May 14, 2007

And thus, the inevitable patent apocalyse was made closer....

In this fortune article Microsoft, yet again, threatens "Linux" with patent action. What's new about this? They're doing it themselves in public instead of hiding behind BayStar capital, SCO or through back-room dealing. This is mildly interesting, and here are my predictions around what will actually happen.


Or at least it will look that way. Microsoft'll bitch and moan to keep the news cycle up for about a year, while trying to strongarm companies into signing cross licensing agreements and such. Many will, many won't. Then when they think they have a critical mass, then they'll sue a company without a significant patent portfolio to sue back with. Then that company will lose.

This will take about 7 years.

So, my advice to people out there: Linux is so useful that Microsoft simply doesn't have the option of marginalizing it. It is simply too late for that. They very simply cannot compete with open source once it has taken hold. I wrote about this very topic in 2005, in Linux Journal, where I wrote:

The time to kill Linux was when it was a project with ten developers who lived on university stipends, not when it has thousands of connected developers and $14 billion in Linux-related sales (IDC's number for the year 2003, if you believe analysts). It was vulnerable when it was still a university project, not now when uncountable school districts are using it to reduce their dependence on the punitive cost structures of proprietary software. It was vulnerable when it was in use in a few countries by a few dozen users, not now when it is used by a few dozen countries to ensure their software sovereignty. In short, it was vulnerable when it meant nothing to a few, not now when it is central to the information age economies.

While I dislike linking to my own work (it seems a little weird to self refer), I do so now to show that this is not a new thing, just a new thing to have happen in the public. They have been threatening companies for years for using Linux. In fact, I'd be willing to bet this whole thing is more about Redmond being upset that Dell, for once, can't be bullied into shipping Linux only in Denmark and instead has the cheek to ship desktop Linux in the United States. Dell ain't playing the game anymore.

Be strong, my friends. This will pass.


Mike Dolan said...

+1, this is nonsense. Take nearly any analogy and the ridiculous nature of these threats shines through... why doesn't that seem to catch on in the IT world? Suppose Ford were to sue all of Toyota's customers for buying a Civic that violated a Ford patent on emission control widget ABCD. What nonsense would that lead to? Supposed Google sued or threatened every Microsoft Windows customer b/c Windows violated a Google patent - it's truly absurd and it does no one good.

Anonymous said...

Linux is still much better. Microsoft is about the worst thing to hit the planet.

Rick Price

Anonymous said...

Linux is good. Microsoft is the worst thing to hit the planet.

Rick Price

John said...

Nonsense? The IT world needs to understand that Corporate entities merely want that which is good for consumers and that Co-operatives are terrorist fronts that need to have the full weight of Microsoft's legal department bear down upon them. Thank goodness that there is a monolithic corporate entity willing to spend its unlimited resources to restrict the un-checked malignant growth of cooperative software development. Is there anything that stands as a greater threat to healthy competition than co-operative development?

John said...

OK, seriously. I'm sure that the folks at Microsoft understand quite well that the Linux/Open Source genie is out of the bottle. I actually don't think that, try as they might, even they believe they can destroy Linux (except, of course for the perennially self-deluded Mr. Balmer.)

Microsoft aggressively fights for it's dominance and, looking ahead, attempts to avoid it's own marginalization. Peruse all the goods and services offered by Microsoft and then find absolutely nothing currently provided that can't be found elsewhere for free, or of better quality, or both. I think even they, as a company, know that as things currently stand, they are obsolete and only their weight and time sustain them.

They will do what they can to stay strong and alive. Litigation is something in their satchel that they can do very effectively. Meanwhile they struggle to create something original or compelling, but their latest attempts don't foster much confidence. I think they're experience tells them that money thrown at lawyers affects more for them, at least in the short term, than money thrown at R&D.

Their desperate actions show that even they know they're hope for dominance based on merits has long vanished.

Anonymous said...

"Linux is good. Microsoft is the worst thing to hit the planet."

In defense of the unjustly maligned Microsoft, I must strenuously object. Surely there is ample evidence that catastrophic events have occurred due to Meteors that show that second sentence to be incorrect.

Even if you take a less literal view, wouldn't you say that the black plague or the Stalinist regime were worse than Microsoft's complete dominance and suppression of the IT world? Sure, Microsoft has used its dominance to deprive computer enthusiasts of choice and quality for more than 25 years, but to compare that to say, the Hun invasions, is, to say the least, a bit of a stretch. Just because they aggressively hinder innovation, while simultaneously taking credit for that of others, and threaten to quash further invention with their current threat of patent litigation does not put them on par, with say, the Khmer Rouge. And even at their worst, they are, by comparison, more benevolent and less inclined to abuse their power than the Nazi party ever was. And, looking forward, it would not be fair to compare, say, Microsoft's market-destroying monopolistic actions with the apocalyptic implications of global warming. All I'm saying is, a bit of proportion is in order here.

Also, not to nitpick, your first sentence is grossly understated.

lex said...

Dude! What's the deal with all this new google stuff breaking konqueror. The browser is very standards compliant, and essentially the same code as Safari.

Gmail still won't run in ajax mode, and now normal google searches come up on a broken page!

Karl Fogel said...


Wesley Parish said...

FWIW, I had a talk the other day with someone from a company that's developing dotNET products in C#. They do the development with MS Visual Studio on MS Windows; then hand it off to Mono on Linux to do the full build.

I think that says two things, neither of which Microsoft is eager to hear. One, that Microsoft still isn't up to handling real loads. The second, that even with a product that's still not fully there yet - Mono - it's still more reliable in combination with Linux and the rest of the F/LOSS system, than the entire Microsoft Windows system.

Microsoft aren't stupid - okay, they are all too often obnoxious - and to take their patents out and start firing, they would be hitting their feet more often than not. Fun!