At this point in the game, Microsoft should really come clean with a statement that rescinds its Linux/patent/suing threat altogether. Granted, Microsoft put itself in a hard spot with this one, since it had its channel singing the same tune for those murky months after the threat. If it stands up says, "Sorry, just kidding!" that won't make the channel partners happy, particularly if they used the threat to convince customers they must buy SUSE or Windows over Red Hat and other distros. But the fact is, we are seeing actions by Microsoft that indicate that the "suing Linux users" jig is up.
These actions have been accelerating during Bill Gates's lame duck year, and certainly since the European Union slapped Microsoft with enormous fines for failing to make its protocols more readily available to other software makers. For instance, Microsoft has been making well publicized financial contributions to various open source projects such as Apache Software Foundation and the Open Source Census.
But more telling of how Microsoft is trying to change its attitude (and its image) is how it has begun to openly contribute to popular projects. It is one of the contributors to Zend Framework (albeit, so are 400 others, including Google). It intends to support Zend on Microsoft's identity platform, CardSpace. Plus this week, Microsoft also said it planned to support and contribute in big way to Zend's rival Ruby on Rails. The announcement, made during O'Reilly Open Source Convention, according to eWeek, was fairly inclusive. Microsoft will be sending its IronRuby implementation to be hosted on GitHub, the site that hosts the rest of the Ruby project. It will create an area called IronRuby-Contrib for all code that doesn't ship with the standard Iron-Ruby distribution that is covered by its own Microsoft Public License. It will ship all standard Ruby libraries as part of the IronRuby distribution. Plus, it will relieve suspicions that this is just another attempt to appear to be cooperating while secretly trying to control by participating in RubySpec. RubySpec is the benchmarks that tests Ruby distributions for compliance.
The Microsoft Public License is one of those weird aberrations stemming from the days of threats. (Microsoft, why not just allow your open source software to be covered by the licenses that all the other coders use?) But given the complexity of Microsoft IP, it is a small price to pay for the software giant moving in the right, cooperative direction. The project's lead at Microsoft, John Lam, admits that these are baby steps towards a better relationship with the open source world. But he makes a good point in saying that, weird licensing or not, it also sets a precedent for other groups within the company that want to openly use and contribute to open source projects.
Now, Ruby isn't Linux. And Microsoft has a clear business need to be involved in creating the next generation of Web application frameworks and a clear business need to be fighting operating system competitors. But official involvement in popular open source projects is the most impressive evidence yet that the "we'll sue you!" threat is now an empty one.
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Julie Bort is the editor of Microsoft Subnet and Network World's Online Community Editor. She also writes the Open Source Subnet blog and is the editor responsible for the Cisco Subnet and Open Source Subnet web sites. If you have an idea for a blog, or a news tip on Microsoft, Cisco or Open Source technologies, contact her at email@example.com, 970-482-6454 or follow Julie on Twitter @Julie188.
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