From CNN Money:
takes on the free world
Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a
big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants
royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe.
Fortune’s Roger Parloff reports.
By Roger Parloff, Fortune senior editor
May 13 2007: 1:06 PM EDT
software is great, and corporate America loves it. It’s often
high-quality stuff that can be downloaded free off the Internet and
then copied at will. It’s versatile – it can be customized to perform
almost any large-scale computing task – and it’s blessedly
A broad community of developers, from individuals to large companies
like IBM, is constantly working to improve it and introduce new
features. No wonder the business world has embraced it so
enthusiastically: More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are
thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data
But now there’s a shadow hanging over Linux and other free software,
and it’s being cast by Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500). The Redmond
behemoth asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality
is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents. And as a
mature company facing unfavorable market trends and fearsome
competitors like Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft is pulling no
punches: It wants royalties. If the company gets its way, free software
won’t be free anymore….
The Free and Open-Source Software Community (Fosscom) has known for
years this is coming, and is prepared. Microsoft thinks there
are going for big-time FUD,
but it’ll be a big-time dud.
one, the Linux kernel itself is truly open-source. Not only
that, but it is documented where each of the millions of lines of code
came from: who wrote it, and when. Nothing was copied
Furthermore, there are very few things in Linux that can be attacked.
Right now, I am writing this post using entirely open-source
software. The software I am using consists of the kernel,
plus about 1,921 other packages. The kernel itself is safe.
Even if Microsoft can claim that another one, or even 235, or
283, of the other packages violates a patent, in the vast majority of
cases it would be simple to swap one out and put another in its place.
OpenOffice? That was released to the Fosscom by
Sun. Firefox, Thunderbird and NVu, they were released by
Netscape (actually the original source code was released, and has been
refined extensively since then). The GIMP?
Completely home-grown. Those applications are the
ones I use most. Some others, like KFlickr, are just not
important enough for anyone to care.
highly flexible. Take out any one part, and it’ll only be a
matter of days or weeks before someone comes up with a replacement; or
more likely, two replacements. It’s like the
Borg. Fighting it in court would be an endless
series of pointless challenges. For every one victory, you
would create two adversaries. It’ll be good for the legal
community, but bad for everyone else. Lawyers will make a ton
off of this, most people won’t care. A few companies will be
inconvenienced. Some may choose to go the “safe” route for a
while. But the safe route might not turn out to be so safe,
if it turns out that many of Microsoft’s patents are not validated by
Some cases might end up before the Supreme Court. Unless
there are a few more vacancies, and people like Patrick
Volkerding get appointed (which would not be a bad idea)
it’ll take years for anything to get settled.
According to ZDNet,
Microsoft finally has
thrown down the gauntlet and is claiming publicly that free and
open-source software (FOSS) violates 235 Microsoft patents.
That tally comes from a newly published article in Fortune. In that
article, Microsoft licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez wouldn’t talk
specifics. He declined to specify which Microsoft patents are being
violated or how “lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them,”
according to the Fortune article…
…I can’t help but wonder why Microsoft decided to go public with
these claims and figures now. If the Novell-Microsoft technology
partnership was really as solid as Microsoft keeps claiming, why does
Microsoft need to raise questions about open-source software’s
I doubt that the reason Microsoft won’t give specifics has anything to
do with what Gutierrez said. If they were to list the alleged
violations, the alleged violations would be examined by the Fosscom,
and any questionable packages would be altered to either make the
challenge moot, or eliminate it altogether.