Ray Ozzie took the stage of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professionals conference earlier today and made some interesting comments on Microsoft's open-source ambitions. He says all the right things, but leaves a bit too much unsaid:
My position toward open source generally is that it's a part of the environment. It's very useful for developers to be able to get the source code to certain things, to modify them. Microsoft fundamentally, as a whole, has changed dramatically as a result of open-source as people have been using it more and more....
Open source is a reality....We tactically or strategically...will take certain aspects of what we do and we will open-source them where we believe there is a real benefit to the community and to the nature of the growth of that technology in open-sourcing it....The bottom line is we believe very much in the quality of Microsoft products and we are an (intellectual-property) based business. But we live in a world together with open source, and we have to make it possible for you to build solutions, or customers to build solutions, that incorporate aspects of that.
Indeed you do, Mr. Ozzie. The secret will be fixing your "downstream" issues. This may mean that you go back to licensing software, and stop fetishizing the underlying patents. No one besides Microsoft is doing this vis-a-vis open source.
If you believe that open source is just another element of your ecosystem (which I've been hearing for the past five years from your various representatives), then start treating it as such. The first words out of your mouth shouldn't be a request that would-be partners pay money to buy an inoculation to your own software patents.