TomTom and Microsoft Settle: Now Back to the Real World


After all the gnashing of teeth and war-like posturing by TomTom and FLOSS, TomTom and Microsoft settled when TomTom agreed to license the technology under dispute. Let's talk about what this means for FLOSS, TomTom and Microsoft.

FLOSS: In Search of a War


FLOSS, at least some of the more visible parts of it, seems to be in search of a war. Throughout this drama, there were statements that suggested people needed to rise up against Microsoft by blowing what was a small license dispute out of proportion. But, given the current economic environment, these efforts seemed to largely stay buried in the technology press, and even there seemed to lack much momentum. It had the feeling of a bunch of folks living in the past, trying desperately to open old wounds, in an atmosphere where the audience was vastly more concerned with other things.


In the end, with TomTom settling so easily, FLOSS is left looking like the boy who cried wolf and will have more difficulty getting much interest for this kind of thing in the future.


FLOSS desperately needs a purpose that is beyond being anti-Microsoft and desperately needs to focus its supporters on a cohesive set of goals they can get behind. GPL 3 split the base, and that means they have internal problems that make the group's ability to identify, let alone focus on, external threats less than ideal.


This is a wakeup call for FLOSS. While open source is clearly around to stay, currently the momentum and direction is moving to the large companies like Intel, IBM and HP, which are making the most money off of it. The old community is bleeding influence like a stuck pig.




TomTom appears to have long-term issues with IP, first with FLOSS and then with Microsoft. The fact that it was able to get a bunch of FLOSS folks to get excited in what, in hindsight, appears to be just an effort to improve their own negotiating position with Microsoft should give us a sense for where that company's priorities were. Clearly those priorities had nothing to do with open source software. Like most companies, it came down to the bottom line.


While the terms of the agreement are confidential, the fact that this was creating bad press for Microsoft during a time when it was under scrutiny by the European Union would have been hard to ignore during the negotiations. This likely did shift the balance to TomTom somewhat and put FLOSS in the position of patsy.


I doubt that will sit well with either Microsoft or FLOSS long term, and for a company that is trying to survive making lots of enemies over what should have been a minor agreement, that's not a good sign. In fact, it really has a very tactical feel to it. I expect the behavior likely worried lenders, investors and customers to a significant degree as well, easily overwhelming whatever negotiation benefits were achieved.


In short, while tactically sound given the outcome, strategically it was very foolish and likely made it more certain, rather than less, that the company would not recover from its current financial crisis.

Microsoft: Risk Exceeded Reward


Microsoft is under review by the EU with regard to two of its keystone products, Windows 7 and IE. This was a far less than ideal time for Microsoft to appear to be stomping on a European company with significant financial problems. This is a lesson it should have learned from Netscape which, after it died, has done (and continues to do) more damage to Microsoft than any surviving competitor has ever done.


There is an old saying about never kicking a dying man. TomTom appeared to be failing and was likely to lash out, as it did, creating untimely problems for Microsoft. It is still likely that whatever revenue Microsoft gets from this deal will be overwhelmed by difficulties with the EU resulting from the coverage.


Wrapping Up


Fighting battles in public can drive lots of press coverage but there is very little control over that coverage. In this instance, which showcased reactive management on all sides, no one strategically benefited from this dispute and the outcome never really seemed to be in doubt. TomTom agreed to stop using the largely obsolete FAT technology that FLOSS was concerned about (something that others under the GPL should think of doing as well) and will pay for the Microsoft technology it continues to use. This really isn't rocket science.


This equates to a lot of damage to FLOSS' credibility, Tom Tom's likelihood of survival is reduced, and Microsoft's anti-trust defense is weakened for a small amount of fleeting press coverage. At least with Microsoft, the press coverage wasn't intended, but its likelihood was also never in doubt. In all cases, this reflects what appears to be a lack of strategic thinking and if there was ever a year to think strategically, 2009 is that year.