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Sun Claims It Is Considering Buying Novell
Monday, August 02 2004 @ 05:30 AM EDT

I have it figured out, I think. Sun's Jonathan Schwartz is jealous of Darl McBride. *He* yearns to be the most hated man in tech. But no matter how many awful things he says, he's still just the runner up. Actually, no one bothers to hate either of them, but it'd be easy, if we weren't so nice here on the good guy side.

Here is the latest from Sun, that they are thinking of buying Novell, so they can annoy IBM, I gather:

"Sun Microsystems is toying with the idea of buying Linux seller Novell, saying that springing for the $2.64 billion company would hurt rival IBM.

"'With our balance sheet, we're considering all our options,' Sun Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz said in an interview Sunday regarding the possibility of acquiring Novell. 'What would owning the operating system on which IBM is dependent be worth? History would suggest we look to Microsoft for comparisons,' he said."

I think toying is the word. If you wish to know what Mr. Schwartz really thinks, try his blog.

He seems to believe that IBM will buy Novell and that "the community outrage and customer disaffection is going to be epic."

"IBM is in a real pickle. Red Hat's dominance leaves IBM almost entirely dependent upon SuSe/Novell. Whoever owns Novell controls the OS on which IBM's future depends. Now that's an interesting thought, isn't it?

"But if IBM preemptively acquires Novell/SuSe, the world changes: linux enters the product portfolio of a patent litigator not known for being a social-movement company. But where else will IBM go? With it's current market cap, Red Hat seems unacquirable - but absent action, IBM's core customers will be eroded by Red Hat's leverage. And Sun's ability to leverage our open Solaris platform (on industry standard AMD, Intel or SPARC), or Java Enterprise System, even on IBM's hardware, gives us a significant - and sustainable - competitive advantage. With the demise of AIX, IBM is once again vulnerable.

"Me, I'd keep a close eye on the Novell/SuSe conversation. If IBM acquires them, the community outrage and customer disaffection is going to be epic... but where else does IBM go?"

I think I may say with confidence that what Mr. Schwartz does not know about the community is a lot.

I won't be outraged if IBM buys Novell. I'll buy their SuSE. If Novell keeps it, I'll buy it from Novell. Both IBM and Novell have fought for Linux in the SCO wars, and for that I will always be grateful. Grateful community members look for ways to be helpful. It's our way. Wherever we work, we'll be recommending IBM and Novell and Red Hat solutions. How do you think Apache got its foothold? Ads in Time magazine? Any company that has community support and thousands of coders willing to contribute code for nothing is at a competitive advantage. And the opposite is also true.

And let's face it, Sun didn't lift a pinky to help out when SCO attacked. They saw it as a sales opportunity for themselves instead.

Reading Schwartz's blog is more than offensive to my heart. One of the things I like about GNU/Linux is nobody thinks like Jonathan Schwarz in that blog entry. Nobody stays up nights in the community trying to figure out how to destroy someone else in the community.

Well. Not seriously. Flame wars don't count.

The whole point of the GPL is to work together, to advance software and to benefit users. What a concept. So if Sun buys Novell, I'll never buy SuSE again. Just a tip for you, Jonathan, before you spend all that money for nothing, from one small community voice. I forgot. He isn't staying up nights thinking about me and customers. He's Ghenghis Khan, and he can't sleep unless he's planning how to sweep victoriously across the software plains, bloody bodies of his competition heaped up behind him on the battlefield.

That reminds me, Sun's new patent partner, Microsoft, says it will file 3,000 patents next fiscal year. Why do they want so many new patents?

A reader sent me this article, "Software's game of mutually assured damage," by Ross Gittins, the Economics Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, in which an anonymous software developer explains how patents are currently being used in the software field.

It begins like this:

"Monopolies are the only way to make real money these days, and patents are fantastic because they allow you to establish legal monopolies.

"That's what the company lawyer told a packed room of software engineers, including one who submitted to me a revealing confession. For reasons that will become obvious, he prefers to remain anonymous. This is what the software engineer related to me:

"The lawyer went on to explain that since what was important was the monopoly, it was necessary not only to patent the way we were doing things, but also to think laterally, and patent all the ways other people might do them as well, not so that we could actually do these things ourselves, but so we could prevent others from doing them."

Of course, if you are already a monopoly, you surely have a running head start, n'est-ce pas? In response to analysts and journalists writing that Microsoft is getting soft, Ballmer and Gates pointed to their growing patent portfolio as a source of revenue:

"Over the next four years he hopes the company can add the entire amount of profit generated by Siemens AG, Nokia Oyj or Intel Corp., Ballmer said.

"Gates said the company had something of an insurance policy in its broad portfolio of patents. The company applied for about 2,000 patents in the fiscal year just ended and will seek about 3,000 more in the current year, which could produce a new revenue stream, he said.

"'It is something that's in an early stage, but it's something we're pretty excited about,' Gates said."

It's the new robber baron game, according to the Sydney Herald article:

"Patents on software often appear completely counterproductive - by monopolising a technique, a patent can simply ensure that the technique is never used. Rather than making money, a patent can cause the death of an otherwise promising technology, and this is frequently the aim of patents held by owners of threatened technology.

"It's a curiosity of the industry that the areas where there are no patents, such as the original internet, the world wide web and the 'open source' movement, usually show the fastest innovation and progression.

"Today a software patent is often the modern equivalent of an old-fashioned robber baron setting up on a public highway and demanding a toll from all who pass. Usually it's cheaper simply to take another road (hence the need to patent all those other solutions!)"

It's a good thing Microsoft would never use its patents to try to crush its competition, huh? All the others may be thinking that way in the software world, but surely we can rely upon Microsoft to take the high road.

The IP game is changing, and patents, designed to encourage innovation, now are being gamed to do the exact opposite in software, according to the Sydney Herald. Yes, it's an upside-down world. And are these proprietary software guys not chilling to the bone? It's like watching crocodiles. And the biggest one is staring right at you.

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