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Microsoft Planning to Buy Open Source Companies? 276

mjasay writes "At the Web 2.0 Summit, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Microsoft 'will do some buying of companies that are built around open-source products,' suggesting that to avoid open-source companies would 'take us out of the acquisition market quite dramatically.' Ballmer has apparently come a long way since dubbing Linux a 'cancer.' The real question, however, is which open-source companies make sense within the Microsoft product portfolio, both from a technology and philosophy perspective. Novell? 37Signals? Jive? SugarCRM? And, equally importantly, which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?"
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Microsoft Planning to Buy Open Source Companies?

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  • by brewstate ( 1018558 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:10AM (#21039421)
    "which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?" ALL OF THEM.
    • "which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?" ALL OF THEM.

      Any that have tech they want, but are at risk of moving to GPLv3, I'd say.
      • "which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?" ALL OF THEM.

        Any that have tech they want, but are at risk of moving to GPLv3, I'd say.
        Not according to the recent surveys. The GPLv3 seems to be quite UNpopular with developers.
    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:29AM (#21039645) Homepage
      Absolutely! They could even sell their copyrights to Microsoft, and continue development on an open-source fork if they wanted. Heck, Microsoft might even decide to leave the application open source. I think it would all prove to be a very interesting experiment, to see if buying the company was really good for Microsoft, and to see if the community continued development of the product, and which ways the forks went. Quite interesting!

      Also note that this isn't really a "threat" to the community because large-scale OSS projects have copyrights owned by a myriad of people, so they really can't be sold. It only applies to companies that develop completely in-house, or require contributors to sign-away their copyrights.

      Related note: I work for a company that uses SugarCRM internally, and has modified it (very slightly) for our purposes. SugarCRM would become useless if we didn't have the source.
      • I just hope that they purchase Sage Software's ACT, to get that POS off the market or to get it revised to the point where opening three different databases doesn't cause the program to exhaust all of it's own resource's as allocated by Windows. I guess they've never heard of garbage collection.

        * Version XXX has probably fixed the problem, but the boss doesn't want to pay to ugprade past ver 8.02, so my gripe stays. In addition, I'm the one that's told to support it, but I can't suggest an alternative, th
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "ALL OF THEM."

      Agreed. Business is business. Just because M$ owns an OS based company doesn't make the code closed.

      The bigger issue is if M$ ends up buying all the cards in the game, and starts to sprinkle proprietary code into the OS code what happens to the OS code then?
      • by smilindog2000 ( 907665 ) <bill@billrocks.org> on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:17AM (#21040183) Homepage
        Both Novel and RedHat are publicly traded companies, which means by law they hold their investor's interests above all else. Last time I checked, you could buy pretty much anything from investors at the right price. Microsoft buying Novel and RedHat would cause less of a riot than when Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal.

        Novel's market cap: $2B
        Red Hat's market cap: $4B
        Microsoft's market cap: $292B

        Microsoft could easily buy the two largest open-source companies on the planet without denting their reserves. If Microsoft ever suspects Linux is a significant threat, they'll just buy out the largest players. Let's face it... that's how #1 companies remain #1.
        • Only problem with your theory is that Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. There would be an amazing number of regulatory hurdles it would have to jump through even to think about buying a company that makes a competing OS.
          • by smilindog2000 ( 907665 ) <bill@billrocks.org> on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:48AM (#21040623) Homepage
            While normally I'd agree with you, I'll risk more "flamebait" mods and predict that the Bush administration would be all for Microsoft's acquisitions. We split up AT&T, yet there were no major hurdles placed against AT&T re-merging. AT&T just bought both my cellular and home phone companies (Cingular and Bell South). They even provide my DSL. I keep my Sprint long-distance as a protest, but 90% of my money now goes to AT&T, half of it without a single reasonable competitor (my land-line). And what about Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal? Big Business is the current administration's base.
          • Only problem with your theory is that Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. There would be an amazing number of regulatory hurdles it would have to jump through even to think about buying a company that makes a competing OS.

            You're right. Cuz remember when they were under trial for abuse of monopoly powers and they were let off the hook after Bush took office? It would work just as effectively as that. Enforcement of monopoly ruling against Microsoft will be just like the war on drugs and the war on terror, we don't have either of those now!

        • by rootofevil ( 188401 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:31AM (#21040369) Homepage Journal

          Microsoft could easily buy the two largest open-source companies on the planet without denting their reserves. If Microsoft ever suspects Linux is a significant threat, they'll just buy out the largest players. Let's face it... that's how #1^H^Hmonopolies companies remain #1^H^Hmonopolies.

