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Time to turn it around?


2006/11/30

With all the flap about the Microsoft/Novell patent deal, one question seems to be consistently avoided: just what could Linux be infringing upon?

For those too young to understand, Unix was here long before Microsoft, so it certainly can't be anything fundamental. Linux, of course, came later, but its Unix heritage is obvious: again, the basic OS can't be infringing on Microsoft.

Drivers? Sure, but unlikely, because while the hardware manufacturer may benefit from Microsoft, they also benefit from Linux and it seems unlikely that they'd help Microsoft exclude a revenue stream. So there might be some instances of that, but probably not many.

No, the main area of contention has to be interoperability: Samba, Mono, reading Microsoft Office formats, anything in that area. That is plainly the most fertile ground for Microsoft to sling its weight around. That's the unspoken undercurrent - I think Microsoft probably avoids being specific simply to cause more FUD, but this is where the problems lie.

So what to do? The naive Linux folk who bluster "Show us the infringement - we'll just rewrite the code!" ignore reality: you can't necessarily get around a patent by changing your code. Patents cover more than copyrights do, and can tie your hands much more tightly. It's certainly possible that Microsoft has enforceable patents in the interoperability area.

I'm wondering if we are near enough to the tipping point where we could say "Fine. We'll drop all that. And when your customers need interoperability, well, that's now YOUR problem: Mohammad no longer will come crawling to the mountain, so you better get that puppy up on jacks and start winching it over here!". In other words, stand tough and make the interoperability their problem.

I don't know: Linux probably isn't quite there yet. But it's darn close, isn't it?

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