Strong opinions, weakly held

Stephen O’Grady on Microsoft’s patent assertions

Check out Stephen O’Grady’s FAQ on the Fortune article I linked to earlier on Microsoft’s declaration of war on open source software. He provides a lot of supplemental information that’s worth taking in.

I agree with this bit completely:

Q: How does the picture change over the longer term? A: Microsoft has spent the past few years rehabilitating – at great expense and great effort – a highly negative public image. One that, importantly, did not terribly impact its ability to do business, but one that left the firm with very few defenders and advocates. It was, in many respects, the least loved firm in the industry.

While the Microsoft of the past year or so was certainly not beloved, it had gone some distance to changing the minds of many, persuading even some ardent critics that they’d learned a great deal from their past behaviors and emerged as a more responsible corporate player. Agree or disagree, articles describing the new “kinder, gentler” Microsoft abounded.

And then there was yesterday. Depending on how Microsoft proceeds from the statements made to Fortune, I could see virtually all of that hard won goodwill evaporating overnight. Whether their business is as immune to the negative sentiment as it was in the past remains to be seen, but I know that if I intended to compete with social movements – as Microsoft obviously intends to – I’d be trying to make friends, not enemies.

Certainly that mirrors my feelings on the matter. I once hated Microsoft because I felt like they wanted to destroy the software ecosystem where I made my living. My passion waned because I realized that Microsoft wasn’t going to be able to succeed, not because I thought their goals changed. Today’s news has me worked up all over again.


  1. Microsoft may have made a serious mistake. The Supremes have just ruled that the patent office has not been interpreting the law properly. That too many “obvious” patents have been granted. This is likely to reduce the number of patents that M$ can claim.

    Such a claim is likely to be fought all the way up to the Supremes, who have not yet ruled that software, being a mathematical algorithm, is even patentable at all. The political climate for M$ is not what it once was, and they may very well rue the day that their patent claims were announced.

  2. That’s the most interesting/cynical thing about this. They didn’t make any specific claims. They said that open source software violates a bunch of their patents, but they didn’t say which patents have been infringed upon. They’re trying to drive people to the negotiating table without laying down their cards, and I suspect that Microsoft never wants to get to the stage where they have to substantiate and prove their claims.

  3. Now M$ is pulling back from their patent statement. According to Information Week:

    “Despite its claim to own 42 patents used in the creation of the Linux kernel and hundreds more embedded in other free software programs, Microsoft does not plan to take a page from The SCO Group and sue users of the open source operating system, a senior company official said Monday.

    “We’re not litigating. If we wanted to we would have done so years ago,” said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s VP for intellectual property and licensing, in an interview.

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