Sunday, December 31, 2006

My take on Microsoft/Linux patent issues

Since the Novell/Microsoft deal, more of us worry about Microsoft legal attacks on Linux using some of their (unnamed) patents. This is troublesome to me for at least two reasons: Linux and other open source software allow me to build systems for customers at a lower cost point (good for my business), and I enjoy developing on a Linux box for Linux deployments.

For Linux on the desktop, I believe (but I am not a lawyer) that as long as I (and other Linux users) typically buy a commodity PC with Windows and then install dual boot Linux, then how could I possibly be infringing on Microsoft patents: I have a paid up license for Windows on the same PC that I am running Linux on. The situation for server side Linux is less clear, but server side Windows is much less important to Microsoft's cash flow than the desktop.

Accurate predictions are difficult, but I would not be surprised if through corruption of politicians some countries put up legal roadblocks to using free (as in GPL) and other open source software. Long term, I believe that these countries will be at a competitive disadvantage over other countries where businesses of all sizes and individuals can continue to lower IT costs while benefiting from collective software development.

It is really simple: diversity of commercial and open source software, with fair competition is good for business. As a reluctant Microsoft customer, I would ask Microsoft to publicize which of their patents that they think Linux violates - provide real details. Of course they will not do this because I believe that their strategy is to threaten but to not take action. Computer professionals can push back against Microsoft by favoring companies like IBM that take a more fair and balanced approach to commercial and open source software. We can all help by making small contributions to organizations like FSF and the EFF.

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