Microsoft is waging a major lobbying effort to prevent the United States and other international governments from choosing open source software (OSS) solutions, especially Linux. Observers believe that Microsoft launched its campaign in response to several South American and Central American governments that recently began looking into requiring OSS solutions; the campaign has popped up all around the globe, including South America, and in numerous US government and military agencies. The company has even lobbied the new Office of Homeland Security, asking it not to fund OSS research.
The crux of Microsoft's argument against so-called free software is the GNU General Public License (GPL) under which much of this software is licensed. According to the GPL's terms, software code is freely available and any changes made to that code must also be made freely available. Microsoft says that these requirements can be dangerous for commercial software companies that create proprietary software and don't reveal the underlying code to customers. Because GPL won't let Microsoft and other companies mix and match open-source and proprietary solutions, they have no incentive to sell OSS solutions. And if developers inadvertently combine open-source code with Microsoft's proprietary code, the company would be legally required to surrender the rights to the software code of its own programs.
"The GPL, in my view, is bad in all its dimensions," said Jim Allchin, group vice president of Microsoft's Platforms Group. But OSS advocates say the company's complaints are simply a smoke screen to hide its fear of Linux and other free solutions. More important, Microsoft's efforts thus far have been unsuccessful. Despite the software giant's heavy lobbying, the US National Security Agency (NSA) recently released its own super-secure Linux version. And in cash-strapped developing and third-world countries, Linux and other open-source solutions are particularly viable. Microsoft might be dominant in today's computing landscape, but the potential market for PCs and supporting software is much larger when you factor in the masses in China, India, South Africa, Central America, South America, and other areas.