Last nightâ€™s Microsoft press release about open source software (OSS) began with one of the most loaded sentences in OSS history: â€œToday Microsoft Corp. and Linux desktop provider Linspire Inc. announced a broad interoperability, technical collaboration (sic) that also includes intellectual property (IP) assurances.â€ This has OSS community drama, market-development and investment-research implications at all levels. I havenâ€™t had time to check the blogosphere for reaction but I would expect it to be apoplectic.
This is not like last monthâ€™s announcement with the OSS company Xandros, which is more a business venture than a community, set up in 2001 to hopefully salvage Corel-sponsored OSS efforts. This is not like last yearâ€™s announcement with Novell that sent the most rabid OSS supporters into orbit. This apparently involves one of the most rabid OSS supporters. Cathedral and Bazaar and World Dominationauthor Eric S. Raymond, self proclaimed as one of the three most influential people in the OSS movement, is a member of what Freespire calls its Community Leadership Board. Freespire is the development feed into Linspire (which in turn is a Debian-based version of Linux) in the same way Fedora is the development feed into Red Hat Enterprise Linux. See more on the OSS community aspects of this announcement at ebizQ.net if interested.
The next loaded word in the first sentence of the Microsoft press release is â€œdesktop.â€ The press release doesnâ€™t even hint at this possibility but if the deal includes Linspire desktop Linux vouchers the way the Novell deal includes SUSE server Linux vouchers, it would cement Microsoftâ€™s goal of giving its users (that is, almost everyone) true â€œopen choice.â€ Helping users put Linux on servers as the Novell deal does is one thing but helping them put it on desktops with or in place of the Windows client is the first concrete recognition of my analysis that Microsoft is already end gaming its lead product and textbook cash cow.
The game will go on for a decade or more (just as IBM continues to milk its mainframes) but, to paraphrase Churchill I think, although this is not the beginning of the end, it is the end of the beginning for Windows. In my analysis, Microsoft will move away from selling technology in favor of going all SaaS (look for the Liveâ€¦ brand on everything from entertainment software to really cool new B2C stuff to Longhorn). The next decade for Microsoft is all about the experience according to Ray Ozzie. Therefore Microsoft doesnâ€™t care in the long run whether users have Linux on their desktops or OpenOffice on their servers. It may even have big-time fault-tolerant Linux in its SaaS farm. Of course since Microsoft is currently doing $40 billion in â€œtraditionalâ€ business, this transition will be evolutionary not revolutionary
From a tactical point of view, this is the beginning of Microsoftâ€™s counterattack on the soon-to-be finalized FSF General Public License version 3 (GPLv3). GPLv3 is now in â€œfinal call for commentsâ€ and this agreement provides a great way for Microsoft to explain the differences between open choice with OSS and rabid OSS as preached by the Free Software Foundation. Through this agreement, Linspire and Microsoft say they will work to
Â· Advance office document compatibility with (Linspire will also collaborate with Novell)
Â· Enhance instant messaging interoperability (Linspire will license Microsoftâ€™s RT Audio Codec)
Â· Reinforce existing collaboration on digital media (the latter being the key ESR issue with the rabid OSS movement).
Linspire customers only receive these instant messaging and digital media technologies (along with certain TrueType fonts) if they purchase a patent SKU. The technologies are not shipped with all Linspire 5.0 distributions. The patent covenants provide customers assurances that the Linspire technologies they use come with rights to relevant Microsoft patents. Implicit is the same Linux-patent thing that caused the Novell fuss.
In addition, Linspire will make Live Search the default search engine with its desktop operating system product. Ironically that is reportedly something Google is telling the U.S. Justice Department that Microsoft canâ€™t even do.
— Dennis Byron