          • Sounds like we won, the main purpose of OSS was to be water, now Microsoft can punch the water all they want and any results will be purely transient. Buy Novell, treat the employees like droids, they just leave and start over because with OSS the most valuable asset really is the experience of your employees. I wonder how many of the original SuSE people and the monkey boys from Ximian are left at Novell. I used to "buy" SuSE distro's but eventually I realized that the biggest thing I was buying was CD wit
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Red Flayer ( 890720 )

          Both Novel and RedHat are publicly traded companies, which means by law they hold their investor's interests above all else.

          False. Completely false, but often misconstrued as the truth wrt public companies.

          The truth is that companies must adhere to their mission statements or they face the possibility of a civil tort.

          Yes, most mission statements include maximization of profit or somesuch, but it's mistaken (very mistaken) to believe that public companies can only take actions that are intended to maximiz

    • this is not about which products might fit in M$'s portfolio but about killing these products and vendors. Who believes that M$ is going to set up an open source strategy (open source as in GPL)? I believe hell is going to freeze over before that is going to happen. Ballmer threatening Novell and Red Hat with patent cases and setting up an open source strategy at the same time. Sure.

      Go away.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Who cares. If the product was OSS and GPL or BSD licensed. the OSS community can always fork it and continue on unhindered.

      That is the incredible power of OSS. you cant make it go away, you cant take it from the people.

      Even if you make it illegal, it's still there thriving..... DECSS anyone?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rbanffy ( 584143 )
        Careful. That's what software patents are for.

        Luckily, what will happen if MS buys RH and starts forcing people to pay for their patents is that they will discover US patent law extends very little beyond its borders.

        As I said before, it's sad the US tech industry will suffer, but IT companies can always move to other countries. A lot of them would be very happy to harbor the next Google if the US ends up being a hostile environment for new developments.
  • Well.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Reece400 ( 584378 ) <Reece400@hotmail.com> on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:12AM (#21039443)
    Sounds familier to me... http://imdb.com/title/tt0218817/ [imdb.com]
  • Microsoft SuSE? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nicholas Evans ( 731773 ) <OwlManAtt@gmail.com> on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:13AM (#21039451) Homepage

    And, equally importantly, which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?
    Novell has already sold their soul and they're still staring people down. Guess this should be taken as an announcement that we'll soon be dealing with Microsoft SuSE.
    • Re:Microsoft SuSE? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bconway ( 63464 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:18AM (#21039523) Homepage
      Keep in mind, Novell sales are up 250% [computerworld.com] since their deal with Microsoft. Their customers don't exactly seem to mind.
      • by jkrise ( 535370 )
        Keep in mind, Novell sales are up 250% since their deal with Microsoft. ..

        Novell wasn't doing so well prior to the MS tie up. So a 250% jump doesn't mean much. Once more corporates realise their portfolio is built on top of FUD, rather than Value; they will struggle to keep up the same turnover.

        And then, Microsoft will simply ditch them and buy up another promising Open Source co. to kill off.
    • by arivanov ( 12034 )

      Does not compute. Neither financially, nor strategically.

      Whatever people say about MSFT it actually has a very good M&A group. If we discount one stupid affair in France it has a nearly spotless record. It has to be in a company that does not innovate and buys most of its "innovation". I do not quite see this M&A finding a sound reason to buy Novell. It is a huge can of anticompetition worms which once opened will crawl all over the place, not particularly enticing financials along with a num
      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )
        Well, buying Novell would give them a product to directly compete with Redhat and Ubuntu, which wouldn't be terribly anti competitive unless they bought them for the purposes of burying their product lines, which would just drive former customers to Redhat.
  • loyality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by avalean ( 1176333 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:14AM (#21039453) Homepage
    What i want to know is, will they change the license of the software after purchase?
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )
      You can't un-GPL GPL'd software.
      • by Tim C ( 15259 )
        No you can't. But if you own the copyright on the code, then while v2 was GPL, v3 most certainly doesn't have to be.
      • You can't un-GPL GPL'd software.

        If anyone would have a go at it, it would have to be Microsoft. Their legal dept has deep pockets.
      • Bet You Can (Score:2, Insightful)

        by WED Fan ( 911325 )

        You can't un-GPL GPL'd software.

        If I were a deep-pockets-legal-department-with-gold-plated-business-cards type of company, I'd try it.

        • Buy it.
        • Fork it.
        • Version it, keep the old version as gpl 3.
        • New version, translated into, say C# is now non-GPL.
        • Stop distributing the old version.
        • Wait for suit.

