The one thing Microsoft must do - but won't - to gain open-source trust

Opinion: It can stop forcing companies to pay for its bogus Android patents. Right. Like that's ever going to happen.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I've been a Linux and open-source software user since the early days. I'm writing this story using LibreOffice 5.1 on a Linux Mint 17.3 desktop. And I don't just believe -- I know -- that Microsoft has changed its anti-open-source ways.


Look at Microsoft's leadership. In 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shouted that Microsoft loves Linux. Even former Microsoft CEO Steve "Linux is a cancer" Ballmer, now thinks Microsoft working with open-source software is a good idea.

It's not even like this is a new Microsoft policy. Back in 2008, Sam Ramji, now the CEO of Cloud Foundry and then Microsoft's director of platform technology strategy and Open Source Software Lab, said: "The Microsoft open-source strategy is focused on helping customers and partners be successful in today's heterogeneous technology world."

Talk is cheap. Code matters, and Microsoft has risen to the challenge.

In 2016 alone, Microsoft has announced SQL Server on Linux; integrated Eclipse and Visual Studio, launched an open-source network stack on Debian Linux; and it's adding Ubuntu Linux to its Azure Stack hybrid-cloud offering.

The list goes on. Last year, Microsoft worked hard with Linux and open-source software. Microsoft brought .NET Core to Linux; supported Debian GNU/Linux on its Azure cloud; and even came up with its own Linux certification. On top of that, it offers the open-source Hadoop big data software on Ubuntu. Microsoft even has its own, specialized Linux "distribution" -- Azure Cloud Switch.

So why, with all this, are many open-source fans and developers certain that Microsoft can't be trusted?

Some of them hate it because they're sure Microsoft is just up to its same old "Embrace, extend, and extinguish" tricks. I don't think so. Microsoft is releasing most of its code under true open-source licenses. There's no hidden trap here.

Other people hate Microsoft because, well, they've always hated Microsoft. For them, the Microsoft of today is the same Microsoft of the '90s and '00s that financed SCO's attack on Linux. It's not.

More and more people in the open-source community are realizing that 2016's Microsoft is not the greedy, win at all costs Microsoft of Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer.

There is, however, one thing that many open-source people agree keeps them from really trusting Microsoft: Its continued demand that Android vendors pay them for Android patents. As recently as early March, Microsoft signed on two more Android patent licensees.

Every time I write about a Microsoft open-source move, readers tell me that if Microsoft were really serious about being a good open-source citizen they'd stop forcing companies to pay for its bogus Android patents.

Bogus? Yes, bogus.

You see, thanks to China, we know what the 310 patents are that Microsoft uses against Android. According to M-Cam, a global financial institution that advises corporations and investors on corporate finance and asset allocation by underwriting intellectual property (IP) and intangible assets (IA), most of Microsoft's Android patents cover ideas that are "already part of the public domain."

That's one reason why Microsoft made patent peace with Google/Motorola Mobility in September 2015. Microsoft didn't give up on its patents, but it stopped trying to get Google to pay for them.

So, why are people still paying up rather than fighting? Because patent litigation is incredibly expensive. It's cheaper to pay a $5 to $15 per device licensing fee than to pay a small fortune and take even a remote chance of failure in court.

And Microsoft? Come on, back in 2014, Microsoft was already making about $3.4 billion from its Android patents. Samsung alone paid Microsoft a billion bucks to license its Android patents. This is serious money even by Fortune 500 standards.

In its last quarter, volume licensing and patents, accounted for approximately 9 percent of Microsoft's total revenue.

And, that, of course, is why Microsoft is never going to stop charging for its Android patents. So long as the boys from Redmond can milk these patents for billions every year, they're going to keep them.

Why shouldn't they? While some open-source programmers may be unhappy about Microsoft patent-trollish ways, major open-source companies such as Canonical and Red Hat are partnering with Microsoft.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Hard-core free software developers are never going to trust Microsoft anyway. So what? So long as Microsoft can profit from Android patents while still working with open-source enterprises, the company has no reason whatsoever to change its ways.

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