Comment Somebody toss me a Che Guevara T-shirt. Google and Microsoft have gone to war over open source software.
On Aug. 10, Redmond submitted the Microsoft Permissive License to the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Should the license be approved, Microsoft would receive the "open source" seal of approval that only the OSI – by self-proclamation – can okay.
Many open source watchers have applauded Microsoft's OSI approach. You'll remember that Microsoft has dubbed some open source software the work of cancer-ridden communists. So, seeking "open source" approval shows the software maker has come a long way.
Of course, one could argue that Microsoft – once blessed with the open source label – will only abuse its status. The company could claim to be a huge open source supporter, derailing critics' arguments by displaying nothing more than the OSI logo when needed.
Chris DiBona, Google's open source manager, seems to fall into this cynical camp.
I'll quote DiBona's Aug. 16 posting to an OSI discussion list in full as proof.
I would like to ask what might be perceived as a diversion and maybe even a mean spirited one. Does this submission to the OSI mean that Microsoft will:
a) Stop using the market confusing term Shared Source b) Not place these licenses and the other, clearly non-free , non-osd licenses in the same place thus muddying the market further. c) Continue its path of spreading misinformation about the nature of open source software, especially that licensed under the GPL? d) Stop threatening with patents and oem pricing manipulation schemes to deter the use of open source software?
If not, why should the OSI approve of your efforts? That of a company who has called those who use the licenses that OSI purports to defend a communist or a cancer? Why should we see this seeking of approval as anything but yet another attack in the guise of friendliness?
Finally, why should yet another set of minority, vanity licenses be approved by an OSI that has been attempting to deter copycat licenses and reduce license proliferation? I'm asked this for all recent license-submitters and you are no different :-)
The smiley face didn't go as far as DiBona hoped toward diluting the force of his questions.
Bill Hilf, Microsoft's, er, open source chief, shot back at DiBona.
I'm unclear how some of your questions are related to our license submissions, which is what I believe this list and the submission process are designed to facilitate. You're questioning things such as Microsoft's marketing terms, press quotes, where we put licenses on our web site, and how we work with OEMs - none of which I could find at http://opensource.org/docs/osd.
If you'd like to discuss this, I'd be happy to - and I have a number of questions for you about Google's use of and intentions with open source software as well. But this is unrelated to the OSD compliance of a license, so I will do this off-list and preferably face to face or over the phone.
Come on, guys. Don't discuss the issues behind closed doors. We all want to watch the show.
I think it would be near impossible for an outside observer not to take Microsoft's side here.
For one, Microsoft has done all the OSI asks by submitting its license in the proper fashion for review. If the license meets the OSI's open source definition, does it really matter who submitted it? Is this Russia? This isn't Russia, Danny.
Beyond that, Google hardly stands as a model open source company – a point noted by Hilf. Google has become the poster child for the software as a service (SaaS) abuse of open source software. The ad broker uses copious amounts of open code but gets around returning changes to "the community" by claiming it does not redistribute the code. Instead, Google simply places the software on servers and ships a service to consumers.
The Free Software Foundation avoided closing the SaaS hole – a problem caused by an archaic notion of distribution as being tied to a diskette or CD – with GPL v3. Google couldn't care less about that though, since it will avoid any problematic license
"We have enough engineering resources that, if the license has obligations we are not interested in, we can just not use it," DiBona said, at the recent OSCON conference.
Google's secretive nature leaves us in the dark as to how much code it has turned back to "the community." The best statement I've seen thus far has a Google official claiming to have put back 1 million lines of code.
Does such generosity move you? Or do you find Yahoo!'s forceful backing of Hadoop more impressive? I'll go with the latter.
Google has those darling colored balls, and DiBona seems like a really nice guy. But I keep thinking the search giant has just as serious open source questions to answer as Microsoft.
Google consumes vast amounts of open source code. The company funds DiBona as an active, outspoken member of the open source "community." Google also pays for various open source-related events. And it's a fun-loving paradise where evil goes to die over a bed of Bibb lettuce topped with cumin-crusted lamb, lime juice and cilantro.
Microsoft describes Linux as a cancer. It also makes unsubstantiated claims about open source software potentially violating its patents. And, well, it talks about knifing the baby instead of tossing around colored balls.
But which company is open source's biggest threat in 2007? The one clinging to an operating system and productivity suite monopoly? Or the one that controls your search queries, e-mails, instant messages, photos, documents and soon phone calls without ever discussing an open standard that will let you manipulate all that data or let you move it to a new service provider?
If we're talking about ideals, then I think Google is the bigger threat these days.
The erosion of Microsoft's monopolies is inevitable. All we need is time.
I fail, however, to hear Google telling us much of anything about how it will open its data piles, how it will open its code or how it will do any of these things without pumping an ad down our throats every chance it gets.
In short, Google's motives deserve as much attention as Microsoft's in the "open" wars.
Where Microsoft has turned to the OSI for approval, Google has vowed to engineer around it. So, I fail to see how Google has much of a right to beat on Microsoft's past.
Let's all put on our Che Guevara T-Shirts and celebrate the inauthentic until some real open source vendor is ready to take on this discussion. ®