        I'd be willing to bet that a judge will look at it and say, "Well this part is GPL'd, but you own it, so you can still enforce your GPL rights. This part is not, and because the project is yours, you can do with

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AceJohnny ( 253840 )

      What i want to know is, will they change the license of the software after purchase?

      Well, sure, most probably: it's what Microsoft Does(tm). However, it won't change anything for versions previously released under real open-source licenses. It's called a "fork".

      However, will users follow microsoft's versions, or the free forked versions? That's the interesting question that only time will tell.

    • Naw! What you REALLY want to know is HOW MS will license the products. MS wouldn't bother to buy the companies if it could just release the open source product under a proprietary license, now would it.
    • by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @11:21AM (#21042233)
      What does Microsoft care about changing the license? Do you not realize that first and foremost, Microsoft is likely to just terminate the project?

      And I have to wonder how anybody on /. could even give another option a moments notice. Microsoft exists because of Windows and anything they touch gets destroyed if it does not work ONLY with Windows. That's in 20 years of history folks. When Java was knocking on Microsofts door they responded by purchasing promising Java based companies and closing them down. Netscape got the same treatment. Why would anybody not think this was their plan for open source companies they purchased since most open source projects work on more than Windows and that is a threat to Windows? The top level at Microsoft look at everything as a threat first since Microsoft exists because Windows exists and without Windows, they are history.

      And the sad thing is that Steve Balmer was the one saying this yet nobody in half the posts mentioned them just terminating the project. WTF?

  • which companies could look their communities in the eye after selling to Microsoft?

    Methinks the founders will be too busy cruising around on their shiny new megayachts to worry about such things.. and why not?
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:14AM (#21039459)
    This is an absolutely textbook way of getting rid of competition - buy it and either assimilate their product into your own or simply close it down.

    Microsoft aren't bothered about small projects which don't attract much attention. Nor are they particularly bothered about large projects, provided there isn't any serious commercial backing to them.

    They're bothered about commercially backed projects where there is the potential to offer significant competition. Their spouting about how "you won't get any real support" (which is probably about their only reasonably sensible piece of FUD) only works when there aren't many commercially backed solutions based on open source software. If I worked for someone like KnowledgeTree or SugarCRM right now I'd be slightly nervous.
    • Posters are right in that Microsoft buying companies producing Linux or other F/LOSS won't be able to stamp out the competition just by buying them, the way they stamped out Spyglass, Visio, Doublespace, etc. But neither will forking solve the problem completely the way it did with X.org, Beryl or GPG. Yes, the legal rights to the software will remain available to the community thanks to the GPL; but Microsoft is also buying up developer talent.

      If MS buys SAMBA, for example, yes, we could fork off the SAM
  • Apparently they're really upset that Linux won't sell to them...
  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:17AM (#21039495)
    If msft buys any OSS companies, it will probably be just to kill the competition. Remember Foxpro?
  • The only reason i could think of is to buy some companies and extinguish them.
  • by kilo_foxtrot84 ( 1016017 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:18AM (#21039511)
    "You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."
  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:24AM (#21039585) Homepage
    Well, here we go, buying up this open-source company to kill competition. What do you mean our users "forked" our product? What do you mean the staff we just layed off just made a new company to support this fork? What did we pay umpteen gazillion dollars for?
    • Now, that may be the key! Why do you think they fear OSS so much? It renders the buy-out strategy useless.
    • by jhines ( 82154 )
      And there in lies the true beauty of open source.
    • Getting bought by Microsoft and then forking could be a great way for Free Software companies to make a bit of extra money.
    • Microsoft may be many things, but stupid is not one of them. I would bet substaintal sums of money that the staff will have signed non-competes keeping them from working on any non-MS fork (and maybe any other OSS as well). Actually, umpteen gazillion dollars may not be a bad price to take out the various project leaders. Let us be honest, without good managment familiar with the source, large-scale OSS projects are impossible. And a rapid decapitation may take years to recover from.

  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:24AM (#21039589) Journal
    Geek to suit: "Hey look, Microsoft are now *really* getting scared by open source stuff! They want to throw *real money* at it!"

    Also, people might now start investing in open source projects in the hope of getting a slice of that MS cash a few years down the line. This looks like a Good Thing.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:25AM (#21039605) Homepage Journal
    anything the company that was bought by microsoft was doing. No offense, it is an issue of trust. Microsoft screwed so many partners and non partners in the past. We cant just put that much effort on our spare time into things that can be sent to hell by microsoft in a given point in time.
    • by ivan256 ( 17499 )

      We cant just put that much effort on our spare time into things that can be sent to hell by microsoft in a given point in time.

