Microsoft Vs Open Source Community

There was a great piece on CNet about Higgins project waiting Microsoft’s approval for creating a Windows CardSpace’s open-source equivalent:

Higgins awaits Microsoft’s blessing

An open-source rival to a Microsoft identity tool has been in limbo for months, awaiting the software giant’s go-ahead on certain patent-related issues.

Developers working on the Higgins project want to create a tool equivalent to Microsoft’s Windows CardSpace, but fear the software giant’s legal wrath if they don’t receive permission on certain features. Although parts of the project continue to move forward, proponents say it may not reach its full potential without Microsoft’s help.

While CardSpace is available on Windows, one goal of the Higgins project is to cover other operating systems. Higgins wants to offer an open-source alternative that works on Windows and on alternatives such as Linux and Mac OS X. The application would work similarly to CardSpace.

“We don’t intend to duplicate CardSpace, but a user should be able to sit down in front of the open-source implementation and feel comfortable and understand how things work, like Firefox versus Internet Explorer,” said Dale Olds, who holds the title of distinguished engineer at Novell, drawing a parallel to Web-browsing software.

Also, Higgins developers want to include the capability to take identity information from Linux systems or Macs and use it with CardSpace, and vice versa, Olds said.

“This is the equivalent of the user’s wallet. You want to be able to take your cards and use them in whatever system. How to do that has now been fully documented, but we need that included under the open-specification promise,” Olds said. Without Microsof’s acquiescence, import and export will only be possible between Higgins systems, he said.

I really like Microsoft Cardspace (see our review here) …Microsoft has done a lot of new groundbreaking work here. The issue with the Higgins project is that its gonna provide a card management client based on the Java based Eclipse platform. This would ensure that the product works for Linux and Mac and any other client that supports Java including Windows. This makes it tricky for Microsoft, as by giving up the patent rights, they will be essentially creating an open-source competitor for one of the key technologies in Vista. Not only will Higgins based CardSpace product take away one of the major selling points of Vista, it might even provide a web client implementation, which challenges the raison d’etre for an expensive desktop OS like Windows. On the other hand, an open source implementation of CardSpace functionality might generate a lot of free buzz and user education for a fairly new and unknown CardSpace functionality.

Overall, I can see the reasons for Microsoft’s reluctance in granting a license to Higgins. This is a complex decision…I won’t even be surprised if Microsoft rejected the request altogether, although I do think the right course of action would be to work with Higgins and try and advance this crucial technology together with open-source community.


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