I’ve been holding back on this one, but it is time to speak out.
On November 2, 2006, Microsoft
and Novell announced a deal.
The deal involves Microsoft paying Novell, and the two
companies working together to ensure a certain level of
interoperability between Novell’s Suse (a Linux distro), and
Microsoft’s Windows. In return, Novell would get protection
against intellectual-property litigation.
By way of background, Mcirosoft CEO Steve Ballmer is on record as
having said that he would “kill”
Actually, the quote is a bit more colorful than that:
“At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and
threw it across the room hitting a table in his office,” Lucovosky
recounted, adding that Ballmer then launched into a tirade about Google
CEO Eric Schmidt. “I’m going to f***ing bury that guy, I have done it
before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f***ing kill Google.”
Schmidt previously worked for Sun Microsystems and was the CEO of
To add to the drama, Ballmer is also on record
as having said:
“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. We spend $7
billion a year on R&D, our shareholders expect
us to protect or license or get economic benefit from our patented
innovations. So how do we somehow get the appropriate
economic return for our patented innovation, and how do
we do interoperability.” [emphasis added]
Their shareholders need to get a clue. Long before Microsoft
even had Windows, they made DOS more usable (for some) by adding a
graphical shell. Guess what. There were freeware
and shareware shells for DOS long before DOS itself had one.
In fact, that was a big selling point for DR-DOS.
In fact, the first time I paid a software developer directly
was when I sent $10 to the guy who wrote Directory Scanner (DS), an
early DOS shell that had a really neat macro capability. Note
that DS was not crippled in any way, there were no nag messages, no
locked capabilities, no ads. It worked exactly the same
whether it was registered or not. The only thing was that
there was an inconspicuous note at the top that said “Registered
Also, before Windows was anywhere near a market success, Bill Gates
himself is said to have said that he wanted Windows to be as
easy to use as a Mac. There is no doubt that Microsoft took
inspiration from the Mac…which, it turn, had been inspired by Xerox;
in fact, you
could probably trace the chain of inspiration back to Leonardo Da
Vinci, if not farther. Just look at the Da Vinci illustration
See how he was thinking of 3 dimensions when he made that
drawing. It’s like there are windows on top on each other.
Plus, he has text and graphics together on a page.
Microsoft’s argument has nothing to do with “intellectual property.”
It is about the ability of corporations to profit from the
collective efforts of people, and to control the proceeds in such a way
that profit is highly concentrated at the top of the organization.
A couple of months ago, I found myself having a little respect for
Microsoft, because of the charitable work of the Gates Foundation.
Well, that is all shot to hell now. It was probably
Melinda’s idea, anyway.
Doing a good deed in one area does not buy you points to be bad in
As far as I am concerned, the whole idea of intellectual property is
suspect. It has nothing to do with intellect, and nothing to
with property. Intellectual property is nothing more that a
position that enables one to prevail in a courtroom.
One might argue, that without the profit motive, there would be less
creativity. That is plainly not true. There are few
innovations that Microsoft has brought us; they may hold lots of
patents, but they can’t claim very many new ideas.
we can turn to Ballmer’s
“Linux is a serious competitor,” said Ballmer. “We
compete with free software, on value, but in a smart way. We cannot
price at zero, so we need to justify our posture and pricing. Linux
isn’t going to go away–our job is to provide a better product in the
He acknowledged there was more to Linux than free software–the main
benefit of the open-source movement was the community developing
software and sharing ideas. “Linux is not about free software, it is
about community,” he said.
In fact, the article cited above goes on to describe Mcirosoft’s
efforts to create a community-like development milieu, within the
corporate structure. So, even the development model is not
own. They “stole” it from the open-source community.
What is not evident from the quote is the extent to which the
value they add is not dependent on innovation. Rather, it is
dependent upon market domination and inside contacts within the
The majority of new hardware works with Microsoft products, but this is
not because of any genius on the part of Microsoft. It is
because the hardware vendors have to make the products
Microsoft-compatible, if they expect to have a sizable market share.
What is less obvious, but true nonetheless, is that the
market would take care of the compatibility issues even if Microsoft
did not exist, and if there were no such thing as intellectual property
in software. The hardware vendors would release the
specifications and the source code for the drivers, and the open-source
community would respond and make the things work together.
Oddly, the article ends with a quote that seems to imply that Ballmer
does not even understand the open-source model:
Asked by one lateral-thinking MVP whether Microsoft
to offer applications software on Linux, Ballmer said no. “We do not
anticipate offering software on Linux. Nobody pays for software on
Linux.” Even StarOffice, sold by Sun, was originally a free product, he
said. And IBM, arguably the No. 1 player in the Linux market, promotes
Linux to big users, but does not actually sell Linux: “It’s weird! IBM
says ‘Hey British Aerospace! Buy Linux…. From SuSE.”
IBM does not tell BA or anyone else to buy Linux. The
does not make sense. Suse does not sell Linux, and nobody can
it. It is not for sale. What Linux vendors sell is
support and customization.
They take the Linux kernel, configure it in way that adds
(for some), and then offer it to people. Enterprises that
want ready access to a support
contract, or customized features, will then use Novell’s version of
Linux. But anyone who wants to use it can do so.
Windows Vista boasts an integrated desktop search function, but others
have had that for a while. It has eye candy, but others have
that already. It has an improved filesystem, but I haven’t
heard anyone claim that it is better than Reiser.
Media Center, which does more to control “ownership” of digital content
than it does to make life easy for the user. It has “glitch
resistance,” to increase the priority of A/V processes, but others have
The latest Emerald styles for the Compiz window manager are every bit
as flashy as Vista. Plus, you don’t need 2 gigs of RAM to use
Microsoft has a page that boasts about performance,
but you need a pretty hefty machine just to run it. It is not
made with performance in mind. If you need raw power to
crunch numbers, it is not the product you want.
We need not discuss security here. Windows is sort of
catching up in that area, but they do not appear to even be making much
of an effort. The user is always the weak link in security;
the only way to improve that is to encourage users to increase their
technical expertise. Microsoft, on the other hand, tries to
convince users that they don’t need to understand what they are doing.
Imagine Ford Motor Company telling users that their cars are so safe,
they don’t need to learn how to drive.
Meantime, there is more intrigue. The Free Software
Foundation is looking at possible revisions to the Gnu General Public
License (GPL). It is possible that revisions will make it
impossible for companies such as Novell to sign exclusive contracts
involving software covered under the GPL:
…Though the Novell-Microsoft deal also included components that
called for technological and marketing cooperation between the
companies, the FSF [Free Software Foundation] objects to only one of
the legal components of the deal. That is the provision that would
grant patent peace to those users of Linux who sign service and support
agreements with Novell, but not to other users of Linux. By granting
patent peace to Novell’s Linux users, the pact was seen by many in the
Linux community as implicitly menacing all other Linux users, by
heightening the threat that Microsoft might sue them.
Moglen offered no opinion on whether the Microsoft-Novell deal violates
the GPL currently in effect (known as version 2), but merely pledged
that version 3 would clearly bar such “discriminatory” deals…
Novell could respond by developing their own OS but it seems doubtful
that it would be worthwhile to do so. What I am hoping is
that they will be able to convince Microsoft that the open-source model
has something to offer, and get Ballmer to sit in his chair and listen,
rather than throwing his chair and making threats. The thing
is, the open-source community will only cooperate so long as they do
not feel threatened.
Microsoft seems to think that the can get where they want to go today,
by intimidating others, under the threat of litigation.
We, the users, need to decide the extent to which we are willing to do
business with nasty people.