Microsoft, thanks to their deep pockets and scary lawyers, is still doing today what it has done for years to anyone that threatens it’s market position. The difference now though, is that Open Source is not one single company that they can buy or push around. They are, however, finding some sheep that will roll over for fear of being dragged into a legal battle. This fear is not based on losing the law suit, but rather the waiting game that eats money for attorneys and other related costs of defending against this suit. It’s kind of like a staring contest; the first one to run out of money loses. Linspire (the distro formerly known as Lindows), is the latest to cower in their cubicles and corner offices for fear of being buried alive by an avalanche of patent infringements. Here is the gist of what Microsoft has to offer to those willing to come clean; Under the PR guise of a “Covenant to Customers” at least 3 Linux publishers have climbed on board. Essentially, if any of the GPL/GNU concepts are touched on, the “Covenant” is violated. With the exception of patches, any other modification or alteration of the code is not allowed, nor is it okay to make copies of the software to give away to your friends – unless of course, additional fees are paid to Microsoft. Remember, we are talking about Linux – not Microsoft products. Microsoft excludes a number of things from this EULA for LINUX, including anything released under GPL3 because of the clause (section 10 paragraph 3 GPL3) expressly forbidding the imposition of restrictions or fees of this sort on anything released under GPL3. The GPL3 was publicly released on June 29, 2007. It’s announcement triggered much complaining from Redmond as Microsoft asserted that this license did not apply to them, regardless of their deal with Novell last year and that they will not support any software released under it. The GPL3 is barely 10 pages long yet it took a heard of the best lawyers that money can buy 6 days to come up with a way to plug another hole in the Microsoft dike. Microsoft is notorious for including clauses in their EULA’s that protect them in many different ways – see section 2, paragraph 17 of the XP Home EULA. They never afford the same protections to the consumer though. Microsoft even goes so far as to state that they have sole discretion when it comes to determining if you or they have violated the “agreement”. According to the new Covenant to Customers,
By necessity, the covenant is conditioned upon the Customer providing Microsoft, upon its request, with sufficient information to verify which copies of Client Offerings are Covered Products subject to the covenant.
Again, this is in favor of Microsoft; it is up to them to decide what’s covered and what is not. For all of the legal speak, they fail to provide a means by which any disagreement between you and them about coverage can be resolved. Every EULA since Windows 3.0 has had similar wording. Microsoft is interested in embracing Open Source so long as it’s on their terms. Microsoft really promises the world but then puts so many conditions on it that there is no way to get it. The Covenant to the Customer promises that you – the consumer – won’t be sued so long as you use an extremely narrow set of programs distributed by Linspire. Business applications and servers are explicitly excluded from the “allowed” programs list.
So, watch out! The next time that you’re looking for the rush of scrolling through 5,000 ports/packages trying to decide what you want to install first, or when you download the Postfix and spamassassin tarballs to set up the new company mail server, watch your back because Microsoft just might try to punk you!