Microsoft 's new strategy involves using its intellectual property to maximum advantage, even if that means sharing it with other companies. Microsoft's deals with Novell and Red Hat showed that they are even willing to work with Linux vendors if they see a business benefit. Although the book emphasizes the positive strategy of Microsoft opening up its patent portfolio, many of the same measures (such as patent cross-licensing) have a defensive advantage as well.
Like every story, though, there are two sides. Cortés may be seen as a brave explorer in Spain, but he's not as popular in Mexico where he slaughtered unarmed natives and destroyed cities. If you're a fan of strong intellectual property laws, then Microsoft's transformation is a story of a company going from an IP victim to an IP powerhouse. If you're concerned about frivolous patents hurting innovation, Microsoft's discovery that IP can help the bottom line means they might prefer to milk the system rather than reform it.
Most of the book is a straightforward narrative of Microsoft's IP transformation from Phelp's perspective, including details of several deals with companies such as Novell and Toshiba. The final chapter changes tone and is a strongly opinionated treatise on intellectual property. Phelps tries to make the case that strong IP laws actually favor small inventors, although it's hard to see how the current system does that. The final section in the book is titled "Just say no to the 'Free Content' farce," a parting shot at Google's business model.
Burning the Ships provides insight into Microsoft's recent IP moves from an insider's perspective, but the company's newfound desire to share doesn't seem like all good news for the tech industry. The question isn't whether there should be IP rights, but whether current law strikes the right balance. I have concerns that it doesn't. It's great that Microsoft has found a way to monetize the discoveries they make, though, and I'll continue that thought next time.