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Microsoft & Friends Define ‘Commitment to Openness’

On Halloween, the day after we posted an article on Ross Gardler’s presentation on Microsoft’s behalf before an open source audience in North Carolina, a FOSS Force reader posted a comment:

“Microsoft has made a lot of upstream contributions in the last two years, a lot more than our friends at Canonical have.

“I’d say that Microsoft is very difficult to trust, but they are probably more committed to FOSS than Canonical.

“‘We will know that day has arrived when Microsoft quits threatening every open source project under the sun with patent litigation.’

“They haven’t done that in years, unless I’ve missed something.”

That very same day, Halloween, legal papers were filed with the U.S. District Court, Eastern Texas Division, prompting Ars Technica to declare, “Patent Wars Go Nuclear.” By Monday morning, the same reader was adding another comment to the very same article:

“Well, I guess I get to eat these words: ‘They haven’t done that in years’.”

Suddenly Canonical doesn’t look so bad after all, eh?

The legal papers were filed by Rockstar Consortium, a patent troll owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Sony. They hold 6,000 plus patents purchased in an auction for $4.5 billion from bankrupt Canadian telecom Nortel. Google had been bidding against Rockstar for the same patents, but dropped out after placing a $4.4 billion bid that didn’t hold up. Not long afterwards, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, in large part for its vast patent portfolio–just in case a patent war broke out.

Again, the patent wars have now gone nuclear.

Rockstar is suing Google and just about every manufacturer of Android phones. The suit against Google seems to be mainly against their search technology. The Android makers are accused of infringing on patents dealing with issues such as “Managing a Virtual Private Network” and “System and Method for Notifying a User of an Incoming Communication Event.” To determine infringement, Rockstar engaged in a lot of reverse engineering.

Like all good patent trolls, Rockstar is using everything it can find as a weapon–even Googles $4.4 billion dollar bid to purchase the patents that are now being used against it. Rockstar claims that to be proof that Google already knew it was in violation, paving the way for a finding of willful infringement–meaning damages can be multiplied by three.

Rockstar, by the way, is more than just a convenient way for five companies to throw in together to buy and manage some patents; it’s also a buffer to protect these five companies from counter suits. In addition, it’s a PR tool. Poor little Microsoft or poor little Apple isn’t suing anybody. They have no control over what the big bad folks at Rockstar do. According to Ars, Rockstar is more than willing to play along with that notion:

“And Rockstar’s CEO was quite straightforward about his belief that whatever promises Microsoft and Apple might have made about how they’ll use their patents, those promises don’t apply to Rockstar. ‘We are separate,’ he says. ‘That does not apply to us.’”

One of the partners in this Axis of Evil, BlackBerry, is facing a grim financial situation and until yesterday was looking for a buyer. Indeed, it thought it’d found one. Suddenly, two business days after Rockstar files suit, BlackBerry is no longer for sale, it’s CEO is stepping down and it’s being handed a billion bucks to buy it some time–presumably until it can collect its share of the patent loot. Could this be because of pressure from the other Rockstar partners in order to keep Google from being able to buy the beleaguered company and its stake in the patent partnership?

Remember SCO? Does history repeat itself?

As this drama plays itself out, either through the courts or through negotiations, Microsoft Open Technologies will continue to claim that Redmond is all about openness. Its mouthpieces will continue to stand before open source audiences and attempt to reassure with platitudes such as, “Microsoft has changed significantly over the last fifteen years, twenty years, thirty years. They’re a much more open company. Microsoft is much more open.”

As open as a locked bank vault.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

Latest posts by Christine Hall (see all)

20 comments to Microsoft & Friends Define ‘Commitment to Openness’

  • Eddie G.

    And this is surprising….HOW!? This is the Modus Operandi for a lot of these companies who have nothing better to do but to chase each other’s tails and try to take down each other! I wish ‘em luck…but I seriously doubt that these judges will want to entertain any more of this foolish ness from these companies!….(at least I HOPE that’s the general concensus!)

  • W. Anderson

    Even before the commenter “praised” Microsoft for supposedly donating more code to the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) community, they were basically ignorant about the technical details of code contributions from either Microsoft or Canonical’s Ubuntu project, otherwise they would not have made such an uninformed and naive comment.

    As I had stated in my comment on original article about Microsoft’s “commitment” (sic) to Open Source, Microsoft is the only company or entity – on this earth to make code or advice contributions to Open Source that was predicated on the benefits accruing to it’s products and services only, and not to any other FOSS project in existence. There is nothing they contribute that is unique or new, only Microsoft specific.

    Many commenters to technology blogs and articles really need to substantially enhance their education on the “factual” and “complete” history of modern technology generally, and specifically to Microsoft vis-a-vis Free/Open Source Software (FOSS)

  • @W. Anderson Actually, this particular commenter is extremely active in the Linux and open source community and understands quite a bit about code contributions. I don’t think he was “praising” Microsoft in any way. More than that, I think he was taking a shot at the Ubuntu folks, whom he has little use for.

  • W. Anderson

    Ms. Hall, being “extremely active in the Linux and Open Source community” has no direct relationship to or accounts for one’s understanding of the technical details and history of code contributions in Open source projects, particularly in regard those mode by Microsoft and those made by Canonical.

