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The Linux Foundation and Novell (Plus Microsoft)

Posted in Antitrust, Bill Gates, Debian, FUD, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, OLPC, OSDL, Steve Ballmer at 9:39 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“I’ve heard from Novell sales representatives that Microsoft sales executives have started calling the Suse Linux Enterprise Server coupons “royalty payments””

Matt Asay, April 21st, 2008

Yesterday we wrote about Novell's news from China and warned that Microsoft and Novell had begun to share some more vocabulary. Several more articles have since then been published to cover the new announcement, including this one.

As part of the on-going agreement with Novell, Microsoft is identifying and converting unsupported users of Linux to the latest versions of Suse Linux.

After a long period of doubt, scepticism and criticism over their agreement, Novell and Microsoft are finally starting to see the benefits of the 5-year alliance originally announced in December 2006.

Continuing to dabble with the ‘dark side,’ Ron Hovsepian, president and CEO of Novell said in a recent press-release, describing the outcomes of their alliance with Microsoft, “It’s very encouraging to see that our business and technical collaboration continues to resonate with customers around the globe.”

What is meant by “unsupported users of Linux”? Are these users who do not pay Microsoft for mythical software patents in a country where these are invalid anyway? If it’s about technical support, they already have several other companies to turn to.

Amid all this ugliness, the Linux Foundation, which is sponsored by Novell, keeps silent and at times even dishonest about these issues. Sam Varghese has just expressed his thoughts and articulated his complaints, which seem to suggest that the roots of Linux, including projects like Debian and even Slackware are being neglected, disregarded and faced with disinterest from those who had a lot of labour exploited.

Whither the Linux Foundation?

We live in the age of the spinmeister, the age when language is used more as a means to confuse than to educate, an age when obfuscation is preferred to clarification.


The Foundation, one must bear in mind, was formed at the beginning of 2007 by a merger between the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group.

This is the same group that, last year, asked people to respect Microsoft .


For some time now, the Foundation has been trying to generate its own coverage. There were some pitiful attempts by Zemlin earlier this year to pass around interviews which he had done with Foundation employees. But he came unstuck when he interviewed Novell chief Ron Hovsepian and never raised the question of that company’s deal with Microsoft. If anything could have unmasked an interview as being bogus, this was it.


The whole exercise tells me one thing: this is taking Linux away from its roots. The whole point is to rapidly introduce changes into the kernel, changes which the corporates want, changes for which they pay, both by being members of this Foundation and also by employing developers.

In BusinessWeek, the Foundation protested against Microsoft's saber-rattling. Shouldn’t it begin to pressure and publicly criticise Novell for being a part of the same abuse the Foundation seemingly protested against? Well, the Foundation is far too close to Novell and it’s even feeding Microsoft's favourite shills now.

This is of course disappointing because the very same companies that made use of Free software now turn their backs on it, in addition to giving GNU the kick in favour of “commercial open-source” or whatever they choose to call it nowadays (Web 2.0, SaaS, open enterprise ‘solutions’).

Volunteering advocates among us are by no means happy and it probably shows. Ken Starks is optimistic however.

Linux Users will rescue the Desktop. We don’t need corporate help.

Let me take this ice cold bucket of water and welcome those who believe this to the real world. Take a deep breath, because I’m about to splash you abruptly back into the cold, harsh light of reality.

O’Grady writes some more related notes in his Q&A/monologue-style page in order to explain this perplexing situation which he broadly refers to as “Open Source Indemnification”.

While it remains possible – at least as long as Ballmer is at the helm – that Microsoft could pursue litigation against customers, I think highly unlikely.

For a brand that relies highly on rank and file recognition and adoption, pursuing an RIAA-style course of action that includes legal action against its direct customers would be the worst kind of brand suicide. So while Ballmer might hint at such actions in attempt to disincent usage and adoption of the technologies, it’s unlikely that it would go further than that. If not because of the PR implications, then because of the mutually assured destruction scenarios that would likely result in retaliatory lawsuits from competitive vendors with patent portfolios of their own.

Where is the Linux Foundation and why is it not protesting against this abuse by Microsoft? Does it just inherit Novell’s bad behaviour and accepts it silently because of the sponsorship? Might the “respect Microsoft” remark [1, 2, 3] mean more than we realise? It makes the Linux Foundation look rather bad if it asks us to respect what a government delegate compares to a Scientology-like cult. The same goes for Novell.

Amid the departure of Walter Bender they really ought to learn about Intel’s and Microsoft’s “Slog” (Microsoft term [*]) against OLPC [1, 2, 3, 4]. Don’t be surprised if Microsoft conquers this project quite soon, in the sense that it might assign its own people and use its own operating system to get children “addicted” to Windows (again, Microsoft’s own term [**]).

