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Eben Moglen says software should be free. Just a few months ago Microsoft was speaking of the burgeoning open source movement as though it were one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Why? Many tech industry observers believe that the open source operating system Linux, which is given away for free, could present a credible threat to Windows’s primacy � if it ever crosses over to the mainstream from its �bergeek base. But recently things have changed. Now Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith and his IP chief, Marshall Phelps, say that the software giant is working to make its products interoperable with open source code. Smith speaks of “building bridges” between the platforms within two years. Not because Microsoft wants to do the open source folks any favors, adds Phelps, but because increasingly customers “need us to work together, or [they] are all going to be mad.” Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School and general counsel of the Free Software Foundation (and a frequent Microsoft critic), says he knows what the company is up to. “They are trying to figure out how they can co-opt” open source, he says. “Which is the smartest thing for them to do.” But how does IP Ventures figure into the mix? Is it part of the bridge? After all, the company that has always been so protective of its own proprietary code is licensing other businesses to do with it what they want � even training them to rewrite it. Isn’t that proof that the company is serious about interoperability? Not really. Microsoft engineers aren’t exposing the inner workings of, say, Windows. IP Ventures is licensing technology that the mother ship can’t use in its Office or Windows products, like networking and traffic data software. And, what’s more, the proposition IP Ventures stands for is diametrically opposed to free software. Lisa Tanzi, the Microsoft lawyer who supervises IP Ventures, says that the project “in a very tangible way shows the value of intellectual property. Because we see intellectual property being attacked in different ways throughout the world.” To Moglen, it’s a battle Microsoft can’t win. “Products have a tendency to become services,” he says. Software, Moglen adds, will come to be seen as a public utility, “like roads or drinking water,” and companies will make money servicing the needs of customers who use it. IBM, Phelps’s old company (where Moglen also worked as a programmer and a young lawyer), has recognized this and adjusted; much of Big Blue’s revenue these days comes from servicing corporate Linux accounts. But Microsoft can’t change, Moglen asserts, and IP Ventures is part of its effort to bolster what he considers an old-fashioned concept of software: “They’ve got to find a way to revivify the concept of software as a product, not a service � if they don’t, they’re toast.” Laura DiDio isn’t so sure. The research fellow from the Boston-based tech consultant Yankee Group doesn’t underestimate the competitive threat Linux represents to Microsoft. But Linux is notoriously challenging for lay computer users � and can even prove tricky for pros, she notes. Servicing Linux computers can also be costly. “Businesses have different needs. There’s a place for both,” she says.

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