New Microsoft-funded study finds developers don't want GPL to cover patent deals

New Microsoft-funded study finds developers don't want GPL to cover patent deals

Summary: Microsoft is expending an awful lot of time and energy to try to derail the General Public License. On May 22, the latest in a long line of Microsoft-funded open-source studies made its debut. The latest report found that open-source developers don't want the General Public License v3 to cover patent-protection deals like the one forged by Microsoft and Novell.

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Microsoft is expending an awful lot of time and energy to try to derail the next version of the Free Software Foundation's General Public License (GPL).

On May 22, yet another in a long line of Microsoft-commissioned open-source studies made its debut. The latest, conducted by Harvard Business School professor Alan MacCormack in conjunction with Keystone Strategy Inc., is titled "A Developers Bill of Rights: What Open Source Developers Want in a Software License."

You probably can guess what the study concludes, given Microsoft's decision last week -- in the name of attempting to derail the looming GPL version 3 -- to claim that open-source software violates 235 of its patents.

The Bill of Rights study found that rank-and-file open-source developers don't want the GPL to dictate policy on patent-protection deals, like the one forged last year between Microsoft and Novell. The methodology (as detailed by eWEEK): "Researchers sent out 354 e-mails between Feb. 28, 2007, and April 4, 2007. Of those, 332 reached their destination, from which 34 responses were received, giving a response rate of 11 percent."

In other words, this was a study based on 34 responses that was conducted more than a month before Microsoft decided to go public with its 235-patents-infringed claim.

Why am I harping so much on Microsoft's open-source moves lately?

I'm stunned that after taking a number of seemingly positive steps vis-a-vis its thinking and strategy around open source, Microsoft has decided to blow away any bridges it built in a matter of weeks. Until recently, it was primarily CEO Steve Ballmer who was championing publicly Microsoft's old "closed source is good/open source is bad" rhetoric. (For every three steps forward others at Microsoft took toward understanding and articulating ways that open source and proprietary source could coexist, Ballmer only managed to take two steps back.)

This newest Microsoft-sponsored study adds insult to injury. The company's decision to go public with an alleged count of patent infringements has backfired and turned into a three-ring circus (If you doubt that, check out the list of nearly 300 individuals who've lined up on a public Wiki asking for Microsoft to "sue me first" for patent violations.)

I think it's time for an independent study on Microsoft's practice of funding open-source studies. Do the resulting white papers actually convince anyone to abandon open-source in favor of Microsoft products and technologies?

Topics: Open Source, Microsoft, Software Development

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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76 comments
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  • What a surprise!

    EVERY Microsoft funded study ALWAYS supports Microsoft's view. What a surprise!

    Poor subject to use as a headline....Ho-Hum.....
    linux for me
    • The only surprise

      Is that it's not Microsoft's employee,
      John Carroll, presenting a "Microsoft
      Study".
      Ole Man
  • So...

    ...they received 11% of the emais they sent out. So of those 11, how many said they didn't want GPL to govern patents, 6? That makes this report just about worthless.
    Stuka
    • *TYPO*

      That should 6 should read 18. Looked at the 11% as 11 individuals, its still early here :)
      Stuka
      • But what of those not guided by the desire to work for free?

        It is true that OSS is another market in which to sell one's wares. If intelectual property can not be protected under GPL, then people are forced to remain with proprietary offerings if they are attemting to make a living at it.

        Or even worse yet, what is to stop a Google or RedHat from just taking that which you someone has labored hard over in an attempt to make a living at, only to be forced to watch the larger, well funded and established players freely use it and profit from it, while the actuall designer gets nothing.
        GuidingLight
        • False dichotomy

          [i]If intelectual property can not be protected under GPL, then people are forced to remain with proprietary offerings if they are attemting to make a living at it.[/i]

          It seems that your objection isn't that GPL software [u]can't[/u] be protected, but that it [u]is[/u] protected from appropriation by, for instance, you.

          [i]Or even worse yet, what is to stop a Google or RedHat from just taking that which you someone has labored hard over in an attempt to make a living at, only to be forced to watch the larger, well funded and established players freely use it and profit from it, while the actuall designer gets nothing.[/i]

          Then he's free to code his killer NotePad replacement from scratch and get fabulously wealthy selling it. His choice.

