Why Microsoft Wants Us to Get All Mixed Up

“What's in a name?” some bloke in the sixteenth century once asked. As Microsoft knows, quite a lot. What you call something can have a major influence on how you think about it. So how Microsoft talks about free software is important – not least for the clues that it gives about its latest tactical move to defang the open source threat.

This is by no means a new approach. Some years back I was in a meeting with a senior Microsoftie in the UK. Nominally, he wanted to talk to me about Microsoft's “new” free software-friendly attitude – isn't it telling how often Microsoft keeps promising that *this* time it really means it? But judging by the frantic scribbles of the marketing droid at the back of the room, who was trying to capture everything I said (don't they have tape recorders at Microsoft?), they were more interested in pumping me for insights into free software that might furnish some conceptual ammunition against it.

What was noteworthy was that at this period Microsoft couldn't even bring itself to utter the words “free software” or “open source”. Instead, throughout the hour-long chat I had with him, the Microsoftie insisted on referring to something he called “non-commercial software”. The intent was plain: only Microsoft and its proprietary chums sold “commercial” software, while the other, unnameable stuff – aka free software – wasn't “real” or “commercial” stuff, but some kind of toy version that no sane IT manager would touch.

Well, that didn't work as a tactic, but it hasn't stopped Microsoft from returning to it recently:

"Today, but increasingly in the future, we are all going to be 'mixed source'," Microsoft's top intellectual property lawyer said in a lunchtime interview on Thursday. To bolster his claim, Horacio Gutierrez notes Microsoft is releasing plenty of stuff as open source, while open-source companies like Red Hat often license commercial software alongside their open-source products. "I actually think the war between proprietary and open source is a thing of the past," he said.

So there we have it: “open source” is no longer a useful term, everything is “mixed source”. Microsoft has obviously woken up to the fact that the “free” and “open” memes are increasingly powerful, as people realise the advantages of sharing and collaborative development. Microsoft has been trying to co-opt that feel-good factor for a while, first with its “Shared Source” label – free software without the freedom – and more recently by getting a couple of its licences approved by the Open Source Initiative.

Having made this partial rapprochement – so that Gutierrez can claim with a certain plausibility that Microsoft too is releasing loads of open source stuff – the company is now trying to effect a sleight of hand: since Microsoft is releasing open source, and open source companies often have proprietary offerings, ergo there is now no difference between the two, and we should just call it all “mixed source”.

Nice try, Horacio.

The central fallacy in this argument is that open source companies are somehow equivalent to open source. While the best of them do indeed contribute back to the projects they are based on, they are, nonetheless, essentially parasitic – in the nicest possible way, of course. They necessarily feed off the work of the many contributors to free software, even when they employ all the main coders in-house. Because without the community, there is no free software. Without the feedback from users, and the bug reports and patches, so-called open source companies are little more than proprietary software houses that give away trial versions for free.

However much these open source companies may support free software they are and always will be incidental to it. The fact that some sell proprietary versions of open code does not prove that there is no essential difference between closed and open software, simply that such companies either do not understand or value its essence. Indeed, Gutierrez's invocation of them shows that they represent a subtle danger to real free software: not so much for what they are doing or might do, as for the succour it gives to Microsoft's attempts to play down the core strength of open source – putting users in the driving seat – compared to its own model of unbending, centralised control.

Microsoft's Mafia-like obsession with enforcing “control” and demanding “respect” is reflected in a later statement from Gutierrez in the same interview – well, more of a threat, actually:

"If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected," he said.

Software patents - what he is referring to here - are intellectual monopolies specifically framed to stop the kind of frictionless sharing of programming ideas that lies at the heart of free software, and that powers its unique ability to build on the work of others. In many ways, such monopolies go to the heart of the difference between the worlds of open and closed software: any company unwilling to licence freely software patents it may have acquired (for defensive reasons, say, against patent trolls – the ultimate symptom of a diseased system) is by definition not a company that truly supports free software. There is no “middle” ground – sorry, Horacio.

Glyn Moody writes about openness at opendotdotdot.


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Anny's picture

Everyone buy computers without saying that they buy softwares even though they know none of computers can run without software. Ofcourse to install all the programs is very cheap compare to the whole set computer cost. If we don‘t have sofware, we surely don‘t know where to put (install) our programs too. I don‘t think sofware is free because in order to change a hard drive, I have to pay more than US$20. That is the cost of the used ones. IT is very easy in making (earning, not publishing) money.

