Microsoft vs. Open Source: Military Moves

SCO failed, so now Microsoft has to do the heavy lifting itself to undermine open source software’s legitimacy. Actually, Microsoft prefers to undermine Red Hat’s legitimacy. Or Open-Xchange’s. Or your company’s.

The latest moves by Microsoft, however, give them away. Stripped of their proxies, their moves are now more clearly understood to be essentially military. You are the civilians caught between Microsoft’s lawyers and their quarry.

The details are now trickling out that Microsoft has real numbers — some 235 patents across dozens of open source products — that define the purported assault on its intellectual property. Like SCO, they can’t tell you how you offend. You just need to know that you offend. You should also now know that the remedy to such transgressions shall be levied by Microsoft’s legal minions, and through the laws of your great republic, when and if Microsoft feels like it.

A Medieval Approach

Man, there is something medieval about this. Or perhaps imperial … as in the true-but-damning line from the movie “Gladiator,” “They should know when they are conquered,” spoken by a Roman militarist before a successful rout of Germania’s finest.

Through its deal with Novell, Microsoft can claim to support open source, err … Linux, in theory. However, in reality Redmond’s legal eagles want you to know that if you use any other — though you can’t know which — open source code, you do so at Microsoft’s pleasure.

“My dear enterprise, do please know that you are allowed to use computers and IT at the discretion of a convicted antitrust violator, and only at the discretion of Microsoft’s whim of when and how to charge you for the pleasure of running your business,” they seem to be saying.

Microsoft doesn’t seem to have the stomach for a long legal tussle with the actual vendors and distributors it knows has tread upon it. Rather, it prefers to cut off the oxygen of those violators by quietly threatening the end users. Microsoft expects you, dear enterprises, to flee from those non-Microsoft sanctioned barbarians. However, to protect your Linux investment, almighty Microsoft has a tribute to you — a safe haven in the capable hands of Novell.

Microsoft’s True Stripes

If there was ever a case for open source software, dear readers, this is it.

This is clearly an act of desperation, yet an act from a perceived position of immutable power. Having worked with animals, I can tell you these can be truly dangerous circumstances.

We’re now seeing Microsoft’s true stripes. The performance of the products is a charade, an unfortunate cost of doing business in a once competitive market. The real means to profits and market share are really about legal positioning, but in essence necessitates a military posture. For what are laws and lawyers but a means to avoid violence and warfare in lieu of a day in court? Or even the threat of legal action may suffice.

So, Microsoft wants to make war on its competitors, using you (dear enterprise) as its proxies, but via not violence per se but rather the threat of legal action against you (dear enterprise) while charging you (dear enterprise) to switch to Microsoft’s minions.

Hold the Line

If there was ever a case for open source software, dear readers, this is it.

Microsoft, of course, does not really want to take you, dear enterprise, to court. They would prefer to threaten, posture, evoke concern. Most sensible armies prefer to threaten war, and then make off with the loot sans losing their bullets or blood.

So the gauntlet has been loosed by the warlords of Redmond, those with the velvet glove over the patents cudgel.

I say, hold the line. Boycott the aggressors. Embargo their natural resources. Cut off the supply chains. Disrupt the lines of communication.

If Microsoft wants a shadow war with its customers, what they will more likely get is a re-energized civilian insurgency. We know all too well how effective and difficult to prosecute those can be.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also producesBriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts.

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