Eric S. Raymond: Who is "viral" now?
Jul 03, 2001, 13:39 (45 Talkback[s])
Full Text Search: The Key to Better Natural Language Queries for NoSQL in Node.js
A Microsoft drone writes: "We are sincerely concerned about the
GPL, and its impacts upon the ecology of the developer
The gravamen of Microsoft's argument against the GPL is that it
is "viral"; that it can somewhow infect other peoples' software,
effectively nullifying their intellectual-property rights and
removing their ability to profit from their work.
This charge is full of logical and factual errors. It confuses
three different issues: mere use of software, aggregation of
software, and derivation of software. The best possible ilustration
of its falsity and fundamental hypocrisy is that Microsoft has been
shipping GPLed software aggregated with its Interix (aka OpenNT)
product for years. Because the Interix software is not a derivative
work of the GPLed code they ship with it, not a single line of
Microsoft code has ever been "infected" by the allegedly "viral"
But the most interesting irony here comes from considering the
terms of Microsoft's so-called "shared source" program. Microsoft
assures us that its shared-source program will be deliberately
constructed so that Microsoft retains all intellectual-property
rights in the code it allows developers to see.
What does this mean? Well...suppose you are a developer. You
register with Microsoft to get access to "shared source", or you
work at a development shop that registers (giving you presumptive
access to Microsoft's source code).
Congratulations. Your brain is now infected with the "I have
seen shared source" virus. Are you prepared to bet your career, or
your company's existence, that Microsoft will never sue if you
write code that (a) behaviorally resembles a Microsoft product, (b)
competes with a Microsoft product, or (c) clashes with the color of
Bill Gates's underwear this week?
Bear in mind that Microsoft doesn't have to win such a lawsuit.
It doesn't even have to overtly threaten one. The mere threat of
the threat of being sued by a multibillion-dollar company is enough
to scare the bejezus out of any entrepreneur or corporate legal
department, and more than enough to exert a massive chilling effect
on software-industry competition. How convenient for Microsoft!
`Shared source' is the ultimate virus. The GPL, which leaves
your brain alone and can't "infect" your code unless you
deliberately shoose to incorporate GPLed code or link to it, is an
innocent symbiote by comparison. It actually protects you, because
it guarantees your right to redistribute and re-use the code you
So...who is "viral" now?
Eric S. Raymond
"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our
will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
-- Thomas Jefferson
- O'Reilly .NET DevCenter: Microsoft Plans Shared Source .NET(Jun 27, 2001)
- A Few of Microsoft's Questions at RMS' NYU Speech & A New GPL FAQ on
the Shared Source Page(Jun 06, 2001)
- New York Times: Some Guidance From Microsoft(Jun 04, 2001)
- ZDNet: Just another manic Mundie(May 22, 2001)
- The Domain Microsoft Wishes It Had Bought(May 18, 2001)
- Eric S. Raymond: Microsoft's "Shared Source" plan -- such a deal!
(May 18, 2001)
- Tony Stanco: FreeDevelopers on Muddy Mundie(May 09, 2001)
- Linux@work Europe Changes Panel Plans in Response to 'Shared Source'(May 06, 2001)
- Salon: Microsoft: Free-software licenses are the devil's work!(May 05, 2001)
- Financial Times: Microsoft to open more Windows source code(May 04, 2001)
- Microsoft: Prepared Text of Remarks by Craig Mundie, MS Sr. VP:
The Commercial Software Model
(May 03, 2001)