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'Predator' Microsoft applies to give itself cancer

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OSCON Microsoft realizes it has a schizophrenic relationship with open source software but can't seem to find any meds capable of correcting the situation.

During a speech today at OSCON, Microsoft's open source chief Bill Hilf revealed that Microsoft will submit its Shared Source License to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) for approval. Microsoft's decision to make peace with the OSI – the self-proclaimed protector of open source software – ends a rather combative, multi-year debate between the parties.

Along with the licensing shift, Microsoft has launched a new Microsoft.com/opensource web site where you can find about the software maker's work with the enemy.

We must warn you not to be confused by the "shared source" language Microsoft is using. The company introduced the Shared Source program as a way of showing customers and governments its code under tight restrictions. Microsoft will not be submitting the actual Shared Source license to the OSI, according to OSI president Michael Tiemann, who we interviewed here.

Rather, Microsoft is expected to submit two other licenses described as a permissive license and a community license. One is very BSD like and should go right through the OSI, Tiemann said, possibly by September.

"The second one will take some scrutiny with us looking at it from US and EU laws perspective," Tiemann said.

Microsoft, however, has decided to put its OSI push under the shared source banner much in the same way the OSI calls the GPL an open source license in a fashion that angers the Free Software Foundation.

Microsoft has described the Linux operating system as a cancer, generally slaughtered free software in the press and most recently threatened that it might, kinda, sort of think about suing companies over their use of open source software. At the same time, Microsoft has signed partnership agreements with the likes of Novell, SugarCRM and XenSource and fostered open source software work via its labs and developer sites.

"We have been schizophrenic at times," Hilf said. "One side of the company says this and another one says that. So people ask if we're all on the same page. We are."

Um, sort of.

For example, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and top lawyer Brad Smith led the charge against open software via the now infamous May story in Fortune. They hinted that Microsoft might start lobbing lawsuits, claiming patent violations in open source code. The company has been berated for talking loud about the matter while refusing to name the specific patents it has a problem with.

"The way that article landed . . . was extremely aggressive," Hilf said. "It made us look like a draconian, racketeering . . . predator. It did."

Hilf noted that he "immediately did an interview with IDG to explain why what the article represents is not the path we are on," which is like plugging a gunshot wound with a jellybean.

If Microsoft is in fact on the same page with open source, it's damn hard to tell.

The chumming up with the OSI, however, does prove pretty interesting. Should the OSI approve Microsoft's license, then Redmond can claim to be a full-fledged open source software maker.

Microsoft will have birthed its own cancer. ®

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