In recent weeks, Microsoft executives have launched an all-out propaganda war against open-source software, which is based on the GNU General Public License (GPL). Open source allows free access to the programming code that makes up operating systems and applications, but some licenses also require that any source-code modifications be made available if the modifications are publicly distributed.
Microsoft has branded open source as anti-American and destructive to intellectual property, but IBM, which has recently become an outspoken proponent of open source, says Microsoft is swimming against the tide.
"Microsoft is trying to shore up its defenses as the tide is coming in," said Adam Jollans, marketing manager for IBM Software for Linux in the European region. "They're trying to stop the tide, but the tide comes in whether you want it to or not."
IBM executives were in London this week showing Linux-based products at Linux Expo 2001.
The recent marketing push from the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has focused on .Net, an initiative designed to turn software into a service that can be billed like gas or water. But many industry observers fear that .Net is a way of turning the open standards-based Internet into yet another Microsoft proprietary format.
"We don't think (the proprietary model) is viable anymore," Jollans said. "The world has changed irrevocably with the Internet, and Microsoft's single-platform approach won't work. You have to be able to connect to things."
Andy Hoiles, IBM's Linux business manager for the company's European Enterprise Systems Group, believes Microsoft's anti-open source, pro-.Net strategy is the arrogance of a company that has succeeded in conquering markets more often than it has failed.
"We had that arrogance a few years ago," he said. "Then we nearly went out of business. You learn from that."
Jollans also disagrees with Microsoft's argument that the GPL and intellectual property are incompatible. "That is a false argument," he said. "Both (open source and intellectual property) innovate in their own ways, and you can combine them in different ways. You can take the best of breed from both."
Microsoft's remarks have drawn criticism from Linux advocates but also from legal experts, many of whom say that Chairman Bill Gates' portrayal of the GPL as a "Pac-Man-like" force is inaccurate.
IBM has pledged to spend $1 billion this year pushing open source and particularly the GNU/Linux operating system. It has recently scored public relations points by signing up large companies such as Shell, Western GeCo and Telia to install large clusters of Linux machines for core business tasks.
Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.