Friday, November 17, 2006

Microsoft threatens Linux users

It didn't take long for Microsoft to make clear its intention in forming an alliance with Novell to support Linux earlier this month: legal intimidation of Linux users.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said yesterday that Microsoft signed the deal with Novell because, in Microsoft's opinion, Linux infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property rights and Microsoft wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation."

According to Computerworld,
A key element of the agreement now appears to be Novell's $40 million payment to Microsoft in exchange for the latter company's pledge not to sue SUSE Linux users over possible patent violations. Also protected are individuals and noncommercial open-source developers who create code and contribute to the SUSE Linux distribution, as well as developers who are paid to create code that goes into the distribution.
It also quotes Ballmer, threatening,
"Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered," Ballmer said. This "is important to us, because [otherwise] we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability."
Continuing the sabre-rattling,
"Only customers that use SUSE have paid properly for intellectual property from Microsoft," he said. "We are willing to do a deal with Red Hat and other Linux distributors." The deal with SUSE Linux "is not exclusive," Ballmer added.
With SCO's lawsuit going nowhere against IBM and other Linux providers, Microsoft apparently thinks it needs to do more to discourage organizations from adopting Linux. Or, as an alternative, only deal with Microsoft-approved distributions.

Ballmer, of course, provided no substantiation that Linux infringes on Microsoft patents. SCO has tried and has so far failed to prove similar allegations relative to Linux infringement on Unix IP rights.

Our research shows that in corporate data centers, Linux's share of workload processing is tiny compared to Microsoft's. Ballmer's disclosure shows, however, that Microsoft considers Linux a major threat. In forming its alliance with Novell, Microsoft is on the one hand embracing Linux, and on the other hand attempting to instill fear in corporate decision makers concerning Linux.

Update, Nov. 18: Jason Matusow, Microsoft's Director of Corporate Standards, posted to his blog asking for feedback from the open source community on the Microsoft/Novell patent covenant "not to sue." Read Matusow's post with all the comments to understand that the majority of open source developers do not trust Microsoft's intentions here.

Update, Nov. 18:
The Seattle Intelligencer has a full transcript of Ballmer's original remarks. He says much more than the original Computerworld article quoted. And there are a ton of good comments attached to the article as well.

Update, Nov. 21: Now Novell is publicly distancing itself from Ballmer's remarks. In an open letter published on Novell's website, Novell's CEO Ron Hovsepian says,
We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property. When we entered the patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell did not agree or admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violates Microsoft patents.
In related news, Dave Kaefer, Microsoft's GM for IP licensing, says that Microsoft will not identify what Microsoft patents are being misappropriated in Linux. Quoted in Computerworld, Kaefer says,
"Patents are hard to understand. You have to have a certain level of expertise to understand the scope. And there are legitimate questions about patent quality," he said. "The reality is that you'd have to look at thousands of patents and thousands of products. To focus on every single one would be prohibitive."

Update, Nov. 29. Via Computerworld, Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian gives a behind-the-scenes look at what triggered the original deal with Microsoft. Most interesting are the things that the two parties discussed but did not agree to, such as allowing Linux to run as a guest OS under Windows but not Windows under Linux, and allowing Microsoft Office and Visual Studios to run under Linux.

Related posts
Windows Rules the Data Center
Strange bedfellows: Microsoft and Novell in Linux deal

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