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Microsoft: still a business of threats?
By: Scott Bradner
The obvious thought came to me while writing last week's column (SCO Group: Its future is all used up - http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2008/072208bradner.html) that about the only folk (other than the deluded and amoral management of the SCO Group) that want the SCO Group effort attacking Linux, and other open source initiatives, to succeed is Microsoft. So I decided to explore that side in this follow up column, but a bit of reading led me to the conclusion that things are not as simple as they appear.
For years Microsoft has been claiming that Linux has been stealing Microsoft intellectual property rights (IPR, i.e., patented technology). with the obvious, and sometimes stated, intent of making company folks making purchasing decisions decide that Microsoft technology was the legally safe way to go since there might be lawsuits in the wings. This Microsoft effort has seemingly attempted to exceed the effort by The SCO Group in the sleazy department. Microsoft claimed that the Linux development community was knowingly stealing Microsoft IPR and broadly implied that Microsoft might come after Linux users some day. While at the same time and not saying what the technology was so that the Linux community could stop "violating" Microsoft's rights. (See Microsoft: Delaying product, spewing FUD - http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2006/040306bradner.html)
While researching for this column I belatedly figured out that a year and a half ago Microsoft took what appears to be another tack. They released the "Microsoft Open Specification Promise."
(http://www.microsoft.com/interop/osp/default.mspx). This irrevocable promise says that anyone can "make, use, sell, offer for sale, import, or distribute" any software that implements any of a long list of specifications that might infringe on Microsoft IPR and Microsoft will not sue them unless the maker sues Microsoft first over Microsoft implementing the same specification. No licenses are needed -- just donŐt sue them. (Of course, there are more details - see the promise.) And, more recently, Microsoft announced that it was supporting the Apache Software Foundation (See http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/072508-microsoft-apache.html)
The list includes about 135 RFCs, 6 IETF Internet Drafts and over 120 non-IETF specifications -- a good-sized list. The aim, according to Microsoft is "to reassure a broad audience of developers and customers that the specification(s) could be used for free, easily, now and forever." Good stuff! (as far as it goes)
I am puzzled by some of the specifications on the list which predate Microsoft's interest in the Internet by quite a bit, in fact predate any US patents listed on the US Patent office web site as being assigned to Microsoft so I do not know how Microsoft could have IPR that applies to them. Also, the list, while large, is not universal.
I've not seen an announcement from Microsoft that they were no longer going to threaten Linux users with patent problems - they were doing that a year after the Open Specification Promise was published - (See Microsoft: Invisible patents as a uniform http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/052107bradner.html) so they do not seem to have changed stripes entirely. I've not seen an overt threat from Microsoft in a while but it would be nice if they would simply get out of the threat business where they refuse to say what a threat is based on.
disclaimer: I've not seen Harvard running a threat-based business nor seen any opinion from the university about those that do so the above mixed response if from me.