OT: Re: MS attacking government use of "open source"

Jim Meyer purp at wildbrain.com
Thu May 23 15:14:03 PDT 2002

[omitted: a fair assessment of the philosophical differences between
Free Software and Proprietary Software]

On Thu, 2002-05-23 at 11:10, Bob Drzyzgula wrote:
> Thank you. Can you suggest an alternative cast
> of the problem? 

First I would offer that the clarification that, while all Free Software
is Open Source, all Open Source software is not necessarily Free
Software. I may charge for you for the right to use my Open Source
software; I specifically must provide you the source code and
specifically cannot prevent you from tinkering with it. It's a subtle
but very important distinction.(1)

Here are the claims I read in the article with 

* "Microsoft has said using free software with commercial software 
  might violate companies' intellectual-property rights. Stenbit 
  said the issue is legally 'murky.'"

The above claim is unclear.

Stenbit is right; the statement itself is fairly murky. Which company's
IP rights are threatened and how? I hope a Microsoft representative will
issue a clarification of their reasoning.

* "[Microsoft] also complained that the Pentagon is funding research 
  on making free software more secure, which in effect subsidizes
  Microsoft's open-source competitors."

The above claim is unclear.

Microsoft is welcome, indeed invited, to review the result of that
research, build upon it, and redistribute their changed versions. It
sounds as if Microsoft either wants the US Government to subsidize
Microsoft, or they want the right to declare certain research in the
public interest (the only sort of research that the government is
supposed to spend public monies on) as competitive to Microsoft and have
the government stop funding that research.(2)

I'm sure that a representative of Microsoft could explain this much more
clearly than my conjecture.

* "Microsoft has argued that some free-licensing regimes are
  antithetical to the government's stated policy that moneymaking
  applications should develop from government-funded research and that
  intellectual property should be protected."

The above claims are entirely fallacious.

Open Source intellectual property is protected, though perhaps not by
license terms favorable to Microsoft's current business model. The
definition of Open Source(3) particularly avoids restricting commerce in
any way.

* "Microsoft also said open-source software is inherently less secure
  because the code is available for the world to examine for flaws,
  making it possible for hackers or criminals to exploit them.
  Proprietary software, the company argued, is more secure because of
  its closed nature." 

The above claim is very likely fallacious.

This is counter to Kerckhoffs' Principle, which states, "in a
well-designed cryptographic system, only the key needs to be secret;
there should be no secrecy in the algorithm." To quote Bruce Schneier's
article, "Secrecy, Security, and Obscurity" from the 15 May 2002

"A corollary of Kerckhoffs' Principle is that the fewer secrets a system
has, the more secure it is. If the loss of any one secret causes the
system to break, then the system with fewer secrets is necessarily more
secure. The more secrets a system has, the more fragile it is. The fewer
secrets, the more robust."

I strongly urge you to read the entire article (link below) which
eloquently explains why claims such as the one above are nearly always

I think I'll stop now. 




(1) More information at http://www.opensource.org/ 
(2) Amusingly enough, The Mitre Corporation has an OSI-approved 
    license (CVW) that basically asserts the US Government's right 
    to use without license fee or royalties software licensed under it 
    and allows the downloader to choose whether their usage is governed
    by GPL v2 or Mozilla License v1.0. This is amusing because MPL
    provides for distribution of executable versions without source
    included and relicensing of those binary releases. 

    This means that anything Mitre has done for the government can be
    downloaded by Microsoft, improved upon, and distributed binary only
    with license fees, etc. as long as they provide the source somewhere
    and contribute their changes back to Mitre.

(3) http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.html

(4) The full article may be found at 

(5) ObDisclaimer: I am not a Microsoft hater; I am not a Microsoft 
    user, either. I used to be; I stopped when I realized that my
    personal philosphy was more in line with that of the Open Source
    movement. I still purchase proprietary solutions where needed and
    when there are no open solutions that meet the requirements of the
    moment. Profit motive is by no means an evil thing to have. =]
Jim Meyer, Geek At Large                              purp at wildbrain.com

More information about the Beowulf mailing list