September 15, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Is open source getting to Microsoft?

Microsoft's decision to not enforce patents on Web services standards underscores the growing acceptance of core open-source tenets.

The software giant on Tuesday published the Microsoft Open Specification Promise, a document that says that Microsoft will not sue anyone who creates software based on Web services technology, a set of standardized communication protocols designed by Microsoft and other vendors.

Reaction to the surprise news was favorable, even from some of Microsoft's rivals.

"The best thing about this is the fundamental mind shift at Microsoft. A couple of years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Now it is real. This is really a major change in the way Microsoft deals with the open-source community," said Gerald Beuchelt, a Web services architect working in the Business Alliances Group in Sun Microsystems' chief technologist's office.

Microsoft has never sued anyone for patent infringement related to Web services. But its pledge not to assert the patents alleviates lingering concerns among developers who feared potential legal action if they incorporate Web services into their code, said analysts and software company executives.

Open-source developers, for example, should have fewer worries about writing open-source Web services products. Also, other software companies could create non-Windows products that interoperate with Microsoft code via Web services.

The move reflects how Microsoft has had to come to terms with open-source products and development models.

"This is really a major change in the way Microsoft deals with the open-source community."
--Gerald Beuchelt, Web services architect, Sun

When Linux began to take hold in the late 1990s, company executives seemed shaken by the shared code foundations of the open-source model. CEO Steve Ballmer famously called Linux a "cancer," while founder Bill Gates derided the "Pacman-like" nature of open-source licensing models.

Other Microsoft executives, such as Windows development leader Jim Allchin, have in years past painted open source as "an intellectual property destroyer."

But in the past two years, Microsoft has stepped up its Shared Source program, in which it gives free access to source code under terms similar to those in popular open-source licenses. It has also said it will make Windows-based products work better with those from other vendors, including Linux and other open-source software.

Standards in play
To be sure, Microsoft, which spends more than $6 billion a year on research and development, remains committed to generating proprietary intellectual property. In some cases, that means commercial licensing, rather than opening up access to others.

"In the future, I am sure we will take positions on IP (intellectual property) that will not be so agreeable to various constituencies," wrote Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of standards affairs, in his blog.

In the case of Web services, having a pledge not to assert patents around these protocols--which are the communications foundation of Vista, the next version of Windows due early next year--helps drive adoption of those standards in the marketplace, said analysts and software company executives.

Open-source projects, in particular, have become powerful forces within the industry for establishing standards, both de facto and those sanctioned by standards bodies.

"I expect that more and more vendors will realize that a software standard cannot be successful if the relevant patents are incompatible with open-source licenses and principles," said Cliff Schmidt, vice president of legal affairs at the Apache Software Foundation, which hosts several open-source projects.

Patent pledges of various forms have become more common, he noted. Sun recently said that it would not assert patents relating to the SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) standard and the OpenDocument Format. IBM gave open-source communities access to 500 patents last year.

More to come?
Microsoft's Matusow said that the Open Specification Promise is part of the company's efforts to "think creatively about intellectual property."

For the Open Specification Promise, the company sought input from open-source legal experts, including Red Hat's deputy general counsel Mark Webbink and Lawrence Rosen, an open-source software lawyer at Rosenlaw & Einschlag in Northern California.

Matusow said Microsoft is still a big believer in intellectual property but added that the company has chosen a "spectrum approach" to it, which ranges from traditional IP licensing to more permissive usage terms that mimic open-source practices.

"That is the point of a spectrum approach. Any--and I do mean any--commercial organization today needs to have a sophisticated understanding of intellectual property and the strategies you may employ with it to achieve your business goals," he said.

