Thank You For The Feedback

Most of the time I try to respond to the comments that come into my blog. There has been a rush of comments since the linking of my posting to a few news articles.

 1) Thank you for the comments - I know many of you are skeptical about this process, and a few are even outright hostile. I will be going through all of the postings in detail and pulling out the themes and ideas throughout the feedback.

2) I will continue to have an ongoing dialogue with a few key community members and these comments will inform those discussions. I will make sure your voices are heard as we go through our decision making.

One thing that jumped out at me about many of these postings is the sense that a lack of trust in our motivations is a key factor for you all. I am unclear as to why then it is a problem for us to clarify something so that motivations are not an issue. Unless I have been really not paying attention, we have been incredibly direct in how we have talked about OSS issues ever since May 2001. At the time we were clear with our concerns as well as our aspirations, and we were clear about our approach to source code licensing. Ever since that point we have done nothing except consistently deliver on those plans and become increasingly more open and willing to receive community feedback. I don't expect a cookie from anyone for doing the right thing - but it would seem to counter balance some of the concerns raised in the comments to my previous postings.

Starting in 2001 - we launched Shared Source with 6 separate offerings (some reference only, some full modification/redist terms). Since then we have grown to having >600 source releases servicing well over 2 million developers. CodePlex has taken that to even greater heights. In Dec. 2003, we stated unequivocally that our IP portfolio was open for licensing to anyone, and that academics (for example) had royalty free access to them. We also put in place an unprecedented IP indemnification policy for our customers and partners. We have had a steady increase in our amount of community interaction and transparency through the >6K bloggers at Microsoft, sites like Channel 9 and Port 25. There are technical collaborations in place with hundreds of commercial companies including OSS providers like JBOSS, SugarCRM, XenSource, Zend, and now Novell. We have stepped up in the standards and specification arena with the availability of our Open Specification Promise and its application to 38 web services specifications, virtualization technology, and SenderID. There were significant concerns about ODF/Open XML compatibility and we launched an open source project called the Open XML Translator that has received broad recognition and acclaim as a quality community program. And just this week we announced the creation of a new Alliance meant to facilitate better communication and testing to draw a community of vendors together to work on interoperability issues. Additionally, we have been spinning off advanced technologies from our research labs into new startups and small enterprises to create opportunities for others through innovation (known as IP Ventures). All of these offerings are global in nature and receive sustained commitment from us.

But, for all of that - we are still going to be building and selling our products. We will be competitive in the marketplace. We will continue to build our technologies to be high value solutions for our customers. We will also value the IP generated in that process. The real question becomes, how do you balance that IP strategy so that it is good for the community, overall industry growth, etc. while also providing a reasonable return on investment. I am at TechEd ITForum this week, and to walk the show floor it is pretty obvious that all vendors are in this exact same boat, no matter what kind of software they produce.

Again, please keep the input coming. I will be working on the covenant issue until we arrive at some sort of resolution.

Comments (22)

  1. Joshua Rodman says:

    It is interesting that you start this list with the SharedSource initiative.  This was a transparent misdirection campaign, attempting to co-opt the idea of open source without actually engaging in it.

    The OpenXML translator is a one-way tool that doesn’t even add itself to the normal office interface for format support.

    That you cooperate with open source projects where you see business opportunities is only rational, but you continue to engage in these deceptive measures.  It is no wonder that those who believe open source is the future of the mainstay of software have no trust for your organization.

  2. jasonmatusow says:

    Joshua – sorry you feel that way, but I seriously disagree with your impression of Shared Source. I ran that program for 5 years and came at it from a very different direction. Shared Source was all about learning from OSS and applying it to our business which was so clearly not an OSS business. Many of our competitors chose to go down the path of making assertions as to how much of an OSS company they were/are – while we knew that to say that about MS would be a serious mistake.

    Shared Source is all about looking across the full spectrum of options open to any organization as they think about their source licensing strategy. When you overlay the near infinite licensing options on top of the fact that you have core assets and complementary assets – then you arrive at a range of different offerings.

    Shared Source was not an empty jesture – we have invested in it over a 6 year period with millions of dollars, thousands of man hours of work, and some of the most valuable IP assets in the world included in the program. We have fully OSS, SourceForge-hosted projects all the way through refernece licenses on core components like Office and Windows.

