A two-year-old internal Hewlett-Packard memo shows the company expected Microsoft to launch an all-out legal assault on open-source software.
Sent shortly after HP struck a patent cross-licensing deal with Microsoft, the June 2002 e-mail memo urges top HP executives to work together on a strategy to protect HP from the fallout of lawsuits stemming from its use of open-source technologies that might infringe on Microsoft patents.
"Basically Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open-source software," Gary Campbell wrote. "We don't have to exit selling to the open-source market, but we need to plan smartly where to reduce our exposure."
Campbell was at the time HP's vice-president of strategic architecture. He is now vice-president of enterprise servers and storage.
HP confirmed the note's authenticity but downplayed its importance. "As this memo was created over two years ago, we believe it is not relevant today," spokeswoman Elizabeth Phillips said.
She highlighted HP's ongoing commitment to Linux and other open-source technologies - it was one of the first companies to indemnify its customers against The SCO Group's lawsuits - as well as its strong partnership with Microsoft.
Despite that longstanding alliance, Campbell was worried that HP would be on Microsoft's hit list. His memo speculated that Microsoft would launch its legal fusillade within the next few months, after it resolved its lingering antitrust issues.
"They are specifically upset about Samba, Apache and Sendmail. We believe Samba is first," he wrote. Campbell also forecast that Microsoft rivals building around open-source technology, including Intel, Red Hat, Oracle and SuSE (since acquired by Novell), would be in Microsoft's sights.
Campbell's memo was sent nine months before SCO launched a lawsuit against IBM over Linux technology that SCO claims infringes on its Unix ownership. That case, which is not scheduled for trial until late 2005, is viewed by the industry as an indicator for infringement claims over open-source technologies.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has spent the past year dealing with existing legal cases rather than starting new ones. A court decision last month ended one of the few remaining US cases against Microsoft for antitrust violations.
In April Microsoft agreed to spend nearly $2bn (£1.08bn) on a settlement resolving all outstanding litigation with longtime foe Sun Microsystems. It followed that with a $440m payment to end another case with InterTrust Technologies.
"The company's legal strategy right now is one of settlement," said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. Thanks to SCO, Microsoft can benefit from uncertainty about Linux's legality without risking its own legal offensive, Wilcox noted.
"From a technology perspective, Microsoft is doing its just-the-facts campaign, trying to show the benefits of Windows versus open-source. One of the benefits Microsoft touts is the clarity of the licensing - there is a point of accountability," he said.
"Regardless of its legitimacy, the SCO lawsuit has raised questions about the open-source intellectual property licensing model, and that's something Microsoft has been quick to take advantage of in its marketing."
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service