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Microsoft co-opts Caldera, Torvalds in Shared Source offensive

Divide and Annoy

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We thought it was a slip of the tongue, but no - it's official! Microsoft today enshrined 'Shared Source' in pride of place on its website, and called on its lead punch-bag Craig Mundie to renew his assault on software libre. This time, Mundie used space offered by the CNet/ZDNet empire as a bully pulpit. There's little new to his latest diatribe, and Mundie's role seems to be falling into place: more of a Wheedler-in-Chief than Philosopher Prince.

Under the headline 'Open source software is still questionable' Mundie points out that the commercial software industry employs 1.35 million people and produces $175 billion in revenue. Mundie revisits his May 3 speech by again suggesting that the GNU General Public License makes the realisation of scientific innovations difficult.

Defensively, he gives a special mention to his employer's speciality: marketing and packaging. "The creativity and inventiveness [Bell, Edison, Ford] needed to deliver their products was comparable to that needed for the underlying theory or discovery that made their business possible in the first place." So the heroes were never the inventors, Mundie seems to be saying, but the suits.

Mundie offers a hostage to fortune with this warning: "When comparing the commercial software model to the open-source software model, look carefully at the business plans and licensing structures that form their foundations." Aye, lad, aye.

So far, so teeth-grindingly familiar. However using some selective quotations, Mundie draws the open source luminaries to his cause.

Linus Torvalds is cited as acknowledging that "Linux is never going to be a rich sell. In the same interview with Interactive Week, we recall, Torvalds pithily dismissed Mundie's grandstanding as "so much crap... not worth the paper it's printed on."

He also enlists Ransom Love, Caldera CEO, who has long been sceptical about making money of pure GPL software. Love perhaps unwisely chose the week of Mundie's speech to reiterate this scepticism, and duly Mundie serves it up again, cold.

Plan B: Annoy Eric

Now Mundie evidently wants to prise open some philosophical differences in the community.

Torvalds, Stallman and thousands of other software libre developers may not care about becoming millionaires - they're happy enough to be comfortable, and know they're contributing to the commons. But defending the right to become disgustingly rich - or defending the right of the disgustingly rich to get even richer - is one of the foundations of West Coast libertarianism. (By contrast European libertarians tend to be more preoccupied with doing what libertarians should be doing: uncovering and fighting the excesses of state power. And there's quite enough of that about).

So Mundie is tacitly evoking the spirit of the kooky high priestess of the cult, and the WC libs' pin-up Ayn Rand, whose writings trumpet the "virtue of selfishness". If software libre proves anything, it might be that this is a fairly limited way of looking at the world, although that hasn't stopped people trying to square the circle.

Now this only matters in so much as that Rant is one of Eric Raymond's heroes, so it looks to us like Mundie has planted his finger firmly in Eric's butt, and is going to give it a sadistic twist now and again.

The leaders have their own differences, as illustrated by the fact that the 'Stand Together' community statement that Bruce Perens whipped up earlier this week, signed by Raymond, Stallman, Torvalds and half a dozen other luminaries was so anodyne it barely limped out of its HTML tags. But Mundie thinks he can divide, if not conquer. Althought he might have his work cut out.

We suspect ESR is far too smart to rise to the challenge - his first, lightening response when tipped off about the original Mundie spech was spot on, declaring the PR offensive a red herring designed to detract attention from Microsoft tightening the screw on its own licensing policies. Pointing to Microsoft's monopoly profits may be painful for some libertarians, but it's the only repost Mundie needs, we'd have thought. ®

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