Update: Microsoft to expand 'shared-source' initatives

ITworld.com |  Operating Systems

In the past, Microsoft hasn't exactly developed a reputation as a staunch defender of interoperability, but Mundie suggested that the company is becoming more interested in playing nicely with rival developers. The prepared text of his speech states that the move toward a pervasive computing environment of disparate devices "will not come about due to any one company's, or even a single group of company's, efforts."

Mundie defended Microsoft's unabashedly for-profit model, and compared the open-source movement to the recently burst dot-com bubble. Companies such as Red Hat Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc. that attempt to make money from open-source software are giving away their most valuable asset and hoping to profit from ancillary revenue streams -- a business model that the recent economic downturn has exposed as unsustainable, Mundie said.

He also spoke about the "tightrope" Microsoft walks as it balances its customers' need for access to its source code against the company's fiscal interest in keeping that code secret. Domestic intellectual property laws and the rigor with which they're enforced play a large role in how Microsoft decides which companies in which countries can participate in its Enterprise Source Licensing Program, Mundie said.

Particular venom was aimed at the GPL, with Mundie warning that it creates a walled garden around the software it covers and cuts it off from future proprietary expansion and distribution. Several other large software companies have tentatively embraced the license -- most notably IBM Corp., which recently earmarked more than US$1 billion for Linux development.

In Thursday's New York Times, IBM Vice President Irving Wladawsky-Berger said the company is comfortable with GPL, and that it has "a lot of lawyers" who green-lighted IBM's open-source plans.

Mundie fired back in his speech, saying that "if you want to develop under GPL, you should make sure you have as many lawyers as IBM. We have a lot of lawyers too, and we have made a decision that the risks associated with developing under that license outweigh the benefits."

An IBM spokeswoman said the company is currently refusing further comment on Mundie's speech.

A representative of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), whose leader created the GPL in 1984, refuted the notion that companies using the GPL are naive about its implications. Contacted after Mundie's speech, FSF Vice President Brad Kuhn, who didn't attend the talk, pointed to Cygnus Solutions, acquired by Red Hat in January 2000 in an all-stock deal then valued at more than $670 million, as an example of a company successfully commercializing software released under the GPL.

"We designed the GPL to defend the freedom of users and programmers" to copy, modify, and redistribute code at will, Kuhn said. "(Microsoft's) aim is to take away those freedoms."

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