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04.04.20

Major Revelation: Microsoft Blackmail Against LAMP (GNU/Linux and Free Stacks for Servers) Goes At Least 16 Years Back, Predating the Novell Patent Deal

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 11:25 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

One year after the SCO lawsuit, predating the Sun shakedown

“On the same day that CA blasted SCO, Open Source evangelist Eric Raymond revealed a leaked email from SCO’s strategic consultant Mike Anderer to their management. The email details how, surprise surprise, Microsoft has arranged virtually all of SCO’s financing, hiding behind intermediaries like Baystar Capital.”

Bruce Perens

“Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too. [and also] Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. They’d flown in over a weekend to meet with Scott McNealy. [...] Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” [...] Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket.”

Jonathan I. Schwartz, Sun

Summary: (Techno-)Anthropological analyses of Microsoft’s patent war on Free/libre software must take into account what Microsoft did to MySQL, a Swedish company at the time

FOR one reason or another, more than half a decade after Microsoft had paid him as we noted back then, Florian Müller decided to suddenly spill the beans about a past (but untold) story that I’ve never come across. Apparently nobody was supposed to know about it. It is rather significant because it helps show just how far back Microsoft’s patent blackmail goes (it persisted as recently as last year, so this is not “irrelevant” and there’s no “new Microsoft”).

More than a decade before 35 U.S.C. § 101 and about a year before the directive against patents on algorithms in the EU, Microsoft’s extortion and blackmail against Free software servers had already begun, using bogus software patents. Microsoft did the extortion and blackmail against a European company while lobbying hard for software patents in Europe. As Müller recalls:

In early 2004, Microsoft’s patent licensing department contacted MySQL AB, the originally Finnish-Swedish and, at that time, heavily Americanized open-sourced database company (whose CEO I was advising at the time). What Linux was in comparison to Windows, MySQL was to Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM Db2. The term isn’t used much anymore, but back then the “LAMP Stack” meant Linux, the Apache webserver, the MySQL database, and one of the P languages (mostly PHP, with a few people using Perl, or even Python): an open-source technology stack powering more websites than any other comparable configuration. MySQL had risen to popularity alongside Linux. It was a symbiotic relationship. Microsoft, of course, favored Windows + Internet Information Server + SQL Server + Visual Studio (C# or Visual Basic).

What Microsoft–and again, the Microsoft of then is not the Microsoft of now when it comes to these types of issues–told MySQL (a company that had received tens of millions of dollars of venture funding while Microsoft already had roughly 10,000 times greater resources) was that they claimed to hold a patent that covered functionality at the very core of the MySQL database engine. From a software development perspective, a database engine is a relatively monolithic (as opposed to modular) thing. If someone asserted a patent against the basic architecture of your engine, it could mean that you have to almost start all over. You’d lose years.

Microsoft was clear about its demand: a 2% royalty on MySQL’s (tiny) sales. Two things were not clear, however: whether Microsoft had an agenda to actually start a patent war against open source and, particularly, the LAMP Stack, so that an initial royalty agreement would not have been an amicable resolution of an IP issue but could have been the beginning of the end for MySQL and LAMP; and Microsoft declined to disclose that mysterious killer patent.

[...]

At some point MySQL was seriously considering making Microsoft’s patent royalty demand public. We had already prepared a press release, and it was going to be centered around an open letter to EU policy-makers urging them to abolish software patents in Europe (though that wouldn’t have solved the problem for MySQL anywhere else, and it actually generated most of its revenues in the U.S. anyway). We didn’t escalate the conflict, and ultimately that was better for everyone involved.

Oddly, about five years later Microsoft actually tried to defend MySQL’s independence. Oracle was in the process of acquiring Sun Microsystems, which had acquired MySQL the previous year for $1 billion. While Sun wanted MySQL’s business to grow, there were reasons to assume Oracle simply wanted to control it so as to eliminate a competitive threat. Microsoft and SAP (even though mostly concerned about Java in the beginning) were the two large complainants, and MySQL’s founder, Michael “Monty” Widenius, was the third complainant, with help from me. So MySQL’s founder and I ended up in an alliance with Redmond about five years after we had thought Microsoft would potentially use patents to destroy it.

Readers may still recall the lobbying Mr. Müller did for MariaDB/MySQL amid Oracle’s (over)reach for MySQL.

Mr. Müller was, back then, fiercely against software patents and he published a book about the lobbying Microsoft had done for such patents.

“Dozens of people knew,” he told me about the above story. “I’m still the first one of them to speak out. Sure, 16 years is a long time.”

He also tweeted:

Today is the 10th anniversary of the launch of #FOSSPatents–and here’s a #Microsoft #patent threat from 2004 no one has previously reported bit.ly/2UEXy5K #mysql #opensource #freesoftware #foss #linux #patents #frand #standards

I told Florian: “Wish this was reported much earlier!” He separately tweeted with “FRAND” again (it’s an infamous misnomer):

Today is the 10th anniversary of the launch of #FOSSPatents–and here’s a #Microsoft #patent threat from 2004 no one reported before https://bit.ly/2UEXy5K #patents #standards #frand

Florian wrongly asserts that Microsoft has changed since then; but no, the PR tactics have changed. The strategy is largely the same and the shallow attitudinal change is seen as necessary for entryism. They cannot infiltrate OSI, the Linux Foundation etc. without showing the teeth of a smile as opposed to bloody fangs.

“We need to slaughter Novell before they get stronger….If you’re going to kill someone, there isn’t much reason to get all worked up about it and angry. You just pull the trigger. Any discussions beforehand are a waste of time. We need to smile at Novell while we pull the trigger.”

Jim Allchin, Microsoft’s Platform Group Vice President

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