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Microsoft and Linux


© December 2007 Anthony Lawrence

We've all heard Microsoft's sabre rattling about copyright and patent violations. For the most part, I haven't changed my mind about any of this: it worries me a little, but on the other hand there's just too much momentum behind Linux. It's possible that Microsoft could damage commercial Linux, but they risk a backlash that they really can't afford right now.

There's also the general confusion of the provenance of any code, including Microsoft's own. We know that Microsoft has dipped heavily into the BSD code well, but who knows what else they might have lifted over the years? This is a very big company with a lot of employees; it would be very unlikely if there was no code whatsoever of impure origin.

It's unfortunate that Microsoft won the FAT patent issue, but the fact that they did meet resistance and haven't done more might indicate that Linus Torvald's assessment on the "prior art" issues is dead on.

For these reasons, I think Microsoft has to be very careful about any real legal movements agains Linux on patent grounds. Also, many of us have thought that Microsoft does more damage to Linux by threatening these suits than it could do by actually bringing them: if their arguments are as weak as we think they are, the FUD from threats is better for them than risking losing in court. Once they lose, they have to shut up forever, but threatening can go on for decades, and can certainly cause potential customers to hesitate.

However, this recent Information Week post by John Foley does wrinkle my eyes a bit: Microsoft Tight-Lipped On Unix Ownership Question. Apparently Foley wanted an interview to find out just how much Unix Microsoft owns. They have refused that interview.

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What bothers me is the refusal. We know Microsoft retained rights to code; anybody who ever watched the copyrights on a SCO box knows that. Most of us assumed it was the old junk that SCO used in its "Advanced File and Print Server" product, but who knows - there could be much more. But surely it can't be important? This is old, old stuff, and Microsoft didn't write most of it anyway: they licensed it from AT&T and borrowed more from BSD. How can it have any value today?

But if it's not important, why is Microsoft folding its arms and closing its mouth? Obviously they've "lawyered up" - there is some reason that they don't want anyone shooting off their mouths. And it has to be pretty serious too, because otherwise they'd prep the people they were sending out and say "Just don't mention xyz, ok?".

Microsoft is in trouble. Vista is a flop; Mac is chipping away at the power user base (I see more and more Windows tech folk carrying Macs) and low end Linux PC's are starting to bite their toes. They aren't doing as well overseas as they'd like, particularly in the more socialistic countries. Yes, yes, they are still Number One without question, but there is real danger of slipping and they know it. Our question is, what are they going to do about it?

Could this reluctance to talk about Unix be a clue to internal plans? Could be..


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Thu Dec 13 18:41:49 2007: 3328   anonymous


"What are they going to do about it?"

Say they've got something better than anyone else in the pipeline and hope everyone believes them?



Thu Dec 13 19:17:00 2007: 3329   TonyLawrence

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No, I think they are going to be a bit nastier than that..

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