David Mandl on Thu, 3 May 2001 12:46:14 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Microsoft Is Set to Be Top Foe of Free Code

The New York Times

May 3, 2001

Microsoft Is Set to Be Top Foe of Free Code


[S]AN FRANCISCO, May 2 - Microsoft is preparing a
broad campaign countering the movement to give away and share software
code, arguing that it potentially undermines the intellectual property
of countries and companies. At the same time, the company is
acknowledging that it is feeling pressure from the freely shared
alternatives to its commercial software.

In a speech defending Microsoft's business model, to be given on
Thursday at the Stern School of Business at New York University, Craig
Mundie, a senior vice president at Microsoft and one of its software
strategists, will argue that the company already follows the best
attributes of the open-source model by sharing the original
programmer's instructions, or source code, more widely than is
generally realized.

The speech is part of an effort by Microsoft to raise questions about
the limits of innovation inherent in the open-source approach and to
suggest that companies adopting the approach are putting their
intellectual property at risk.

Advocates of the open-source movement say that making the code
available permits other developers to tinker with it, find problems
and improve the software. Although the movement has not yet had a
significant effect on sales of Microsoft's Office and Windows products
in the personal computer market, the company wants to enter the
corporate software market, where open source has gained ground.

In his speech, Mr. Mundie will argue that one aspect of the
open-source model, known as the General Public License, or G.P.L., is
a potential trap that undercuts the commercial software business and
mirrors some of the worst practices of dot- com businesses, in which
goods were given away in an effort to attract visitors to Web sites.
G.P.L. requires that any software using source code already covered by
the licensing agreement must become available for free distribution.

"This viral aspect of the G.P.L. poses a threat to the intellectual
property of any organization making use of it," Mr. Mundie said in a
telephone interview this week.

I.B.M. in particular has been heavily marketing the free Linux
operating system.

Mr. Mundie does not identify I.B.M. by name in his speech, which was
provided beforehand, but he says that large companies are na´ve in
adopting the open-source model.

"I would challenge you," he said, "to find a company who is a large
established enterprise, who at the end of the day would throw all of
its intellectual property into the open- source category."

An I.B.M. executive said that his company had considered the issues
surrounding the protection of intellectual property and had decided
that it was possible to follow both a proprietary and a shared
business model, even one based on the G.P.L.

The executive, Irving Wladawsky- Berger, an I.B.M.  vice president,
said, "If we thought this was a trap, we wouldn't be doing it, and as
you know, we have a lot of lawyers."

In February, Jim Allchin, a software designer at Microsoft, became a
lightning rod for industry criticism when he said in an interview with
Bloomberg News that freely distributed software code could stifle
innovation and that legislators should be aware of the threat.

Mr. Mundie said he would elaborate on Mr. Allchin's comments while
also trying to demonstrate that Microsoft already practices many of
what he called the best aspects of the open-source model.

"We have been going around the industry talking to people," Mr. Mundie
said, "and have been startled to find that people aren't very
sophisticated about the implications of what open source means." He
acknowledged that the open-source movement was making inroads.

"The news here is that Microsoft is engaging in a serious way in this
discussion," he said. "The open- source movement has continued to
gather momentum in a P.R. sense and a product sense."

He said Microsoft was particularly concerned about the inroads that
the open-source idea was making in other countries.

"It's happening very, very broadly in a way that is troubling to us,"
he said. "I could highlight a dozen countries around the world who
have open-source initiatives."

Mr. Mundie said that in his speech, he would break the open-source
strategy into five categories: community, standards, business model,
investment and licensing model. Microsoft, he said, in support of the
community ideal, already has what he called a shared-source
philosophy, which makes its source code available to hardware makers,
software developers, scientists, researchers and government agencies.

Microsoft would expand its sharing initiatives, he said. But he added
that the company's proprietary business model was a more effective way
to support industry standards than the open-source approach, which he
said could lead to a "forking" of the software base resulting in the
development of multiple incompatible versions of standard programs.

He cited the history of Unix, which has been replete with incompatible
versions. Although he acknowledged that the open-source approach had
created new technologies, he said that business models using the open-
source community were suspect.

"It is innovation that really drives growth," Mr.  Mundie said,
arguing that without the sustained investment made possible by
commercial software, real innovation would not be possible.

He reserved his harshest criticism in the text of his speech for the
G.P.L., a software licensing model defined by programmer Richard
M. Stallman in 1984.

"This is not understood by many sophisticated people," Mr. Mundie
said. "The goal of the G.P.L. is sweeping up all of the intellectual
property that has been contributed. That creates many problems
downstream, many of which haven't come home to roost yet."

Mr. Stallman has made a distinction between the open-source software
movement and the G.P.L., which he designed as part of the free
software movement that he led.

In a response to Microsoft's Mr. Allchin in February, Mr. Stallman
wrote:"The free software movement was founded in 1984, but its
inspiration comes from the ideals of 1776: freedom, community and
voluntary cooperation. This is what leads to free enterprise, to free
speech, and to free software."

Today a proponent of the open-source software movement said he thought
that Microsoft was taking a clever approach in its challenge.

"It's very clever of them," said Eric Raymond, president of the Open
Source Initiative. "Instead of attacking the entire open-source
movement they've singled out the one license that is in a sense
politically controversial."

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