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OSS Watch Pretends That Microsoft's Attacks on Free Software Do Not Exist



Summary: Criticism of a new writeup from OSS Watch, which grossly whitewashes some of Microsoft's behaviour and instead focuses on PR gestures and corporate spin

OSS Watch has released a controversial new essay, whose arrival received some lukewarm reviews. It deceives through omission and slant. In their own words:

During our research for this article OSS Watch have been accused, by an OSI board observer and ASF Member, of being “surrogates” for Microsoft, whilst Tony Hey (Corporate Vice President of External Research, Microsoft) privately expressed concern that OSS Watch was “encouraging academics to use the GPL.” Simultaneously, various free software representatives have pointed out how “naive” they believed us to be by even considering the idea that Microsoft may have genuine intentions with respect to engaging with the free and open source community.

[...]

Furthermore, whilst Microsoft may be making concessions to open source and are happy to play with open source when it suits their needs they are also willing to use other methods where it best suits their business. For example, on patents Darren Strange (Head of Open Source Engagement, Microsoft UK) says “Patents drive innovation and they drive openness actually.”


Let us politely remind OSS Watch that Microsoft uses a routine known as "embrace and extend" in order to extinguish -- not advance -- Free/open source software. It's the same as in history and we wrote hundreds of posts filled with evidence to show this. Even Microsoft sometimes admits this. Microsoft is spending a lot of money deceiving people and OSS Watch might be a victim of Microsoft -- not a “surrogate” for Microsoft -- as "an OSI board observer and ASF Member" (it's easy to determine who that is) impolitely put it.

Here is the questionable essay whose provocative title says that Microsoft may end "open hostilities" (increasingly we find hidden hostilities because Microsoft keeps getting caught [1, 2, 3] and then forced to pay the price [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]).

The essay includes the following bit:

Indeed, at least as far as IP is concerned, Darren Strange, Head of Open Source Engagement, Microsoft UK, maintains that the company is right to continue to argue strongly for the value of software patents as part of the innovation process and that companies need the protection of intellectual property rights in order to feel secure in their investment in research and development. He says: 'It is an important area and I think people kind of get it the wrong way around a little bit — patents are a good thing and they help to fuel the industry. Patents drive innovation and they drive openness actually, and they drive an industry where people can then build on those patents in a legal way, everyone mutually respecting the same rules. We need to use patents to drive innovation and we can do that just as well with open source vendors.' He argues that a mutual respect for such rights will allow everyone, including open source developers, to work and flourish together.


Sadly, much of the rest is conveniently using Microsoft and Microsoft reporters (spinners) as a source. The one comment from the 451 Group is not impartial either because 451 Group receives funding from Microsoft for all it seems (there are many sources of revenue), so it has to be nice to Microsoft and convince itself that it's okay. [see comments regarding this omission]

To give examples of ways in which Microsoft continues to attack Free/open source software, see EDGI. Microsoft is increasing its effort on that predatory front [1, 2], it is also trying to sue GNU/Linux using patents [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and less than a year ago it sued TomTom. In several large shops such as Best Buy, Office Depot, and Staples Microsoft also distributed slanderous material about GNU/Linux [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

Addressing again this issue of software patents, let's remember what Microsoft has just done in the EU [1, 2, 3, 4]. Here is April formally complaining about it. From the statement:

[I]n its press release the Commission indicates that Microsoft revised their proposals on the disclosure of interoperability-related information. Microsoft continues to brandish its software patents, which makes their stance on interoperability considerably less convincing.

The documents clearly show that Microsoft excludes the Free Software ecosystem from accessing its formats and protocols. Most of Microsoft's formats and protocols are indeed patented, and licensing agreements rely on so-called "reasonable and non-discriminatory" conditions (RAND). These licenses impose royalties for any commercial distribution, which favours monopolies over SMEs and de facto excludes all Free Software developers.

Document "Annex E - Patent Pledge for Open Source Developers" clearly states that any commercial distribution of Free Software will require the acquisition of a patent license in exchange of royalties. These conditions are incompatible with Free Software licenses: Free licenses do not discriminate commercial from non-commercial uses, and thus enable both volunteer communities and companies to contribute together to Free Software projects. Furthermore, patents on software formats and protocols have no legal basis in the European Union and continue to be a grey area in current USA legislation; therefore they should not be part of interoperability agreements.


Microsoft is still scheming to legalise software patents in Europe, but a lot of Free software proponents choose not to pay attention. OSS Watch seems rather apathetic. May some more information about Apache, for instance, be of use [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18]?

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