The convenient fiction that Microsoft is evil

For many within the open-source community, it's easier to hate Microsoft than to engage it. This is a mistake, and won't help open source solve its own problems.

It's a convenient fiction that Microsoft is the source of all evil in the technology world, particularly for a vocal minority within the open-source community.

For such people, Microsoft hate is an excuse for a distinct lack of introspection, and credits Microsoft with far better execution and strategy than it actually possesses.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a goofy laugh. I'm not sure it's an evil one.

I mention Microsoft because some within the open-source community quickly pounced on the company's inadvertent violation of the GPL in its Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. Microsoft's Peter Galli was quick to acknowledge it:

[The license violation] was not intentional on our part. While we had contracted with a third party to create the tool, we share responsibility as we did not catch it as part of our code review process.

As conspiracies against open source go, it sounds pretty harmless--because it probably is. Open-source licensing is complex enough and the process for acquiring open-source software is loose enough, that there is room for all sorts of error, both nefarious and benign.

Guess what? People--and corporations filled with people--make mistakes. Even Microsoft. If it was as evil as some suspect, the devil himself would be out of a job.

As open-source adoption dramatically increases, we should expect to see errors of this kind increase, and not out of any sinister plan to pilfer open-source code. Errors are natural and are evidence that adoption is spreading beyond the inner sanctum of open sourcerors.

We shouldn't expect open-source adoption to be flawless or painless.

Consider Symbian. The foundation decided to aggressively embrace open source as a way to guide it to an optimistic future, but the process of open-sourcing its code is taking time. A lot of time. As Rich Sands suggests, Symbian may actually be taking too much time, frustrating its community and allowing Google Android to assume the leadership position in open-source mobile platforms.

Who knew that giving away things for free could be so hard?

It's tempting to think that open source should be an automatic reflex for companies and individuals alike. It's not. It takes time to learn how to do it properly, and even then mistakes are possible. Perhaps likely.

In the case of its Windows 7 tool, Microsoft screwed up. It's not the first time, and it's not the last.

But error is not evil.

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Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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