Can Microsoft Ever Be Accepted by the Linux Community?: Page 2

Posted September 15, 2009
By

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield


(Page 2 of 3)

A few purists may decry such tactics, but, for the most part, the community is willing to accept the money without changing its attitudes. About the only result of such funding has been to give the Microsoft-haters ammunition and to make the rest of us regard the company as bumbling in its tactics and ignorant of the community it is trying to influence.

What Microsoft has so far failed to understand is that money has only limited currency in the community. Few people involved in FOSS are so otherworldly that they refuse a regular paycheck or will turn down a sponsored flight to a development conference. But, beyond a very basic point, money matters surprisingly little in the community. More than cash, what matters is commitment to the community ideals.

When FOSS is brought into business, it does not mean the end of competition. For all their FOSS orientation, companies like Red Hat and Novell continue to compete with each other, and every now and then, one will make some disparaging comments about the other.

But, underneath this facade of traditional business, FOSS includes a recognition that, some times, cooperation is more effective than competition. Sharing source code is not an entirely idealistic act, but a piece of enlightened self-interest. For instance, in return for giving up some of their proprietary rights to code, FOSS companies can develop products more quickly and hire fewer coders.

Not only that, but by investing now in free code that has no direct connection to their core businesses, companies can often create a market for themselves in the future. For example, Red Hat's business of selling services and support gets a benefit when the company hires developers to make the Linux desktop easier to user.

Changes in attitude

The trouble with Microsoft is that, so far, it shows few consistent signs of understanding that cooperation is part of the mix. While its repeated patent threats and attempts to obtain monopolies fit well into ideas of business competition, they are so extreme that even traditional capitalists might question their ethics.

Before Microsoft can even begin to be trusted by the FOSS community, it needs to dial back its efforts at competitive attacks. It could, for example, support the ODF format for office applications rather than imposing its own OOXML standard -- in fact, it could come out in favor of open standards for software development in general.

In addition, Microsoft could change the way it uses patents. Rather than using patents as a potential threat to Linux, it could reveal the patents that Linux might possibly violate. Then it could either work with developers to stop the violations or, better yet, follow the lead of other corporations by publicly pledging not to use the patents. As things are, Microsoft will not even go so far as to ensure that .NET or Mono, its free software analog, are unencumbered by patents.

Even more importantly, Microsoft needs to show more interest in cooperation. Many of Microsoft's contributions to FOSS are minor, and the majority are focused on work that directly benefit Microsoft products. Its CodePlex repository does include a few projects concerned with general programming technologies, but they are overwhelmed by those concerned with Microsoft-specific projects.

Even when Microsoft does make a contribution, it tends to be developed in-house and rarely in interaction with the larger FOSS community. For instance, when Microsoft contributed drivers to the Linux kernel to help it run better in Windows virtualization, it left most of the clean up to other developers until complaints started coming in. Such behavior makes Microsoft look like it has changed from opposing FOSS to attempting to exploit and subvert it.


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Tags: open source, Linux, Microsoft, Linux desktop


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