April 1, 2005

Microsoft joins OSDL, frees Linux of liability

Author: Jay Lyman

APRIL FOOLS DAY SPECIAL -- Adding what is perhaps its most significant member to date, the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has announced that longtime open source opponent Microsoft is joining its ranks, giving Eric Raymond a seat on the Microsoft Board of Directors and agreeing to a sweeping intellectual property agreement this week.

OSDL said that after several hours of intense negotiations, officials of the "center of gravity for Linux and open source" had brokered the deal with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who downplayed the membership of a proprietary software maker in an open source organization.

"Microsoft's decision to join OSDL was driven by our commitment to our customers," Ballmer said in a statement. "We realize that some of those customers do not want to pay for our licenses, want access to source code, or for some other reason go with a competing product or platform. Today's announcement ensures that even if customers do not willingly choose Microsoft, we might still have a chance at forcing them to do so."

OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen said he was happy to bring Microsoft on board, calling it "a nice change of pace for OSDL."

As part of its membership agreement, Microsoft has agreed to put controversial open source proponent Eric Raymond on its board, indicating that Raymond will be entitled to "attend meetings and everything." Raymond was not asked for comment, but was reportedly planning to protest the entire MS-OSDL agreement by boycotting Microsoft's board meetings.

The addition of the Redmond, Wash. based software giant to OSDL -- which already has a pantheon of members including IBM, Intel, and companies from Asia, Europe and the Aleutian Islands -- was also marked by an extraordinary intellectual property sharing arrangement that is aimed at erasing fears that Microsoft might use software patents or licenses against its competitors.

Through this deal, Microsoft gains access to the complete source code for the Linux operating system. In return, OSDL has reportedly won immunity for all 283 alleged Windows patent infringements in GNU/Linux.

"This agreement gives Microsoft full access to the Linux code so we can now fully and legally compare it and possibly integrate it into our own compelling products," Ballmer said. "It also means Linux users and supporters can rest at ease that Microsoft will not take legal action against them, at least not at this time."

In a somewhat related note, OSDL's Cohen refuted rumors about Microsoft's membership possibly clearing the way for the SCO Group, a Utah software company that has made its own intellectual property claims over Linux, to join the open source nonprofit as well.

"On the question of SCO, well... um... all I can say is, 'stranger things have happened,'" Cohen said.

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