Microsoft's apparently contradictory stance regarding the General Public License version 3 (GPLv3), is both logically and legally sound, according to Joseph Sweeney, advisor with analyst group IBRS.
The kerfuffle broke out between Microsoft and the Free Software Foundation with the launch of the GPLv3. While Microsoft immediately moved to assert that it was not a party to the licence, the Free Software Foundation insisted that it appeared as though it was indeed obliged to fulfil the GPLv3 requirements
And while suggestions that partnerships with companies such as Novell, Xandros, and Linspire would force Microsoft to adhere to the newly released GPLv3 may be technically correct, Sweeney pointed out that they are unlikely to be tested in court.
"Microsoft is always going to protect its patents, and it's going to protect them aggressively," Sweeney said. "Once you peel back the rhetoric and the legal double speak what they are saying is simply that they don't believe the licence applies to their software, and that they were never a party to the licence in the first place."
The recently released GPLv3, which requires that any code subject to the licence must be made universally available, flies in the face of the tight controls Microsoft usually exercises over its code, but is unlikely to see the company change its practices.
As part of its agreement with Novell, Microsoft provides customers with third-party support certificates covering Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server rather than operate directly under GPLv3. According to Sweeney, this enables the company to say it is not party to the GPLv3 whilst still partnering with open-source developers.
"What the Microsoft lawyers are doing in hedging their bets, they are operating under the GPLv3, without actually recognising it formally, but it will only become a problem if someone actually takes them to court to try to force compliance," Sweeney said. "The question is who is going to go to court to force them to comply; it would have to be an extreme situation."