Microsoft vs "Open Source"

It's bad enough that Microsoft with its big war chest might sue you for producing open source software. But what's really hard to take is the suggestion that you stooped to stealing Microsoft code for your project. At the Open Source Business Conference last week in San Francisco, one show organizer got his revenge.

When Microsoft says open source code infringes its patents, it's a hard charge for Linux kernel developers to defend themselves against. On the one hand, Microsoft won't say what code and which patents. On the other, it makes a charge that caters to a residual cynicism in the old guard of enterprise IT ranks. Volunteer open source programmers couldn't possibly have done all the work they're credited with doing. Maybe someone, somewhere, lifted Microsoft code and added it to his open source code project.

The best response I've seen was from Jonathan Corbet at a panel at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco last May. Corbet is a Linux kernel developer himself and executive editor of the Linux Weekly News.

"I feel I've been called a thief," he said during a panel at the event, and pointed out that Microsoft was one of the companies that had patented "thousands of trivial functions. ... There's no way to write a nontrivial program that can't be claimed to infringe on someone's patents."

Other open source code programmers answered the insinuation by saying, "Show us the infringed code and we will rewrite it." It's a point of pride that developers could quickly rewrite something that smacked of coming too close to a claimed Microsoft patent; volunteers would be waiting in line for the opportunity.