[*] From Microsoft’s internal documents:

8: The Slog
Guerilla marketing is often a long, hard slog.

slog (sl^g) v. slogged, slogqing, slogs. –tr, To strike with heavy blows, as in boxing. -intr. 1. To walk with a slow, plodding gait. 2. To work diligently for long hours. –n. . 1. long, hard work. 2. A long, exhausting march or hike. [Orig. unknown.] -slog’ger
–American Heritage Dictionary, 1991

In the Slog, Microsoft dukes it out with the competition. MSDN and Platform marketing are the regular forces, exchanging blows with the enemy mano a mano. Evangelism should avoid formal, frontal assaults, instead focusing its efforts of hit-and-run tactics.

In the Slog, the enemy will counter-attack, trying to subvert your Tier A ISVs to their side, just as you should try to subvert their ISVs to your side. New ISVs should be sought, and directed to MSDN’s one-to- many programs. Evangelism should constantly be on the lookout for killer demos, hot young startups, major ISVs, customer testimonials, enemy-alliance-busting defections and other opportunities to demonstrate momentum for our technology. If bugs are found in our technology, or missing features are found to be critically important, then now is the time to identify and fix them. Stay engaged with the technology development team; ensure that you are a valuable resource for them, not a hectoring pest. Document all of your progress (ideally in regularly updated internal Web pages) and forward it regularly to management. If management is not aware of your progress, your successes, and your stumbling blocks, then they can’t help. (They may not help anyway, but they can’t if they don’t know what you need.)

Keep those Tier A ISVs on track to delivery! They are your strongest weapons and cannot be forgotten.

The elements of the evangelical infrastructure – conference presentations, courses, seminars, books, magazine articles, whitepapers, etc. – should start hitting the street at the start of the Slog. They should be so numerous as to push all other books off the shelf, courses out of catalogs, and presentations off the stage.

Working behind the scenes to orchestrate “independent” praise of our technology, and damnation of the enemy’s, is a key evangelism function during the Slog. “Independent” analyst’s report should be issued, praising your technology and damning the competitors (or ignoring them). “Independent” consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour). “Independent” academic sources should be cultivated and quoted (and research money granted). “Independent” courseware providers should start profiting from their early involvement in our technology. Every possible source of leverage should be sought and turned to our advantage.

I have mentioned before the “stacked panel”. Panel discussions naturally favor alliances of relatively weak partners – our usual opposition. For example, an “unbiased” panel on OLE vs. OpenDoc would contain representatives of the backers of OLE (Microsoft) and the backers of OpenDoc (Apple, IBM, Novell, WordPerfect, OMG, etc.). Thus we find ourselves outnumbered in almost every “naturally occurring” panel debate.

A stacked panel, on the other hand, is like a stacked deck: it is packed with people who, on the face of things, should be neutral, but who are in fact strong supporters of our technology. The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conference organizers allow the moderator to select the panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. Since you can’t expect representatives of our competitors to speak on your behalf, you have to get the moderator to agree to having only “independent ISVs” on the panel. No one from Microsoft or any other formal backer of the competing technologies would be allowed – just ISVs who have to use this stuff in the “real world.” Sounds marvelously independent doesn’t it? In fact, it allows us to stack the panel with ISVs that back our cause. Thus, the “independent” panel ends up telling the audience that our technology beats the others hands down. Get the press to cover this panel, and you’ve got a major win on your hands.

Finding a moderator is key to setting up a stacked panel. The best sources of pliable moderators are:

— Analysts: Analysts sell out – that’s their business model. But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with.

— Consultants: These guys are your best bets as moderators. Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don’t let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the conference organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up. Since he’s well-known, but apparently independent, he’ll be accepted – one less thing for the constantly-overworked conference organizer to worry about, right?

Gathering intelligence on enemy activities is critical to the success of the Slog. We need to know who their allies are and what differences exist between them and their allies (there are always sources of tension between allies), so that we can find ways to split ‘em apart. Reading the trade press, lurking on newsgroups, attending conferences, and (above all) talking to ISVs is essential to gathering this intelligence.

This is a very tough phase of evangelism. You’ll be pulled in every direction at once, randomized by short-term opportunities and action items, nagged by your Tier A ISVs and pestered by every other ISV that wants to become a Tier A. Management will want to know right now how you’re going to respond to some bogus announcement by some random ISV. Some PM over in Consumer will demand that you drop everything to go talk to an ISV in Outer Mongolia, that’s run by an old college chum of his. Competitors will make surprise announcements, lie through their teeth, and generally try to screw you just as hard as you are trying to screw them.

Of course, if you are very, very lucky, there will be no competition to your technology. But this is almost never the case. ODBC had its IDAPI, OLE had its OpenDoc, COM had its SOM, DCOM has its CORBA, MAPI had its VIM, etc., etc., etc. The existence of a Microsoft technology nearly guarantees that a competitive technology will spring into existence overnight, backed by an impromptu association of Microsoft competitors which have decided to draw yet another Line in the Sand (“If we don’t stop Microsoft here, then they are going to take over the whole world!”).

