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Everything except the ‘why?’

June 9, 2007

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.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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  1. infixum
    June 9, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I think the “why” is less of a long term legal prospect than it is a near term stock price propper upper.
    Vista is getting awful reviews and the blogosphere is ripping it worse than the press.
    If you’re a Microsoft stockholder, you’re looking for goofy face Ballmer to DO SOMETHING before a handful of companies switch to Linux and a bunch of home users switch to Apple or some other OS like Linux.
    I very well might be wrong, but the market is even more brutal than the courtroom.

    I’d love to see Tux and FreeBSD’s Beastie rip Microsoft Windows’ flag logo to shreds. It’s going to have to happen at the level of individual users, because lobbyists and stockholders (big, institutional ones) just have too much power.

    My 2 cents.

  2. June 10, 2007 at 5:58 am

    It’s just “Xenix II”. Microsoft already bought a Unix, was even releasing it, decided it wasn’t feasible, sold most of it to SCO to use as a bludgeon to beat Linux up with. It didn’t work, so of course they’re going to meet Einstein’s criteria for insanity and do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

    BEGIN Alternative crackpot theory:

    IBM was once a bad guy; then they made friendly with Linux and now they have a halo. Sun was once an iron-fisted proprietary company, then they GPL’d Java and cut Open Solaris loose and now they’re wonderful. Many other software companies turn to open source as a last resort, after their profit margins finally nosedive.

    What if Microsoft released their own Unix/Linux variant, or – knock on wood – released the source code to Vista under a source-only redistribution license (so they still restrict the right to sell binaries)?

    (a) Their profit margin dips 0.001% (because 99% of their customer base couldn’t compile “Hello World”, anyway)
    (b) They need never fear an anti-trust accusation again!
    (c) They realize after awhile that the savvy users they still have will more than happily do their patch work for them!
    (d) They gradually inherit the FOSS halo.

    END Alternative crackpot theory.

  3. x
    June 11, 2007 at 11:52 am

    except MSFT is paying the linux companies for the pleasure of colluding with them in this farce, no judge would accept that as justification. As well, both the recent companies agreements have EXPLICITLY stated that the linux distributors do NOT acknowledge any IP infringment, only a cross-licensing agreement.

    I don’t like these deals any more than you do, but MSFT isn’t going to get anywhere with them. As an aside, Novell is actually in the perfect position to sue MSFT right now over their patent claims (MedImmune v. Genentech SCOTUS case)

  1. June 10, 2007 at 4:59 pm
  2. June 10, 2007 at 8:09 pm
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