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To read comments to this article, go here
Clubbing baby Linux penguins
Monday, June 11 2007 @ 09:31 AM EDT

Some things can't be spun.

If you're clubbing baby seals into a bloody pulp, for example, I can't hear your justifications.

You can talk about needing to make a living and how this is how it's always been done, but all I'm thinking is, there is nothing you can say that will make me like you for this. Or ever agree that it is acceptable. I want you to find a better way, something that doesn't involve cruelty to adorable little creatures that never harmed a flea.

I hear them crying.

Similarly, when Microsoft joined the SCO "you must pay me forever for my precious IP" club, made up of companies that don't know enough not to club baby Linux penguins, the world said, Ewww.

Microsoft can talk about its precious IP and its shareholders' demands and its customers' needs, and all people are thinking is, This is hateful. Here Microsoft has more money than God, and when a bunch of good-hearted volunteers give the world some wonderful free code, Microsoft's reaction is to club it to death with patents. What could ever justify such a horrible course, we are thinking?

No PR in the world can fix this.

You can see what I mean if you listen to Steve Gibson and Leo LaPorte, about 17:00 minutes in to their talk show on Security Now, "The Microsoft Patent Wars," Episode 93, which Groklaw member SilverWave found and alerted me to. They have it posted as text and PDF too, as well as MP3, so you can read the transcript instead, if you prefer.

Gibson, who early in the conversation makes it clear he believes in trademarks and copyrights and intellectual property -- although he sees software patents have become a problem -- and has even applied for patents when he's done consulting work, explains how patents get written and then stretched like taffy to be broader and stupider, and then he talks about his reaction to Microsoft's claims of 235 patents:

STEVE: Well, and so, okay. So the problem is, here's Microsoft, obviously the thousand-pound elephant in the room who's just sort of - who clearly said to Novell, okay, look, you're the number two distributor of Linux. Obviously Red Hat is number one. And it's interesting because Red Hat's guys have had conversations with Microsoft, and they've never been able to strike a deal, probably because the Red Hat guys, frankly, are a little more savvy about this. You have to imagine that Novell is wondering, you know, whether they did the right thing when they did this agreement in November. But so here's Microsoft threatening to throw their substantial weight around and basically intimidating other companies into doing these sorts of deals, into doing cross-licensing and ultimately paying money for something that probably is entirely bogus. I mean, it is a problem....Basically Microsoft wants to tax free and open source software.

LEO: Oh, they want to do more than tax. They want to put it out of business. They'd like it to die and go away, wither up. I mean, that's one of the reasons I think they're not saying what these patents are. They want to put them out of business.

STEVE: Well, okay. It's very clear that if they enumerated these patents, the free and open source software community would have a field day attacking them.

LEO: Exactly.

STEVE: And that'sjust it. You end up with a distributed attack against Microsoft...

LEO: Good point. A distributed legal attack, yeah. Tie them up for years.

STEVE: Exactly. Because every patent would get tackled. People would be finding prior art because prior art is one thing that immediately invalidates a patent. ... And, you know, Linus would be happy to code the kernel around whatever Microsoft's 42 claimed patents are that they say the kernel infringes. ... So here's what's so frustrating, too, is that the fact that Microsoft won't name the patents prevents anyone from curing the problem that Microsoft is complaining about. So they really don't want the problem cured.

LEO: No. They want open source software to go away is what they want.

STEVE: Well, or, yes, in fact, I'm sort of worried because one of the side effects of the deal they did with Novell is that the idea is that anyone who gets Linux from Novell is protected because Microsoft and Novell did this cross-licensing deal. So you could see that this could tend to bias people towards Novell, concentrating Novell as a source.

LEO: Which is I'm sure Novell's interest in making the deal in the first place.

STEVE: Probably was. But it seems to me that's dangerous....I can't really articulate why this feels dangerous to me. But the idea is, I guess, as long as Linux is spread out as widely as it is, distributed as widely as it is, there's so many different ways that substantial companies can get distributions, the broader it is, the less power Microsoft has. If Microsoft can do something to focus the distribution of Linux through a fewer number of channels, to me that seems unsafe for the future of open source software. I think it really needs to be kept widespread.

So, and Microsoft does think strategically. We've seen many examples of that through the ages. So anyway, it seems really clear to me that what they're doing is not fair because they're not saying we really want the problem solved. They're really saying we've created this problem, the U.S. government is backing us with the Patent and Trademark Office, and we're so big you can never afford - even the U.S. government couldn't prevail against Microsoft in the anti-trust suit. So they're saying, we're so big, you can't even think about fighting us and challenging us. So believe me, you don't want us coming after you.

See what I mean? No one accepts Microsoft's story. And no one accepts that the Novell-Microsoft patent deal wasn't a cross license either, I notice. People are not stupid.

So when Microsoft says it respects other people's intellectual property, what everyone is thinking is, That's not true. Microsoft doesn't respect the GPL, and that's other people's property. Microsoft is just trying to kill off a competitor. Again.

Even Sys-con even got it right this time, or at least the headline: Microsoft Spits in GPL Creator Richard Stallman's Eye. [I'm not suggesting you visit that site, but if you insist, watch out for Javascript, cookies, popups and turn your sound off.]

Yes, that's it. Microsoft is deliberately disrespecting the GPL, despite it being a valid, legal license most FOSS programmers, including Linux coders, choose for their code. It is deliberately forming deals that both it and the world know are violative of the GPLv2's intent and the very wording of GPLv3 final draft. When you spit on other people's property or try to steal or control it or tax it, like some swashbuckling gang of pirates, people don't admire you.

That is Microsoft's dilemma. It played its card and people either laughed or were deeply angered and disgusted.

And when customers get disgusted enough, they won't buy what you are selling any more.

Ask the music industry. Or just ask SCO.


Graphic by Feldegast. Baby Tux by Nicolas Rougier and contributed to the GNU Project under the GPL.


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