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An OSS Friendly Microsoft?

There's been a huge shakeup at Microsoft lately, what with Bill leaving and Stevie B taking even more controls, but this latest was news to me. Microsoft had paid lip service to wanting to embrace open source software (OSS), but like anything coming from the wealthy or politicians I took it with a grain of salt. Actually with their track record I brushed it off entirely. But then I found out they have a $5,000,000 budget for their Open Source Software Lab I took a second look. The head of this seemingly contradictory lab is Sam Ramji. When I was looking through the information on OSCON 2008 I chuckled a little when I saw Microsoft was one of the top sponsors. I assumed it was so they could do what they do so often, destroy their threats and spread misinformation. After learning more about their attempts at reform I almost feel I owe them an apology, but still have an uneasy feeling about it all.

Their website for open source development is Port25. According to the website it is the "home to the open source community at Microsoft. This represents an open conversation dedicated Linux, Windows and open source interoperability." Two questions on that, why the poor grammar (leaving out "to" in "dedicated Linux") and why the italics on open source community and conversation? It makes me think of air quotes or a little "nudge nudge wink wink."

One other area that makes me uneasy is that Microsoft is now supporting Apache financially. Specifically they now pay the salaries of several of the top people at Apache. Does this sound a lot like buying them? Typically I think of the person paying my salary as my boss, or client. Now since they aren't providing services to Microsoft they wouldn't be clients, and it wasn't given as a donation, it's the paying of salaries. So I'm left wondering what the actual terms were, but it sure seems like Microsoft would be the boss. It seems like they're giving them a little treat to gain Apache's trust, which may just lead to them taking Apache code, making some slight modifications, and selling it. We'll just wait and see.

A couple years back Microsoft made the Open Specification Promise, which guaranteed free use without fear of a list of services and specifications. Without fear may be a bit of a stretch, when I use Windows I have fear of viruses, but I digress. It promises "not to assert any Microsoft Necessary Claims against you for making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing or distributing any implementation to the extent it conforms to a Covered Specification." This includes such highly contested formats as .doc, .xls, .ppt, POP3, AppleTalk, HTTP, LDAP, FTP, PXE, USB 2.0, UPnP, and some TCP/IP extensions. Thank goodness I no longer had to worry about being sued for using .doc! Some of those listed I'm fairly certain aren't theirs, such as PXE (which Intel developed) and AppleTalk, which would seem to be Apple's. I'm no lawyer, so maybe I'm missing something here though.

Here's one more fun tidbit:

"Q: Does this OSP apply to all versions of the standard, including future revisions?

A: The Open Specification Promise applies to all existing versions of the specification(s) designated on the public list posted at, unless otherwise noted with respect to a particular specification (see, for example, specific notes related to web services specifications)."

Wait, so if they come out with a new version it's not covered. Even that's not entirely true, as they state "This promise applies to all versions of these specifications existing as of the promise date, October 16, 2006." To confuse things more, "If you file, maintain or voluntarily participate in a patent infringement lawsuit against a Microsoft implementation of such Covered Specification, then this personal promise does not apply with respect to any Covered Implementation of the same Covered Specification made or used by you."

So now let's say developer X uses one of these specifications to develop WidgetY and gets it patented. Then Microsoft steals the code and makes WidgetZ. So developer X files a patent infringement suit against Microsoft, but they have then revoked the Open Specification Promise, and open themselves up to a counter suit of patent infringement. That seem fishy to anyone else?

One parting thought is that they are careful to always say they are committed to OSS, and not FOSS. Some might say "what's the difference?" The word free, in either the beer or speech sense. Open source without freedom to modify it or redistribute it freely is like putting a toy behind glass and not allowing pictures. You see it, but can't enjoy it.

Created: 8-2-08

Further Reading

Sam Ramji Background
OSCON 2008
Open Specification Promise
Microsoft at EclipseCon
Port25 Fighting the Good Fight