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A call to action against Microsoft's open source threats

Op-ed By Tom Henderson, Network World Lab Alliance, Network World
May 21, 2007 03:45 PM ET

Network World - Once again, Microsoft has offered the canard that there are 235 Microsoft patents that open source products, largely Linux and OpenOffice, are in ostensible violation of patent rights.

In a recent interview published in Fortune, Microsoft execs put repeated the demand that distributors and users of open source software start paying royalties.

Microsoft has since backtracked a bit. The company now says the article overstated its position, which is that the company has no intention of launching litigation, at least for now.

But Microsoft is no stranger to patent litigation, both as plaintiff and defendant. With a renowned army of attorneys and law firms, Microsoft is capable of generating litigation that would make the RIAA look like gentlemen.

Microsoft’s recent deal with Novell now makes Microsoft a reseller of Novell’s SUSE Enterprise Linux distribution. While the late Microsoft rival, Ray Noorda, is spinning in his grave, Novell enjoys subsequent ostensible immunity from patent litigation. Red Hat, another Linux distributor (according to lore) told Microsoft lay down their cards, and that didn’t happen.

Microsoft’s legal war chest is greater than the gross national products of numerous nations. They can, at will, become the RIAA of the operating system and user software worlds. No one begrudges Microsoft for its intellectual property, and clearly piracy of Microsoft products is both illegal and morally unjustified.

There was a time when Microsoft listened to their customers and developed legendary software. It’s still difficult to purchase PC or notebook software that doesn’t have many of Microsoft’s current best offerings conveniently loaded.

Microsoft made it a habit to listen to their customers, and then tenaciously, often over iterations/generations of hard work, develop best-of-breed applications. But the disingenuousness of Microsoft’s patent sword rattling can be double-edged. You can participate in a response to the sabre rattling.

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