An all to well-defined pattern in the software industry is where one company sues the heck out of another company to gain a competitive advantage in the overall market. As reported on CNet (with complaint attached), Microsoft has sued Motorola over their use of the Android operating system, or more specifically, the way that the software handles some average, everyday tasks. However, it is clear that the real target in this legislation is the open source Android OS. This is nothing new, as Microsoft has used litigation many times in the past as a way to compete against free and open source software, first starting with veiled threats via the agreement with Novell in November of 2006.
After trying to compete against a product that gives off good-will as a byproduct, Microsoft has attacked the legality of open source software in hopes of scaring away potential users. I’d compare it to children who are arguing on whose big-wheel tricycle is better. Once one kid’s argument runs out the name calling and fighting ensues, just like the patent litigation in the situation between Microsoft and Motorola, where Microsoft can’t compete (at the moment) and is now trying to attack the legality of Android to scare potential and current producers from installing the system on their phones.
Technology politics aside, it’s easy to see why Microsoft targeted Android. Google’s Android has become the first successful competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Tethered to some of the best phones on the market, the free operating system provides a rich experience many dismissed as only capable with Apple products. Microsoft, meanwhile, has been struggling to get it’s phone platform off the ground, going from the failed Kin platform to now Windows Phone 7. Microsoft may be trying to buy time to get into the market through this litigation, but I hardly see how this would effect corporate or even consumers’ thoughts around using Android. They think Android is awesome, and Microsoft just looks like a bully.
As much as I hate to think Microsoft is jealous (in a financial sense, of course), I think that scenario might be true. Android, a free and open source Linux operating system provided by Google, has blitzed past all of Microsoft’s phone efforts and has become the primary competitor to Apple and is used by many phone companies as their top-of-the-line system. Whew! That’s a mouthful of successes — enough to make Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer throw a chair or two. I’m sure Microsoft wanted their phone system to be in the place of Android. I know they wish they could battle it out against Apple in the phone market and be considered as innovators again. They wanted to be the ones to take some of the shine out of Apple’s products. Yet, they fell short, against a competitor they hate deeply enough already (or at least the upper leadership may feel strongly about it) — Linux, from Google. That’s a double threat. Now, with competition clearly out the window, litigation has become the primary competitive action in line with legal settlements and “patent agreements” with many other large corporations who use or produce the Linux operating system.
Only time will tell how this patent litigation will turn out. My prediction is that either the case will get turned over or a settlement will be reached without too much fuss. Either way, I feel that this will not turn corporate or consumers away from using the free Android system. It’s just too popular and beneficial for phone manufacturers not to implement the system. After all, Android is their primary competitive weapon against Apple. This battle is just something the open source software industry will have to deal with as Microsoft and others give up on competition and instead opt for litigation.