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06.19.09

MSNBC Manipulated Story to Hide Microsoft’s Extensive Use of Free Software

Posted in BSD, Deception, Free/Libre Software, Mail, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 5:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: An interesting real-world example of Microsoft’s influence on the press

Microsoft’s use of Free software is a subject that we covered many times before, e.g. in [1, 2, 3, 4]. Hotmail, for example, was running BSD long after Microsoft had acquired it, but how far did a dishonest Microsoft go to deny it? Well, Slated has picked up some old links which nicely fit and explain a newer incident.

The first link he picked is this one where Microsoft admits being a BSD user.

Despite the company’s bitter campaign against open source software, Microsoft continues to use FreeBSD to power important functions of its Hotmail free e-mail service. Much to the chagrin of the folks at Redmond, FreeBSD and Apache continued to run Hotmail for several years after it was purchased in 1997. Microsoft publicly claimed to have removed all traces of FreeBSD last summer, and even published a case study documenting its experiences. Microsoft told BetaNews that solutions such as FreeBSD are in use throughout its IT infrastructure. A spokesperson also clarified the the software giant’s position on OSS technologies, and views on GPL licensing.

Microsoft maintains however, that it is migrating to its own proprietary software and any delays are meant to ensure a positive experience for its customers.

Contrary to recent claims, the popular Hotmail service does not run entirely on the Windows 2000 platform. First reported by the Wall Street Journal, FreeBSD developer Trevor Johnson determined that Microsoft was still using the open source operating system for DNS hosting and also for tracking advertisements. It has also been reported that FreeBSD software components are utilized in Microsoft products, such as Windows 2000. BSD’s TCP/IP stack, a vital communication protocol, is rumored to have been used in several Windows operating systems, enabling users to connect to the Internet.

Slated does not stop there. “The original WSJ article,” he points out, “has mysteriously disappeared, but fragments remain elsewhere.”

Wall St. Journal: Microsoft Uses Open-Source Code Despite Denying Use of Such Software

Lee Gomes, the reporter who wrote the friendly (and curiously MSNBC-edited) piece last week about “Microsoft’s Uphill Battle Against Linux” is back this week with an amplification on Microsoft’s use of open source software:

“Microsoft Corp., even while mounting a new campaign against open-source software, has quietly been using such free computer code in several major products, as well as on key portions of a popular Web site — despite denying last week that it did so.

Software connected with the FreeBSD open-source operating system is used in several places deep inside several versions of Microsoft’s Windows software, such as in the “TCP/IP” section that arranges all connections to the Internet. The company also uses FreeBSD on numerous “server” computers that manage major functions at its Hotmail free e-mail service, whose registered users exceed 100 million and make it one of the Web’s busiest sites.

Microsoft acknowledged its repeated use of open-source code Friday, in response to questions about the matter. Just two days earlier, it had specifically denied the existence of any such software at Hotmail.”

Also from LinuxToday (as per yesterday):

Why is the NY Times so Dumb About Linux and Windows?

The New York Times seems hard-wired to rarely identify any Windows malware as Windows malware, but rather as “computer malware.” They seem to share this illness with other people too, such as researchers and professors. Can it be that all these educated people who make their livings knowing things and uncovering new knowledge really don’t know that there are other computer operating systems besides Microsoft Windows?

Their latest failure at making this distinction is China Orders Patches to Planned Web Filter, and they also missed the real story: since this censoring software is required to be installed on all computers sold in China, does that mean that Mac, Linux, and Unix computers are banned? Because it’s a Windows program.

Microsoft and the New York Times are very close. Steve Ballmer publishes articles in there sometimes. A year ago we wrote about the New York Times promoting Silverlight and this was hardly surprising given the strong relationship between those two. Just months ago there was a rumour that Microsoft would buy the debt-saddled New York Times.

So, what Carla points out above is that the New York Times, which enjoys a wide daily distribution, consistently defends Microsoft through omission of critical details. The BBC too perpetuates the belief that computers and Windows are synonymous. We previously explained why the BBC and NBC cannot ever be trusted on Microsoft and Novell matters and returning to Slated’s links, he also shows that “The MSNBC even tried to censor the story [about Hotmail running on Free software].”

