Microsoft today claimed that open source software violates 238 patents. Despite widespread calls to name such patents, no details have been given. Microsoft suggested that companies selling the popular open source software Linux should sign agreements to pay Microsoft, or face litigation. Basically, they issued a vague threat.
Wait, isn't Windows based on Open Source technology?
Microsoft must want us to forget that Windows is based on a number of open source technologies. Their networking code, the logic that lets you surf the Internet or access a file server, is a blatant copy of the open-source Berkeley (BSD) Sockets API. Sure, they renamed a few things, but the lineage is obvious.
In general, the history of operating system (OS) development has been an evolutionary family tree, where a new OS borrows ideas from previous designs and adds something of its own. Operating Systems are similar by the nature of the hardware they run on top of. Similarity also arises from the need to interoperate.
Copy, Tweak, then Claim Ownership
Remember the open source Berkeley (BSD) Sockets API that Microsoft copied? One of the reasons this API is still in wide use today is that it is designed to be extensible. It is a design layer that works well over many different networks. Microsoft tweaked it slightly, like everyone else does, and then applied for a patent. (My basic interpretation of Winsock Direct is that Microsoft copied the BSD sockets API, created a streamlined implementation of it for performance reasons, and then claimed that they owned a patent on any streamlined BSD sockets implementation. In fact, the API is designed for, and has been used for, such techniques from the beginning.) Perhaps this is one of the vague 238 patents they are threatening to sue over?
We Don't Want to Play Anymore, and We're Taking Our Game Home.
There is zero doubt that Microsoft borrowed ideas and code from multiple (open source) operating systems in building Windows. (Another symptom of this is Windows' implementaion of the POSIX interface.) Now that Microsoft has a monopoly with its cash cow, Windows, they want to stop others from innovating. They must be concerned that open source, the type of collaboration which brought us BSD, Linux, and oh, the Internet, is going to put them out of business. So today, Microsoft is threatening OS developers with an army of well paid lawyers and silly patents.
Can You Smell the Sinking Goodwill?
This sort of behavior is a disservice to the computer science community. I hope that people continue to take notice and make the appropriate career, purchasing, and investment decisions. If you care about computer science research, don't work for Microsoft. When you use an OS, choose a Mac for the desktop, and FreeBSD, Solaris, or Linux for your servers. When you invest in technology companies, avoid the SCOs and MSFTs that use lawyers to bully the community that made them rich. Invest in one of the many companies who are out there, innovating, working hard, and creating value. You can only screw your own customers for so long.