Subject: [Fwd: Why Microsoft Shouldn't Spurn Open-Source Code]
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <>
Date: Sun, 06 May 2001 09:41:48 -0700
Sun, 06 May 2001 09:41:48 -0700
I thought this was a useful perspective.

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104,

Subject: Why Microsoft Shouldn't Spurn Open-Source Code
From: Mark Brokering <>
Date: Sat, 05 May 2001 15:06:27 -0700

Monday, May 7, 2001
Vol. 3, Issue 87

Postscript: Why Microsoft Shouldn't Spurn Open-Source Code

By Jonathan Hill

Craig Mundie, a senior vice president at Microsoft
( ), set off a firestorm earlier
this week with a speech given at the New York University
school of business. The text of his talk, available online at,
contains a passionate defense of intellectual property rights
as they relate to commercial software and goes on to take
some potshots at the Open Source Software (OSS) model,
reserving special ire for software that depends on the GNU
General Public License, or GPL.

Predictably, open-source adherents jumped all over Mundie,
and just as predictably, the buzz in the press and in
technology chat rooms seemed largely to consist of objections
to things that Mundie didn't say. Strange, because there are
a lot of real issues here.

Let's start with some Microsoft context. Microsoft is busy
reinventing its target audience. Mundie refers to the
company's .Net Web services initiative as a change in
strategy, a move away from device-centric applications to
user-centric services. This requires overhauling the
company's business model. Microsoft has, for some years now,
concentrated its application development efforts on tight
integration with the operating system -- and no, we will not
veer off into Justice Department territory here. We're
talking about MS Office applications that are designed to
take advantage of Windows services like the Taskbar and 3-D
and multimedia applications that can assume the existence of
a HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer).

To be sure, most of the back end of .Net, the various
enterprise servers, for example, is designed to work in the
same way, taking advantage of things like Windows 2000
security services. In Internet World magazine's extensive
coverage of .Net in March, we pointed out that this tie may
well slow the adoption of the .Net servers, certainly within
current non-Microsoft shops.

But the Web services part of .Net need to be designed around
the idea that support services may or may not be available.
Web services applets need to be explicitly hardware
independent, hence the push to adopt SOAP/XML. Whether
Microsoft can create compelling hardware-independent software
is a subject of some debate, but at a minimum, .Net services
must -- simply must -- work within an undefined hardware and
software environment. This is a market that has already been
the subject of countless man-hours of application development,
and, to a large extent, that development has been accomplished
using open-source tools.

The bulk of Mundie's talk was devoted to an alternative
development model, newly defined "Shared Source," which
extends Microsoft's current model of strong support for the
Microsoft-based developer community and provides a broader
range of support services. As Mundie pointed out, to a
limited extent Microsoft has been doing this for years: Big
hardware manufacturers routinely get to look at OS source
code, for example. More important, big hardware vendors and
ISVs can be trusted to scrupulously honor Microsoft's
intellectual property rights and their contractual

And here's where things get a bit tricky. In the abstract,
it's easy to understand why the software giant is so
concerned about intellectual property. Microsoft wants to
become "the" provider of building blocks for complex
applications. To compete, its blocks need to provide
an advantage over other blocks. Microsoft is not about to
become a giant consulting company putting together complex
applications to drive cozy partner relationships. To get a
return on its investment, Microsoft needs to get paid
directly for its tools-creation efforts. Current software
property rights law is on its side, but it remains to be seen
how well current law can be implemented within the amorphous,
anonymous Web.

The problem is that .Net applications may be based on a wide
variety of programming languages, tools, and libraries. Thus,
GPL's mandate that "any software that incorporates source
code already licensed under the GPL will itself become
subject to the GPL" means that if someone creates a .Net
application that contains GPL open-source code, all of the
rest of the application becomes open source, and you can say
goodbye to competitive advantage and all those MS dollars
thrown into creating .Net building blocks.

Mundie errs, however, when he tries to tie the use of GPL to
the "dot-com business models that proved least successful"
last year. His audience -- an audience that Microsoft
desperately needs to court -- knows better. From IBM to
one-person shops, developers are making money by developing
complex applications using open-source tools. They're not
trying to make "sole source tool provider" into a business
plan, and they're not trying to walk a tightrope, but they
are almost universally tired of being treated like fools.
Considering the extent to which all of these parties rise
and fall together on the strength of the new business-focused
Internet, some give-and-take, and a reappraisal of the
workings of intellectual property rights law, would seem to
be in order.

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Further reading

"Dissecting .Net"
Internet World Magazine, March 1, 2001

(Postscript appears weekly in this newsletter. This week's
column was written by Jonathan Hill, technology editor of
Internet World magazine. E-mail: .)

Mark Brokering
O'Reilly & Associates
101 Morris Street
Sebastopol CA 95472

Tel 707-829-0515, Fax 707-829-0104

 Sat, 05 May 2001 15:06:27 -0700