Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
|Steve Ballmer, the Sopranos and the protection racket. |
"I need to talk to you Vaughan-Nichols," he said, as two large men in expensive, but badly fitting suits, followed him out.
"Hey, anything the Redmond Mafia wants to say to me, they can call me about. You know the number."
"Listen to me," Ballmer said. "The only reason I'm doing this is because you're well-known. If it were anybody else, they would've gotten this intervention through the back of their head. Capiche?"
I sighed. "OK, speak your piece."
"Why are you making so much trouble about me talking about how open source and Linux owes us money?"
"Because they don't, Tony. Er, I mean, Steve. What you're doing is trying to set up an extortion racket."
"Oh, yeah? Who knows more about extortion, me or you?"
In this case, I think it's me.
Microsoft isn't just spreading FUD—albeit they're doing that as well. The explicit message is that Linux companies owe money to Microsoft because of patent violations. The only problem is that even when Ballmer first started making these claims in 2004, the only authority he has every cited for his claims said Ballmer had gotten it all wrong.
Every time Ballmer makes these increasingly vague claims—this makes the fourth go-around in the last four years by my count—open source and legal experts jump all over him. He ignores them and life continues.
To read more about Ballmer's patent threats against Linux and open source, click here.
Ballmer is sending two other hidden messages though. Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, Ubuntu's corporate Linux backer, pointed them out to me in a recent conversation.
The first is that there's something unsavory about Linux and open source. Ballmer starts his accusations against Linux with the assumption that everyone agrees with him that there's something illegal going on with Linux. He implies, without any proof at all, that the patents, or whatever he's talking about that day, are only the tip of the open-source IP (intellectual property) iceberg.
Never mind that Microsoft refuses to ever give a specific example, or that after years of claims SCO has completely failed to show any evidence that Linux has stolen any copyrighted material from Linux. Ballmer keeps talking as if there's something dirty in Linux's closet.
This connects directly with Ballmer's other unquestioned assumption: that there is no innovation or creation in open source. If you argue with Ballmer on his grounds, you must also assume that open source is just a way of copying the ideas of proprietary developers.
Just look at the name "open" source. It's all there. I can look at it. You can look it. It there's something illegal in the code, I think it'd be pretty easy to point it out, don't you?
As for new ideas, open source is the new idea of the 21st century. After decades of thinking that only way software can be valuable is if it's hidden and proprietary, open source has shown that you can create new things faster and better. It's an idea that's so radical people are still trying to get their heads around the notion that you can make money by giving something away.
Nevertheless, we must continue to challenge Ballmer on both his explicit and implicit attacks on Linux and open source. If we don't, we end up in a situation where his arguments that Linux and open-source software buyers should pay protection, excuse me, buy a Microsoft patent covenant begin to sound like the sensible, prudent thing to do. It's not.
"So, with all due respect Steve, until you're willing to start talking sense, and stop making empty threats, I won't pay. I know too much about extortion."
Check out eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Friday, October 12, 2007
It appears as though the first patent suit against Linux — targeting Red Hat and Novell — is now official. According to Groklaw’s Pamela Jones:
IP Innovation LLC has just filed a patent infringement claim against Red Hat and Novell. It was filed October 9, case no. 2:2007cv00447, IP Innovation, LLC et al v. Red Hat Inc. et al, in Texas. Where else? The patent troll magnet state…… [this is] The first ever patent infringement litigation involving Linux. Here’s the patent, for those who can look at it without risk. If in doubt, don’t. Here’s the complaint [PDF]….The plaintiff is asking for an injunction, along with damages.
Jones goes on to cite some relevant points of the complaint but then, like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, unearths a potential connection to Microsoft. According to a story posted by Patent Troll Tracker well before this lawsuit turned up, IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation which the site classifies as a patent troll. This past July Acacia hired Jonathan Taub away from his job as Director, Strategic Alliances for the Mobile and Embedded Devices (MED) division at Microsoft and then, just last week, it hired Brad Brunell away from his job at Microsoft where, among other jobs, he served as General Manager, Intellectual Property Licensing.
The blogosphere is likely to have a field day with this connection and I suspect that dumpsters will be dived in hopes of finding a less tenuous connection to Microsoft. The timing of the suit seems rather serendipitous given both the timing of Brunell’s move as well as the threats that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer issued last week — ones that specifically mentioned patents (vs. the other form of intellectual property; copyrights). Even so,
Is there a connection? Well, there’s no smoking gun at this point. And if there was such a connection, you can’t help but wonder why Novell would be named in the suit since Microsoft and Novell are now working together to better integrate Windows with Novell’s Suse Linux and the arrangement includes patent protection for Novell. So, you’ll have to judge for yourself what’s going on here.
This is from David Berlind, writing for ZDNET.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Tom Sanders is reporting that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a talk at a company event in the UK last week saying that Red Hat customers need to pay Microsoft for its beloved IP, whatever it may consist of:
Users of the Red Hat Linux distribution will have to pay Microsoft for its intellectual property, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has cautioned. "People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us," Ballmer said at a company event discussing online services in the UK last week. A video report of Ballmer's speech was posted online over the weekend.The link doesn't work for me. Maybe it's been taken down? Anyone of you attend that event? I know. It's a long shot. Or if anyone finds the video, please post the url. So, if the report is true, we have an "obligation" to pay. OK. How about this? How about Microsoft has an obligation to reveal its patents or whatever its "intelletual property" is first? How's that? "Intellectual property" doesn't mean anything under the law, unless you specify. So, patents? Copyrights? What? That was SCO's downfall, the refusal or inability to specify. He reportedly said also that he hopes that when reforming patent law people don't throw out the baby with the bathwater and get rid of software patents altogether. Actually, that sounds like a great idea. Let's do.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
FFII vice-president Alberto Barrionuevo said: "We ran a cheap campaign, mostly through that single website. So we're happy with a token reimbursement of our costs. Several of the Kayak Prize nominees told us they did not want any financial reward for their work. So, if Microsoft does not send someone to the award ceremony, we'll give the money to the Peruvian earthquake fund."
Microsoft admitted attempting to influence the outcome of votes to fast-track OOXML as an ISO standard last month. The voting process will finish in February. Article appeared on ZDnet.UK website.