Would Microsoft Really Open Source Windows?


At ChefCon, Microsoft Technical Fellow and top engineer Mark Russinovich dropped a bombshell in front of several hundred people that use Chef, an open-source website management tool: He said that Microsoft one day could “open source” the entire Windows OS–in other words, give the code away for free. Cue jaws hitting the floor across the tech community.

“It’s definitely possible,” Russinovich says. “It’s a new Microsoft.”

Now, I know Ballmer isn’t at Microsoft anymore. But I would have loved to see the former CEO’s face when he heard that news. Ballmer is the guy that had the following to say about Linux in 2001: “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches… The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source.” He also likened it to communism in another interview.

That said, it is in fact a new, Nadella-run Microsoft these days. So what would this entail exactly? Despite all of the inroads Apple has made with increasing OS X share, and despite years of promise (if not reality) for Linux to become a desktop OS, Windows is still far and away the number one desktop operating system in use today. According to NetMarketShare for March 2015, multiple versions of Windows together command roughly 90 percent of the desktop-and-laptop OS market:

NetMarketShare 3/15

It’s tempting to take this at face value and assume Microsoft will release Windows code to the open-source community someday. But there’s no way this is happening anytime soon. Microsoft makes a tremendous amount of money from the Windows license. Even after promising free upgrades to current Windows 7 and 8 users, and signaling it may look the other way for illicit copies floating around in other countries, Windows remains a tremendous cash cow for Microsoft.

Now, there are ways for Microsoft to make money on Windows outside of the license itself. It can sell enterprise service and management packages the way Red Hat does. It could only do this on the server side, in order to recapture some market share from Linux, which remains the leader there. Microsoft has been expanding its. NET framework and Azure, and has made parts of those products open source in the past. It’s also made plenty of contributions on GitHub. But a blanket open source license for Windows on the client side seems like a pipe dream — even though a top Microsoft exec just said it on stage.

Besides, could you imagine what all that code even looks like? This is the OS that still has the same NT-based notepad.exe with the same formatting problems it did 20 years ago. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what comes of this open-source Windows business down the line.

Patent Law and International Development (LDCs)

There is a list of countries within the World Trade Organization (WTO) which have been designated “Least Developed Countries” (LDCs) – those whose infrastructure is so weak or poverty so high that they cannot be held to the same international standard as the rest of the economically active nations.This causes friction in the area of patent law due to sometimes-necessary patent infringements in the fields of healthcare or development, for the sake of human lives. Multiple international organizations hold differing stances on the proper approach to these issues, but at present the WTO has accepted a waiver on holding LDCs accountable for various patent infringements, specifically those relating to pharmaceuticals. Recently, LDCs have requested that the waiver, instead of expiring and requiring renewal, be made indefinite – which essentially cuts any patent protection for pharmaceutical companies in LDCs, until such a time that any country is no longer considered on that list.

Full article: http://www.ip-watch.org/2015/02/25/wto-least-developed-countries-request-waiver-of-ip-rights-on-pharma-products/

For anyone who really wants to take a closer look, here’s a report from UNCTAD on exceptions to patent rights (not limited to pharma) in LDCs:  http://unctad.org/en/Docs/iteipc200612_en.pdf

All Our Patent Are Belong To You

Last year Elon Musk announced in a blog post that his electric car company, Tesla, would permit anyone to use their patented technologies “in the spirit of the open source movement.”

“If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

This was an interesting decision. I think that it may have more to do with trying to jump start an electric vehicle industry rather than help potential competitors or saving the world. Electric cars have such a small market share that I think this attempt to incentivize others to enter the industry would not markedly increase direct competition with Tesla, but against internal combustion cars in sectors of the market that Tesla doesn’t serve (everything but luxury).

Apple’s Innovation Drought

In light of our discussion about RIM’s failure to innovate, here is a short article Forbes arguing that Apple has not innovated since the iphone. Despite the record profits and stock price the companies long term health is questionable.


“Since the iPhone, Apple has had no innovation. The iPad and all the versions of the iPhone since are variations on the same thing. The only interesting possibility for innovation is Apple Pay.”

Moreover, the article describes two types of CEO’s “opportunity-driven ones who transform organizations to seize new markets and operationally-driven ones who boost profitability and make a company’s numbers each quarter.” The article concludes with the author stating that Tim Cook seems to be operationally-driven.