Breaking down the Microsoft vs. Linux Patent Scare

Linux, Microsoft

(not a rant, hey there is first time for everything)

By now you’ve surely seen at least a dozen articles on how, depending on the source, Microsoft is ready to eliminate Linux from existence or collect royalties or sue “them” into oblivion. It’s a juicy topic because it’s about a lot of money, emotion, business with a great protagonist and so on. Everyone from Scoble down to the guy with a rock standing in front of a copyright billboard has chimed in. What’s it really about and why will it never happen?

It’s about Microsoft trying to put the Interop picture together for Longhorn.

Because nobody likes Microsoft already, and suing will only make it worse while admitting failure.

Point 1: It’s not about Linux.

Many bloggers will pull stories and anecdotes about how this is about a huge company that is seemingly falling apart (while making 14 billion dollars a quarter) exerting it’s power to eliminate competition. They then transition to the conspiracy theories that SCO lawsuits were funded by Microsoft. Then they support that by a dozen or so articles in which Microsoft lost the patent lawsuit and had to part with a mountain of cash. And, for the cherry on top, they sprinkle something about Microsoft stealing from Apple for 25 years, how any offending code would be rewritten/removed within hours, etc. But in a nutshell, the take of nearly every article is about an evil Microsoft trying to kill off the little Linux.

Meanwhile at the ranch Microsoft is working at perhaps the most significant software release in it’s history, Longhorn Server, which will set it miles apart from any other server suite available just like it’s done with it’s Office suite. And if you see where Microsoft actually makes money you realize that selling Microsoft’s next server into the enterprise involves having a decent interop story for the customer. Whether Microsoft likes it or not, the business reality is that more and more ISV’s are writing software and delivering it on Linux servers – so for Longhorn to be a sell it has to be able to prove it can play nicely. Thats all there is to all this: Microsoft is trying to build up it’s glossy orange flyer with Linux distribution vendors who have signed interoperability agreements so Microsoft can go to the customer and say “Look, you run Redhat, Novell, Ubuntu and Debian and we have interop agreements with those folks to make sure the application you just purchased will be compatible with the middleware you have running on Windows Server” – and how do you coerce the distribution vendors into siding with you and working on Interop? By sprinkling a little patent doubt in the air which you (Microsoft) know full well you won’t be pursuing.


Point 2: Enough people already hate Microsoft

There are 800 lawyers at Microsoft, likely 780 of them are there to deal with continuous lawsuits stemming from inappropriate behavior that happened ten years ago. But read the blogs and you’re left with the impression that those 800 lawyers are just there to do recruiting to get more lawyers to sue FOSS out of existence.

It’s not difficult to find people that hate Microsoft, be it a developer a customer or partner. When you’re big you’re bound to screw people. Heck, even a one man shop has managed to make enemies for itself. Just the nature of business.

So let me clue you in to a little thing about Microsoft that I’ve learned about their culture through working with them for the past 10 years or so. Microsoft guys, be it in sales, development, even executive levels truly believe, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they are the best. Absolutely, without question, Microsoft BOB in one hand and Windows ME in the other, 640K ought to be enough for everyone – the best. Whether they are right or not, Microsoft, by culture, believes they are the best, with the best value, best technology. How? Through innovation.

Going into extended patent lawsuits would make it pretty clear to its shareholders and employees that Microsoft is no longer a business built on innovation and expertise, but one that barely survives on the very thing they have been widely accused for years – FUD. Which is why you’ll never see the lawsuits. It would be ridiculously expensive and highly demotivating for the company culture and what Microsoft stands for.

Microsoft doing a patent suit over innovation is similar in experience to the blind test of which soda you prefer. If you don’t win do you turn around and say “Wow, I’ve been a jackass for 20 years, thank you, thank you for pointing out what I’d like drinking better” or do you walk away in resentment that you picked incorrectly?

Same for the Microsoft customers. Their customers already dislike the business practices that Microsoft has. They outright hate the licensing. Developers and partners aren’t far behind. And we’re ALL buying software and hardware from other companies. So is Microsoft going to pour gasoline on that fire by telling us, to our face, that we’re thieves as we have already purchased solutions based on non-Microsoft products? Or will they just try to build a better story about how this new thing they have coming will play nicely with that third party stuff we already bought?

Personal note:

As you’ve seen on this blog, I talk a fair amount of smack against Microsoft. Yes, they deserve it. I also run more Microsoft software than any sane person ought to be allowed to. I’ve been awarded a Microsoft MVP award for two years in a row. I send large checks to Microsoft, on monthly basis, all while bitching about how Microsoft is putting me in the early grave with lack of patch QC. I write about problems and solutions for Microsoft software, all while leading ITPRO groups focusing on Microsoft software. I develop software for the Microsoft platform. And on daily basis I am asked if I love or hate Microsoft, if I’m pro or con Microsoft, if, if if. Everyone wants a fanboy.

The key thing to understand here is that when it comes to business there are many shades of grey, many circumstances, many compromises that have to be made as you go on. Thats what makes people successful, realizing that there are tradeoffs to every position. The alternative, as you’ve seen in the blog posts on this subject, is to take black vs. white approach to it all, cite historical references and dollar figures and adopt a faith-based view on business management by which you accept a single fundamental truth while ignoring every shred of concrete evidence that smashes it to pieces. Try to see the bigger picture here or come to terms with having to move to rural Mississippi.

5 Responses to Breaking down the Microsoft vs. Linux Patent Scare

  1. Pingback: » Will Microsoft enter Patent War against Free Software?

  2. Pingback: Microsoft 15/05/2007 at Kaizenlog

Comments are closed.