In response to Jeff Atwoords post, Mike Gunderloy explained why he is seeking to move away from the Microsoft programming world and into Rails and open source. One sentence stuck out to me from his post:
Now, if the Microsofts of the world have their way, we’ll end up with everything in fenced-off gardens: every piece of user interface, every algorithm, every data structure, will belong to someone, and will not be available for use unless you pay for it somehow. It will become literally impossible to legally write software without entering into a web of commercial cross-licensing agreements.
When I first read this a few days ago, I thought “Mike is exaggerating a little bit here. Even if Microsoft (and other companies) hold lots of software patents, will they really go so far as to force licenses for every last thing? Talk about stifling development and pissing off the developers, developers, developers“.
Well, looks like Mike was on to something. A recent article in Fortune magazine said that Microsoft is looking to start enforcing licenses on 235 different patents that they claim are violated by Linux, Open Office and other pieces of Free Open Source Software (FOSS):
Microsoft counters that it is a matter of principle. “We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property,” says Ballmer in an interview. FOSS patrons are going to have to “play by the same rules as the rest of the business,” he insists. “What’s fair is fair.”
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties. Revealing the precise figure for the first time, they state that FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents.
Where this will go is anyone’s guess. But the cat is officially out of the bag, and if it turns out that these 235 patents are laughable claims covering user interface items that have become completely standardized, moves like this on Microsoft’s part will do nothing but engender further segmentation of the programming world into us vs. them, which brings us back to a statement from Jeff’s article as a suggestion for all who have a vested interest in seeing both free and Microsof-based software development continue and progress unhindered:
As a software developer, you’re doing yourself a disservice by pledging allegiance to anything other than yourself and your craft– whether it’s Microsoft or the principle of free software. Stop with the us vs. them mentality. Let go of the partisanship. We’re all in this thing together.