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To read comments to this article, go here
Correcting Forbes' Untrue Account About MySQL
Tuesday, October 18 2005 @ 12:51 PM EDT

I am not now and I have never been a chair thrower. No, seriously. In my entire life, I've never once thrown a piece of furniture at a wall. For that matter, I have never in my life said that I would blankety-blank kill anyone, the way a sworn statement in the Google/Microsoft/Dr. Lee litigation says Steve Ballmer has.

I'm not saying I've never been angry. I know how to feel angry, but in my biggest quarrel ever, I can't recall even thinking about throwing furniture. For that matter, I can't remember my biggest quarrel ever. It takes a lot to make me mad, so it's a rare event.

So, imagine my surprise to learn from Daniel Lyons' article in Forbes that I hate MySQL for entering a partnership with SCO, and I summoned its CEO, Marten Mickos, to appear before a "Stalinist show trial" here on Groklaw, which he felt obliged to endure, "cackling" fanatic commenters and all, in hopes of restoring his reputation. As it happens, Marten and I were just discussing which day to publish an article he has written for Groklaw, so we were both surprised.

So, naturally, I asked Marten if what Forbes published about him was accurate, particularly whether he said, as Lyons reported, that "kowtowing to the open source 'community' is the price of doing business in the open source world". Marten has provided a statement, correcting the Forbes misinformation. Lyons wrote things that are not true. Why?

What Really Happened

When SCO announced the partnership with MySQL on September 4, Groklaw didn't even report it, let alone comment on it. I didn't see it as a significant story. We reported on the Google-Microsoft-Dr. Lee case instead. You can verify that for yourself, either by going to Search and using the keyword "MySQL", and on the dropdown list choosing "Stories." Or just go down the list on the Archives page.

The first reference to the partnership on Groklaw was a passing reference to it, without commentary, on September 8. If I cared about the business deal, I surely wouldn't have kept silent. I didn't care.

But I did have questions in my mind about the details. I'm sure you did too. Was this a situation where money would flow to SCO to enable them to prolong the litigation? Were there SCOsource licenses involved? No one knew. Then Marten made a statement about why he decided to do the deal. I didn't like a statement Marten made to the press about the SCO partnership. I wrote about it. I didn't write about the partnership with SCO as being the issue; it was the statement about it, the way he spoke about it.

Next, I interviewed Marten. One of the questions I asked him began like this: "I don't think that anyone feels at all bothered by you supporting their customers. Most in the community believe in this, as do I."

Isn't that clear? How can that in any honest way be twisted into me "denouncing" him as a "traitor" because he "dared to make a deal with SCO Group," as Lyons implies?

I didn't even initiate the interview. Someone at MySQL contacted me and asked if I'd like to do an interview with Marten. I accepted the offer. I don't think Stalinist show trials were set up that way, were they, with the defendant asking to appear?

So I agreed to do the interview, and as I clearly wrote in the article, I tried to ask questions that I thought readers would want me to ask. Marten answered very honestly, and as a result, many, including me, got our questions answered. It was Groklaw that broke the news that no money was going from MySQL to SCO, that rather, it was the other way around. Forbes' account, while mentioning the fact of the money being paid by SCO, seems to use it as a counter to Groklaw's alleged position, without revealing that I broke that story myself here on Groklaw. Is that honest?

Here's confirmation from Marten that my account is accurate, as he responds to two of the worst false statements in the Forbes article:

Forbes.com quote 1: "Mickos apparently hoped this Stalinist show trial might restore his reputation."

I don't feel like I have been on trial or before a tribunal at Groklaw. I volunteered to be interviewed by PJ. I did get some very specific questions and I gave some very specific answers. That's the way it is in the open source world. People are passionate and they want to dive deep into the subjects they care about, and I appreciate that sort of genuine interest.

Forbes.com quote 2: "Mickos says kowtowing to the open source 'community' is the price of doing business in the open source world."

