Microsoft open policy faces scrutiny

Microsoft faces an uphill battle in trying to convince the market that its efforts at openness are sincere.

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Microsoft is in the same boat as the open-source vendors, he said. Microsoft is hit with patent-infringement suits "on a weekly basis," he said. Also, Microsoft itself has paid $1.5 billion in the past couple of years to other companies for IP rights, he said. "It's our job as a vendor to do that so you as a user don't have to worry about it," he said.

Curiously, Microsoft declines to specify which of its patents are relevant to Linux. "We do discuss the details of our technologies and patents with companies that are engaged in good-faith licensing dialogue," said Gutierrez. "That's the proper context in which to have it, that's the way it's handled in the industry."

But others think there's probably another reason that Microsoft won't specify which of its patents are relevant. "As soon as you declare patents you believe are infringed, they become the subject of re-examination," Rosoff noted.

Rosoff doesn't think that Microsoft actually intends to sue anyone using Linux. "This is part of a campaign to cast uncertainty over the IP heritage of open-source software," he said.

Yet, despite all the scepticism about Microsoft's motives, its actions will have some upsides for users and for Microsoft, said Rosoff. Interoperability between Microsoft and other software will be good for end-users, he said.

Also, Microsoft's decisions to open up some of its products could spur more use and better services for users. Microsoft recently launched Live Mesh, a service that will let end-users synch and share data among a variety of devices, such as their PCs and mobile phones.

But along with the service, Microsoft announced it would open the platform so that developers could build applications that use Live Mesh to synch data. That open strategy should encourage more use of the service, Rosoff said.

Still, Microsoft won't please everyone, and it doesn't even plan on trying. "We don't expect that everybody is going to be satisfied with the steps that we take, and we recognize that some parts of the industry or spectrum will never be satisfied because they ideologically do not believe that there should be proprietary software at all, or that there should be IP rights on software," Gutierrez said.

"We respect their view, but obviously this is not a view that this company has been founded and succeeded on. That is not an audience we're trying to convert."

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