It's an in-depth analysis from Florian Mueller, whose FOSSPatents remains fiercely opposed to all software patents. It's something of a follow-up to a May piece in which he considered the idea of a Fair Troll.
Microsoft is not yet a fair troll, Mueller writes. But it's better than some.
"The idea of a 'fair troll' is about not using patents at all against those who commit to purely defensive use as well." Microsoft is only fair to those who, like it, believe in software patents, he said.
That being said, the news here is that Mueller no longer things Microsoft to be acting as a troll at all:
After all those years -– and 5-6 years is a really long time in IT –- it’s time to face the facts. At least so far, Microsoft doesn't use its patents in a destructive way. They don't just sit on their patents without doing nothing, but they're a cooperative right holder who doesn't use them to shut out competition.
What someone like Florian Mueller thinks, or doesn't think, won't keep Steve Ballmer up at night, any more than what I say should keep you up at night. (Get your sleep, now.)
But the fact that Mueller's opinion has evolved, based on evidence, is important. It's part of a more general shift in attitudes, which is also causing open source advocates to take a far more jaundiced view of Apple, which passed Microsoft in market cap a few months back and now holds a $16 billion lead.
In his latest Mueller even quotes Richard Stallman against Apple. Translating from the Spanish paper, El Mundo, he quotes Stallman thus:
Apple is more evil and much more restrictive than Microsoft because it even limits our right to run applications.
All this is evidence of an important trend. The company perceived as most threatening is always the one that is growing bigger most rapidly. Reading comments here, Apple is often joined on the "public enemies" list by Google, whose record on the issue is rather benign.
So should Steve Jobs wear his reputation for open source villainy as a badge of honor? And does this mean open source villainy is mostly a mass endorsement of antitrust action?