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Community: Microsoft: Stop Whining [a reader comments on Jim Allchin, IP, and the GPL]

Feb 24, 2001, 19:00 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jason Reeves)

By Jason Reeves

This is in response to this article.

So, Jim Allchin of Microsoft didn't say that the Open Source Movement was evil after all. It's just that pesky GNU Public License that is the real "threat" to intellectual property. Microsoft specifically cites GPL paragraph 2B:

"You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License."

Then Microsoft warns that this translates to this: "anyone who adds or innovates under the GPL agrees to make the resulting code, in its entirety, available for all to use ... [which] might constrain innovating stemming from taxpayer-funded software development."

Apparently spin is more important to Microsoft than actual facts (gasp!). Microsoft's interpretation of paragraph 2B of the GPL is incorrect. They forgot to pay attention to the clause "that you distribute or publish".

If, for example, the CIA wants to hack the Linux kernel to do some super secret stuff, they don't have to publish the source code they add to the kernel as long as they don't publish the binaries. It's that simple. And no, the resulting code doesn't automatically become GPLed. Why? Because they didn't release or publish it to anyone. It's internal, and they're not required to do so.

As for the US government using open source software, I don't see what the problem is, except that maybe the government is their biggest customer. And what has the government (and summarily all US citizens) reaped from this close relationship with Microsoft? One example is the USS Yorktown, which was forced to use Microsoft software on its internal systems. You can read about it here and here. If we were at war and one of our ships was dead in the water because of a Blue Screen of Death...well I'm sure Microsoft could find a way to spin that positively, too. Personally, I can't think of a better expression of democracy than to have the government of the people, by the people doing its work with tools built by those same people.

An organization called Heifer Project International, based in Little Rock, AR has for years been giving pairs of farm animals (male and female) to poverty-stricken families in Third World countries. The one rule that the recipients of this gift must follow is that they must give one of the female offspring to another family, so that the gift might continue. Would Microsoft argue that Heifer Project International is "stifling barnyard innovation" and "threatening livestock property laws" by making this requirement?

Microsoft is upset because it sees software that is GPLed that is better than their own, and they are not allowed to steal it and proprietize it because of the GPL. They look at the millions and millions of dollars they've spent on Win32 API development, and wonder why it isn't better than code written freely by volunteers. They just don't get it.

But the GPL isn't the only game in town. There's the LGPL (Lesser, or Library GPL), the Mozilla Public License, the Apache Software License, and the BSD License that all allow for redistribution of modifications without source code. There is quite a bit of quality software written under those licenses that Microsoft can use and make proprietary (and you can bet that they already have done this to some degree).

I'd like to personally thank Richard Stallman for having the foresight to form the Free Software Foundation in 1984. Otherwise, the GPL might not be as prevalent as it is today, and Microsoft would own Linux. Heh. They wish. ;)

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