Microsoft LOVES open source!?

Microsoft claiming that it loves open source?! What next? Cats and dogs living together?!

Seriously, in a recent Network World interview, Microsoft's General Manager of Interoperability and XML Architecture Jean Paoli said, "We [Microsoft] love open source" and that "We have worked with open source for a long time now."

Really? But what about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer saying "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches" back in 2001? Paoli dodged that one saying that confusing all open-source technology with Linux was "really very early on" and "That was really a long time ago. We understand our mistake."

Actually, Paoli just proved with that statement that Microsoft still doesn't get it. Ballmer was using Linux as the prime example of what he saw as the critical problem of the GPLv2 (GNU General Public License, version 2). Guess what? Linux, the world's most popular open-source program, is still under the GPLv2. A lot of other great open-source software is licensed with it or its updated version, the GPLv3. The bottom line is that a lot of important open-source software is as dangerous (or not) as it ever was to Microsoft's way of doing things.

Though Linus Torvalds himself has said that blind "Microsoft hatred is a disease," open-source supporters should never forget that Microsoft's business models are anti-open source.

Yes, Microsoft is playing more nicely with open source in some ways. But then, they don't have a choice in the matter. As Oracle CEO Larry Ellison pointed out, "Once open source gets good enough, competing with it would be insane."

Ballmer may not be the brightest CEO, but he's not insane. Neither he nor Gates before him were ever crazy. Microsoft has long taken open-source programs and made them its own. For example, Windows' first TCP/IP networking stack came from the open-source BSD Unix family.

There's no doubt that Microsoft behaves better now with open source. When Microsoft recently violated the GPL by ripping off some code, a miracle happened. Microsoft reissued the Windows 7 program containing the open-source code under the proper license.

That's great as far as it goes, but until Microsoft stops squeezing customers like Amazon for Linux patent-licensing fees--patents, which no one outside of Microsoft and paranoid CIOs really thinks applies to Linux--I still won't trust Microsoft.

When it comes to open source, I don't think I'll ever be able to trust Microsoft. Just because business and software development realities have finally made Microsoft behave better and more openly use open-source doesn't mean that they'll ever really support it. Maybe when Ballmer and the current generation of Microsoft's leadership have retired, Microsoft really will 'get' open source, but I can't see it happening before then.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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