CONTINUED: Promise could be extended…
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29 comments

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Now we can talk!
When Microsoft begins to create a Unix-based operating system
that will be backward compatible to their programs (Windows-
based like MS Office), then I will support it! But until then...
Posted by benjiernmd (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Check your history
MS wrote the code that's used for the PC versions of Unix. If you think there's something special about Unix, you really don't know anything about OS architecture.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Win32 already POSIX compiant
I'm pretty sure Win32 is already POSIX compiant, including SOCKETS structures. Is that what you mean by "Unix-based OS?"

I've ported a lot of Unix code to Windows in my day. In most cases, it was just a matter of recompiling the Unix code in Windows with minimal adjustments. In fact I had more work to do when porting Unix code from one vendor (Solaris) to another (HP-UX) then to Windows.
Posted by Richard G. (137 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft Rocks
Open Source would sure be a slap in the face to all those who appose Microsoft for just that reason... then what are they going to whine about? It works too well? Apparently, even without open source, I (and 96% of the market) like paying for it anyway.
Posted by zeeboid (92 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is very good
I think that it is good that Microsoft is trying to appeal to other community than just it's standard following.
Posted by hanyou (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
MS & open source
Let me say, it's about time. But also let's not mistake this as generosity on Microsoft's part. They have no choice and they know it. They only way they can stay relevant is to become part of the community.

I'm Guessing
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://imguessingblog.blogspot.com/" target="_newWindow">http://imguessingblog.blogspot.com/</a>
Posted by imguessing (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
doubt it
Microsoft has no interest in joining the "community." If IBM agreed not to sue over use of its web service specifications, then its implementation will be more widespread than Microsoft's. If current and future MS technology is based on the MS specification, then they need to increase usage and compete against IBM. the goal, obviously.. which will be missed by nearly every pro-oss person out here, is to further their implementation of web services.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
.NET ripe for the plucking
Java is open source now completely .NET will always be incompatable until it open sources completely.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mono
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mono-project.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.mono-project.com/</a>

There are more C# applications delivered on a modern Linux Gnome desktop than in Windows XP or even Windows Vista desktop.

- rmjb
Posted by rmjb (28 comments )
Link Flag
I'm not sure that I understand
The .NET framework is OOP based. If there is something that I don't like about the way that it handles something, I can write code to change it without knowing a single line of code within the original class or object.
Posted by MythicalMe (51 comments )
Link Flag
MS being generous?
Well, given the fact that 100% of all software patents are bogus, maybe MS is tired of being on the wrong end of patent litigation and are realizing that every single item in their patent portfolio is uneforceable.

Perhaps not.

Just do not think that MS is starting to be more friendly towards open source. MS has never been friendly to direct competitors. They have spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to stop open source through misinformation campaigns and funding other companies through unfounded lawsuits.

The only way MS will start playing fair is when incompetants like Gates and Balmer leave and people with a clue take over.

Perhaps Balmer and co are realizing how inconsequential Microsoft has become, and are trying to join the 21st century. I would not bet on that though.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
software patents are bogus?
Run that by us again, please?
Posted by fuser197 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Watch your back
I'm still a little too leary about this. This is Microsoft we're talking about, and they have a bad track record about promises. I would still advise the OSS community to set the standards and not use anything Microsoft holds the patent to. It just looks like a really big Trojan Horse to me.
Posted by KevinWPeters (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
OSS people are not stupid
MS can fool ignorant end-users like Arbogast, but can not fool the computer science educated people involved with OSS.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft promise
Oh and we are suppose to believe that they never break a promise.

I would rather stick with Open Source. At least it is protected by Law.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exactly
So they hold a gun to your head but say dont worry we promise that we wont shoot! What the hells wrong with a proper open and free licence enforced by law. They just wont take the finger off the trigger even if it will beef up microsoft profits by gaining more developer support.

Just wait and see what happens when they have a change of heart theres a reason redmond's comprised of 10% software programmers and 40% Managers the remaining 50% are lawyers.

