Has Microsoft Lost Its War on Open Source?

Why Microsoft may remain conflicted about open source

Even if Microsoft's intentions toward open source -- particularly those of Ramji's organization -- are good, several factors will limit the company's ability to act on those intentions. For example, Ramji's hands are tied as to what he can do to promote open source and free up Microsoft's licensing restrictions because not all of the company is totally on board with his efforts.

And because Microsoft's revenue relies on proprietary software, supporting open source -- although necessary in some respects -- is fundamentally a paradox for the company, says Eric Raymond, an Internet developer and open source advocate who co-founded the Open Source Initiative.

Raymond says Microsoft will have a hard time reversing some of its proprietary strategies now, because much of its revenue is based on products like Windows and Office that are a de facto standard in the market and can be controlled only because they are closed source. Raymond says this sort of business model limits anyone, even Ramji and his organization, who is trying to change Microsoft's attitude toward open source. "He can be open only where it doesn't affect Microsoft's control of the customer base, and he can't be open anywhere that it might," Raymond notes.

For its part, Microsoft seems to think it can continue to balance its interest in protecting its intellectual property -- which the company sees as the key to innovation both for closed source and open source companies -- with its newfound interest in coexisting peacefully with open source competitors.

"Microsoft respects and appreciates the great contribution that open source developers make in our industry. ... However, partnership with all software companies, including those commercializing open source technologies, must be built on mutual respect for IP [intellectual property] rights," Ramji says. "All industry players must play by the same rules. Companies who distribute open source software also litigate to protect their IP, when they believe it is necessary to do so."

Even if Microsoft can no longer dislodge open source, it can still conduct skirmishes when its interests are threatened. But the open source community is now strong enough to fight back.

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