    Please take a moment and browse through the myriad of offerings at

    As for the OpenXML translator – again, I think you are missing many things in your statement.

    1) It is a two-way translator that operates independent of any product. You don’t need Office to use it.

    2) It is open so that you can look at the implementation of ODF and Open XML and make sure that the implementation is complete.

    3) It has professional resources behind it to push it forward and make sure that it meets the qualtiy bar needed by customers for implementation. The code is being produced primarily by a French company (CleverAge) with two other organizations doing deep testing (generic and specific).

    4) The community is engaged with the project and it continues to be among the most active SourceForge projects due to the excellent activity of the community.

    5) We explicitly added a component to the File menu in Office (not lightly done) to enable access to this tool as well as to other formats over time (like .pdf – which they mandated we pull from the product).

    Finally, I agree that we do these things because they are business rational acts. Yes. I disagree that our actions are deceptive. In fact, we have gone out of our way to remain completely explicit in what we are doing on this front.

    Thanks again – Jason

  3. mfs says:

    Dear Jason

    Although I appreciate your efforts, I have doubts you will be able to mitigate the damage, that has already been done. I really hope, that you will address the major points raised in the user-comments on your request for input, IMHO, the most crucial points include

    1.) Be specific about which parts of your IP portfolio (detailed patent numbers, trade secrets, etc. ) are infringed by what parts of the FOSS software pool (project name / functionality of software / etc. ). As long as we as a community do not know what this deal is really about in detail, we will try to connect the dots ourself, which might be wrong. But as long as we do not have better data, the picture we get won’t change substantially.

    2.) The way some key managers (most noteably Mr. Ballmer) of your companies have commented this covenant not to sue has, to put it politely, drawn a very unfavourable image of your intentions. Your efforts seem, in the context of said comments, like an enviteable damage controll operation. It would have been good to engage the community (and not only selected community leader figures) in the process of forging this deal. Why was the SAMBA team (most obvisously) not involved ? Why nobody from the FSF ?

    3.) Regarding your image and reputation in the free software world: Granted, we have our own crackpots, and not every vocal member of the FOSS community is as polite and helpful as it should be. But in the context of the infamous Halloween documents, the SCO afair, all that "viral", "cancer" etc. speak, I doubt that large parts of the FOSS community will trust your words alone (without honest and detailed actions. And no, this deal is neither) and can only think of your far from stellar track record. A cake for the Firefox team is nice, but far from sufficiant.

    4.) The division between commercial and non-commercial developer is something, that most FOSS developers will NEVER accept. For many of us, this is exactly the reason why we started to contribute to FOSS projects in the first place. Also, the division itself happens along a very fuzzy line, given the nature of open source, and happens to be against the spirit (if not the letter) of at least the GPL. This won’t fly. If a more wider covenant is not possible due to your buisness model, another approach with granting rights to specific (GOTO 1.) , btw. ) patents to a wider audience may make more sense and most certainly bring you better reputation by the community.

    I’m quite in a hurry, perhaps I can chime in later, if my contributions are reasonable.

    My final beg: Treat the FOSS community honestly and on equal level. That includes to understand the motivation behind it and trying to act accordingly, and not to put your buisness model 1:1 upon the parties you want to collaborate with.

    Regards Martin

  4. rfunk says:

    Shared Source is not Open Source, and is therefore not possible to be a part of Microsoft’s Open Source efforts.

    (Also, I would appreciate if you would approve the longer of the two separate comments I tried to post yesterday.)

  5. Here’s a post that provides a possible way out of your impossible dilemma of trying to restrict "commercial" use without violating the spirit of all that we in the community hold dear.

    It would be a radical approach from Microsoft, I admit, but in practice not so different than what you’re trying to achieve. The essence of the idea is that instead of allowing only *noncommercial* use, you allow only *nonproprietary* use. The radical part would be to accept the community’s definition of what’s proprietary.

    Specifically, Microsoft could grant a permanent and binding covenant not to sue anyone at all for creating, using or distributing software under a license that – essentially – meets the Open Source Definition.

