Microsoft at OSBC: Working on the Relationship

Lora Bentley

At EclipseCon last week, developers weren't sure how to take the keynote from Microsoft's Linux and open source strategy director, Sam Ramji. From initial reports, the awkward "get to know you" dance that is the relationship between Microsoft and open source continued this week at the Open Source Business Conference.


Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith skillfully handled questions, barbs and skepticism from a panel of open source executives and the audience during his OSBC address and the question and answer session that followed, according to blogger Charles Cooper:

Brad Smith, who is Microsoft's top lawyer, went out of his way during an afternoon talk before a gathering of open-source die-hards to portray the software company as ready to turn a page in its relationship with the developer community.

In response to questions regarding Microsoft's position on patent enforcement, Smith said:

We live on both sides of the patent fence every day. We have more patent lawsuits than any company in our industry. And yet we still believe in the benefits and value of a well-functioning patent system.

OSBC organizer and blogger Matt Asay gives Smith props for agreeing to speak, despite the grueling nature of the task. However, he says the session made even more obvious the huge disconnect between what Microsoft believes about patents and what open sourcers believe about patents. The need for compromise is obvious. Asay notes:

There is no easy answer to this. It feels to me that Microsoft is struggling to listen and to heed the counsel it's being given by the open-source community, but has a long, hard road to go (which won't be comforting to it given how much it's already slogged through).

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