Open Season On Open Source? - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
09:32 AM

Open Season On Open Source?

Open-source products under development may be irresistible to voracious predators, says columnist Matt McKenzie.

Could Apache--the world's most widely used Web server--become a legal time bomb for thousands of companies? How about Sendmail, the world's most widely used mail transfer agent, or even Samba?

A two year-old Hewlett-Packard internal memo recently surfaced, suggesting that this is exactly what Microsoft planned to do with these open source institutions. Gary Campbell, the former HP executive who wrote the memo, believed at the time that Microsoft was preparing a legal onslaught against open-source software that would have dwarfed SCO's current legal antics.

Campbell's goal at the time was to warn his colleagues that HP should consider reducing its legal exposure to open- source products. Microsoft was, he wrote, "specifically upset about" Apache, Sendmail and Samba, all of which he considered likely targets if and when the company launched a wave of patent infringement lawsuits.

None of this came to pass, of course: although Microsoft maintains a visceral dislike of open-source software and licensing schemes, the company has never so much as hinted at the sort of high-stakes, headline-grabbing lawsuits Campbell predicted at the time. Although HP has verified the authenticity of the memo, which first appeared on the NewsForge site, the company has also taken pains to distance itself from Campbell's conclusions, which have become politically and economically inconvenient.

Could Campbell's doomsday scenario still unfold? For the time being, Microsoft is far more interested in settling old lawsuits than in launching new ones. And with SCO's Darl McBride running amok in the tech industry like a patent-happy Mini-Me, Microsoft can afford to sit back, relax and see what happens.

At the same time, however, Microsoft has taken a much more active interest in its intellectual property portfolio, including an aggressive licensing program. Is this business as usual for a company with a rich tradition of innovation, or is it the first step towards making Campbell sound like a prophet rather than a panic-monger?

It's hard to believe that Microsoft would attack a product like Apache under any circumstances; few things would be as likely to provoke a massive legal and economic backlash. On the other hand, newer and potentially more vulnerable open- source products, such as the Novell-backed Mono project, may provide far more tempting targets. If Microsoft decides to send in the lawyers, look for them to focus on new and emerging open-source software rather than established products.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of the Cloud Report
As the use of public cloud becomes a given, IT leaders must navigate the transition and advocate for management tools or architectures that allow them to realize the benefits they seek. Download this report to explore the issues and how to best leverage the cloud moving forward.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll