Microsoft and Open Source Ports

A recent post by Imran William Smith at AsiaOSC discusses about the issue of “Why Microsoft is porting some of its products to Linux ?” The article is available here. Given the stranglehold the Redmond giant seems to possess on the desktop application suite market, it is surprising change in business policy at first sight.

The Truth

On hindsight and a deeper reasoning it is not. For a considerable period of time a Newsforge article drew a lot of comments on the eventual migration of MS Project to OpenSource or it being GPL-ed. The rumour made some sense. Given the fact that MrProject is one of the reasons why desktop SOHO setups go into dual boots (try a scheduling setup using spreadsheets and anyone will understand), GPL-ing the sidetracked application would have earned it some amount of goodwill. Moreover, a broadbased developer community would have actually meant that the peer review process would have been transparent and trackable.

Although the article by Donald K Rosenberg argues about the probable fallout of such a deal (project forks and retail price falls), on the face of it such an analysis was the nebulous shape of things to come.

So what gives ?

Microsoft is actively pushing its Windows Rights Management Services (WRMS) or the much maligned DRM that is being looked upon with suspicion by TCPA members themselves. Anyone in the recent past who has had the experience of installing Windows Media Playerv9.0 without unchecking afew default options, would have been nastily surprised as to the wealth of poking and probing it does. WMP9.0 forms (probably) the spearhead in MS’s campaign to enforce DRM systems and the Trusted Computing Paradigm. The logic is childlishly simple. People will use the desktop or embedded devices for media driven entertainment. Using the carrot and stick policy on this market will make WMP9.0 attain the mantle of a *standard* media playing widget. With people locked into the DRM setup, it becomes easy to push through as the defacto standard.

A cursory look at the SEC filing and analysing it will reveal that the major the revenue stream earners are being kept as it were. It is the sidelined applications, toolkits and widgets that are being played around with to generate brand consciousness and market penetration. Given the fact that after the Napster courtroom brawl it was evident to all that music industry is a high stakes game, it is not really surprising that Apple has joined the foray to control *media content*. The content control paradigm is a part of the push model of business honed into a fine art by MS itself. Software, digital entertainment, application services provide a giant mesh of business deals. Leaving any turf undefended leads to turf wars and battle scars.

Some pointers

An explanation about DRM and TCPA can be found in one of the articles available at iLUG-Kolkata. It is time that an awareness campaign be launched as to the ill advised measure of encoding digital data in such restricted formats.

Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay is a Free Software enthusiast and a member of iLUG-Kolkata. His blog “Random Thoughts” can be found here. He can be contacted at sankarshanm@softhome.net

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