Of the many definitions of extortion, this one is my favorite: “Illegal use of one’s official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage.” While one might question whether it is illegal (and therefore truly extortion), Microsoft is certainly using a threat to litigate as leverage to obtain patronage from the Open Source community — in this case, the cooperation of Linux vendors to work with the jolly Redmond software giant on various compatibility issues. The return for this patronage is protection from any patent litigation involving Linux.
Microsoft’s shakedown of the Open Source community turned Novell into a Microsoft partner with SuSE Linux; now it has turned Xandros into a partner as well. Microsoft made them a deal they couldn’t refuse. The Open Source community has already decided to “grandfather” (or should it be Godfather) the Novell-Microsoft partnership into the final draft of version 3 of the General Public License (GPL 3). The controversial section of this license — on blocking future patent agreements — is now inapplicable to the Microsoft-Novell agreement (for details, see “How the last-call draft of the GPL 3 impacts the Microsoft/Novell agreement” by Ryan Paul in Ars Technica). Most likely the community will also sanction the Xandros agreement.
Like garbage hauling contractors in the Northeast Jersey of The Sopranos, Xandros and Novell have nothing to lose by paying tribute to Microsoft. In fact, the Linux desktop implementations, as well as Linux servers (well we knew that), are thriving in the shadow of Microsoft’s cold war. In particular Novell’s SuSE Linux is kicking ass and taking some customers away from Microsoft. It’s difficult to gauge what resistance there might be for businesses to adopt Linux in the shadow of Microsoft’s patent threats, but whatever resistance there is melts away in the light of Microsoft’s protection racket. That makes SuSE Linux and Xandros look more attractive for small and medium-sized businesses than other Linux distributions.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. Whitelaw Twining, a Vancouver, Canada law corporation specializing in insurance and construction litigation and a Novell customer, evaluated a move to Vista (as well as to Xandros) before selecting SuSE Linux. “Novell had the best desktop solution for us,” said Richard Giroux, IT Manager at Whitelaw Twining. “We evaluated solutions based on the ability to create a safe environment, as well as what it would cost us in time and money to maintain them.” According to the IT manager, migrating from Windows 2000 to SuSE Linux was no more difficult than migrating to Vista. At the very least, Whitelaw reduced its hardware costs by 30% with the ability to run on cost-effective PCs, and reduced desktop maintenance time by 20%. The Nevada Department of Corrections, another Novell customer switching to SuSE Linux and Novell’s Open Enterprise Server, is saving potentially millions of dollars in software licensing costs.
OK, so if legal firms and government agencies feel safe, Microsoft’s protection racket must be working. Novell benefits from it now, and Xandros will benefit shortly. Are you a Linux vendor going it alone but looking for a way to protect your large customers and developers from legal ramifications in Redmond? Good luck with that.
Pingback: Linux Thrives in Shadow of Microsoft Protection Racket « Tony Bove
Pingback: Tacit Telegraph » Linux Thrives in Shadow of Microsoft Protection Racket
Microsoft will never sue GPL users over patent issues. If they did try then not only would IBM have no choice but to stand up against them but so would Novell (regardless of any agreement) and every other Linux vendor. The GPLv2 clearly states:
It is in plain English, there’s no way around it and it covers the Linux kernel, just about all the libraries and apps as well. What this means is that as soon as Microsoft gets genuine legal traction on ANY patent covering GPLv2 code (i.e. when they produce specific evidence, which any court will demand, just like SCO was told to produce specific evidence) then ALL users and distributers of that GPL code are in trouble. Novell will be in just as much danger as whoever Microsoft comes after and their agreement with Microsoft will offer them not one jot of protection.
The fact that Novell is not bothered by this is clear evidence that they are 100% sure Microsoft will never produce specific evidence of a patent violation and will never sue.
When you think about it, Microsoft have a massive interest in maintaining their slipping monopoly position. If they had a decent case to sue with then they would have fired that gun by now. All they have remaining is the FUD factor.
Pingback: Get Off Microsoft » Blog Archive » Microsoft’s Interoperable Assimilation
I’m the IT Manager at Whitelaw Twining.
Although I was in no way threatened by MS’s patent statements, FUD does play well to management. I think Novell’s move was unnecessary in the long run but in the short run, it was a good move. Perhaps Novell understood that your can win a battle against Microsoft but they will eventually win the war if you allow them to cut off your income stream. (i.e. Netscape, DRDos, Stacker)
I see Novell and Xandros adopting GPLv3 in the future (to much fan fare) when their respective install space is large enough risk a lawsuit with MS. Novell still has a trusted name in large, medium and small businesses and that certainly helped me when talking with management. Linux’s sun is rising. They have an established presence in the server room (although not in mine…yet) but I believe they are going to establish themselves on the desktop as well.
I’ve done six interviews with non-technical or business focused publications about my firm’s move to Linux. That tells me that Linux on the desktop is on the radar for many businesses. Not much more has to be said about Vista’s problems but even my pompom carrying MS consultants tell me Vista isn’t ready for prime time. So where does that leave businesses that need new computers NOW and don’t want to buy a 5 year old OS? I don’t believe MS will disappear tomorrow but they are going to have to learn to “play well with others”.
Just my two cents….