I was just remarking to my son that it’s going to be tough to write an April 1st (aka “April Fools”) story that is actually weirder than what we are living through right now. I mean, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, people around the world are in lockdown, or in isolation, everyone that can work from home is working from home, and the economy is tanking. Seriously, how do you beat that? Then, I started thinking about the most successful, meaning most convincing, April Fool’s article I ever wrote. There were tons of comments at the time; it was shared widely, and people were downright angry at Microsoft. That was back in April of 2011 and I repost it here for your foolish pleasure.
They say that open source and closed source software companies make strange bedfellows. It’s not uncommon for closed source companies like Microsoft or Apple to use open source software in their products, just as open source companies like Canonical or RedHat sometimes include or provide access to proprietary drivers. Such borrowing of technology is often seen more as forays into enemy territory rather than diplomatic efforts to integrate development ideologies. Lawsuits involving patents or violations of open source licenses like the GPL are common.
Legal sabre-rattling aside, there has been a great deal of movement between the open and closed source camps lately, so much so that most of us in the industry pay little attention. The partnership between Microsoft and Novell was controversial and raised many eyebrows when it happened, but it has been largely forgotten. Yet even the most jaded tech reporter was astounded when Microsoft announced that it would purchase open source ReactOS for an unprecedented $12.3 billion USmaking it the largest open source acquisition to date. ReactOS is a small software organization that has been working to produce an open source replacement for Microsoft Windows.
Unofficial sources inside Microsoft suggested that ReactOS was “just getting too close to producing a completely free and open source version of Windows” and was becoming a threat to the software giant. We spoke to Microsoft’s Harold Linberry, marketing manager in charge of legacy software, who refused to comment on these allegations, saying instead that the move was meant to “protect Microsoft customers” who mistaking ReactOS for the real thing, might encounter problems. “We wanted to make sure that we could protect our customers’ investment in their IT infrastructure. We wanted to make sure that if they installed ReactOS, they could count on the same level of quality and support that they currently enjoy with Microsoft Windows.”
But not everyone is convinced. Open source advocates like Morris Vigor are quick to point out that the Downloads link on the ReactOS site has been deactivated, making it impossible for visitors to download their own copy of the software. “This is a clear violation of the GPL,” Vigor stated. “Microsoft will be hearing from our lawyers.“
Discussions of lawsuits aside, these are exciting times for ReactOS developer, Aleksey Bragin, who when asked to comment, would only say, “Honestly? I can’t believe any of this is happening.“