    I also was and to some degree still am “extremely active in the Open Source Community” having been a US distributor and representative for Suse Linux GmBH of Germany, before and just after the company’s acquisition by Novell, an office and technology manager for one of the largest regional computer organizations in USA – in North East, with co-responsibility for Linux and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) presentations, as well as member in good standing and advisor with several Linux and International FOSS organization such as LPI, Document Foundation, European Commission on Open Source and others.

    That commenter’s beef with Canonical however, does not give him or her justification to make erroneous and misleading comments about “code contribution” status, or you for supporting such misguided statements.

  • I’m not supporting anyone’s statements, Mr. Anderson. I’m just suggesting that rudeness isn’t appropriate when you don’t actually know that the commenter was as misguided as you assume him to be. Certainly, two short sentences isn’t enough to judge the depth of his understanding. I think you’re making some assumptions about others without having full facts at your disposal.

    Then again I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.

  • The contributions that Microsoft has made to opensource, ONLY benefits Microsoft, lets make sure everyone understands that.

    Microsoft contributions have been to its own Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor drivers. Hyper-V is Microsoft’s 64-bit hypervisor-based virtualization system. It’s Microsoft’s answer to VMware and Linux’s own native Kernel-based Virtualization Manager (KVM).

    Microsoft wants their code in the Kernel so that Windows Server will run better in a virtual machine.

    The Hyper-V drivers in question allow Linux systems to take advantage of the VMBus when running under Hyper-V on Windows hosts. Microsoft is trying to stay relevant in world being taken over by Linux.

  • Geezer

    Microsoft is committed to openness the same way Obama is. And there are plenty of suckers that believe both.

  • Daemon_ZOGG

    micro$0ft = Profiteers, Scammers, NSA collaborators. You can’t even install your favorite Linux distro on pre-built UEFI mobile hardware anymore because of those retarded weasels.

  • W. Anderson

    Please be assured Ms. Hall that I can make a judgement on that commenter who declared that Microsoft has made more code contributions to Linux and/or Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) when I read the actual code acceptance into these FOSS projects that clearly and unequivocally shows more registered code from Canonical than from Microsoft, which I clarified earlier Microsoft made solely for their own benefit and not others, even FOSS projects for which such code might be advantageous.

    Stating such facts is not being rude, since mis-information should never be be allowed to be widely propagated. The spread of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) via lies was and is a hallmark of Microsoft.

  • Mike

    Trusting Canonical, or any company, to look out for your interests is foolish. They are trying to make money, which makes everything else a secondary concern at best.

    If you want to contribute to FOSS, choose a project that puts the user first, like Debian.

    Trusting Microsoft is beyond foolish though; it’s dangerous.

  • Andrew

    @Christine I’m not sure which is worse, an FOSS parasite (Canonical), or an FOSS opponent (Microsoft).

    You are right though, I was taking a shot at Canonical / Ubuntu there, one that is well earned.

    I wasn’t really talking Microsoft up, just pointing out that they contribute more than Canonical does.

    W. Anderson mistakenly believes that Canonical’s contributions are somehow not self motivated where Microsoft’s are. Technically, they both are.

    @W. Anderson, your judgement is flawed. Microsoft’s contributions are for Microsoft’s customers, and indirectly benefit them. Canonical’s contributions largely only benefit Canonical because they only work on projects and technologies for which they directly benefit. You will find some going upstream, but only when they are few and far between.

    For your information I’m quite familiar with contributions made by both parties as I’ve been around for a while.

    Sorry to disappoint.

  • Andrew

    s/only when// (need an edit button)

  • @Andrew I’ve got your back, buddy. Even when I don’t entirely agree with you. ;-)

  • Andrew

    @Christine you are awesome like that, thank you. :)

  • […] Well, if he feels this way about Microsoft, then why does he work for Microsoft and help it infiltrate the FOSS community? As FOSS Force put it: […]

  • Eddie G.

    In general it’s a mistake to put your trust in ANY company that is “selling” something…(and even some that aren’t selling ANYTHING!)….especially if you can’t “peek inside” and see what’s going on under the hood. I love Ubuntu Linux….so I’m not against Canonical, but I don’t trust them either! (no Ubuntu-One cloud for me!) I like to remain secure in all ways, “encrypted drives, files, folders, SELinux policies, firewalls, etc.) I’m just sayin’….

    :o )

  • w. anderson

    Recently I expressed concern about a commenter to this article – Andrew, who indicated Microsoft had more accepted code contributions to open source than Canonical. During replies and other interactions to FossForce that I noticed since June 2013, I would like to know if Andrew is a Microsoft employee, works for or is associated with a Microsoft Partner or any direct or indirectly relationship to any entity related to Microsoft – if he feels honest enough to provide that informaion?

    This answer will completely clear up a great deal of confusion and conflict about positions taken by Andrew on this topic.

  • Andrew

    LOL! I’m not an employee of and am not affiliated with Microsoft nor have I ever been. I am at times called an M$ $hill by some of the bottom feeders of our community who are unfortunately not bright enough to know better though. As a matter of fact, I am an active contributor to several FOSS projects. I look at things objectively and without bias. This sometimes confuses those at the lower end of the gene pool.

    As for your personal confusion and conflict, it strictly begins and ends between your own keyboard and chair.