Microsoft Office lock-in and the deal with Novell

by Nicholas Petreley

I can't urge you strongly enough to read the article entitled How Vista Lets Microsoft Lock Users In. It details how Microsoft has built into Vista the "trusted computing" ability to lock down Office files via DRM such that no unauthorized document reader will be able to decrypt and read them. This is perhaps one of the biggest hidden weapons Microsoft has in its arsenal that could sabotage Linux and if Microsoft succeeds in its attempt to plug SUSE and all Novell's "interoperability" bonuses.

Think of this, if you will, as the Tivoization of Office files, only with malicious intent. Microsoft could, indeed, open up the document format completely and swear before God that it will never sue anyone for patent infringement. However, this does not prevent Microsoft from locking Office files in such a way that only Vista users can read them. No one else will be able to do so without the proper authorization, thus rendering the open format and Microsoft compatibility entirely meaningless -- unless, of course, someone agrees to pay Microsoft for the keys to unlock those files.

The lesson here should be obvious. The FOSS community must avoid - at all costs - the practice of adopting or integrating anything into FOSS that is owned or generated by Microsoft. Ximian, and now Novell, has made it a mission to recreate Microsoft technologies on Linux. I urge the community only to allow Novell to continue to do this at its own peril. It was a massive strategic blunder to attempt to recreate dotNet on Linux as Mono. Microsoft has implicitly, by attempting to make patent deals, acknowledged Linux as a genuine threat. That makes it so much greater a danger to adopt Microsoft practices, whether it involves integration of Office document formats, Excel VBA compatibility, or anything else.

This is an ironic twist, to say the least, after all the fuss Microsoft made over the viral nature of the GPL. Microsoft, through Novell, is attempting to infect open source with hooks it can use to profit from the success of Linux at the expense of Linux users' freedoms.

Our message to Novell should be to live free or die.

I want to thank Phil Hughes for bringing the above article to my attention.

Load Disqus comments