Until yesterday I did not know what the word "kowtow" means and it is not part of my vocabulary. Having looked it up on answers.com I can state that this is not what I said in the interview with Forbes. I said that as part of doing business in the open source world, you have to listen to the community and show respect for it. Many times this input influences your decisions, but the decisions are always your own. It is simply a question of mutual respect.

Mutual respect. Does that match what you read in Forbes? So, the bottom line is, what Lyons wrote was not true. It was a distortion of what happened and what was said, and while factually incorrect, it was written in such a way as to cause Forbes' readers to think less of me, Groklaw, the Open Source community, and even Mr. Mickos, if you think about it. Now, I have a question for Forbes and particularly their lawyers: Does what Mr. Lyons wrote meet your journalistic standards?

How wrong does Mr. Lyons get to be in a story before some editor sees the need to pull him back from the edge? Don't you do fact-checking any more at Forbes? The editors could have seen by simply reading the Groklaw articles that what Lyons wrote about them wasn't true. Lawsuits are made of this, as I'm sure the lawyers will recognize immediately. I believe a correction is in order and I'll hope to see one. Surely if Fox News can issue a correction when they make a mistake, there is no reason Forbes can't also do the right thing. I hope they do. And to Sys-Con, which immediately spread the misinformation, I believe a correction is in order as well.

As for comments, Marten read and responded to them. I asked him to let me know if there were any over-the-top. There was only one that he thought wasn't polite, and I wrote to the commenter and asked him to rephrase his comment politely, which he did. That is one comment out of almost 700 comments. As for the alleged quotation about Mickos saying that a Groklaw comment said he had to obey the community, I can't find any such comment. I haven't read all the comments, but I searched by 5 different keywords, taken from the supposed quotation, and I can't find it.

Groklaw has a comments policy. It is our policy that you can't leave mean-spirited ad hominem attacks on anyone. It reads in part:

The Groklaw goal has always been civil speech and devotion to the truth, even when discussing those to whom we are opposed. Especially then....We don't need hatefulness, or crudity, or venom. The truth is enough.

That is what Groklaw is known for, actually. I get lots of email about it, and what most people tell me is that they enjoy Groklaw's polite atmosphere, and that it is unique on the Internet. Why then does Lyons wish to portray matters as a bunch of wild-eyed fanatics who loudly and rudely attack? Well, you are free to speculate. But ask yourself this: can you think of any companies that have, in recent history, attacked the community in the same or similar terms?

Want to See a Real Fanatic?

Would you like to see a real fanatic? Can you imagine what Lyons would do with this incident, if a FOSS person ever wrote such intemperate remarks? (Warning: bad language.)

The context is this: Cory Doctorow wrote on BoingBoing about Norway's public broadcaster putting 20,000 video clips and 12 radio stations online, but releasing them exclusively in Microsoft's DRM format for Windows Media Center. He wasn't happy about that decision, and he wrote about it.

A Microsoft employee, Cort Fritz, wrote what he later apologetically described as a "low quality and low tone" blog entry in reply, in which he called Doctorow some unbelievably unpleasant names, such as "liar" and "Communist". What is it with these people, throwing such words around? Don't they have lawyers to explain what defamation is and how to avoid it? An apology is certainly welcome, but why is that part of the incredible blog entry still there? An appropriate response is a correction and an apology. You can't call someone a Communist if they are not one, you know. Well, you can, but they can sue you for defamation, if they feel like it.

With the warning about language, you will find the blog entry educational as to Microsoft's culture. I hope the Norwegian public broadcaster notes one sentence in particular: "Microsoft could even shut itself down and take it's video codec ball home and stop everyone from playing." Precisely. *Now* do you understand why Massachusetts insisted on open formats, open standards?

