Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Open Source 'Census' Lost Its Credibility

"We believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability."

--Steve Ballmer



Yesterday we wrote about the Open Source Census accepting Microsoft's money. We criticised this move for being short-sighted yet typical.

You don't really have to take our own word for it. Just take a look at the Web. Here are some early reactions:

From the CEO of MuleSource;

My guess? I think Microsoft wants access to the results both so it can understand open source but also so it can start to consider legal actions against the most popular products and the companies that develop them.

I'll apologize in advance if the motives are completely altruistic but if the past is any evidence, we should really avoid giving this kind of information to Microsoft with no benefits attached to open source.


Pamela Jones wrote: "Um. They want to figure out who to sue over their stupid patents they allege are being infringed? You think? Learning from history and past Microsoft paid-for studies, I'd also predict that we will see a headline that Novell is winning in adoption rates, thus "proving" that it was right to sell out and sign a patent deal with Microsoft. A secondary finding could be that enterprise use of Linux otherwise is slowing, compared to a healthy Microsoft, I've no doubt. Thanks, Mary Jo, for letting us know Microsoft is funding this "study", so we can ignore the results. I naturally hope no one joins the study, now that Microsoft is sponsoring it."

Unsurprisingly, OStatic takes a gentler stance.

When we first told you about the Open Source Census back in April, there were already a number of sponsors, "with more expected to sign on in the future." Well, today, another sponsor was announced and the name may surprise you -- or maybe not. Microsoft. As expected, some open source supporters are in a twist over the news, while others are waxing philosophical.

ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley thinks that perhaps the move is motivated by Microsoft's desire for greater interoperability with open source systems, and also to gain a "better understanding of where/how open-source software is gaining traction in enterprises in order to better fight it."


There are also some interesting reactions in LinuxToday, such as this one.

This permits MS to find out the truth and to suppress any "bad news". MS will also be able to "talk to" people that are getting started with FOSS.

All we will hear is how Linux/FOSS is struggling and just not getting deployed to any real extent.


Michael Tiemann (of OSI) says:

I do not see how it is valid to call this a census, unless there is a means to compel every single member of the open source community to surrender their information for the sponsors and executors the census. Is Microsoft promising to provide such muscle for OpenLogic? Or is Microsoft unclear on what the term "census" actually means. (I have my own opinions on whether they understand what "open source" means, at least when they use the term publicly.) Either way I don't see this producing a valid result, just more confusion.


This concurs with the opinion of Pamela Jones over at Groklaw. Only days ago we wrote about Forrester's acceptance of Microsoft money for anti-Linux 'studies'.

Last among these reactions is one from Matt Asay.

I think Microsoft just wants to be associated with any good-hearted open-source effort, so that it can appear...good hearted, without actually engaging open source in any deep, meaningful way.


Glyn Moody's assessment, which we cited yesterday, is very similar to this.

To summarise, here is what Microsoft can gain:

  1. Knowledge of who uses which Free software products, potentially for extortion purposes (or 'tax')
  2. Ability to game -- to a greater or lesser extent -- statistics about open source use
  3. Production of FUD studies, which lead to misleading and misinformed press coverage
  4. Dilution of the "Open Source" value and definition
  5. Further confusion and ruining of the reputation of a census
  6. Claims of goodwill and belonging to the open source 'movement' (subversive and self-serving assimilation [1, 2, 3, 4])
  7. Ability to accuse companies of being intolerant towards Microsoft's participation (daemonisation using the "Microsoft hater" label [1, 2])


Surely enough, we'll be seeing Microsoft intrude more such initiatives and infiltrate events under the 'interoperability' guise. It does not usually work out so well at the end. In fact, the CEO of SourceForge recently quit his job, but to be fair, there's no evidence that associates any of this with the FUD Awards controversy.

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