    The main reason this is less radical than it sounds is that almost all big commercial open source companies distribute some software under licenses which by this definition are proprietary. You could still go after Sun (note that even now Java and Solaris will still be distributed under proprietary licenses as *well* as the open ones), IBM, Novell, Oracle, Linspire, even Canonical (proprietary drivers will be in the next release by default). The only big open source company that I’m not sure about is Red Hat.

    So how much is meeting the community’s needs really worth to you? Enough to eat a little humble pie and accept the Open Source Definition as part of your covenant? Enough to – possibly – give up a potential attempt to go after a license from Red Hat that they wouldn’t give you anyway?


  6. Felix says:


    a very common view is that, once again, Microsft is spreading FUD regarding patent violations in Linux.

    If you have a serious patent claim then the way to deal with it is not to make a vague non-specific patent agreement with 1 company representing say <5% of the installed base.

    What you would do is say to the major players: ‘You are infringing patent 123456. Either buy a license or stop contravening our patent and pay us damages’.

    Can you explain why this deal is not $100M of FUD?

  7. Louis says:


    I hope that you will address the possibility that MS will come forward with any infringement claims, instead of dangling litigation threats over the heads of potential Linux users.  That would be a major step forward.

    It would be great if MS could say that they are competing with Linux based on product quality, usability, interoperability, etc.  MS products do have their advantages, after all.

  8. Wayne says:

    There’s those dirty letters again – IP. I’m not a patent lawyer, but I am a technologist, and a damned good one – programming is a sideline for me.

    The quality of patents that the various national patent offices issue is a disgrace – and I’m not just talking software patents. The number of devices that have issued patents in the USA (note that the others are just as bad) include several starship drive systems, several "faster than light" communications systems, and a whole variety of devices that ignore inconvenient minor details like the third law of thermodynamics.

    So IP doesn’t impress me – any idiot with some cash can get nearly anything patented WHETHER OR NOT IT WORKS, AND WHETHER OR NOT PRIOR ART EXISTS. Approximately 95% of the patents issued by the USPTO should never have been issued according to the laws that govern them.

    This is a huge issue. Since the USOTI (like many of the other national patent offices) is self funding, they have no interest in cleaning up the problem.

    Which leads me to believe that ANYONE who claims to own valuable IP is a CROOK.

    Try and prove me wrong – it should be interesting, what with the database of bad patents that I’ve collected. And no, I’m not picking on Microsoft – Toyota, John Deere, Toshiba, Detroit Diesel, etc. are just as bad.

    So as I said – when someone starts talking about IP I suspect that he/she is a crook.

  9. Jason,

    let me first congratulate you on your efforts for trying to reach out to us. You’ve done a hell of a job, from what I can tell, and I am impressed. Only after reading your recent blog posts and your reaction to people’s comments and after seeing your willingness to actually listen have I changed my mind about what Microsoft’s intentions *might be*.

    I ended my last sentence leaving open the possibility that Microsoft in fact has not changed its ways and that all this is just a gimmick — a move to play us, somehow at some time. Let me explain to you why this is the case as it seems evident from this blog post that you really do not understand that. The emphasis here is "trust". We do not trust Microsoft and gaining our trust will require more than a few little FOSS-like projects Microsoft itself considers greatly successful. Also you must understand that when we speak of the community we speak not only of those who hack for the community on their free time. Most truly successful hackers get paid to hack on FOSS software, for a profit and sometimes to make our employers gain a profit as well. You are making a big mistake by trying to only help those FOSS hackers who do not get paid to hack. If that is your vision you must change it as otherwise it is incompatible with who we really are.

    I’m going to state something which I think your company and yourself have already realized (partly at the very least): you cannot stop us, you cannot beat us; not because we’re hackers but we represent the spirit and drive for information and innovation and want to share it with the world. I state this because its a powerful premise I’d like to use to tell you: stop fighting us and join us. I feel you want to join us — but I think you have started with the wrong foot and on the wrong path. The patent deal is nothing more than a reflection of how bad the situation really is and how much more is needed for us to get to where we should be.

    To gain our trust we need to see a huge commitment by your part to the FOSS community, something that will leave no doubt in our minds what your intentions really are. I have some ideas of what you can do but my ideas are radical and would require a tremendous amount of effort by your part.

