The Beat Of The TomTom, Pt. 2 - InformationWeek

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2/27/2009
02:38 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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The Beat Of The TomTom, Pt. 2

Voices from all sides are rising to further discussion of Microsoft vs. TomTom, with Linux and open source possibly caught in-between. It's not looking like

Voices from all sides are rising to further discussion of Microsoft vs. TomTom, with Linux and open source possibly caught in-between. It's not looking like it'll be a case of proxy war against FOSS, though: that would be political suicide for Microsoft, and a slow death by a thousand cuts. Here's the latest.

First up is the Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin, who urges both calm and foresight:

If this case is in any way directed at Linux (in fact, Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's corporate VP and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing, has specifically stated that it isn't), the Linux ecosystem has enormously sophisticated resources available to assist in the defense of any claim that is made against Linux.

This is something I'm fairly sure Microsoft knows in its marrow now, having seen what happened to SCO. They tried to pull a trick of that ilk and got torn to shreds -- in public, no less. The ecosystem (I love that word) has defended itself so far mostly in the form of local skirmishes that have been settled out of court. But at some point, there's likely to be a full-blown battle, and when that happens a sleeping (or not-so-sleeping) giant will wake up.

When I spoke to Keith Bergelt of the Open Invention Network, he was far more directly critical: "The message that Microsoft has been putting out over the last year to 18 months, thanks to their presence in open source forums and Sam Ramji, is that a lot of that effort is not more than rhetoric, and that their behaviors are the same. The inclusion of patents and the targeting of Linux, whether it's by design or not, is provocative.

"And it's unfortunate, because any of the work they were doing to develop a better manner of comportment and integration within the community will be for naught. It also solidifies the resolve of the community to support Linux users and the rights of them to use Lx. Irrespective of whether TomTom has other [patent] issues, this is a separate action. This action, by dragging in those Linux-targeting patents, is just more of Microsoft being Microsoft, and underscores how far they still have to go to be accepted by the open source community."

In a situation like this, I asked, what could they say that would help show others they're not going on a Linux headhunt?

"Nothing. You're judged by what you do, not what you say. What they've done is essentially utilize patents to target Linux. They could pull those patents out of the suit, but what they say is irrelevant. They've said for 18 months that they've wanted to work with the open source world, but what you do is what you judge them by. It's inconsistent with the rhetoric they've made and the programs they've implemented to become more open. The perception is that those messages are totally hollow."

The strength of the open source community to defend its own also has grown with time, something Keith likened to a sort of Moore's Law for the strength of FOSS. It's not just little guys or big guys who are involved now, but outfits of all sizes.

My final question was: Is this likely to be settled out of court? The short answer: Yes. Statistically, the majority of these types of cases get settled out of court, something both of us agreed would likely be the case here. Does anyone want a redux of the SCO case? Certainly not Microsoft, which has enough black eyes for any 10 companies by now.


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