Red Hat Chairman and CEO Matthew Szulik said Microsoft's legal efforts to challenge open source by employing patent infringement law represent a big threat.
"It's a credible threat, no doubt about it," said Szulik, a native son of Massachusetts who returned to deliver the keynote at Enterprise Linux Forum here. "We see the threat of costs of litigation could be harmful, cause a disenfranchisement of the global collaborative [development community and disrupt the speed of innovation. Yes, I think it's quite credible."
Clad in a red tie and crisp white shirt, Szulik acknowledged during a question-and-answer session with a jammed audience here that both Microsoft and UnitedLinux are competitive threats, but the CEO took a far more aggressive stand against the Redmond, Wash., software giant.
"I'm increasingly becoming very worried," Szulik said about looming court cases that challenge open-source principles with existing copyright and patent laws. "These things scare the hell out of me.
"Next, Linux will be linked to Osama Bin Laden, I'm sure," Szulik quipped, alluding to Microsoft's description of Linux as a "cancer" to intellectual property.
When asked if he sees UnitedLinux and Red Hat dividing the Linux community, Szulik answered, "I'd hope not." There is room for more than one leading Linux distribution in the nonproprietary software market, he said.
"More competition is good," Szulik said, slamming Microsoft in the next breath. "We've seen what happened over the last 23 years when there is [no competition."
Likening the Linux rising to the Boston Tea Party, in which the original Patriots resisted taxation without representation, the Red Hat CEO admonished Microsoft for crushing competition.
Szulik, a native of New Bedford, Mass., lauded Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly for filing an appeal to the recently approved consent decree between Microsoft and the Department of Justice. The U.S. District Court approved the consent decree with minor changes on Nov. 1.
Szulik said he is pleased to see Reilly fighting for stricter remedies. However, he acknowledged that the deal is pretty well over. "I'm pleased as an American that someone is fighting the fight," he said. "Clearly, I would have liked to see [the government's originally proposed remedies adopted. The decision has been made, and we have to move ahead."
After the Microsoft antitrust case was filed in 1998, the Department of Justice was advocating a company breakup or other tough remedies against Microsoft.