    Second — your company declared war on us. We only faught back, you need to digest this a bit and reflect on the fact that most of us, GNU/Linux developers, never wanted take you down. This was a by product of the unbeatable technology FOSS created and the new demands that this put on businesses. I really hope you are starting to realize this and actually want to work "with us", not "against us".

    Your real problem here is not how to protect your IP portfolio but how to let the community embrace it and yet remain profitable. Additionally, the patent deal makes no sense to me because as far as I can tell we do not infringe on any of your patents. You need to understand that to the community all this is just seen as a Public Relations move to cast doubt on FOSS adopters, it is seen more just as another sleazy move by Microsoft. The extreme speculative FOSS hacker would say: "What type of idiots do you take us for?" Instead of throwing money on sleazy patent deals your company needs to stop wasting money on fighting us and learn how to embrace us and revolutionize the way you do business. You need to do this, not because we need you, but because you want to survive. If you see your company unwilling to change then I advise you to leave it, and apply for a job at Google or help the SFLC.

    Just now I read on slashdot:

    "Ballmer said Microsoft was motivated to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell earlier this month because Linux ‘uses our intellectual property’ and Microsoft wanted to ‘get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation.’"

    This is exactly what the type of sleazy actions we expect from Microsoft and is why I made emphasis on "trust" in my reply to you. To this I say — fire Steve Ballmer now or loose your entire credibility of wanting to really work with us. This is exactly why we cannot trust Microsoft; your excuse that he is just "agressive" by no means validates his actions. You need to do something pretty incredible to convince us to start trusting you. Start by firing Steve Ballmer.

  10. Theodore Tso says:

    Well, Microsoft folks have often said that they are extremely proud of their programmers and they can complete with anyone.   Great; go do that!   All you need to do in order to garner trust is have do deeds that are in fact trustworthy.  Why not start with a perpetual, non-revocable covenant not to sue anyone for creating, using, or distributing software which is licensed under a license which meets the Open Source Definition?     For dual-licensed code, if it is being distributed under the non-OSD license, the covenant wouldn’t apply to those distributing it relying on the terms of the non-OSD license.  Otherwise, it would grant a safe harbor to all OSS developers, not just the isolated hobbyist.

  11. Don says:

    How can you be surprised that we don’t trust Microsoft?  Steve Ballmer claims that Linux infringes on MS intellectual property, but doesn’t give any specific details that would let us take out the supposedly infringing code and replace it with a "clean" version.  Besides, Microsoft has recently entered the deal with Novell where they’ve agreed not to sue for patent infringements, and Ballmer strongly implies that other Linux companies should make similar deals if they don’t want to be sued.  It’s very hard for me to believe that this is just very unlucky timing, especially combined with the lockout tactics and other things that Microsoft has used in the past (remember the Halloween documents?).  So how should we be expected to trust?

  12. Joshua Rodman says:

    As usual, you try to spin the situation by avoiding the core issues raised.

    You spend time pointing out all the code that has been placed in the Shared Source initiative, but do not address that it is anything but open source, while being a deliberate effort to sound similar.  Were the timing different on the popularity of Open Source in the industry, and were Microsoft not a longstanding practicer of duplicitous naming, it would be hard to call.  But given both these things, the name is a clear attempt to cash in on market recognition for the term without actually engaging in it.

    That your company has figured out that giving people access to the implementation of some code is a net benefit is good for you and your customers.  That it took you 2 decades to figure this out while still refusing to learn the lesson about truly opening interfaces makes it the empty gesture that it is.

    That the translation quality of OpenXML to OpenDocument is so poor, in fact quite a lot poorer than existing code that does the same thing from OpenOffice is telling. Combined with the fact that Office will not offer first level support for the document with File->Save operation, this is a fig-leaf.  

    Lastly, of course, there is no way to ensure that the OpenXML portion of the code is complete, as OpenXML is to this day incompletely specified.  To boot, OpenXML is claimed to be littered with patent mines, so it is unclear what one could safely do with this format, even were it properly open.

    It is astounding that you can, with a straight face, claim that nothing is deceptive about recent actions of your employer, when your employer has taken such steps as to create a "covenent" specifically to circumvent and damage the GPL and claimed this as a safeguard of the rights of the users of this same license-covered software.  A promise not to sue with no binding power that protects no one in any useful situation?  These are deceptive actions, whether you yourself are capable of recognizing them.