MSNBC has been caught doctoring copy originating from the Wall Street Journal to make it more favourable to the news channel’s co-owner Microsoft. The changes introduced by MSNBC also had the effect of removing references to Microsoft competitors.

Amongst many fairly harmless edits, designed to improve readability, were some more ominous changes.

The original WSJ report gave a harsh analysis of Microsoft’ offensive against open source software and the GNU General Public License, initiated six weeks ago by Craig Mundie. The WSJ cited Microsoft’s own dependence on open source software, and cited lawyers who were critical of its interpretation of the General Public License.

“Microsoft said that since last summer, Hotmail has been running on both Windows 2000 and the Solaris operating system from Sun Microsystems Inc.,” noted the original copy from the WSJ.

MSNBC amended this to:-

“Microsoft said Hotmail has been running on Windows since last summer.”

By Friday, the original version of the story that appeared in the WSJ had been restored to MSNBC.

“Here’s the best rebuttal I could find,” writes Slated, “although the author still does not actually deny that Microsoft benefited from “freeloading” the BSD code.”

I worked at Microsoft for ten years, most of it on the core Windows NT/2000 (hereafter referred to as NT) networking code. As such I briefly dealt with the Hotmail team, mostly to hear them complain about the lameness of the telnet daemon in NT (a valid point). I do know that when Microsoft bought Hotmail, the email system was entirely running on FreeBSD, and Microsoft immediately set about trying to migrate it to NT, and it took many years to do so. Now it seems that the transition is not complete. Well, what are you gonna do.

[...]

Now, some of Spider’s code (possibly all of it) was based on the TCP/IP stack in the BSD flavors of Unix. These are open source, but distributed under the BSD license, not the GPL that Linux is released under. Whereas the GPL states that any software derived from GPL’ed software must also be released under the GPL, the BSD license basically says, “here’s the source, you can do whatever you want, just give credit to the original author.”

Eventually the new, from scratch TCP/IP stack was done and shipped with NT 3.5 (the second version, despite the number) in late 1994. The same stack was also included with Windows 95.

However, it looks like some of those Unix utilities were never rewritten. If you look at the executables, you can still see the copyright notice from the regents of the University of California (BSD is short for Berkeley Software Distrubution, Berkeley being a branch of the University of California, for some reason referred to as “Berkeley” on the East Coast and “California” on the West Coast…and “Berkeley” is one of those words that starts to look real funny if you stare at it too long – but I digress).

Keep in mind there is no reason to rewrite that code. If your ftp client works fine (no comments from the peanut gallery!) then why change it? Microsoft has other fish to fry. And the software was licensed perfectly legally, since the inclusion of the copyright notice satisfied the BSD license.

To conclude, Slated writes:

Did Microsoft satisfy the BSD license?

Yes.

Are they “freetards”, according to [some] definition?

Yes.

Microsoft and their anti-Freedom supporters are a bunch of hypocrites. Or, to use the words of the above author, it’s “like the event horizon calling the kettle black”.

So when can we expect Microsoft (or even Spider Systems Ltd.) to compensate The Regents of the University of California for “all their hard work”?

It sure changes one’s perspective.

Steve Ballmer as penguin

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5 Comments

  1. aeshna23 said,

    June 19, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Gravatar

    This story squashed any remaining doubts that I had about the GPL being superior to BSD. FreeBSD has helped out Microsoft and Apple far too much.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    How timely (from today’s news): Microsoft lands deal with NBC for ad-campaign tool

    I’m starting to suspect that this whole “NBC” thing is not exactly impartial.

  2. Yuhong Bao said,

    June 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Gravatar

    “However, it looks like some of those Unix utilities were never rewritten. If you look at the executables, you can still see the copyright notice from the regents of the University of California”
    And the only reason why that copyright notice was even included is that the 4-clause BSD license required it. If the code was licensed under the 3-clause BSD license, MS could strip it making this harder to detect.

  3. anon said,

    June 22, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Gravatar

    According to the Wiki MSNBC is a joint venture :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSNBC

  4. anon said,

    June 22, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Gravatar

    MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC and MS per the wiki (or at least was)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSNBC

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