Open-source users, companies scoff at Microsoft threats

Open-source software useres are scoffing at Microsoft's threats to collect payment for 235 patents it says are in Linux and other open source software

Open-source supporters are thumbing their noses at Microsoft's claim that it will seek royalties from users and distributors on 235 patents it holds for technologies in Linux and open-source software, saying they are not worried about being the target of litigation for patent infringement.

Rather than scare companies away from using or distributing open source, the general consensus is that the company's threats of litigation -- outlined in statements Microsoft executives including CEO Steve Ballmer made to Fortune magazine this week -- prove it's the software giant who is afraid of the competitive threat Linux and open-source software pose to its business long term.

Joe Lindsay, chief information officer of Los Angeles-area mortgage company Secured Funding, said that Microsoft's attempt to cause fear, confusion and doubt may scare some users away from open-source software and Linux in the short term, but ultimately will not stop the momentum the open-source business model has.

"It's like saying I have a big baseball bat, and I'm going to hit somebody," he said of the company's claim it will recover fees from open-source users and companies that have violated patents. "Everyone runs away." But in the long term Microsoft is the one who will suffer from its actions, since the company should be more focused on providing more valuable and innovative products than threatening to sue companies that have outsmarted them.

Linux distributors too were nonplussed by Microsoft's claims, and Novell -- which struck a broad licensing deal that included paying royalties on Linux to Microsoft last year -- even seemed annoyed. In comments made Monday, Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, compared the deal with Novell as a model for how Microsoft wants to settle patent-infringement differences. However, Novell never admitted it was infringing on patents, a point reiterated by company spokesman Bruce Lowry on a company blog Monday.

Red Hat also weighed in on the battle, saying it is not worried about Microsoft's threats because it has a solid program that indemnifies Red Hat Linux users against patent litigation. "Our confidence in our technology and protections for customers remains strong and has not wavered," the company said in a press statement.

Some users suggested that the same threat of patent litigation Microsoft is holding over open-source users' heads could be turned on the software giant, which itself has used open-source or freely available technology to develop its own commercial products. In fact, there is just as much potential patent infringement in Windows than there is in open source, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit consortium aimed at promoting the use of the open-source OS.

"Microsoft is certainly not the only owner of patents in this area, and perhaps not even the owner of the largest number of patents in these areas," he said. "Microsoft will need to be careful what it starts, given that it cannot know where this will end."

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