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Microsoft talks open-source love amid TomTom Linux 'war'

Linux lovers brace for action

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Microsoft has imagined a future where Windows relies on open source, just as community leaders tried to contain the fall out from what some believe could be the start of Microsoft's "war against Linux".

The company's server and tools president Bob Muglia has apparently told a technology conference he believes most of the company's products would use open-source "at some point."

Muglia was speaking at the Stanford Accel Symposium at Stanford University, California, and his comments were picked up by attendee John Newton, chief technology officer and chairman of Alfreso. "At some point almost all our product will have open source in it," Newton wrote in a Twitter flagged up by Alfreso fellow Matt Asay.

Microsoft products already contain code licensed under open source. Now it just wants more for Silverlight, Visual Studio 2010, and its Oslo modeling framework. Open source has been seen as a way for Microsoft to enrich and expand the reach of .NET.

But the timing of Muglia's words couldn't have come at a worse moment in Microsoft's long and troubled relationship with the open-source community.

He spoke just as Microsoft filed court papers in the US that accused TomTom of violating its intellectual property with that company's widely used voice-activated car navigation devices. Those devices run TomTom's own brand of GPL and LGPL'd Linux.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft's attempts to talk-down the broad threat to Linux have been dismissed, and it has fallen to representatives of the open-source community itself to call for calm, while also talking tough in the face of a potential Microsoft threat to Linux.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin and Software Freedom Law Center policy analyst Bradley Kuhn both separately moderated their concerns about the case by pointing out that this is a private dispute between Microsoft and TomTom on GPS mapping software.

Kuhn told The Reg people should press on with open-source projects, rather than obsess about what patents might or might not exist in Linux or stop their work on open-source projects through some concern over potential violations or that Microsoft might come knocking.

"Until...they are accused of infringing, there is no reason they should be worried," he said.

"I don’t believe what Microsoft says on this case that it’s not about free and open source software, but at this moment, I don’t see any evidence this patent reads on free and open source software. Patents get narrowed and invalidated during the patent litigation process all the time."

Zemlin blogged that people should calm down, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. To that end, the Linux Foundation said it's watching the situation and is ready to mount a defense of Linux should the need arise.

"The Linux ecosystem has enormously sophisticated resources available to assist in the defense of any claim that is made against Linux," Zemlin wrote.

"We do not feel assumptions should be made about the scope or facts of this case and its inclusion, if any, of Linux-related technology."

The claim that has people concerned involves TomTom's Linux using an implementation of FAT to add file system support for long and short file names, memory management for flash, and for connecting devices. The question is whether TomTom misused Microsoft's patented version of FAT32 and VFAT - which it's been licensing to third parties - or whether it employed a different implementation of FAT instead. FAT is commonly used in consumer devices, such as digital cameras, when connecting to PCs.

The TomTom picture is complicated by the fact it runs a mix of Linux and proprietary software. You can get Microsoft's filings here and here (both PDFs).

The case is ironic, given TomTom was actually found to be in violation of the GPL in October 2004 by the GPL Violations Project. TomTom subsequently agreed to make the modifications it made to Linux available online as part of the Linux Kernel.

TomTom US refused to comment on the case, but a spokesperson at its head-quarters on the Netherlands told Dow Jones TomTom would "vigorously defend" itself. ®

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