While denying that it is against open-source software, Microsoft has adopted a more subtle line of attack by criticising the general public licence which covers it.
Microsoft is depicting the licensing scheme, which covers some open-source software including the Linux kernel, as a potential minefield that could impose oppressive restrictions on those who develop applications using open-source components.
Microsoft shared-source product manager Jason Matusow, on a visit to Auckland last week, acknowledged that Microsoft faces competitive pressure from Linux, and has responded with the shared-source program. The program, which has been running in the US since January, allows Microsoft's biggest customers to view and debug Windows code. However, he said the company doesn't believe open source is commercially viable because of the GNU GPL (general public licence).
Matusow warned that anyone considering using or developing open-source software should take a hard look at the GPL and consult their lawyer.
But David Lane, a Linux systems integrator and the organiser of an open letter to the New Zealand Government asking it to favour open-source software, disagreed with Matusow's interpretation of the GPL.
"You're allowed to charge for the software but you have to keep the source code open."
Lane pointed out that the preamble to the GPL states, "When we speak of free software we are referring to freedom, not price. Our general public licences are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software - and charge for this service if you wish."
Lane says that's how he makes a living from his Christchurch-based business, Egressive. "The actual software itself, as Microsoft loves to tell you, is a fraction of the total cost of ownership. The vast majority of my income comes from integrating software and selling solutions. I sell hardware combined with software, configured to meet the client's needs.
"In some cases I write software using open source. I can charge for that and I can even charge quite a lot, but it still comes in way lower than what integrators who use Windows charge because my clients don't have to pay for the Windows licences.
"Microsoft is trying to take advantage of the naivety of general business software users."