(thats a metaphor for those of you to argumentative to notice!)
Posted by sprogg2001 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Least we forget ...
OpenSourceSoftware and FreeWare are like Dr Who's "Tardis". It's much bigger once you're inside. In fact, the more I look around this OSS world the bigger and bigger it gets. I think Microsoft knows it too. Luckily for them (for the moment) most consumers don't understand OSS, so misstrust it. I don't need to explain how OSS is as good, if not better than most retail software, and once enough people realise that and become comfortable with it people will feel foolish about having payed for it for so long.

In the future we won't be paying for software because there will be 1,000's more people writing it for free, for the same reasons they do it now, and the Internet has been the Catalyst in bringing it to your desktop - no marketing costs, no supply chains. Enjoy.

I've been saying to people lately ... "The big software companies are the only ones more amazed than me that you still pay for software".

One thing you have to say about MicroSoft is they make good decisions. They built their monopoly on them and rightly screwed us for every spare software cent we had. The monopoly is crumbling and I beleive they will market themselves more and more on how they are the good guys and how they are joining the OSS revolution ... the one they couldn't crush.

Least we forget.
Posted by xaKira (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed to a point
I agree, Linux is way better then Windows.

All but Gaming... MS in investing a lot of money
to include some attractive features into next version of Vista.

I am a Apple fan boy my self, but one can't ignore that... Linux on the other hand is doing that too in many places, but right now the hottest topic is Games/Gaming, you can't really do that on Linux well, sure some games play and some can serve, but not as well as Windows does it now.

Linux needs to match this atelast to have a chance competing.

Anyways, I love Linux and OS X.
Posted by rmiecznik (224 comments )
Link Flag
Disingenuous Thugs: Their IP is Unassertable!
The reason MS is allegedly making nice is because they know their alleged IP is completely unassertable. Not only are their patents and claims largely spurious, they know that the moment they sued anyone, they'd be torn to shreds by hundreds of suits against them all a firestorm of assaults against their alleged IP. MS has been losing IP suits in the past couple of years, you might notice.

Ballmer might as tell the EU that he won't sue the union for using the metric system. "You know, you people, MS has had the metric system included in Excel for close to a decade WITHOUT ONCE ASKING FOR ROYALTIES," he would say before being laughed out of the room.

CNET really needs to look coldly at the claims of this vendor. Follow-up story idea: call 30 intellectual property attorneys and ask them, hey, professor what *would* happen if MS actually tried to assert the IP it claims it is giving away to the world.

Once you have the answer to that - and I think anyone with a heartbeat would know - you can move onto murkier questions, like what are these grinning hyenas up to with this tactic.

Roberto
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's sad really
I agree.

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." A famous quote used by Isaac Newton to explain how his knowledge and discoveries was built on prvevious works.

I believe nearly all work done in the software field is just incremental steps on top of work done before. It has more to do with a natural selection of ideas or code that work better or fills a niche, than it does with real intellegence, and I'm not saying programmers are dumb, it's just the way programming is. That's why the open source environment is so conducive to creating great software. It allows all these ideas (program code) to fly around multiply, mutate, fail, improve, until you have the best result at any given time. The scale of the opensource community means the above procces is running at a very healthy pace. It's why Firefox leaped ahead of IE in usability seemingly out of nowhere and is gaining popularity even though it needs to be downloaded and installed on Windows where'as IE is bundled with Windows and can't be uninstalled.

The article states:-
"To be sure, Microsoft, which spends more than $6 billion a year on research and development, remains committed to generating proprietary intellectual property."
That's a hell of a lot of "alleged" IP! I wish they would use some of it in their software. :-)

May I suggest Microsofts' IP standards are something like this:-
CompanyX comes up with the idea that 1+1+2=4. Microsoft comes up with the idea that 2+2=4. Then claim it as IP and probably buy out CompanyX anyway because they found a solution to 4 before they did.

I'll leave you with another quote:-
"It all make perfect sense, expressed in dollars and pence"

Ciao ...
Posted by xaKira (4 comments )
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