There has recently been a rather fascinating back and forth among Microsoft and the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community, namely regarding Linux.

Here is some ground work, first. According to Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, regarding the servers used today, roughly 75% are Microsoft, 20% are Linux based (Linux is in the forefront of Open Source software), and the other percentage is various other operating systems. Regarding personal computers, once again Microsoft corners the market, but the overall percentage is less clear. This is because much of the Linux software is free, so it is quite difficult to track how many pc’s have Linux on them relative to the overall market.

Microsoft, like any giant corporation, is worried about it’s market shares and their overall place in the market and whether or not they might eventually have a monopoly. Linux (and Open Source) is also worried about whether or not Microsoft might eventually have a monopoly.

Ground work aside, Ballmer opens the recent media exchange between Microsoft and FOSS by stating that Linux is a cancer upon all it touches (Chicago Sun Times). The premise behind this statement is that the GNU Public License (the license under which Linux is issued) indicates (according to Steve Ballmer) that whenever other software is used with another under the GNU Public License it must also be open source software. Well, that’s not quite what the GNU Public License says, but the license is certainly confusing enough to allow for interpretation.

In a statement soon after this one at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference in Seattle, Steve Ballmer indicates that Linux has been steeling source code and “uses our [Microsoft’s] intellectual property.” Clearly this infuriated a great many in the FOSS community. Comments began arising from various Linux forums like, “If Linux is stealing source code, then how is the Linux OS (operating system) so much more stable than Windows is?” and, “Stealing code? Which code?!” Steve Ballmer did not specify which code in particular Linux has taken and is close lipped on the subject. Nor has Mr. Ballmer clarified specifically which “intellectual property” Linux has taken.

It has been further speculated that the reason that Mr. Ballmer has made these claims and kept them relatively vague was because it suited Microsoft well to play this part. By making general claims it allows Microsoft to appear to be the “good guy,” with Linux as the proverbial thief in the night. If Microsoft were to make specific claims then it would have to get in a battle on which code was being taken and would lessen the public’s view of the software giant. It would then appear to be the big bully pushing around little Linux. It would also further infuriate the FOSS community, perhaps to the point of legal conflict.

In a further twist of technological back-and-forth, Microsoft has made a deal with Novell (distributors of Suse and Red Hat Linux). The concept behind the deal was this: since Linux was supposedly guilty of using Microsoft’s intellectual property then, to avoid any future litigation, Novell is now the primary Linux distributor for Microsoft. In other words, if Microsoft were to recommend a type of Linux, Suse or Red Hat would be the one they recommended because, as suggested by the terms of the deal, Novell would not be among those guilty of theft from Microsoft.

Again, the supposed “theft” is hugely un-specified. Linux users and code writers, en-mass, have no knowledge of anything being taken from Microsoft’s products. In fact, much of the general Linux population feels that the deal between Novell and Microsoft is a “sell out” by Novell simply to avoid any conflict at all. It seems Microsoft got it’s way by making general theft claims.

All of this taking place on the eve of the release of the latest Microsoft Windows, Vista. It could easily be speculated (and has been in a variety of Linux public forums) that this accusation of Linux by Microsoft was to reduce the use of the Linux operating system, at least a little bit, so that the release of Vista would take place with a little greater flair and less resistance from the Linux competitor. After all, Vista requires a greater amount of hardware to run than Windows XP and Linux requires even less than either. Different companies in the economy are using the model available at site for the development. All the pros and cons of the model should be available with the person while using them. 

It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft actually comes forth with specific accusations against Linux. It will also be interesting to see how the agreement between Novell and Microsoft will effect each of these software companies. But most of all, it will be interesting to see how the release of Vista fairs and whether or not this Linux/Microsoft exchange helps or hurts the overall acceptance of Vista and Microsoft as a whole.