Microsoft in aanval op Linux ?

2 april 2006

Florian Müller , woordvoerder van en een vooraanstaande anti-patent activist, vreest dat Microsoft haar patenten gaat gebruiken om de dreiging van Linux te pareren. Hij ziet een recent interview van Forbes met Steve Ballmer , topman van Microsoft als aanwijzing daarvoor. In het interview zei Ballmer: 'Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I'm not going to comment. But to the degree that that's the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy. And when there is something interesting to say, you'll be the first to hear it'. Ballmer zei verder: 'Open source software does not today respect the intellectual property rights of any intellectual property holder. Some day, for all countries that are entering WTO , somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property'. Müller interpreteert dat als volgt: 'By 'intellectual property' he must mean patents. IP is a broad term and includes diverse rights, but it's hard to see how Linux would infringe any trade mark rights or copyrights held by Microsoft. However, given the size of the Linux code, it's almost certain that it will violate a number of patents, and some of them, such as the ones on the FAT file system, may indeed be held by Microsoft'.

Lange tijd heeft Microsoft de schouders opgehaald over Linux en de eventuele dreigingen die daarvan uitgingen. Twee jaar geleden werd een Linux specialist van IBM overgenomen, Bill Hilf , om het bedrijf Linux te leren kennen. Hilf heeft publiekelijk verschillende malen de mogelijkheid van Linux op de desktop belachelijk gemaakt. 'Every year someone says that this year is going to be the year of Linux on the desktop', zo zei hij onlangs. De opmerkingen van Ballmer kunnen wijzen op het feit dat Microsoft, dat de zoekmachine-oorlog van Google verloren lijkt te hebben, zich niet vervolgens door Linux het kaas van het brood wil laten eten. De meeste analisten evenwel zien in het commentaar niet echt iets nieuws. 'Well, I wouldn't say that [these comments are] noise, [but] it's actually less than they've said in the past', zo zei Daniel B. Ravicher , directeur van de Public Patent Foundation . 'The 'experts' I think [Ballmer is] referring to is my report from a couple years ago about Linux and patents. But, I've been over that and directly responded to his misinformed interpretation of that study. I like Florian a lot, but I think I see this a little differently than he does. To me, these statements by Ballmer are nothing new. Of course, there's always a threat that Microsoft will use its patents against free software. I just don't think that this interview by Ballmer manifests an increase in that threat'. Stuart Cohen , Chief Executive Officer van OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) is het volledig met Ravicher eens. 'Microsoft subtly makes these threats from time to time to maintain a level of uncertainty for Linux vendors and users', zo zegt Cohen. Maar 'We know Microsoft would fall on its own sword if it launched a large suit against a Linux vendor or user and would lose any credibility it might hope to gain in the world of open source software, which needs to be an increasing aspect of its business strategy. Also, Linux and open source software are simply too infused in the enterprise for Microsoft to alienate its own customers, who are also Linux users. In fact, studies are showing that Linux has overtaken Unix and is now displacing Windows on the server. It is also making inroads on the desktop, and last week's Vista delay opened that window even wider. Microsoft is too smart a company to attempt these losing efforts and now, more than ever, needs to embrace open source instead of hiding behind a strategy of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt)', zo concludeert Cohen. Volgens Stefano Maffulli , van de Italiaanse tak van de Free Software Foundation Europe , zijn Linux en andere open source software nauwelijks gevoeliger voor patentinbreuken dan 'proprietary software'. Het verschil is dat de open source projecten niet over de financiële middelen beschikken om zichzelf te verdedigen tegen rechtszaken of om licentiecontracten te sluiten met concurrenten, zoals bedrijven als IBM en Microsoft doen. 'The problem is that no developer can ever be sure not to infringe a patent – his software consists of hundreds or thousands of ideas, which may all be patented. How could it be possible to check?', zo zegt Maffulli. Hij zou niet verbaasd zijn als Microsoft patenten zou gebruiken als een manier om open source softwareprojecten aan te vallen. 'Microsoft cannot buy out Free Software, like it usually did in the past with other competitors, so we suspect that their strategy is to abuse the patent system'.

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