Microsoft wins

Anonymous's picture

KDE4 is a poor substitute for KDE 3.5.10. It is still full of ether bugs or poor design. I have installed Fedora 10 and Opensuse 11.1 beta 4 and given up on even completing the configuration as the simple basics like changing the panel size or icons on the panel results in the loss of the panel or the start menu icon lost or on the far right. Why don't you ask your readers which one they prefer to verify my findings. For now I'm a Kubuntu, KDE 3.5.10 user with no future in Linux beyond this desktop

Mixed Up

derChef's picture

Yes, it's all Microsoft's fault. Big bad Microsoft (oops, I mean M$, wow that's edgy) is trying to get you mixed up. The whole FOSS/Linux situation is plenty mixed up on its own, with no need for anyone else to do that for them.

Maybe if Linux developers improve the user experience, and spend less time railing against Microsoft (while simultaneously trying to steal from/emulate them), Linux wouldn't be quite as terrible as it is now, and may eventually go beyond 0.91% market share.

No, that's just crazytalk.

Get a clue!

El Perro Loco's picture

Accusing FOSS/Linux of copying, stealing and letting Microsoft (M$) off the hook?

Oh, man, get a clue...

Do you work for Microsoft, by any chance?

You zealots are amusing as

derChef's picture

You zealots are amusing as ever. Every time someone points out the (many) flaws in Linux, both technical- and business-wise, you all come out of the woodwork and accuse everyone of working for Microsoft.

Hmmm, I was going to try to be trendy and hip like you with your "M$"-type fare. I'd like to type something similar for Linux, where is the cents sign (in lieu of that snarky dollar sign.)?

MS Bull and OSS licensed releases

Hollow's picture

As a user and consumer I try to avoid MS for several reasons, I'll admit my original interest in Linux was because I couldn't afford Microsoft (Some years ago now) Operating Systems, I was sick and tired of the blue screen of death when I could scrape together enough money to buy an MS OS, and I got utterly fed up with seeing things like Windows Genuine Advantage at every turn. I didn't get into Linux and OSS for the freedom of the code, but the cost of the code instead. Now that I can afford a Microsoft OS or two, I use Linux and OSS because of the freedom AND the price. Why pay for a crap piece of software that I can't rely on, when I can use one that has principles, isn't a corporate monopoly creating giant, AND costs me nothing?

As a company, we do release Open Source GPL software, with which there is an option to purchase support, installation or migration services etc. We do also produce closed source software. I however recognize the difference between closed and open source software, I don't try and create a whole new kind of software, "mixed source", I mean seriously, have you ever heard anything so preposterous?

Microsoft should concentrate on being a closed source provider, who doesn't try and stick it's nose in where it isn't wanted or needed and should simply try and do business, like many other companies out there. Another bloke back in history said, "The biggest threat to a mans power, is his fear of losing it" (Or something very close I didn't wiki or google it before I typed it), and you know what, that's Microsofts problem. They're not content with just being another operating system and software provider, they wish to remain the biggest by a huge margin. Forget the fact that it lands them in front of the monopolies commission every few years, never mind the fact that they end up appearing as big corporate, faceless giants who just want to crush anything that dares to challenge them and provide competition. Why does any of that matter if they're the biggest and only option for Operating Systems and software? If MS packed this whole "Open Source Offensive" act in, they'd probably be more respected, less attacked and just left to it. Instead, they continue to attack, mame and damage anything they can, and I believe that will eventually be their downfall.

MS Could Win

Anonymous's picture

The EU fined them but they delay and in the end if
the have to pay no big deal. The Brits pay twice
as much for MS's crap as Americans. In China they
are currently experiencing the black screen. Good

Turn their weapon against them

Gnu supporter's picture

And what can we learn from it? If you really want to make a difference, then stay away from that "mixed-source" distributions. Take one of the really free distributions.

What's in a name?

sillyxone's picture

Right, what's in a name?

Only if Linux Journal can change its name to "GNU/Linux Journal" then you can in the position to fight Microsoft tactic.

Those who don't value their freedom tend to lose it.

Dude, where's my car?

El Perro Loco's picture

What's in a name?

I don't know what is in a name, but what is in a pseudonym can speak volumes. See this one, for instance: SILLYxone.

Is it intentionally appropriate, confessional or a Freudian slip?

Good Article...

Dulwithe...'s picture


Good article. Well written. Informative. Far to many blogs are just crap.

Good on you.

- D.

Microsoft gives away development tools

Anonymous's picture

Well, their latest trick here is to give "away" development tools to schools with hopes to get future generations corrupted.