  13. Dalibor Topic says:

    When a company like Microsoft takes open source software we helped write, sells it to its customers for profit, and then turns around and stabs us in the back and threatens to sue us, like your funny CEO does … and *then* you start wondering why we’re not trusting Microsoft?

    What a pathetic joke Microsoft is. No wonder all the cool kids are going to Google.

  14. I read on Osnews:

    that Steve Ballmer is making claims that Linux infringes Microsoft’s "IP".  Firstly, I think of The SCO Group’s CEO’s claims in 2003 about that same topic.  Then I think of a whole list of every other incident I can recall, of a powerful entity making such claims, all the way back to Aesop’s fable about the wolf accusing the lamb of insulting him then of muddying the water he was drinking – the lamb pointed out that was impossible because the wolf was upstream – then finally eating the lamb anyway.

    Then I think of The SCO Group’s parlous financial state when it made those claims in 2003, and I begin to wonder if there is in fact something seriously wrong with Microsoft’s financial stability.  I know just enough about financial management and economics to start to wonder.

    I begin to seriously wonder how long Microsoft Corp. will be for this world.

  15. K.L. says:

    Hi Jason,

    Could you comment on, or direct us to details of the "patented intellectual property" in Linux that Mr Ballmer talks about?  User ‘MFS’ and others have already asked about this but you don’t appear to have tried to respond to this question at all.  Going by your intro, quite out of character!

    A response from Microsoft on this point is important.  Mr Ballmer makes it sound like Linux-using companies such as ours are the offenders, when in fact it is Microsoft who has left any "balance sheet liability" undisclosed.  Accusations should always be backed by facts.

    Many thanks,

    K. Lo,

    London based consultant.

  16. D Patrick says:

    Jason, your blog posts have the ring of reasonableness about them, while avoiding the core issues. I find it hard to believe that someone with your experience around the edges of FOSS could really be missing the points, so I’ll just have a go at hammering some of them home;

    "1) Thank you for the comments – I know many of you are skeptical about this process, and a few are even outright hostile."

    You can expect this sort of thing from a community that has been consistently, bad-mouthed, lied about and threatened with litigation, if we don’t pay up. You may be doing your damnedest to spin with a tone of concern, but your companies words and actions actions jam a stick into the spokes of your arguments.

    " I am unclear as to why then it is a problem for us to clarify something so that motivations are not an issue. Unless I have been really not paying attention, we have been incredibly direct in how we have talked about OSS issues ever since May 2001"

    It seems, Jason, that you have NOT been paying attention.

    Microsoft has run the gamut from attempts to belittle and ridicule FOSS ("inferior", "viral", "cancer", "unAmerican", etc) to wildly skewed "Facts" campaigns, to subsidizing SCOs amazing FUD campaign, to the current "pay for the IP or we’ll sue" tactic. What sort of trust did you think this would evoke ?

    "Starting in 2001 – we launched Shared Source"

    .. which, in the eyes of anyone who even dimly understands the underlying principals of FOSS, is a JOKE. It’s an attempt to latch on to the success and momentum of the Free Software development model, with NONE of the benefits to developers. If you really think Open Source is motivated by folks who just want to work for nothing, you really do have your head in the sand. FLOSS developers work to improve the whole eco-system, not just to improve the fortunes of the worlds richest software company. the "Shared Source" cannot actually be shared, can it ? Not by someone who uses actual Open Source, anyhow. So stop trying to spin it as OSS, it ain’t !

    "We have stepped up in the standards and specification arena with the availability of our Open Specification Promise and its application to 38 web services specifications"

    and in how many instances has MIcrosoft simply adopted existing worldwide Open Standards ? Hardly ever ! Your company participates in almost every Standards discussion/ development and then, every time, turns around and uses the concepts in their own "specification". Who is this good for ? YOU, and you alone ! It’s an ongoing effort to BREAK interoperability with the rest of the GPL world, so your recent refrain of "interoperability is good" rings false.

    "There were significant concerns about ODF/Open XML compatibility and we launched an open source project called the Open XML Translator"

    instead of recognizing the existing (fully functional) translation software, you present something designed to be substandard, that you plan to integrate and a second tier plug in. You don’t really want ODF to fly, do you ? It’s obvious.

