lawyers."

In February, Jim Allchin, a software designer at Microsoft, became a
lightning rod for industry criticism when he said in an interview with
Bloomberg News that freely distributed software code could stifle innovation
and that legislators should be aware of the threat.

Mr. Mundie said he would elaborate on Mr. Allchin's comments while also
trying to demonstrate that Microsoft already practices many of what he
called the best aspects of the open-source model.

"We have been going around the industry talking to people," Mr. Mundie said,
"and have been startled to find that people aren't very sophisticated about
the implications of what open source means." He acknowledged that the
open-source movement was making inroads.

"The news here is that Microsoft is engaging in a serious way in this
discussion," he said. "The open- source movement has continued to gather
momentum in a P.R. sense and a product sense."

He said Microsoft was particularly concerned about the inroads that the
open-source idea was making in other countries.

"It's happening very, very broadly in a way that is troubling to us," he
said. "I could highlight a dozen countries around the world who have
open-source initiatives."

Mr. Mundie said that in his speech, he would break the open-source strategy
into five categories: community, standards, business model, investment and
licensing model. Microsoft, he said, in support of the community ideal,
already has what he called a shared-source philosophy, which makes its
source code available to hardware makers, software developers, scientists,
researchers and government agencies.

Microsoft would expand its sharing initiatives, he said. But he added that
the company's proprietary business model was a more effective way to support
industry standards than the open-source approach, which he said could lead
to a "forking" of the software base resulting in the development of multiple
incompatible versions of standard programs.

He cited the history of Unix, which has been replete with incompatible
versions. Although he acknowledged that the open-source approach had created
new technologies, he said that business models using the open- source
community were suspect.

"It is innovation that really drives growth," Mr. Mundie said, arguing that
without the sustained investment made possible by commercial software, real
innovation would not be possible.

He reserved his harshest criticism in the text of his speech for the G.P.L.,
a software licensing model defined by programmer Richard M. Stallman in
1984.

"This is not understood by many sophisticated people," Mr. Mundie said. "The
goal of the G.P.L. is sweeping up all of the intellectual property that has
been contributed. That creates many problems downstream, many of which
haven't come home to roost yet."

Mr. Stallman has made a distinction between the open-source software
movement and the G.P.L., which he designed as part of the free software
movement that he led.

In a response to Microsoft's Mr. Allchin in February, Mr. Stallman
wrote:"The free software movement was founded in 1984, but its inspiration
comes from the ideals of 1776: freedom, community and voluntary cooperation.
This is what leads to free enterprise, to free speech, and to free
software."

Today a proponent of the open-source software movement said he thought that
Microsoft was taking a clever approach in its challenge.

"It's very clever of them," said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source
Initiative. "Instead of attacking the entire open-source movement they've
singled out the one license that is in a sense politically controversial."

----
Adam@KnowNow.Com

I don't think people realize just how close we came to a Microsoft-dominated Web. If Microsoft, having trounced Netscape, hadn't been surprised by the unexpected strength of Apache, Perl, FreeBSD and Linux, I can easily imagine a squeeze play on Web protocols and standards, which would have allowed Microsoft to dictate terms to the Web developers who are currently inventing the next generation of computer applications. -- Tim O'Reilly, "How the Web was Almost Won", http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/1999/11/16/microsoft_servers/



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