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Microsoft claims Linux is purveyor of chaos

Microsoft has renewed its offensive against open-source software development, the third salvo to be released by the company since January.

On 3 May, at a speech to New York University's Stern School of Business, Craig Mundie, the company's senior vice president of advanced strategies, claimed that the open-source movement could result in "product instability" and "inherent security risks" for software users.

Open-source development "leads to a strong possibility of unhealthy 'forking' of a code base," potentially producing incompatible versions of programs, said Mundie. Even more disruptive, he added, is the GNU general public licence (GPL) under which much open-source software is created.

When a developer alters software already covered under the GPL, the new code is also deemed subject to the licence, meaning that it is not owned by any individual company. The problem, Mundie argued, is that the GPL does away with intellectual property rights, making open-source development an impossible road for a healthy business model.

Open-source approaches "ask software developers to give away for free the very thing they create that is of greatest value, in the hope that somehow they'll make money selling something else," said Mundie. "In effect, [the GPL] puts at risk the continued vitality of the independent software sector."

Microsoft does, however, see some parts of the open-source world positively, said David Coburn, program manager at Microsoft's platforms group, such as the opportunity to have multiple programmers working independently to build and debug code. Earlier this year, Microsoft expanded a program for sharing its Windows source code with users, although no changes can be made in the code.

But at the same time, Coburn said, Microsoft believes that the GPL requirements "are essentially taking away incentives to private enterprises". Microsoft does "take competition seriously, whether it's from open-source or anywhere else," he added. "Linux is competition."

This is not the first time that the company has targeted the open-source movement. Two months ago, Jim Allchin, Microsoft's vice president for platforms, publicly criticised open-source development as an "intellectual property destroyer". And at the LinuxWorld conference in New York in January, Doug Miller, a group product manager for Microsoft's server-level software, said open-source development could lead to "chaos ... where people create code that may be incompatible".

Al Gillen, an analyst at market research company International Data Corporation, said Microsoft apparently feels that it can no longer remain idle while corporate users eye the progress of open-source development.

Microsoft officials are now "saying they have some open-source ideas and raising it to an issue where the company can be a part of the conversation," said Gillen. "I really think they need to address the issue. They can't dodge it [anymore]."

Products that come out of the GPL process "are a danger" to Microsoft, he added.

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