      Many (most?) commercial open source products don't have many community contributors at all. Sure, some do, but Microsoft could easily target the ones that are developed mostly internally for their buyouts.
  • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:27AM (#21039621) Homepage Journal
    the OSS "buy-me" trolls?

    1. fork the most recent open release of a recently MS bought out OSS project.
    2. improve and offer support for it.
    3. Now MS either has to improve its own branch or buy you out too (which is the 3b. Profit!!! part)

    I mean, seriously, isn't Microsoft going to prove money can be made with OSS?
    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )
      Sorry, your scheme won't work. In order to be a proper Slashdot business plan, you have to have a ??? step. This is just a clear and possibly workable business plan that could make real money. Microsoft still hasn't figured out that you can't rid a house of cockroaches by stomping/buying them one at a time. Their various fog bombs/fud campaigns didn't work, so they're back to pointy-toed shoes.

      I think it is a hilarious show to watch. All that desperation (and chair tossing).

  • ..any open source project "team" they buy can will be pointless as if there is enough support the last version will be forked by the community if there is a perceived need. I mean, call me simplistic but isn't that the main strength of open sourced projects? If you don't like it then fork it, if there is enough support then it will work. Survival of the fittest and all that...
  • This sounds more like he's planning to pre-empt Google from buying those companies. Buy-and-kill doesn't work with open source projects, as the source is already out there and anyone can start another company based on the same code.
  • Get Red Hat!!!
  • Has to be 37Signals [37signals.com]:

    We believe most software is too complex. Too many features, too many buttons, too much confusion. We build easy to use web-based products with elegant interfaces and thoughtful features. We're focused on executing on the basics beautifully.
  • SugarCRM?

    Hahahaha... hahahaha.. Jesus, you can't make this stuff up. Thanks, Slashdot!

    No..., Microsoft isn't after SugarCRM, a PHP CRM system.

    It's not after Novell either, since this would undermine their Windows brand. You probably understand that suddenly starting to sell another OS while Vista is having some harsh time won't be great for Microsoft's business. Partnering with Novell the way it is right now is the perfect solution for at least 5 years ahead.

    Expect the OSS companies to produce products tha

    • by deniable ( 76198 )
      They might finally buy ActiveState [activestate.com]. They fit nicely into the Windows Server market. It would be like buying sysinternals.
      • AFAIK ActiveState's main field of business is still their (nice) series of IDEs. Microsoft seems to be going rather strong with their Visual Studio, too, so I wouldn't expect MSFT to be too interested.
  • I can assure you that Canonical (Makers of Ubuntu) And Red Hat won't be bought out, and Debian is a community distro, and when SUSE is practically sold to MS already, there doesn't leave a lot of major distros left, I don't think that PCLinuxOS will be sold to MS or Mandriva will because they seem to be much like a community distro even though they are sponsored by companies, so with Ubuntu, Fedora, RHEL, Debian, Mandirva, and PCLinuxOS staying MS free, that doesn't give MS much room with the other distro m
    • Think about it: through the lawsuit against MS, Linspire has the legal right to distribute various codecs for MP3, WMF, etc. To add insult to injury, they are giving the other linuxes the ability to legally download various codecs, too...codecs which would otherwise be illegal in the US. Buy & shut Linspire, and you can again move the Linux desktop into territory where their users either break the law, or have a poor experience.

      My money's on Linspire as the acquisition target.
      • Yes, I think Linspire might be bought before Novell, but hardly anyone that I know uses Linspire (or Freespire) But for most of the codecs, MS doesn't have a right to them anyways (MP3, AAC) sure WMF and such they do, but if its legal or not, most people simply don't care including MS (Who after being convicted as an abusive monopoly in both the US and EU, had nothing done, except for the non-inclusion of WMP in Windows) but wouldn't all the WMVs and WMFs be legal to those who had a copy of Windows that was
    • I can assure you that Canonical (Makers of Ubuntu) And Red Hat won't be bought out,

      I think taking on a Linux distro would be too big a can'o'worms for Microsoft - far too many copyright holders to allow a closed-source fork, probably including some GPLv3 components in the mix. I think even GPLv2 goes far enough to undermine the IP FUD argument if MS actually became the "owner" of an active Linux distro.

      I'd look to the more self-contained, FOSS products that have been substantially developed by a single

  • New MS Slogan... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stanislav_J ( 947290 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:46AM (#21039843)
    "If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em!"
  • Microsoft has traditionally bought software companies that could augment its software portfolio. Buying a company that has a product that you lack is not new to the software industry or any other.

