Microsoft's bold march towards open source

The software giant is demanding that users prove their innocence over IP violations. Microsoft should take the lead — and there's one obvious way forward
Written by Leader , Contributor

Microsoft is labouring under a delusion. While the rest of the world thinks of it as a software company, it prefers to consider itself a government department. How else to see its latest scheme whereby, if you ignore its questions, it will report you to its private paid-for policemen at the Business Software Alliance?

The logic behind the scheme goes thus. Microsoft's software is on the vast majority of the world's computers, so any computer you pick at random is likely to have it on. If you are a company of 200 souls, then you must be using 200 licences. If you have fewer, then you're ripping Microsoft off. If you don't admit to it, then that's even worse and you deserve to be taken to court.

Companies might feel their internal IT provisioning to be a matter for themselves alone, in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, and that they are under no obligation to reveal commercially sensitive information to their suppliers. Microsoft either disagrees or doesn't care — much as the UK's TV licensing department has given itself the right to threaten with menaces anyone who doesn't have a TV and feels under no obligation to say so. That is the attitude of an organisation safe from commercial pressure.

But what if Microsoft's logic was sound — that if you don't have a licence you're guilty until proven innocent?

We would like to suggest that before it becomes too fond of the idea, Microsoft considers a further natural consequence. We know that its software contains much intellectual property, some of it the company's own, some of it licensed or otherwise bought from others. Nobody suspects Microsoft of using intellectual property without permission. Yet if absence of evidence is not absence of evidence, then Microsoft must be the first to agree that its lack of IP infringement must be demonstrated, not merely assumed. As we know all too well — as SCO will have carved on its tombstone — the very best way to demonstrate one's innocence is to remove any hiding place.

By Microsoft's own logic, the company should immediately make all the source for all its products open for inspection. We welcome these moves by the company, and look forward very much to it making good on its own, albeit implicit, promise.

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