Open source gloats over leaked memo

Open source software advocates have concluded that a leaked Microsoft Corp. memorandum detailing a survey it conducted of IT professionals on their views of open source software shows that Microsoft's public relations tactics on open source are failing and, to win out against the software giant, open source software advocates just have to "stay the course."

The memo was posted this week at opensource.org, a Web site run by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) as the fourth internal Microsoft memo dealing with the company's strategy toward open source that OSI has released at its Web site since October 1998, said Eric Raymond, president of OSI, whose mission is to educate the public about open source software.

"The overall tone of the memorandum is very defensive," Raymond said in advising open source advocates on his conclusions to the survey. It's "not quite panicky, but the researchers are not able to name any argument with the open source community that their own figures show them to be winning. In fact, their figures indicate that we are winning. It looks like all we have to do is stay the course."

In an interview Thursday, Raymond said the memo was given to him by a source, but he declined to provide any further description of the source. He said he was satisfied that the document is genuine. Microsoft spokesman Jon Murchison declined to comment on the memo, citing company policy not to comment on leaked or speculative reports.

The memo describes the results of a telephone survey of developers; system, network and database administrators; and business executives who make decisions on IT spending. The project was developed to provide a greater understanding of how key "audiences" perceive open source, Linux, shared source and general public licenses, and which messages will be effective with each audience, an executive summary of the memo said. The survey was conducted in the U.S., Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan.

The researchers who conducted the survey found that familiarity and favorability for open source software (OSS) and Linux was high across geographies and audiences. They also found that respondents cited open source software's "low total cost of ownership" (TCO) as one of the best reasons to support OSS, but because it is an "alternative to Microsoft" was second. Forty percent of all respondents felt that a low TCO was the best reason to support OSS and one-third of all respondents cited "an alternative to Microsoft" as one of the best reasons to support OSS.

"I saw a lot of admission that (Microsoft's) PR tactics haven't been working," Raymond said.

Among the OSI's other conclusions are that the messages and tactics the open source community has developed over the last five years are working well, according to Raymond.

OSI's messages about security, total cost of ownership and competitive impact "have achieved deep penetration in Microsoft's survey population," Raymond wrote in his advice to open source advocates.

OSI also believes the survey shows that Microsoft's "fear, uncertainty and doubt" attacks on open source have not only failed, but backfired, and the open source community needs to "keep Microsoft's feet to the fire" on the TCO issue.

"Their figures indicate that we're winning that battle," Raymond wrote. "Microsoft will attempt to reverse this with all the money and marketing clout it can muster. One effective counter would be to point out the time and money overhead of keeping track of all your Microsoft licenses -- forever -- lest Microsoft send its jackbooted BSA (Business Software Alliance) thugs to shake you down."

The survey signals that Microsoft is likely to go back on the offensive in two ways, Raymond said. First, he expects that Microsoft will work harder to try to win the TCO argument.

"That one doesn't worry me," he said. "We're going to enjoy cleaning their clocks" on TCO.

But the second potential offensive, according to Raymond, is greater. It involves concern that Microsoft will go on a "patent-lawsuit rampage," especially since a U.S. District Court judge last week ruled in favor of Microsoft and a settlement of the government's antitrust lawsuit against the company.

"They are going to come after us foot, horse and marine with lawsuits that will make open source illegal based on patent infringement," Raymond said. "That really does worry me; it's a feasible strategy."

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued what Raymond described as numerous "junk software patents," and he said Microsoft owns thousands of them. If the company sues to protect them it could send fear throughout the pool of potential open source users, Raymond said.

Asked about OSI's concern about patent infringement lawsuits, Murchison said Microsoft's viewpoint is that the company greatly values intellectual property and believes in fair use and the right to return on investment.

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Gretel Johnston

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