MS: Beware the open-source model

MS: Beware the open-source model

In May, Microsoft used a highly publicised speech by Craig Mundie, its senior vice president of advanced strategies, given at New York University's School of Business, to tout its own philosophy of "shared source" - and attack the open-source model.

Critics argue that Microsoft's vision of sharing is based on strict control similar to a non-disclosure agreement. Most of what came out of the presentation was Microsoft's official disdain for the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), the legal agreement under which hundreds of open-source pieces of software are distributed. As well, Mundie detailed what he considers the potential pitfalls of freely distributed code: incompatibility, its threat to intellectual property and an all-round bad business model.

Mundie compares the open-source movement to the recently burst dotcom bubble. Companies that attempt to make money from open-source software are giving away their most valuable asset and hoping to profit from ancillary revenue streams - a business model that the recent economic downturn has exposed as unsustainable, he says.

It is not the first time Microsoft has lashed out against open source, a movement that grew out of the 1980s development community and in which code is shared freely and developers collaborate for the greater good of debugging and improving software. Microsoft executives have long been critical of the Linux operating system, a popular open-source software initiative, but Mundie's speech delivered one of the most pointed attacks yet, attempting to deconstruct many of the fundamental aspects that have often been credited for open source's progress.

None of this rhetoric is new for Microsoft, agrees Chris Le Tocq, principal analyst with Guernsey Research. "I don't think anyone could describe any of this as shocking."

Microsoft is rolling out its public relations armada when it comes to open source, he suggests.

"This is really a PR campaign to try to persuade developers and customers not to move in the open-source direction," he says. "Microsoft is feeling threatened by the open-source movement and has customers and enterprises that are looking to take advantage of code sharing."

Microsoft is co-opting the catch phrases of the open-source movement for its own purposes, Le Tocq adds. The company has been touting its adoption of XML and referring to it as "an open language", without plainly stating that its own XML work is proprietary, he says.

"They cleverly associate the word ‘open' with XML. What they don't mention is that to see the XML file definitions for Microsoft Word, you have to sign a file licence that says you will never use the code."

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