09.15.08

Companies That Fear GNU/Linux Versus Companies That Don’t

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FUD, GNU/Linux, IBM, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 5:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Why Microsoft is not ‘Just Another’ patent holder

How often people forget what distinguishes Microsoft from virtually any other large company. To Microsoft, GNU/Linux is not just a low-cost option for maintaining its operations [1, 2, 3]; it is a major threat to its very few cash cows. It’s only natural for Microsoft — particularly its investors — to worry about what Microsoft’s CEO calls the company’s biggest competitor. This competitor is not a company. It’s code that is being shared and constantly improved.

“Once GNU is written, everyone will be able to obtain good system software free, just like air.”

Richard Stallman

Microsoft’s problem is that its products are not tangible. Those that are more concrete (e.g. XBox, Zune) lose an obscene amount of money. This means that Microsoft continues to rely on pure software (licences to use binary code) to keep its rental cartel going. It does not sell products. It licences products.

As a new example of the fact that most companies are apathetic towards open source (as a competitive threat at least), consider this news.

Open source patents: Four companies offer green tech to public domain

[...]

So it turns out that the Eco-Patent Commons, which I wrote about back in January, isn’t just another empty-handed cooperative industry effort.

Three new companies, Bosch, DuPont and Xerox, have joined the effort and another, Sony, has contributed an additional patent to the community.

Why apply for them in the first place? The headline seems wrong because it has nothing to do with open source, either (no code). It’s a publicity stunt at best, but regardless, these companies sell actual products. They give people ownership of what they sell.

“IBM does not need to antagonise the inevitable, unlike Microsoft.”IBM is very much focused on solutions which include services, hardware and systems architecture. Software is just one component among many, so IBM can afford to embrace GNU/Linux with patent concessions. IBM does not need to antagonise the inevitable, unlike Microsoft.

There is an ongoing argument over at LXer. It’s about whether Microsoft is just barking forever and will therefore never bite Free software with lawsuits. In reality, Microsoft can use a Sisvel-like proxy [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and we already saw Acacia assaulting Red Hat and Novell just 8 days after had hired a Microsoft general manager (of intellectual monopolies) to join its top ranks [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. We don’t know if it was just a coincidence, but it also coincided with threats from Steve Ballmer.

This post is not about creating a scare. It’s about analysing reality before (or in case) it strikes. If a company threatens GNU/Linux and someone reports the impact of it, that’s not intimidation. It’s an understanding of a threat, which can then be squashed. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss, but only in the short term.

Under financial pressure [1, 2, 3, 4], Microsoft is more likely to act irrationally. Just watch this one from yesterday’s news:

In one of the most extraordinary days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch is near an 11th-hour deal with Bank of America to avert a deepening financial crisis while another storied securities firm, Lehman Brothers, hurtled toward liquidation, according to people briefed on the deal.

It’s hard to tell what Microsoft will do as it continues its eternal stagnation (it has gone on for years). According to Pamela Jones of Groklaw (context here): “I think it’s dangerous to let them [Microsoft] anywhere near anything that matters until they pledge not to sue FOSS over patent infringement. All they are doing now is taking notes, I believe, and I am confident it will use what it learns against the community when it feels like it. And I wish everyone would get a bit smarter, so we at Groklaw and the legal contingent of the FOSS community don’t have to fix the mess you make. Yes. Seriously. I would suggest treating Microsoft as if they were already suing you personally. Because I believe they will.”

She also believes that Microsoft is the next SCO, as was pointed out before. Heise wrote: “She has told Infoworld that Microsoft will be the next SCO Group; the company has been loudly rattling its patent sabres, claiming earlier this year that Linux violated mote than 235 Microsoft patents. Whether Microsoft goes beyond mere sabre rattling and whether SCO manages anything more than a last gasp is also a question of how you evaluate the course of court proceedings so far.”

Scripture

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