Open-source trap or sign of weakness?

Open source conspiracy theorists warn that Microsoft's effort to make the code behind .Net, its software-development framework, open to the public to view — but not modify— is a trap. The goal? It's aimed, they claim, at tainting Mono, an open-source implementation of .Net, with the software maker's intellectual property. And why does this matter? Mono, you see, allows programmers to easily port software meant to run on Microsoft's Windows to Linux and other competing operating systems. But really, might Microsoft's critics be giving it too much credit for cleverness?

While Microsoft has been known to try just about every tactic in the book to undermine the competition, this paranoid theory mischaracterizes the open source community's beloved Mono. True, Mono, in theory, weakens Windows. But only in theory. In practice, Mono is not a threat to Microsoft — rather, it's spread the popularity of .Net far beyond Microsoft's Windows-developer base, and thereby tied the open-source developers who use it to Microsoft's software-development roadmap.

No, rather than a devious and elaborate ploy concocted in Microsoft's legal department, the right way to see Microsoft's Shared Source program is as a feeble attempt to mask its inability to move its business to the open-source model, as rivals IBM, Sun, Novell, Adobe, and Apple have done to varying extents. Sure, Microsoft could start suing developers — with the result, of course, that they'd simply drop .Net and move to other development tools untouched by Microsoft's hands. (Photo by BotheredByBees)