    "I will be working on the covenant issue until we arrive at some sort of resolution."

    something like IBMs release of over 500 (specifically identified) patents with a covenant not to sue ANY open source developer, or company ? I thought not. Until you do that, it doesn’t matter how hard you spin, Microsoft cannot be trusted. The implied threat to the community hangs like a stink in the air.

    In our own defense, I think you will get to witness the forthcoming GPL3 change the landscape considerably. The Novell sell-out will spur adoption of this new license, and then the litigation shoe will be on the other foot. You guys can play with your toys, and we will play with ours.  

    Don’t wanna play nice ? Fine !

  17. D Patrick says:

    Something that looms large in Microsofts efforts to monetize its IP is the question of IP upon which Microsoft itself infringes. The likelihood is that there are patent issues (valid or not) on both sides, but I see three areas in which Microsoft and OSS differ;

    1) Microsofts code is proprietary (hidden), OSSs is open.

    2) Microsoft has billions in the bank, and busloads of lawyers.

    3) Microsoft threatens litigation, OSS strives for freedom from litigation.

    not exactly fair, is it ?

  18. harrytuttle says:

    "Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents."

    wow. that’s an impressive agreement. you just gave novell 300million dollars to… disagree????

  19. D Patrick says:

    commercial <> proprietary

    oh.. and one more thing;

    I see in recent talks, that Microsoft executives have given, the language used is "commercial vs. open source" software. This is a clever bit of mind manipulation, suggesting that OSS cannot be commercial. Bill Gates went to far as to say that the intentions of FOSS developers was to ensure that nobody could make money with it, but that’s completely untrue. Just ask IBM, or RedHat, or even Novell, not to mention the legion of consultants who use FOSS daily.

    The accurate comparison is "proprietary" vs. "open source" and to suggest otherwise is deceptive, manipulative and underhanded. I encourage anyone who see this doublespeak to correct it every time.

  20. Arker says:

    You talk about ‘protecting’ your ‘IP’ and ‘allowing’ us to use it.

    Here’s the deal. We don’t want to use any legitimate ‘IP’ you might have. We don’t want to see your code, and we don’t want to copy it.

    But ‘IP’ is a bogonym in the first place. It is, at best, a way to lump together many distinct and different legal privileges – and thus to obfuscate what, precisely, you are talking about.

    Free software respects your copyrights, just as it demands you respect ours. We have no interest whatsoever in any trade secrets you have. The "Windows" trademark is legally precarious, in this country at least, but free software actually goes out of our way to avoid being confused with it anyway. So the only ‘IP’ that your company has that we are concerned about is the patent portfolio.

    The Bill Gates quote regarding software patents has been posted for you already. It’s also very true. Software patents are a huge problem – not just for us, but for anyone that programs anything.

    A patent is supposed to describe an invention, non-obvious before its disclosure, in enough detail that those reading it can now implement and understand it. Look at the patent on the cotton-gin, for instance, or any of Edisons patents. Now go look through your software-patent portfolio. Notice the difference?

    Software patents, overwhelmingly, describe obvious uses of pre-existing technologies in combination, in a way that is no help at all to someone trying to implement the ‘invention.’

    The upshot of the court decision that was made allowing them is that everyone creating even trivial pieces of software today is likely to be violating several of these bogus patents. Microsoft is as much at risk of that as we are, and you make a much juicier target. Your cross-licensing deals might have been an effective defense in the past, but with the ‘invention’ of the patent-troll, those will no longer shield you. So those are a two-edged sword, and you have even more to gain from getting rid of them than we do.

  21. Dalibor Topic says:

    D Patrick, I’ve got a comment on that interview from Gates up on

  22. stefan wenig says:

    joshua, you mentioned a post of rob weir at, and d patrick, is that what you referred to as "designed to be substandard"?

    two interesting bits of information for you:

    a) rob drew his conclusions about the planned scope of the translator project from a specification of its _prototype_.

    b) i placed a comment at robs article explaining that a week ago, but he did not approve it.

    d patrick, what "existing (fully functional) translation software" do you mean? i am not aware of any software that can translate directly from ODF to OOXML and back.

    jason, i agree that mr ballmers comments on IP are less than helpful if you want to convince the world that you are trying to play fair with FOSS. please comment on this.

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