Steve Ballmer and Linux: A love and hate story

It seems that Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, will never stop hitting the top of the open-source community’s head. Ballmer, during a press conference in London last week, renewed attacks that started a year ago against the world of the “open”.

According to Ballmer, Linux and open-source software users currently violate 235 patents that he claims Microsoft owns. We’re mainly talking about Linux’s kernel, its GUI, its messaging client, and OpenOffice.org.

The strangest part of all of this is that Novell isn’t targeted by these allegations anymore, most likely because of the deal they signed with Microsoft just months ago. This accord changed the nature of these attacks, and now, it seems that Microsoft has only one target: Red Hat.

“People who use Red Hat, at least in respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to eventually compensate us,” Ballmer said at a company event last week in London.
 
“We’ve spent a lot of money licensing patents,” he said. “When people come to us and say, ‘Hey, this commercial piece of software violates our patent, our intellectual property, we’ll either get a court judgment or we’ll pay a big check.”

Microsoft’s attitude in reponse to this whole mess is suprisingly ambiguous. Most of the source code for all Linux distributions is similar, so why would Red hat violate Microsoft’s patents when Novell’s Suse does not? If we follow this line of thought, we can say there is “good” and “bad” open-source applications. If Microsoft endorses the software, then it’s good; if not, it’s evil.

When looking at Microsoft’s position in regard to the Linux world, we can clearly see that Ballmer’s attacks are not targeted toward the community, but more against its individual members. What does this mean? That if you want to run legal “open source”, you have to kneel down and grovel in front of the software giant.

For those of you interested in listening to Ballmer’s speech, you can do so by following this link.




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