          Meanwhile, $EMPLOYER keeps an entire department well-paid building applications on GPL foundations and publishing the results, because [b]it makes cold, hard business sense to do so.[/b] They aren't working "for free," and $EMPLOYER attributes part of our considerable success to the quality and affordability of our software.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Then why would you?

          Why would you choose OSS? Just so you can say that your product is "open source?" If you are not wanting to share your product in hopes that people improve it, use it, etc. - then OSS/GPL is definitely not for you.
          Patrick Jones
  • what can you expect from a M$ funded 'study'?

    This study it's not worth the paper it's written on!
    Everybody knows where the OSS developers stand.
    Linux Geek
    • So, fund one then.

      What's stopping you?
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Why?

        If I fund one it will be biased, based strictly on the fact that I am footing the bill.

        The very fact that Microsoft funds these studies explicitly implies that they want a expected result; which makes the entire study worthless.

        I don't care who is doing the research Microsoft is footing the bill making Microsoft the customer.
        Suicida|
        • If its that biased then do your own.

          I mean if you don't like how its done then the only solution I see is to do one of your own.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
        • By the way...

          I agree that the sample taken is far too small to be meaningful in anyway.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Message has been deleted.

      Hallowed are the Ori
      • Message has been deleted.

        Linux Geek
    • The survey was valid enough, the 'results' are a fraud ...

      The results of this survey are a fraud. With only an 11% response rate, they are actually indicating the reverse of what MS is trying to demonstrate by the study. 89% of the OPEN SOURCE developers surveyed essentially boycotted the survey. For Microsoft to try to pretend and claim that the responders are representative of the entire pool is just totally disingenuous. Of course those developers who dislike MS most are NOT going to participate in an MS sponsored survey AND are most likely to be supportive of GPL v3. Of course those developers most friendly with MS and most likely to dislike GPL v3 ARE going to participate in the survey. In addition this survey was conducted BEFORE the latest MS patent tirade. That little stunt is NOT going to have the effect of softening support for GPL v3 among open source developers. This survey is actually very good evidence that GPL v3 is going to take hold like wildfire and in the process is going to totally derail Microsoft's open source strategy and set them back to square one.
      George Mitchell
  • When have you?

    [i]Tell us Mary Jo, when was the last time you sat down to do development work?[/i]

    I might ask you the same question. My answer would be 20 minutes ago and five minutes from now.

    [i]When have you had clients saying they want both Windows and Linux in the same enviornment and told you as the consultant to make it happen?[/i]

    Again, same question to you, pal. If you actually knew the answer to that question you'd know most customers couldn't tell one operating system from a manhole cover except that the disks are different sizes. All they care about is it works and does what they want. If it's Windows, fine. If it's Linux, fine. When it comes to whether it's RedHat or SUSE or Ubuntu...what time is lunch?

    Most of the resistance comes from people lower on the ladder. Some of them are resident experts and don't like having their little knowledge rice bowl taken away. The person resisting migrating databases to a central data store with a data dictionary will be the resident expert on fixing Access databases. The one resisting a web app will be the resident expert on fixing linked spreadsheets. The OpenOffice resistance will come from the people everyone asks for help doing a mail merge in Word. MCSE's will resist Linux because of their investment in MSFT products. I've seen it over and over. The business case doesn't matter to people in the middle trying to protect their turf.

    My personal theory is that the people at the top got there because they know who to listen to and those in the middle are stuck there because they don't.
    Chad_z
    • Everyday all day.

      Again, same question to you, pal.

      Everyday all day.

      "All they care about is it works and does what they want. If it's Windows, fine. If it's Linux, fine"

      You make my point nicely, thank you! I agree, all the user wants is a solution and they don't really care about who made a deal with whom. All they want is interoprability and the solution. Glad to see we agree.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • I call BS

        [i]Everyday all day.[/i]

        The question was about software development, not wanking with ZD Talkback on the screen and walls covered with pictures of Steve Ballmer.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Perhaps you are that slow

          Lets see, type 70 words a minute. Average post 50 words. Do the math...

          And yeah, I like to keep a browser window open on the second monitor while I beat code into shape. Its a nice diversion.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • "Beat code into shape"

            LOL. Nice.
            Hallowed are the Ori