The employee is not a worker bee, by the way. This page says he is "lead Architect Evangelist for Microsoft's Media and Entertainment group". There are no readers on Groklaw who can hold a candle to his display of overbearing, nasty, and inappropriate ad hominem language. If I were unfair, I could make it a headline ("Fanatical Microsoft Employee's Outburst Raises Firestorm "), instead of just a paragraph to illustrate my point, which is that some elements in the media are not playing fair. They don't write about an incident like this, while religiously combing the Internet, trying to find fault with everything and everyone FOSS, making big issues of trifles to paint the FOSS community as if they were out-of-control zealots, while ignoring entirely over-the-top language from Microsoft.

Let me show you an example of what I mean. Here's a Sys-Con article, "Linus Torvalds Outburst Sparks Fierce Debate: Does Open Source Software Need Specs?" about a comment Linus made on LKML. Read it for yourself, please. Does it read like an "outburst"? Do you see any "fierce debate"? Particularly when you compare it with the Cort Fritz display, I think we can agree that there is no "outburst" meriting a headline in Linus' case. Certainly nothing on a par with the Microsoft employee's performance. No one is called any names. And no chairs were thrown. Some folks had a discussion about the best way to write software. That is all. It qualifies for a headline in no way, unless you are itching to find any little thing to try to make Linus look bad. The same with the Lyons piece. It's a character assassination, nothing less. And already some are showing that they think what he wrote is true, because they quote it as if it were true, so my reputation indubitably was negatively impacted by Lyons' article, which is why a correction is appropriate.

Here's the bottom line. The FOSS community is built on an ethical foundation. Compare, for example, the IBM attorneys' behavior in the SCO v. IBM litigation with that of SCO's attorneys. Do I have to say one word? Compare this article with what Lyons wrote about me. Do you think my politeness in return is because I don't know how to do what he does? No. I remain polite because I want to. And you know what? The reason people flock to Groklaw in such numbers is, I believe, because my readers know I won't do to him what he does to me and to the community.

The interview with Marten was done to play fair, not to attack him, as he has testified, to give him an opportunity to express himself. It's the Open Source way to discuss concerns openly, because our work is done in public. You can compare discussions like the one on MySQL or the specifications with a kind of shareholder meeting. Everyone speaks and expresses what they feel is the appropriate direction, but everyone is working toward a common goal. One FOSS goal is to play fair, despite any disagreements, and that, to tell you the truth, is what Microsoft really needs to worry about.

Where FOSS really beats Microsoft as a business proposition is on values. There is real business value in values, in trust. In business, your reputation can bring you business or cause you to lose it. SCO is Exhibit A.

The funny thing is, though, even a dishonest businessman appreciates knowing that a business partner can be trusted not to steal, not to stab him in the back, not to be tricky or change the terms of a deal midstream, to play fair. And that is really what differentiates not only FOSS from Microsoft but Groklaw from Forbes, in my opinion. People know I'm doing my best to publish the truth. What do you make of this paragraph in this Forbes article?

Moglenís comments would be easy to dismiss, except for the woe heís already caused the software industry. For nearly a decade, Moglen has been the chief legal officer at the Free Software Foundation, in charge of defending the General Public License, a subversive bit of lawyering that turns property law on its head by prohibiting the users of open-source software from charging money for it.

That isn't factually true. You can charge money for GPL software. Period. It isn't nice, either, of course, but let's just stick to facts and whether Forbes gets its facts right. It's comical, of course, because Microsoft users can't charge money for Microsoft software, last I heard. I guess when you are stretching the truth, it's hard to keep track of what you are writing.

If you can't get true facts from a journalist, is he still a journalist? How about if it happens over and over and over? How about if it happens every time Linux or FOSS or Groklaw is the subject? And if there is no correction, even when facts are provided, what do you think now? When you are looking for information, will you trust that source? If we apply Winston Churchill's definition of fanatic --"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" -- between us two, who is the fanatic in this picture?

So, the next time you read some bile about me or FOSS from Mr. Lyons' pen, just consider the source, look at his record, and then you'll be able to evaluate what you read. That's my advice.

And to my fellow journalists, please don't repeat his innuendo-laced tall tales as if they were true, not without checking with me first. Character assassination only works if the slur is spread.


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