Samba, Patents, and Interoperability

by on December 22, 2006 · 42 comments

Related to my previous post, I think it’s no coincidence that the Samba team has taken the lead in criticizing the Microsoft-Novell deal. Some commentators have argued that the free software movement objects to the deal because they want to prevent interoperability between free and proprietary software, thereby forcing vendors to choose sides. But that clearly can’t be right, because Samba’s raison d’être is (as their slogan says) “opening Windows to a wider world.” If the free software movement were trying to prevent compatibility with proprietary software, you would expect the Samba team to be on the other side, urging restraint and cooperation with Microsoft. That clearly hasn’t happened.

I suspect that what is happening is that the Samba guys are terrified that Microsoft will use patent law to put them out of business. They’re particularly vulnerable to patent claims because their software is designed to interoperate with Windows, which of necessity means that they have to mimic many features of Microsoft’s own software in order to achieve compatibility.

Naturally, Microsoft has never liked the fact that people could interoperate with Windows without paying Microsoft for the privilege. The Samba guys know this. So they expect they’d be among the first targets should Microsoft make a concerted effort to use the patent system against the free software movement.

Update: My software patent series will be taking the week off in observance of the holidays.

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