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Ballmer: Use Our Software or Somebody Might Get Hurt
Thursday, November 18 2004 @ 07:33 AM EST

Steve Ballmer showed the world Microsoft's true colors today and what their nasty strategy against Linux really is. He gave a speech in Singapore at Microsoft's Asian Government Leaders Forum and told them that he thinks Linux violates patents, though he wasn't specific, and someday, someone will come after governments that switch to GNU/Linux, and sue them for those IP "violations":

"'Someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO (World Trade Organization), somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property,' he added. . . .

"Singapore's Ministry of Defense last month switched 20,000 personal computers to run on open-source software instead of the Microsoft operating platform.

"Other governments in the region are also looking to develop open-source software. China, Japan and South Korea this year agreed to jointly develop open-source software running on Microsoft's rival Linux operating platform.

"The Chinese government, in particular, sees its reliance on Microsoft as a potential threat. Conspiracy buffs believe certain patches in the Windows code might give U.S. authorities the power to access Chinese networks and disable them, possibly during a war over Taiwan."

They used to muscle other IT companies. Now they are threatening governments of the world. What a charming company. Use their product and you won't get hurt. Otherwise, watch out for your kneecaps. No doubt that endeared them greatly to one and all and as for fears, well, how could you not trust a company whose CEO is so pleasant?

John Dvorak sees Microsoft building up to offering a Microsoft Linux. Given the above warning, that seems unlikely. But Dvorak's alternative theory may have substance. Here's what he thinks the Vintela and Connectix purchases and the Lindows lawsuit mean:

"But its biggest problem is still security. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that security, which is at the top of the Microsoft to-do list, is expected to be off the list within the next year or two. This is not really possible with the 'never-ending patches' approach.. But it is possible if Microsoft creates a virtual firewall within the system that runs on another operating system -- Linux.

"It's well known in the business that a Linux-based computer standing guard as a firewall in front of a Microsoft Windows network is one of the most secure protection schemes being used today. By using a hypervisor and other tools Microsoft can create a similar model within a single machine and fix most of the security problems associated with Windows while allowing users to maintain their Windows networks and fearlessly run their Windows applications. . . .

"I suspect that Microsoft has been working with attorneys to see how far it can go to make some aspect of MS-Linux proprietary or somehow impossible to pass around free.

"Its backup plan would be to possibly use Solaris as the firewall operating system . . . . Either way, Microsoft is thinking big."

That isn't the most secure system, actually. In my experience, security means not using Microsoft products at all. Use a Mac or GNU/Linux, if you care about security. How could Microsoft use Linux to provide security for its products without waving the white flag and acknowledging defeat? No, the Sun thing makes more sense, and even that would tell the world that Microsoft products can't be made secure on their own legs. That's exactly what I experienced, which is why I left, among other reasons. I wrote about why I love GPL'd software once, and it's a feeling you can never have with any Microsoft product:

It's free as in speech, as in libre, as in freedom, not free as in beer. That's Linux' real draw, not cost. People happily pay plenty for GNU/Linux distributions, especially in the enterprise. Why? It isn't just customer support. It's knowing that you can trust who wrote it not to stab you in the back. If you can't trust the company, you can't trust their code. Pure and simple. . . .

Business customers are people too. And people are sick and tired of snoopware and viruses and backdoors and all the other things you can't fix or even understand in proprietary software. Linux frees you from those worries. You can learn whatever you want, fix whatever breaks or change whatever you want to make it do something just a bit different, or hire someone to do it for you.

People are sick of license terms that treat them like criminals, where even when you try hard to obey, you never feel free of that worry...am I allowed to do this? They love GNU/Linux because you can share with your friends and family freely, install it on as many computers as you own at home and at work. Sick of saving proof of purchase certificates under pain of a visit from the IP police and fines when they can't find that piece of paper from 1998. Sick of typing in numbers to prove they bought the software, and having software call home to validate their right to use what they bought, and companies that shove one-sided EULAs down their throats, claiming the right to monitor their hard drive for compliance. Sick of businesses that care about money for themselves first and customers a distant second. GNU/Linux opened people's eyes. It offers an escape from all of that.

In case Microsoft would like to know what they'd have to offer to beat Linux, here it is. They would have to offer us freedom, the freedoms the GPL guarantees, and that is the one thing they haven't got to sell. You know what customers are sick of? Corporations making money or trying to gain a competitive advantage from lawsuits. Consumers take a look and realize: what does this do for me as a consumer? Jack up prices to pay for the attorneys. That's it. These lawsuits you proprietary folk think of as normal business are a disgrace and show us all that companies that do this aren't thinking about their customers one bit. You know one of the many things that we love about GNU/Linux? They just keep coding and innovating and acting decently and they don't sue each other. You can't make people want something less good than what they know they could have if you weren't standing in their way. That's not what laws are for.

Security isn't Microsoft's biggest problem, anyway. Their biggest problem is people hate them because of their business practices. It takes a while for such feelings to reach critical mass, but I believe it is now reaching that point. They may have dodged some bullets in the antitrust case here in the US, but it left their reputation in shreds. Geeks and those in the industry already knew Microsoft for what they were, but the average guy did not, and when they heard all the evidence and Microsoft was found guilty, a sleepy public woke up and said to themselves, "They've been doing *that*?"

No one wants to buy a product that they need for some of their most private transactions and interactions from a company they don't trust. You can't solve that problem by threatening to sue people wanting to use another operating system. So, as I always say, barring martial law, in this case international martial law, I'd say Microsoft is doomed. Ballmer's speech is the shot across the bow, and the whole world now understands that it's a question of freedom. As the Register points out, the obvious solution to the problem of threats of patent lawsuits is to make sure not to pass laws that can be so readily abused by Microsoft:

"But if countries who want to join the WTO and get developed and rich should consider the dangers inherent in OSS, what about all of those countries who're already members of the WTO? They should perhaps also get the message about how Microsoft sees IP law being used in the future. Which might well have a helpful collateral damage effect in Europe, if Europe's leaders are paying attention. . . .

"This on its own may be no more than a temporary setback for the patents lobby . . . but the sound of Microsoft threatening all-out IP war really ought to strengthen the opposition's hand, and make the European Parliament, which opposes software patents, more determined to fight."

Ballmer's speech makes clear that Microsoft does indeed plan to use patents as an anticompetitive weapon, and all the calming, soothing words in Europe about software patents not really being patents on software exactly, blah blah, turn out to have been a lie. That means that MS has been flushed out of the shadows and into the clear sunlight, where we can all see what it's about.

Bullies tend not to look so good in the sunlight, and nobody respects a bully.


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