Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is Microsoft preparing to challenge Open Source?

I think MS is prepared to try any number of things to stay on top of the game. Could it be, that one of the things they are doing, is trying to position themselves to challenge Open Source Software by attempting to redefine what Open Source means? Consider this from the Linux Journal:

Is Microsoft Hijacking Open Source?

[...] What really worries me is what looks like an emerging pattern in Microsoft's behaviour. The EU agreement is perhaps the first fruit of this, but I predict it will not be the last. What is happening is that Microsoft is effectively being allowed to define the meaning of “open source” as it wishes, not as everyone else understands the term. For example, in the pledge quoted above, an open source project is “not commercially distributed by its participants” - and this is a distinction also made by Kroes and her FAQ.

In this context, the recent approval of two Microsoft licences as officially “open source” is only going to make things worse. Although I felt this was the right decision – to have ad hoc rules just because it's Microsoft would damage the open source process - I also believe it's going to prove a problem. After all, it means that Microsoft can rightfully point to its OSI-approved licences as proof that open source and Microsoft no longer stand in opposition to each other. This alone is likely to perplex people who thought they understood what open source meant.

Nor is this the only way in which Microsoft is carefully draining away the original power of openness. As many have pointed out, Microsoft's attempt to have its OOXML document format declared an ISO standard will devalue the whole point of having open standards. Moreover, the way in which Microsoft has gone about this – by encouraging friendly parties to join the ISO voting bodies – has damaged the open standards process well beyond this particular case. As Andy Updegrove points out, we are already seeing the knock-on consequences of this, as real open standards are stuck in a kind of administrative limbo thanks to Microsoft's corporate hacking of the ISO machinery.

What we are seeing here are a series of major assaults on different but related fields – open source, open file formats and open standards. All are directed to one goal: the hijacking of the very concept of openness. [...]

These deals with Linux companies agreeing to buy IP lawsuit protection may somehow later be used to try to establish some sort of precedent... I can't see exactly where it's all going; there are so many parties involved, and much depends on what others do or don't do, not just on what Microsoft does. But it is evident that Microsoft's increasingly active involvement with open source is also giving it power to shape it's growth and direction. It's a situation that needs to be closely watched.

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