Agree. Drug-dealer tactics.

El Perro Loco's picture

The tobacco companies and drug dealers share the same tactics: "get'em hooked while they're young".
Microsoft applies the same tactics. With a similar product. With similar effects.
Need to say more?

I see you're quoting

derChef's picture

I see you're quoting Stallman; do you have any words or thoughts of your own?
Also, if you equate giving children software with drugs or tobacco, you have a skewed view of reality.

Maybe if Linux were a real, stable OS, and not a fanatical cult, people would take it seriously.

No, I'm not quoting.

El Perro Loco's picture

No, I am not quoting. I don't need to look for authority to see things how they are. I don't worship people or ideas out of laziness or intellectual cowardice. I just happen to have a brain and use it. Most of times I arrive at the correct conclusions. When I don't, I know how to change.

BTW, I have a hunch that you are a smoker. Are you? Just asking...

You couldn't be further from

derChef's picture

You couldn't be further from the truth zealot. I do not smoke anything whatsoever. I suggest you climb out of your parent's basement and get out into the real world for a while.


Yo Ma Ma's picture

People like Gutierrez are essentially corporate thugs who are highly skilled at causing the maximum amount of damage while leaving as little visible injury as possible.
They represent the iron fist in the velvet glove.

It's clear the Microsoft intends to dilute the world of open-source by entangling it in a net of their so-called "Intellectual Property".

Some will recall when Monsanto sued several farmers because the seeds they bred for their future crop-production got accidentally contaminated with GM material via the normal processes of pollination.

Microsoft however is *deliberately* attempting to contaminate open source with their "Intellectual Property", so that licences such as GPL might become unenforceable thereby.

They are scum.

What's in a name?

paul (the unverified)'s picture

Same here re Mono, Gnome. Don't need it. Don't want it. "I just wanna be free" to quote a one-time great band of the late sixties, early seventies.

I love the way Redmond always hides behind its customers (aka,victims) when trying to justify their monopoly behavior. "...ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected..."

It's like "Hey, we don't really want to sue, destroy, intimidate, and manipulate every form of competition around us. We HAVE to do it 'cuz our customers expect us to protect the licenses they paid good money for to get our incredibly lousy software and non-existent customer support."

...and re those shareholders. Have you guys checked your stock lately?


Glyn Moody's picture

That cowardly comment struck me, too.

Hahahahaha. "Cowardly"

derChef's picture

Hahahahaha. "Cowardly" comments here in the battleground of the OS wars for GNU "freeeeedom". Yes, you have to prove your mettle to post in here!

"Four Freedoms"

Anonymous's picture

It helps to control the language.
There is software that allow you your Four Freedoms and there is software that does not.

Dev method is entirely separate.

Don't be fooled about Freedom versus dev method.

Strange coincidence

MAdMaN's picture

So Microsoft's not saying "free software" or "open source" any more? Well that's a coincidence, as I stopped refering to Windows as an "operating system" a while ago and instead started calling it a bug-ridden piece of junk.

What's in a name

Omardos's picture

I hate to be pedantic, but actually your opening sentence is wrong:

"What's in a name?” some bloke in the sixteenth century once asked.

It was a gal, not a dude, that asked "What's in a name?" …It was Juliet to be exact, from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet":

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face. O, be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Otherwise, excellent article, thanks!


Glyn Moody's picture

...the bloke I had in mind was called "Will".

But thanks for giving us the pleasure of reading the full quotation....

Guess you are totally right

GutsyRabbit's picture

Guess you are totally right about what are Microsofts intentions.
That's why i dont use almost any windows app with Wine on Linux.
And on Windows i use more open-source apps than freeware or licensed apps.

Hypocrite. Why not stop

derChef's picture

Hypocrite. Why not stop using Windows entirely? All you zealots go on and on about Microsoft but you all have a Windows partition or VM.

Beware an enemy bearing gifts

Anonymous's picture

I wonder if by "mixed source" and releasing some of their old stuff to the open source community, they mean to somehow taint the open source community with their code in hopes that it will make it into some release and strengthen their claims of IP ownership? Maybe not even actual code, but structures, concepts, ideas that were developed at some Microsoft sponsored event,conference, ex-employee, etc etc. Will they try to muddy the lines between what they own and what is GNU licensed enough to drag smaller open source companies into court long enough to bankrupt them and scare other companies into signing Novell type agreements? They've already proven that they can drag out flimsy cases for years (the SCO conspiracy anyone?), so imagine what their lawyers could do after a few years of this. Excuse me if I'm a little skeptical when they stop whining and suing and decide to be friends. Cuz when the drums stop beating, the enemy attacks. An army of lawyers vs a community of coders.