Without a competing technology to fight, you just hand everything over to MSDN, give your Tier A ISVs to PSS, and find a new technology to evangelize. But that takes most of the fun out of the game :-)

9: Final Release:

Evangelism of a given technology usually ends with the final, shipping release of that technology. One last big press event, with demos, a tradeshow, press releases, etc., is often called for, showcasing the apps that are sim-shipping and the customers that are using them. In the face of strong competition, Evangelism’s

focus may shift immediately to the next version of the same technology, however. Indeed, Phase 1 (Evangelism Starts) for version x+1 may start as soon as this Final Release of version X.

10: Critical Mass

The Slog may continue beyond the Final Release, for many months, until Critical Mass is reached. It is possible that Critical Mass will not be reached at all for Version X of a technology, such that Phases 1-9 will have to be repeated – possibly more than once – before ever reaching Critical Mass.

Critical Mass is reached when the technology starts evangelizing itself. When reviews subtract points if it’s not supported; when analysts say “great product plan, but what about [Technology Name]?”; when VC’s won’t fund a company unless it supports [Technology Name] – that’s Critical Mass. At that point, Evangelism of the technology stops, and Evangelism’s resources are applied to other technologies – or, if you’re lucky, moves into the Mopping Up phase.

11: Mopping Up

Mopping Up can be a lot of fun. In the Mopping Up phase, Evangelism’s goal is to put the final nail into the competing technology’s coffin, and bury it in the burning depths of the earth. Ideally, use of the competing technology becomes associated with mental deficiency, as in, “he believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2.” Just keep rubbing it in, via the press, analysts, newsgroups, whatever. Make the complete failure of the competition’s technology part of the mythology of the computer industry. We want to place selection pressure on those companies and individuals that show a genetic weakness for competitors’ technologies, to make the industry increasingly resistant to such unhealthy strains, over time.

12: Victory

Some technologies continue as competitors long after they are true threats – look at OS/2, the Operating System that Refused to Die. It is always possible – however unlikely – that competitors like OpenDoc, SOM, OS/2, etc, could rise from the dead… so long as there is still development work being done on them. Therefore, final victory is reached only when the competing technology’s development team is disbanded, its offices reassigned, its marketing people promoted, etc. You have truly and finally won, when they come to interview for work at Microsoft.

Victory is sweet. Savor it. Then, find a new technology to evangelize — and get back to work :-)

[**] From Cybersource:


Governments Must Reject Gates’ $3 Bid to Addict Next Billion PC Users

30th April, 2007

On April 19th, Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft Corp., unveiled a plan
which seeks to enlist the help of developing nations in a
barely-concealed attempt to get the next billion PC users hooked onto
Microsoft software. Under the guise of trying to bridge the digital
divide, Microsoft will instead aim to extend its desktop monopoly by
using the same technique it’s used for years through software piracy:
platform addiction. An addiction it will milk in future decades. An
addiction that governments should reject in favour of free and open
source software – the only way to truly bridge the digital divide.

“Microsoft’s strategy of getting developing nations hooked on its
software was clearly outlined by Bill Gates almost a decade ago,” said
Con Zymaris, CEO of long-standing open source firm Cybersource.

Specifically, Bill Gates, citing China as an example, said:

“Although about 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but
people don’t pay for the software,” he said. “Someday they will, though.
As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours.
They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to
collect sometime in the next decade.”[1]

“From this, we analyse the following strategy. Microsoft would allow
users in developing countries to use pirated software, which in turn
would lock those users into Microsoft’s proprietary data formats,
proprietary protocols and proprietary Application Programming Interfaces
(APIs). Once so tithed to Microsoft, these users would find it almost
impossible to move to alternatives, thus providing a captive future
revenue stream,” explained Zymaris. “And this new strategy is even more
insidious, as Microsoft is expecting governments to pay for the
hardware, thus paving the way for Microsoft to snare its next billion
addicts in a friction-free manner.”

“What is equally apparent is that Microsoft would prefer to lose money
initially, to prevent competitors from capturing mindshare. Today, Linux
and open source software are Microsoft’s biggest competitor. And Linux
and open source software are capturing huge mindshare in developing
nations, thus Microsoft’s knee-jerk reaction in offering its
$3-meal-deal,” Zymaris said. “Instead of accepting the Microsoft deal,
governments should push open source software, guaranteeing freedom
from vendor lock-in and future price hikes.”

And where Microsoft offers a handful of cut-down applications in its
$3-meal-deal, open source supplies thousands of complete applications,
for no cost at all. Highly functional applications such as Scribus
(desktop publishing), Gimp, (photo editing), Blender3D (animation),
Inkscape (vector drawing), MySQL (database), Python (programming
environment), will help students in their creative endevours. Other
landmark applications such as Linux, OpenOffice.org (office suite) and
Firefox (web browser) will help all users.

“By helping to make users aware of open source alternatives, by
disseminating that software through CD give-aways and via subsidised,
low-cost PCs, governments will be reducing their reliance on proprietary
vendors and improve access to 21st century technology. It’s the
only way to ensure that their citizens will be free to use quality
software, without constraints, in perpetuity,” concluded Zymaris.

[1] http://news.com.com/2100-1023-212942.html

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