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Microsoft's Ballmer Reportedly Threatens Red Hat - Updated 3Xs
Monday, October 08 2007 @ 08:51 PM EDT

Tom Sanders is reporting that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a talk at a company event in the UK last week saying that Red Hat customers need to pay Microsoft for its beloved IP, whatever it may consist of:
Users of the Red Hat Linux distribution will have to pay Microsoft for its intellectual property, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has cautioned.

"People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us," Ballmer said at a company event discussing online services in the UK last week. A video report of Ballmer's speech was posted online over the weekend.

The link doesn't work for me. Maybe it's been taken down? Anyone of you attend that event? I know. It's a long shot. Or if anyone finds the video, please post the url.

[Update: Here's a Microsoft guy, Lars Lindstedt, who heads up the UK Software Economy and Emerging Business program at Microsoft, blogging about the event, the UK Microsoft Startup Accelerator Programme launch event, and he has a link to a video. But .asp format. So I don't know if this is the right video or even the right event. The page indicates Ballmer left to give another speech right after this event. But here's the Q & A with Ballmer.]

So, if the report is true, we have an "obligation" to pay. OK. How about this? How about Microsoft has an obligation to reveal its patents or whatever its "intellectual property" is first? How's that? "Intellectual property" doesn't mean anything under the law, unless you specify. So, patents? Copyrights? What? That was SCO's downfall, the refusal or inability to specify.

He reportedly said also that he hopes that when reforming patent law people don't throw out the baby with the bathwater and get rid of software patents altogether. Actually, that sounds like a great idea. Let's do.

Update 2: I've heard the tape now. It's true, only it's actually worse. Ballmer threatens to destroy all FOSS with patents, not just Red Hat.

Update 3: Oct. 9: BetaNews says Microsoft is "scrambling" to come up with a statement to "explain" Ballmer's comments:

But one spokesperson acknowledged late this afternoon that multiple sources have yet to come to an agreement over what the company should say.

How about, "woops"?

Here's what Ballmer said:

On the other hand, I'd also tell you the following is true. All... I would love to see all Open Source innovation happen on top of Windows. So we've done a lot to encourage, for example, the team building, PHP, the team building, many of the other Open Source components, I'd love to see those sorts of innovations proceed very successfully on top of Windows.

Because our battle is not sort of business model to business model. Our battle is product to product, Windows versus Linux, Office versus OpenOffice.

The only other thing I would say that is probably germane is, we spend a lot of money, the rest of the commercial industry spends a lot of money on R & D. We've spent a lot of money licensing patents, when people come to us and say, "Hey, this commercial piece of software violates our patent, our intellectual propery, we'll either get a court judgment or we'll pay a big check. And we are going to -- I think it is important that the Open Source products also have an obligation to participate in the same way in the intellectual property regime.

That's why we've done the deal we have with Novell, where not only are we working on technical interoperability between Linux and Windows but we've also made sure that we could provide the appropriate, for the appropriate fee Novell customers also get essentially the right to use our patented intellectual property. And I think it's great the way Novell stepped up to kind of say intellectual property matters. People who use Red hat, at least with respect to *our* intellectual property in a sense have an obligation to eventually compensate us.

There are plenty of other people who may also have intellectual property. And every time an Eolas comes to Microsoft and says, "Pay us," I suspect they also would like to eventually go to the Open Source world.

So getting what I call an intellectual property interoperability framework between the two worlds I think is important.

He has just clearly outlined how Microsoft intends to extinguish Linux as we know it. Microsoft knows full well that in any intellectual property regime based on software patents, particularly when used as weapons against innovation to protect and reward the old, no one can compete with Microsoft. They have all the money. FOSS is written by individuals who don't have a pile of gold under the bed to go to court and get a court judgment or pay "a big check". Ballmer of course knows that. So this is the anticompetitive plan, under the guise of everyone having to play by the same rules.

But it is actually a struggle between business models. And he knows that too. So he is saying, to me, that they will use patents and will get partners and others to attack FOSS with patents, so as to burden it with financial stress until it dies. Then it hopes to pick up any willing sellout developers and have them "innovate" under Microsoft's control and for its benefit.

So, I'd say this means that software patents have to go. Microsoft started when there were no software patents to worry about; now it wishes to use them as a way to cut off FOSS's air supply. Nothing short of getting the "intellectual property regime" altered will be effective, I don't think, since it's built for entities like Microsoft, not for FOSS. And that is why it wishes to fight on that tilted battlefield. The coward.

What Ballmer doesn't understand, or pretends not to, is that people move to Linux because they wish to escape from Windows. That's why I did. I still have XP on one half of one laptop, and it simply doesn't work. Let me tell you about this week's adventure.

I couldn't get on the Internet for an unknown reason, and I wanted to so I could sign up for the Corel translator between ODF and OOXML. So, troubleshooting began. I noticed that TCP/IP wasn't activated, although I have no idea how that happened. By that point, I was on the phone with the manufacturer, and the guy was trying to walk me through whatever the problem turned out to be. So when we got to that point, I clicked to install/activate it. The prompt said it couldn't find the driver. Insert the CD.

You guessed it. The stupid software comes with no CD. Microsoft forgot to rewrite the help information, I guess. So there I am. I need a driver. It's for unknown reasons not on the computer any more. And I need a CD that Microsoft won't provide. So. Now what am I supposed to do?

Now, as it happens, I have an XP CD from another, older computer. So I asked the guy if the IP police would come and drag me away if I used that. He said no, but what do you bet it doesn't work because it's one that came with another set of hardware? So, I guess I could install from scratch, I was thinking, annoying as that would be. But even if I figure out some way to install it, then it won't authenticate, I'm guessing, because it was on another computer. That Microsoft world is a nightmare, and the idea of FOSS innovation happening on top of Windows is exactly what I don't want. I want to use non-Microsoft software. I want to be able to use non-Microsoft software. That is my free-will choice. And I want the marketplace to provide me with a choice. Microsoft wants every software sale in the world to be a Microsoft sale. I think they call that monopoly.

I get why Microsoft wants what it wants. They don't want to die off like an aged and irrelevant elephant. But I don't want to use their software ever again as long as I live. I hate it. It doesn't work. It spies on me. It's a malware magnet. It's slow. It doesn't multitask the way I'm used to. It takes over my computer in ways I can't prevent, and the worst is, when something goes wrong, there's nothing you can do about it without worrying about stepping on some of their stupid IP. It is the exact opposite of FOSS, where none of that happens.

FOSS can't survive in an IP regime such as Ballmer has laid before our eyes. The developers give their code away. How can they pay for patent licenses? That's the point, obviously. But I don't want FOSS to be choked to death, so it's time to seriously figure out how to get software and patents to get a divorce. Reform isn't going to work, if a monopoly player is willing to misuse patents as an anticompetitive weapon. It raises antitrust issues, of course, but ideally patents need to be taken off the software table altogether. This little speech is the clearest and most obvious proof that they are being used now not for innovation, but to crush it.

I remember Sam Ramji in the video from the Olliance Think Tank in March, when he tried to make us believe that Ballmer understood that his patent saber rattling remarks in November were "counterproductive". You just can't trust what Microsoft folks tell you, no matter how nice they may seem or be. Because Ballmer hasn't stopped. He's still saying the same things. So did he *really* realize his remarks were counterproductive? Obviously not. So please don't anyone tell me about the new Microsoft and how they are moving toward openness. They are moving toward destroying FOSS, although outsourcing some of it. That's it.

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