Bonum Certa Men Certa

Microsoft Breaks the Law, Teaches World That 'Evil' GPL is 'Viral'

"This viral aspect of the GPL poses a threat to the intellectual property of any organization making use of it."

--Craig Mundie, Microsoft



Summary: By violating the GPL, Microsoft creates 'ammunition' for FUD it has been spreading publicly for years

IN an insightful new essay, The Source sarcastically argues that "Microsoft embraces the GPL" and here is how:

Here’s the point that I find the most interesting, and that most commentators are not picking up on: this is just another example of Microsoft’s absolute incompentance in the area of Open Source. Which puts the lie to the entire idea of the Microsoft Codeplex Foundation being any sort of “driver” in the Open Source area.

That fact of the matter is that Microsoft lacks the experience, credibility or expertise to be any sort of “driver” in the Open Source space, but the Microsoft Codeplex Foundation is a way for Microsoft to basically buy itself into the driver’s seat. Once there, I expect to see a ton of messaging attempting to shape thought around Open Source in a direction Microsoft finds acceptable.

If you like mirror analogies, it would be like RMS setting up the Proprietary Software Foundation, and him going around saying that he really wants to balance the “needs of proprietary software with the interests of freedom”.


Fortunately, CodePlex has been somewhat of a failure. To quote Ken Coar from the Open Source Initiative:

The CodePlex Foundation (http://codeplex.org/; Twitter @codeplex_f), which was started back in September of this year, has been trying to gain traction and momentum. Unfortunately, its pro tempore Board of Directors and President are all volunteers already with overflowing plates, so progress hasn't been particularly visible.


Last week we saw Microsoft using CodePlex to violate the GPL. We wrote 4 posts that mentioned this incident [1, 2, 3, 4] and now it is all confirmed by Microsoft.

Our systems administrator was the first to point out that "Microsoft Takes Responsibility For GPL Violation". "Nice to see them do the right thing," he argues, "Not like they had much choice though, being caught red-handed."

The original "damage control" comes from Microsoft mole Peter Galli. "Bruce Perens commented on Slashdot," adds our administrator, who says that Perens "makes a good point." To quote him (with an emphasis in red):

I wouldn't want to be the consulting company that provided Microsoft with this code. They're in some deep doo-doo now. Unfortunately, a lot of engineers are so clueless about licensing, as are their managers, that it is really possible that the person who did this didn't know it was a problem.

But this is not anything new for Microsoft. Microsoft started contributing to GCC around 10 years ago, for the former Unix services product. And this really serves their purpose if they are trying to scare people away from the GPL. "Microsoft forced to give up source code."

Where they are really hurting us now is in government policy and patented technology in interoperability facilities. Like the European Interoperability Framework going proprietary, and the MS-patented filesystem in next-generation FLASH devices. Consider stuff like that before you decide they are a "good citizen".


Familiar GPL opponents are already doing exactly that -- they are smearing the GPL using this Microsoft story to create Microsoft sympathy while painting the GPL as "viral" or dangerous. "I have people on the local LUG mailing list railing against the GPL," our administrator explains, "saying it forces companies to open up their code so any smart company will stay far away from it, which is crazy and untrue. But it's an easy FUD to spin. Microsoft could have just rewritten the code themselves or withdrawn software altogether. They didn't have to release the code."

“The bugger is a trap. You put code on there Microsoft uses and you dispute they then pull the project because they cannot distribute it while in dispute.”
      --Oiaohm
Separately, Oiaohm said that "the project Microsoft took code from has basically vaporised from CodePlex. The question is, did [the] maker pull the code or did someone nuke the project?" He also argued: "just got what CodePlex is. The bugger is a trap. You put code on there Microsoft uses and you dispute they then pull the project because they cannot distribute it while in dispute."

SJVN argues that "Microsoft does the right open-source thing," but once again, Microsoft merely obeys a law that it violated, and not for the first time either [1, 2, 3] . There is other coverage from Windows/Microsoft proponents like Gavin Clarke and people at IDG.

Microsoft Friday acknowledged that its Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool does indeed include open source code. To correct the error, the company next week will make the source code and binaries for the tool available under terms of the GPL v2 license.


Many people might say, what could Microsoft do better? Well, not breaking the law to begin with would make sense. The resultant GPL FUD is just unfortunate, if not partly deliberate.

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