A lot has been written, spoken and debated about the current, um, “motives” that the death star in Redmond has aimed at the FOSS community, and a lot of speculation has arisen as to which distro could be the next Judas, selling out FOSS for well over 30 pieces of silver.
[Note: The religious reference above does not imply that I think the next FOSS domino to fall will be Christian Ubuntu. On the contrary -- if I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on Mandriva. No doubt that Darth Ballmer and the rest of the corporate leeches oozing their way out of that campus off the 405 east of Seattle would love to get a FOSS foothold in Europe, either real or imagined. So my guess is that the hook is baited and they're hoping to reel in Mandriva -- but don't do it, folks!]
What’s lacking from the discussion, however, at any significant length is “why?”
Speculation runs amok, ranging from a boundless greed and loathing in the corporate culture at Microsoft (from the top down) to scaring FOSS developers and users into submission by the threat of a legal sword of Damocles hanging collectively over their heads. But this is all theory and speculation — great fodder for discussion, but nothing concrete.
[Bear in mind, incidentally, that of this writing -- as if someone is holding his or her breath -- Microsoft has yet to release the 235 alleged patent violations. As I wrote in an earlier blog, Sen. Joe McCarthy did the same thing in the 1950s, with a list of Communists in the State Department, none of which was ever named. ]
So without any firm evidence — just a hunch based on what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness” — my guess is that Microsoft’s “because” in this whole FOSS harrassment “why” is based on a legal end run that they might try in the courts to reel in FOSS.
Noting the continuous failure of SCO’s case against IBM/Novell/Whomever (a case that was over long ago, but SCO hasn’t realized it yet), Microsoft’s legal tack could be away from suing other companies and convince a court that the distros they’ve lined up and paid for handsomely translate into an admission, in the court’s eyes, that GNU/Linux arguably does violate Microsoft’s alleged patents, and the more agreements with GNU/Linux entities they collect serves to bolster their case. As noted on one blog, a writer wrote, “See, your Honor? These Linux companies knew they were using our patents! Why, they even signed an agreement with us saying so!”
The statement above, of course, is nonsense. But the courts and legislatures are filled with nonsensical arguments and nonsensical bills that have found their way into rulings and into law. The clear and present danger here is that, the climate of the courts being what it is, there is a remote possibility that Microsoft’s strategy — if this is indeed what they’re trying to do — could have, what they call in legal circles, some merit.
Permit me to go off-topic for a moment and pay homage to a Central California radio icon that deserves special mention. Laura Ellen Hopper, a founder of KFAT and then KPIG and a station programmer with a halo rather than horns, passed away on Memorial Day of cancer.
My colleague Wallace Baine of the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote an outstanding tribute to Laura Ellen here. Go ahead — it’s well worth straying from this blog to read Wallace’s tribute, and I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you.
I never met Laura Ellen, as she was known to everyone within an earshot of the KPIG broadcast range, but I’d spoken with her on the phone and exchanged various e-mails with her, all regarding either requests for songs, or “Thanks for playing . . . ” (in one interesting and humorous exchange, I thanked her for playing Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” one of the songs I sang to my daughter as a lullaby when she was an infant, and she sent back an e-mail she had received just before mine from an irate listener saying, “I hate ‘If I Had a Boat’ — there are a lot better Lyle songs to play.”). But she was a very friendly person on the line or on e-mail.
Speaking of my daughter Mirano (who has an affinity for chickens, as it turns out): On her sixth birthday a few years ago, I asked Laura Ellen to play the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Chicken Train” during the all-request show “Out to Lunch,” and if possible to play it as late as possible since I was picking her up from kindergarten. Not only did Laura Ellen play “Chicken Train” as the hour’s final song, but she also gave her an unforgettable birthday greeting on the air, which Mirano talked about for months. It was her best gift that year.
Every year since, we’ve requested a song for Mirano on her birthday (last year, it was Dana Lyons’ “Cows with Guns,” since the “chickens in choppers” come to the rescue), and Laura would play it and give a birthday greeting. It was a present Mirano never tired of.
Laura Ellen guidance in the programming of KFAT (which predates my arrival to the Central Coast of California) and KPIG (which doesn’t) is the thing of which legends are made. See for yourself by listening here. Yet it’s seemingly insignificant things like our annual birthday request that make such a profound impression on the lives that Laura Ellen reached through the airwaves, and I join a wide range of “Piggies” (also known as KPIG listeners) who will miss her.