If you can't beat them, give them a present, point at them and yell THIEF!

It's already happening

Glyn Moody's picture

Look at Mono, which is based on .NET's structures.

"Look at Mono, which is

derChef's picture

"Look at Mono, which is based on .NET's structures." Another example of FOSS/Linux's main goal being to copy (badly) the very thing they rail against: Windows!

Well, no

Glyn Moody's picture

If you read the comments you'll see that most people here are *condemning* this as being counterproductive and not what free software is about.

Agree - Mono is evil

El Perro Loco's picture

I have always seen Mono as a *very bad thing*. In my opinion, it is as close to treason as it can be. I try to keep my machines Mono-free.
And, by the way, since de Icaza is involved both in Mono and Gnome, I stay away from Gnome, too.

Just for the record.

to bad...

Anonymous's picture

To bad it keeps making in-roads.

Also by that reasoning it was a bad idea to make a linux as it uses implementations that unix had back in the early 90's. Linux may not be Unix but it is pretty close. Just like Mono is not .Net, but it is pretty close.

Flame away because you dont like it.

*Too* bad you don't see it...

El Perro Loco's picture

I can only agree that it is "too bad it keeps making inroads". I can't agree with you spelling, though.

You seem to be a Mono/.Net/Gnome/de Icaza fan. And that's all right. Just go using Mono until Microsoft knocks at your door and asks you for money - and break your bones if you don't pay up.

As for your analogy: it is close to POSIX, which, AFAIK, is not directed/owned by any particular company. Microsoft would have a hard time trying to change the POSIX standard to fit their whim. That, by itself, is a *huge* difference. On the other hand, Microsoft can do whatever they want to their .Net crap - and break your .Net application.

'Nuff said.

to the parent..

Anonymous's picture

I can only say, "Clueless.. and seemingly proud of it"..

Microsoft and others like them will always oppose freedom

Sum Yung Gai's picture

Virtually every time I hear anyone from Microsoft speak, I think of George Orwell's 1984:

"War is peace."

"Freedom is slavery."

"Ignorance is strength."

It's gotten to the point that I just don't trust Microsoft at all anymore. I now take anything that MS executives say as just another doublespeak way to try to co-opt my freedom.

And that is why I use GNU/Linux. For me, it is about the freedom.


nice work mr moody

Anonymous's picture

It seems a person could make translating the torrents of Redmond double-talk a full-time job.


Glyn Moody's picture

It certainly keeps me busy....

What about translating the

derChef's picture

What about translating the Linux community's doublespeak?

"Ooh, we cannot stand the evil M$$$$$$, but I have a WinXP partition and Windows VM's for the times I need software to get actual work done, or when I need applications with working sound, etc."

I've been trying to find the answer to that one for a little while now and can't seem to get anyone to explain it.

It's called a monopoly

Glyn Moody's picture

People are often forced to keep Win XP partitions or use VMs because of Microsoft's monopolistic position in the software market: they strangled all other options so that people had no choice. When people do have a real choice, this won't be necessary; for the vast majority of situations, we do have that choice now.

I see where you're coming

derChef's picture

I see where you're coming from Glyn, however there are an inordinate amount of people in this forum, and the Linux community at large, who show their hypocrisy by vilifying all things Microsoft, then turning around and using their products.

It's one thing for these people to prefer Linux; to each his own. It is another thing entirely, however, to claim "M$ sucks", "Winblows doesn't work", etc. all the while knowing they are using it.

If Linux is the be-all-end-all of computing for these people, then surely no further Windows use is necessary.

Not everyone is Richard Stallman...

Glyn Moody's picture

...who resolutely refuses to compromise when it comes to free software. Most of us lesser mortals compromise in some way at some point, even if that's regrettable. But certainly, we can all try to do better.

I take it youre lucky enough

madtom1999's picture

I take it youre lucky enough to get paid for it!
We are forced to eat this nutrient free manure from MS and our bosses have to pay us while we choke on it!


Glyn Moody's picture

...I get paid for, some I do out of, er, love....

Awesome article

Stu's picture

I'm in the process of really absorbing and understanding what this open software movement represents, and this article helped emphasize those ideas for me.


The pseudo-"movement" does

derChef's picture

The pseudo-"movement" does not matter. No one cares what OS any of us use. It is software. Use whatever you like without joining a religion.


Glyn Moody's picture

Thanks for the feedback.