Microsoft’s shared source: Like a gift that cannot be opened

Embrace, extend, extinguish.

These are the words that the US Department of Justice uttered to describe Microsoft’s business ploy of introducing software products within widely-used standards, later extending these products’ capabilities but under proprietary terms, and then promoting these proprietary capabilities to the disadvantage of the competitors.

That is what Microsoft did to Netscape, our favorite web browser before IE came to the picture. Not only that, how many of us were fans of WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 before Microsoft Office dominated the market?

Halloween.doc: As FOSS does much better

In October 1998, on the eve of Halloween, Eric Raymond never thought a Microsoft internal memo leaked to him by a reliable insider source would have preluded 10 more documents detailing why free and open source software did and appealed much better and how the software Goliath should handle the all-rounded fight with the software David. (In Halloween Doc IV, Microsoft likened FOSS developers to Robin Hood.)

Likewise, the Microsoft never thought the Halloween documents would be like gems spilled out on the table up for grabs by anyone. And the Software Robin Hoods could only eventually thank and be grateful to the Software King for that major blunder of the late 90s.

Remember the “Get the Facts Campaign” waged by the Microsoft in 2003? Remember how Redmond published stories (like the media-hyped Forrester Report pinpointing the so-called vulnerabilities of Linux) everywhere claiming that Linux required more invesments (Total Cost of Ownership) and was less reliable, anti-intellectual property, and less secure? With these claims, Microsoft not only denied its products were investment-hungry, unreliable, and unsecure, it also shifted the ‘accusing finger’ to Linux.

This campaign was also leaked via a personal web log entry detailing the author’s experience in one anti-Linux event by Microsoft in Great Britain. The author said:

The overall tone of this event makes it fairly clear as to Microsoft’s anti-Linux strategy.

  1. Claim that linux isn’t free.
  2. Pretend that Shared source is the same as Open Source
  3. Make a big deal about the migration costs of moving to Linux
  4. Use the forrester report to claim that Linux is insecure
  5. Belittle the quality of the toolset available on Linux

Raymond offered a counter-campaign to this paranoid effort by Microsoft. Read his annotation to Halloween Document XI.

Shared source: CodePlex and some ‘open source’ attempts

Microsoft has just sung a different tune. In many public events and interviews, its mouthpieces recognized FOSS as contributing to ICT innovation and developing access to technology. They claimed that FOSS has widened the array of choice for consumers. And, in fact, they foresaw partnerships between Microsoft and FOSS developers in the future.

Before that may come to fruition, Microsoft has already clinched partnership with the Creative Commons (CC) on the integration of a licensing tool as add-in to Microsoft Office. (While I see it as an inroad by the CC, I was not born yesterday. I firmly believe in the integrated fight for open content and FOSS.)

Then there’s an online software development site called CodePlex. It’s Microsoft’s way to dispel a notion that it is against open source software. Go see for yourself; visit the web site. Click on any project under the “Recent Releases” section. Read the project’s description and go directly to the License tab. Make it out and get back to me.

Did you see a sample of the Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL)? I thought Ms-PL is the type of Microsoft license closely identified with open source. I was wrong. Why, Microsoft still reserves the right of patent (as it believes in intellectual property rights) and the right to void the license given to a customer as soon as the latter files a litigation on sofware’s patent against Microsoft. And the license is vague as far as software ownership is concerned. Read the site’s page on Shared Source.

And did you know that Microsoft now gives its clientele a chance to (just) view the source code of Microsoft Windows (2000/XP/2003 Server). But not the source code of Microsoft Office and maybe Vista?

To me, that’s a classic example of the Triple-E Strategy by the Microsoft. Embrace – ‘Our source code is accessible.’ Extend – ‘Micrsoft is protecting its IP rights also to ensure consumer satisfaction.’ Exterminate – ‘Microsoft remains so user-friendly and reliable that paying for its products is worth it.’

So Microsoft’s statements favorable to FOSS must be taken at the surface level only, that these might just be the ’embrace’ component of the strategy against FOSS. Take that comment a conjecture of mine as of the moment, because I have yet to see any Halloween Document XII about the favorable tune that Microsoft has been singing of late.

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