If Microsoft really wants to be friends with Linux...

Microsoft has created a new foundation, the CodePlex Foundation which claims to be about bringing open-source and proprietary software companies together to participate side by side in open-source projects. Yeah. Right.

There's a folk tale that goes something like this.  A dog and a rattlesnake meet at the river. The snake says to the dog, "Why don't you carry me on your back to the other side?" The dog says, "Sure, I'd be happy to do that except you'll bite me." And the snake says, "No I won't. I really need to get across to the other side, and I won't bite you." The dog, a foolish sort, believes the snake's promise so he lets the snake on his back and he starts to swim across the river. At the mid-way point, the snake bites him.  "What did you do that for?" exclaimed the dog, as they both begin to die. "What did you expect," replied the snake, "I'm a rattlesnake."

And, Microsoft is Microsoft. The Codex Foundation claims that it "will complement existing open source foundations and organizations, providing a forum in which best practices and shared understanding can be established by a broad group of participants, both software companies and open source communities." I don't believe it for a minute.

Microsoft doesn't mind stealing from open source, but any deals it makes are only good while there's a clear, short-term benefit to Microsoft. The second that changes, or Ballmer decides to have an anti-open-source fit again, the deal is off.

Besides, just like the snake in the story, Microsoft is more than happy to poison open-source software even as it proclaims that it wants to co-operate with open source. Just off the top of my head there's the revelation that Microsoft's ExpertZone training for Best Buy and other retailers is stuffed with anti-Linux lies.

And, then there's Microsoft's patent attacks on open-source using companies like TomTom and its thwarted efforts to sell anti-Linux patents to a patent troll. According to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, "The details are that Microsoft assembled a package of patents 'relating to open source' and put them up for sale to patent trolls. Microsoft thought they were selling them to AST, a group that buys patents, offers licenses to its members, and then resells the patents." What actually happened was that Microsoft ended up selling the patents to the Open Invention Network, a pro-Linux intellectual-property organization.

The irony is that Microsoft is having serious patent troubles of its own with Microsoft Word. You'd think the last thing on earth they'd want to do is help patent trolls, but ... a rattlesnake is a rattlesnake and Microsoft is Microsoft.

If Microsoft really wants to make peace with Linux and compete fairly, they can start by dumping all those vague patent threats against Linux. Microsoft can also stop FUDing about Linux and quietly having its supporters bury anti-Microsoft and pro-Linux stories on Digg and other social networks.

If they did all that ... well frankly I still wouldn't trust them with their current leadership. But, if Ballmer is fired, which isn't a bad idea for reasons having nothing to do with Linux or open source, then maybe I'd believe that this rattlesnake has been milked of its poison. But, for now, only the most foolish of open-source dogs could possibly believe that this snake isn't going to try to kill them.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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