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THE Free Software Foundation, the keeper of the sacred flame of open-source software untainted by commercial restrictions, evoked a nice image of Microsoft the other day. It compared its nemesis to an unruly child who throws himself to the floor in a tantrum and has to be dragged to his feet by his parents.

Microsoft has spent a lot of the past few years foot-dragging and whining about imaginary dangers when confronted by regulators in the US and Europe that were unhappy at how it wielded its near-monopoly in desktop operating systems.

But small children have a disconcerting habit of coming up with a good reason to stand their ground just when their parents finally lose patience and start shouting (later to feel guilty). So it is with Microsoft and the argument over whether it should be forced to license its software protocols on terms that would encourage competition from open-source organisations.

Microsoft’s underlying position, if not its louder rhetoric about how its trade secrets are under threat, has a kernel of truth. The European Commission would over-reach itself by making Microsoft publish its intellectual property in the manner suggested by the Free Software Foundation. The laudable objective of stimulating competition can be achieved without forcing the company to behave exactly as open-source purists would prefer.

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