On Microsoft and Novell: The Leopard Still Has Spots

Dennis Faas's picture

In my last article, I likened Microsoft to the fabled leopard that couldn't change its spots. As it happens, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has proven that indeed, the leopard is still covered in spots.

Mr. Ballmer declared his belief that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property. What is so laughable about his assertion is that Microsoft has had those exact same charges leveled at them by companies such as Apple, Xerox, and several other entities. (Source: openaddict.com)

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (or "IP") is a method of legal protection for ideas or property of the mind. It's a controversial topic, especially in computer science, because it deals with concepts and methods rather than something concrete like a physical object. When you own some intellectual property, you can apply for special governmental protection for your ideas to ensure other people can't use them. In short, IP is a defensive measure designed to protect someone's original work.

Ballmer: Linux users owe Microsoft

In comments confirming the open-source community's suspicions, last Thursday Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declared that the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property.

Mr. Ballmer further asserted that "...Microsoft was motivated to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell earlier this month because Linux uses their intellectual property and Microsoft wanted to get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation." (Source: linuxworld.com)

The November 2nd deal involves an agreement by Novell and Microsoft to boost the interoperability of their competing software products. It also calls for Microsoft to pay Novell $440 million US for coupons entitling users to a year's worth of maintenance and support on SUSE Linux to its customers. In addition, Microsoft agreed to recommend SUSE software for Windows users looking to use Linux as well.

On the face of it, the deal seemed like a reasonable idea. Well, it got worse: mainly because some folks haven't learned the lessons us Texans learned at our Mother's knee. Basically, "If you are in a big hole in the ground, stop digging!" Mr. Ballmer didn't even slow down!

"Novell pays us some money for the right to tell customers that anybody who uses SUSE Linux is appropriately covered," Ballmer said. This "is important to us, because [otherwise] we believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability." There is a term for that kind of talk. It's called FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

What does this all mean?

Basically, Microsoft is trying to get us to reimburse them for using Linux, of which they have had no part. The claim is that the Windows Desktop concept is 'copied' by the various desktops used in Linux, and therefore needs to be paid for. If you look at the first URL in this article, you will find several examples of pre-dated Intellectual Property that were used against Microsoft when Windows was first introduced, proving that Microsoft doesn't 'own' the property they are claiming has been 'stolen'.

Novel is wondering where all this has come from because their agreement with Microsoft said nothing about Intellectual Property.

One comment stated, "If Microsoft thinks it has a case, it should get it into court to prove or disprove its claims." If that happens, Microsoft should look to its market place, because the customers are going to make their point of view very plain!

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