Harvard study illustrates Microsoft's political problem

The point is that controversy and suspicion follow Microsoft wherever it goes in the open source world. This is a price it has chosen to pay. Perhaps it is unaware of how high this price is. Perhaps the company does not care. But every day the price rises.

Alan McCormack Harvard Business School
A recent Harvard Business School survey of open source developers accidentally demonstrates Microsoft's big political problem.

Alan McCormack (right) and colleagues sought interviews with 332 open source developers, and 34 eventually succumbed. They agreed that the best open source license is the one which gives them the greatest flexibility.

Not a big deal, not a surprise. But then it turns out the study was funded by Microsoft.

Free Software Foundation executive director Peter Brown immediately smelled a rat:

"This paper Microsoft is pushing says a large portion of the developers want free software to be not so free. Well, that's tough. If people don't want software to be free, then maybe they should use a different license, but we believe in free software."

It's the tone of the quote, rather than its content, which I want to focus on. Brown is angry, suspicious, even defensive.

Worse, he has a right to be. When Mr. McCormack contacted his list, it would only be ethical to disclose Microsoft's funding, and I'm certain he is ethical. My guess is this impacted who responded.

The wording used in the conclusions, "The majority of developers do not support any organization imposing its views upon other developers or abridging other developers' rights," can also be read as a slap against Microsoft, against Apache, against any group imposing itself on the choices developers make.

Does the GPL do this? No. It's a choice developers make, alongside dozens of other license choices. And any developer can write their own, proprietary license.

The point is that controversy and suspicion follow Microsoft wherever it goes in the open source world. This is a price it has chosen to pay. Perhaps it is unaware of how high this price is. Perhaps the company does not care.

But every day the price rises.