No matter where you look in the Operating Systems market these days, you’ll see GNU/Linux making inroads. The openness of the development model has led to an operating system so flexible and scalable that it can be ported to everything from cell phones to supercomputers.
Traditional operating systems companies have taken several different approaches to this new player in the marketplace. IBM has embraced it, Microsoft has villified it, and Sun has turned it over in its hands with a mixture of fear and awe, alternating between saying “Ooh, Shiny!” and “Ow, Pointy!”.
Now a new strategy is emerging to tackle GNU/Linux, and it threatens undermine the legal safeguards for Open Source software themselves. Let’s examine the pieces of the puzzle first (thanks to this insightful post on slashdot):
- Microsoft and Sun have agreed not to sue each other for 10 years
- Microsoft has the capability and the intent to start a patent war against Linux
- Sun intends to open-source Solaris, in a drive to make it the defacto operating system
- Sun is building full Linux compatibility (via the Linux Standard Base and cloned kernel APIs) into Solaris 10
So where is all this leading? It seems to me that Microsoft it intending to sue Linux and anyone who uses it into oblivion with their patent armoury, with Sun picking up the pieces – “We offer full compatibility for all your Linux applications, on our Open Source operating system. Which by the way is the only one that is guaranteed not to be sued into oblivion by Microsoft.”.
This may not happen if Microsoft does its sums and finds that it cannot fight this in every court in the world simultaneously – but with the “harmonisation” of patent law in Europe and Australia proceeding apace, it gets easier and cheaper for US megacorporations to police their patent empire every day.
If the scenario outlined above comes about, there’s probably just one company with enough incentive and money to defend Linux – IBM.
If it doesn’t come about, MS and Sun may still use agressive FUD to convince people that it could, which is often enough to make them switch platforms.
See the previous post to read what I think of the harmonisation of patent law in Australia.