    This time it is different. Microsoft is not buying "software ideas". Microsoft, like most software companies, is slowly realizing that software will become a commodity in the next 20 years. Operating systems, applications....etc will all be, more or less, equal to end users and businesses.

    What microsoft is doin
  • I have to wonder if they plan to buy up some OSS projects and then relicense them. They can then start with the patent FUD and hit any forks with MS lawyers.

    Before anybody tells me that the law is on the side of OSS, consider how long the SCO case took. What if MS doesn't play to win but to not lose, allowing them to delay and cripple projects until they give up?
  • by Hasai ( 131313 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:04AM (#21040029)
    This is not a new strategy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy [wikipedia.org]

    Vivendi Universal bought-up mp3.com and bulldozed it, Microsoft bought-up RAV AntiVirus and buried it. Now, M$ will probably do the same with these others; buy-up the businesses and turn them into parking lots.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by R2.0 ( 532027 )
      Are you aware that the article you reference spends more space debunking the "conspiracy" than promoting it?
    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

      Only one entity can control mp3.com. Very few people have/had the source code to RAV AntiVirus. There is no parking lot.

      Microsoft can try to assimilate open-source projects and incorporate it into their culture, but they can't harm it by swatting at it any more than I can destroy a bee colony with a sword.

  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
    -Unsourced Mahatma Gandhi quote (wikiquote)

    Blaaaarrrg. Take off every chair! For great justice. Pew pew pew lasers!
    -/. Universe Balmer on learning of users forking OSS they just bought to kill. (my own head)
  • I swear, if I had Microsoft stock I'd be selling right now. Steve Ballmer is running M$ into the ground. (Yes, yes, I know people have hated Microsoft and will say it's always been running into the ground.) But really, I don't think Steve Ballmer has a clue what to do.

    He keeps going on these rants, throwing chairs around, etc. Why would Microsoft buy 20-100 companies. There is really no benefit to doing so. I've really felt M$ has been on a bad path. I had hopes Vista would change that...but obviously th
  • by Tom ( 822 )
    The last part is the crucial one.

    I know I'd stop any business relations with any OSS company bought by MS. For the simple reason of trust. MS has proven time and time again that they are a dirty company playing dirty tricks and not stopping at screwing over their business partners.

    When you buy OSS, you have two reasons. One is it could simply be the best product of its kind around. The other is that you trust the OSS project to not play bait-and-switch, let's-not-renew-your-license, look-at-that-smallprint,
  • Remember Dimension X, the 1990s Bay Area startup built around an open-source Java graphics engine? Microsoft bought them, scrapped the project, shipped the developers off to Redmond and deployed them on ActiveX projects.
  • 1. Buy (Open Source) Company.

    2. Slap the Microsoft name on the whiz-bang technology they just bought, claim it as their product of "innovation".

    3. Publish a press release that the the software company will be offering better "Windows compatibility" on all platforms to "build a better community".

    4. Once the added Windows APIs have been debugged, (after a few months) start dropping all other non-windows OS support due to "customer demand"

    5. Profit
  • Remember back in the day [slashdot.org] that they purchased a share of Corel? Remember what happened to Corel Linux and Wordperfect for Linux?

    I thought you might.

    I still miss "reveal codes" :-(

  • I was worried, until I heard that Monkey-boy wants to buy Web 2.0 companies.

    Gotta go, I need to get the business plan for my new start-up, pimentoloaf.com, into shape for the VCs..

  • This won't work out the way Dancing Monkey Boy hopes it will. It is patently (heh) obvious that any open source company acquired by Microsoft will immediately lose all credibility in the open source marketplace. Furthermore, since the software itself is open source, that loss of credibility will immediately cause the project to fork, and the community will move in lockstep over to the newly formed, true open source project. Basically it'll be a repeat of what happened with Mambo and Joomla every time Mic
  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:14AM (#21041027)
    Instead of buying OSS companies to kill them off, most likely Microsoft would be looking for OSS companies with patents that have been used by other OSS projects, particularly Linux. Once Microsoft owns the company, it can enforce the patent. Forking won't help with a patent violation, particularly if the patent is question is in use by other projects.
  • thank you Microsoft! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:53AM (#21041719)
    This is great news. Microsoft will give hundreds of millions of dollars to the founders of open source companies, and the software itself will remain open source. This kind of monetary reward can only encourage the development of more open source software. Thank You Microsoft!

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer