Hewlett Packard has issued a statement calling a two-year-old internal memo that has been circulating on the Internet and raises fears that Microsoft would mount a litigation campaign to “shut down open-source software” now outdated and largely irrelevant.
The memo dated June 3, 2002, a copy of which was obtained by LinuxInsider, has been circulating on the Internet for several days.
In the document, Gary Campbell, who at the time was HP’s vice president of strategic architecture, cautioned several fellow executives that “Microsoft is going to use the legal system to shut down open source software.”
“As this memo was created over two years ago, we believe it is not relevant today,” HP spokesperson Elizabeth Phillips said in a statement.
“That said,” she continued, “HP has a proven history of taking measured steps to put its customers first and provide them with the functionality and benefits of open-source software.”
“Demonstrating unwavering commitment to meet the needs of its customers, HP was the first major Linux vendor to offer indemnification protection against SCO-related lawsuits, thus enabling HP’s customers to continue their Linux deployment plans with confidence,” she said.
“Microsoft continues to be one of HP’s strongest partners,” she added.
Technology can make some strange bedfellows, observed Laura DiDio, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston.
“The ironic thing about that memo is that HP is having a great deal of success as a Microsoft OEM partner,” she told LinuxInsider.
“HP can say, on the one hand, that they have a big stake in Linux,” she noted, “but on the other hand they’re making lots of money selling Microsoft products bundled on top of their servers and servicing Windows networks.”
But for some in the open-source movement, the fears expressed in the memo are as real now as they were two years ago.
“These aren’t new fears,” Open Source Initiative (OSI) Vice President Russell Nelson told LinuxInsider. “HP isn’t the only company that has these fears. I think that they’re reasonable fears.”
Asked by LinuxInsider about the potential of a legal offensive against open-source software in the future, Microsoft, through a spokesperson, responded via e-mail, “We do not have any information or comment to share in response to your question.”
In Campbell’s memo, he predicted that Microsoft would launch its legal offensive against open source in the fall of 2002. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but OSI’s Nelson said he believes Microsoft is just biding its time until the European Union adopts software patent protection legislation.
If Microsoft began suing open-source developers at this time, it might have an ill effect on the progress of that legislation in Europe, which would jeopardize the company’s global strategy, Nelson contends.
Not Looking for Legal Wrangles
“I don’t think Microsoft is willing to say, ‘If open source takes over the world, so what — we still have America,” he said. “That’s not consistent with any of their past actions; that’s not consistent with a company that has to have its earnings grow.”
But Microsoft’s modis operendi — at least when it comes to picking legal fights — has changed over the past two years, Yankee’s DiDio said.
“It wouldn’t be smart for Microsoft to launch a legal campaign against open source because nobody wins,” she maintained.
Better Spending Priorities
“The only ones that win in long legal disputes are the lawyers,” she said.
“Microsoft has the billions in the bank to finance legal campaigns,” she observed, “but that’s not how they want to spend their money and it’s not how they want to spend their time.”
She noted that a lot has changed in the two years since Campbell penned the HP memo.
“We’ve have two more years of downturn and, if anything, if you look at what Microsoft has done, they, like a lot of the big companies, have been moving very quickly to do as much as they can to stave off long, protracted legal battles,” she said.
“They learned their lesson with the DOJ [U.S. Department of Justice] lawsuit,” she opined, adding: “That went on for five, six years, and it was a huge distraction. There wasn’t a week or month that went by when their top executives weren’t in Washington being deposed or testifying. They don’t want to go through that again.”