I Liked It Better When They Were Just Aggressive

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The day the Microsoft/Novell partnership was launched, I fielded an abnormally high proportion of inbound IMs regarding the deal, and of those a substantial portion were interpreting the deal as a tacit admission on Novell’s part of IP taint within the Linux kernel. I more or less summarily rejected those claims first because I believed that Novell shipped plenty of other technologies that needed shielding – or at least the appearance of shielding – such as Mono. My other line of reasoning was even more basic: it’s no secret that Microsoft has not been thrilled with the rise of Linux, and it seemed illogical to conclude that if Microsoft did in fact have IP that read on the Linux kernel that they would have asserted said rights long ago rather than waiting for the operating system project to grow into a legitimate threat.

Turns out I was wrong, if Ballmer’s latest comments are to be believed. Lots of folks have pointed me over to his comments as related by Computer Business Review Online’s Matthew Aslett:

We’ve had an issue, a problem that we’ve had to confront, which is because of the way the GPL works, and because open-source Linux does not come from a company – Linux comes from the community – the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders.

My reaction? I’m with Matt on this one: if you’ve got rights to assert here, then assert them. This passive/aggressive behavior is not terribly becoming.


  1. SCO thought they had rights too. Ballmer’s just stirring the FUD – and laughing his way back the MSFT Board. He probably realized it was cheaper to just run his mouth instead of pumping more millions into the ‘get the facts’ FUD machine (saves on SG&A). He also is probably confident nobody would actually sue him for making the comments – who has standing to sue on behalf of the Linux community for defamation? Now there’s a law school final exam question… His problem will be community efforts like OIN if he ever trips the wire.

    It fascinates me the way communities react to “fear” about patents, IP, etc. It’s like the fear of AIDS back before people actually understood it. Once people understand it (may take time), the communities will be much more comfortable and rest easier (and use public restrooms again).

    Who sues customers? – RIAA aside – that’s what the MSFT-Novell agreement covered – and that’s all it covered.

    It wasn’t indemnity which is what Ballmer is twisting his words around to be. If Microsoft thought it had a legitimate claim – there’s a company it can sue – two or more of them actually. Novell, Red Hat, Canonical, Mandriva – sue them. The agreement did not say that Microsoft could not sue Novell (or the reverse) – they’re free to sue each other.

    The fact is Microsoft won’t be suing its customers and if Microsoft really thought there was a patent issue or other IP issue – there are two publicly traded companies that are right there to sue. Microsoft hasn’t been afraid to sue where it found problems with other companies – how is this any different? People need to get over the ‘special case’ ‘because it’s open source’.

    Stephen, I apologize for ranting here on your blog 🙂 I’ll post my own rant on my site next time.

  2. you’re welcome to rant here any time. your remarks are even more interesting given the recent “clarifications” that Microsoft and Novell have issued around their announcements which have provoked the reactions i think either expected.

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