It’s almost become a pattern too easy to see when it comes to Microsoft and open source. Microsoft loves using litigation or threats of litigation to get its way against open source software providers. Starting in 2007 with the agreement with Novell, Microsoft has been busy trying to “manage” the open source competition. It’s hard to compete against free, as open source software typically is, especially if the free software becomes popular enough to compete against proprietary options.
This most recent attempt at litigation comes in the form of an antitrust lawsuit against Android filed with the European Union on behalf of the FairSearch group, a collection of companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Nokia, that are all unsurprisingly Google’s competitors in some way or another. In unrelated news, today I learned Microsoft and others got together to create an anti-Google activist web site, somewhat akin to Microsoft’s old anti-Linux campaign. The litigation claims that Google has a dominance in the smartphone market and in the mobile advertising market and is abusing their power to lock out competitors. This comes on the heels of sales reports that show Windows Phone has had dismal sales and has failed to penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Perhaps in light of that news this litigation shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.
It’s hard to get past the irony of this… Microsoft has been hauled into the E.U. antitrust courts more than a few times. At first, it seems that this litigation is only about search and services dominance by Google, but one thinly-veiled accusation demands attention:
“Google’s predatory distribution of Android at below-cost makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google’s dominant mobile platform,”
So, distributing open source software for free is considered predatory? For Oracle, this is almost like the pot calling the kettle black. Oracle contributes quite a bit to the popular open source projects OpenOffice.org and MySQL, assets they obtained after buying Sun Microsystems, Inc. Oracle has a track record of not being kind to the open source community, especially with it’s mishandling of open source projects such as those mentioned above and their Red Hat Linux clone that they distribute.
It’s not difficult to see what is happening here: Microsoft and others are frustrated by the fact that in smartphones, it’s either Apple or Google, and they don’t know how to break this formula so that they can successfully enter the market.
This is nothing new and it serves as an example of the challenges the current market faces. It’s incredibly difficult to compete against free, especially if that free software becomes popular and as a result, a standard. But unlike a proprietary software, Android is open source, and can be modified and used by anyone, including every member of the FairSearch group. Perhaps Microsoft should start focusing on how to tie-in their services with Android, or even take the Android software and modify it for their own purposes and devices. This will never, never, ever happen, but at this point and given the condition of market, it might be FairSearch group’s best option.