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Microsoft-Novell Agreement- Where's the Beef?
Ballmer threatens Linux in time for Vista to ship



Novell sells out, allows Microsoft to threaten userbase




It is a depressingly familiar theme in the news this week. Microsoft has “done a deal” with Novell, declaring a “patent peace” whereby Microsoft will not sue SuSE end users for “Microsoft's Intellectual Property” used in Novell's SuSE Linux distribution. It is depressingly familiar because we've seen this before, and are still watching the show. SCO's body isn't even done twitching yet from the stupidest lawsuit ever filed, and here's Microsoft's very lame attempt to try to keep you afraid, very afraid indeed, of making the jump away from Microsoft's Windows operating systems to that Great Unknown, Linux, the “hobbyist's operating system”.

Microsoft has been making a bit of an ass of itself lately, getting things stuck to it that it should know better than to allow. It's unfortunate that they let Steve Ballmer out of his cage to tout this latest deal with Novell. What exactly is this deal anyway, and why should we care?

In a nutshell, Novell, who is sitting on a pile of software patents which it has amassed over the years for various software, methods and concepts, key technologies, in fact, has signed a “non-aggression pact” with Microsoft, who also holds a collection of software patents. Why is this important? Microsoft threatens, like the wise guy shaking down the corner grocery, that “you wouldn't want to be in a situation where you aren't indemnified as an end user”. This implies, RIAA style, that Microsoft is now willing to take anybody who leaves the Windows operating system to court over their use of any technologies that, for instance, allow them to interoperate with patented Microsoft technologies. What are those technologies, and where are the patents? Well, there's the bluff, and there's the story.

Back in 2003, a reincarnation of a well respected, but failed, Unix technology vendor, the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), declared far and wide that it “owned the Unix operating system” and “IBM had dumped millions of lines of code, illegally, and to the great detriment of SCO's business”, into Linux. SCO demanded no less than 50 Billion Dollars from IBM, at the time, and not only threatened every Fortune 1000 company with a lawsuit, it actually took a couple to court. Daimler-Chrysler was the first “victim” of SCO's shakedown, although IBM was the true target. Those of us who have followed this farce over the years know how it is playing out. SCO had problems with its assetions from the start. Novell, who allegedly had sold the “rights to the Unix operating system” to SCO's predecessor in interest, Caldera, immediately challenged the core of SCO's assertions, namely that it had any copyrights, let alone patents, on any of the original AT&T System V code, which Novell asserted that it still owned in any case. SCO then sued Novell as well, and sued Red Hat for good measure. SCO capitalized on the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in the industry that they were sowing, attempting to shake down Fortune 1000 companies for a $700 per CPU “Linux license”, the purchase of which would absolve the user from any “liability” from using “unlicensed SCO technology” which might be found in Linux. The main problem is, nobody has yet found any “unlicensed SCO technology” in Linux.

Over time, the absurdity of SCO's claims against IBM became more evident to followers of the saga. SCO changed it's claims against IBM, asked for delays, requested tons and tons, literally, of code revisions of IBM's AIX operating system, Sequent's Dynix operating system, and other “licensed SCO technologies”. SCO's rationale for going after IBM (aside from the money they hoped to win) was that IBM had participated in a joint venture once, called Monterey, where a 64 bit Unix operating system was to be developed with SCO. IBM backed out of the deal because not only was SCO going towards Linux at the time, but Intel, who was developing the 64 bit chip to be used, was very late in delivering and the chip was underperforming.

Many industry watchers have had theories regarding the tenacity by which SCO seems to be fighting what, to all intents and purposes, is the silliest lawsuit of all time. Nobody, but nobody, now believes that SCO has any rights to the Unix operating system. And, even if it did, nobody believes that SCO had the right to control IBM's own code, nor could it have legal influence over where IBM chose to put its own code, using the right of its own patents. SCO's astonishingly lame criticism of the GPL, actually calling the GPL “unconstitutional” in a letter to members of the House of Representatives of the United States, during a time when the company was distributing software under the GPL, and suing companies for doing the same thing it was doing, made lots of people scratch their heads in disbelief. The only thing that SCO seemed to do well was spend money on their legal counsel, which they have done a grand job of funding. It is the source of funding, in fact, which was a focus of many watching eyes, especially when a tie was made to a funding vehicle which appeared to some to be also funded by Microsoft. Microsoft denied any involvement, of course, and the investment vehicle has pulled out of the SCO saga. Microsoft did, in a less convoluted way, help out SCO by buying a “license for SCO IP” which was the code that eventually made its way into the “Microsoft Windows Services for Unix”. Why would Microsoft be so interested in perpetuating an absurd lawsuit, brought on by shameless cowboys attempting to shake down one of the largest information technology companies in the world?

One word. Vista. The successor to XP has been increasingly losing time, features, and interest by the marketplace. Microsoft has been shooting itself in the foot so many times over Vista, by dropping features or slipping dates, that even the few “partners” it has left (or has not eaten alive) are increasingly looking at alternatives themselves. The marketplace isn't interested in Vista, except maybe a few Microsoft-funded ragazines, full of gushing fanboy articles about how wonderful the latest .NET incarnation is going to be for programmers, and you'll need to pay more for training this year. The longer Vista takes to get to market, the more of a foothold Linux has where it matters; and where it really matters is the corporate desktop.

Microsoft could care less about the home user. Their actions belie their words. In fact, Microsoft reserves nothing but scorn for the hobbyist market, and has always either flat out accused the hobbyist market of being criminals, or just this side of being criminals. Bill Gates wrote his famous 1976 “letter to hobbyists” tirade as a complaint that hobbyists were “stealing his work”. The Vista EULA reflects this same attitude. End users, according to Microsoft, are either stupid, appliance-using sheep, or “hobbyists” (which should be pronounced with the same vehemence of Rush Limbaugh saying “Liberals”). Steve Ballmer, the pit bull of Microsoft's executive branch, has never made any nice words, ever, about the hobbyist market. And the Vista EULA reflects that, even watered down, as it was, this week, after many end users complained about the complete unfairness of the EULA's terms.

So, here we are at this week. Microsoft, on the verge of finally releasing Vista, and faced with no interested buyers (indeed, a chorus of yawns has confronted them), announces a “deal” with Novell (who has been on the wrong-end-of-the-stick with Microsoft agreements before and should have known better). And Ballmer forbodingly intones that “anybody that hasn't got indemnification from their distro vendor “better watch out”. Is that aimed at hobbyists? Hardly! It's aimed straight at the Fortune 1000 CIOs that have been amusing themselves with the SCO vs. IBM farce, in which it is being shown convincingly to the world that Linux really and truly has no encumbered technologies in the kernel at all, and there are plenty of choices for other components that it is very unlikely that there is infringement going on. Even so, IBM, Novell, Red Hat and others have pledged their considerable patent collections to the cause.

Steve Ballmer's threats are just more noise, trying to scare CIOs from making the change to Linux. Worse, he's threatening his own customers; if you are considering leaving Microsoft for Red Hat, for instance, expect a visit by the BSA, Real Soon, because obviously, you are using pirated technology to actually get your business done. My advice to small companies is, make the break clean. Free and Open Source Software can easily make your business more profitable, your information technology architecture more stable, and your end users very happy. Ballmer knows this, and he knows the emperor not only has no clothes, but he hasn't even left his bedroom yet. Don't be fooled. Companies that threaten their own customers with lawsuits do not survive on good will. Think about it.









Copyright © by LWD All Rights Reserved.

Published on: 2006-11-05 (2340 reads)

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