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Ballmer Won't Dismiss Idea of Suits Against Linux 644

Posted by Zonk
from the errr dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to an interview with Steve Ballmer in Forbes, Microsoft is open to the possibility of filing patent suits against Linux in the interest of their shareholders. Ballmer said: 'Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I'm not going to comment. But to the degree that that's the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy.' Microsoft filed more than 3000 new applications for software patents in 2005 and already owns more than 4000 patents, including many patents on fundamental, but trivial technologies, like double clicks."
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Ballmer Won't Dismiss Idea of Suits Against Linux

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  • More FUD from MS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by carsonc (792247) * on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:34PM (#15005483)
    More FUD from MS Desperate times call for desperate measures. What to say, Microsoft is getting desperate. To be coming out making direct statements like this show's that Ballmer is worried about his future; he really screwed up with Vista.
    Daniel Lyons has been suspected of being a SCOX puppet for Microsoft for quite some time now. And people have been suspecting that Microsoft has been funding this sort of talk in the SCOG - IBM case as well. Can't wait for the discussion on Groklaw
    • by hey! (33014)
      I wouldn't call this FUD so much as common sense. If companies are incorporating patented MS technology into their Linux distros, then why should he rule out going after them? Anybody has to assume they will if they think they have a case; it's only FUD if they do it without a case. Shouldn't be hard to make a case, given the ongoing state of easy virtue at the patent office.

      The only really compelling reason not to is that if somehow it wasn't in their interest. For example, Novell may have patents that
      • by gentlemen_loser (817960) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:03PM (#15005793) Homepage
        If companies are incorporating patented MS technology into their Linux distros, then why should he rule out going after them? Anybody has to assume they will if they think they have a case; it's only FUD if they do it without a case.

        FUD=Fear Uncertainty Doubt

        They are trying to slow the adoption of Linux in the corporate world by introducing fear of lawsuits and thus risk. Risk, in the corporation (as anywhere else) is undesirable and therefore avoided. By definition, this is FUD. They are abusing their dominate market position (again) to slow adoption of other systems (Linux) in order to compensate for problems the company is currently dealing with.

        In my opinion, they should have been broken up years ago.
        • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:5, Interesting)

          by torokun (148213) on Monday March 27, 2006 @06:31PM (#15006628) Homepage
          It's not impossible for Linux or Linux users to be in the wrong by, e.g., infringing MS's patents.

          If there is infringement, regardless of MS's motives, they are justified in taking action to protect their patent rights.

          Do you think Linux gets a free pass under the law, just because the developers are trying to do something nice?
          • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rob_squared (821479)
            People are sympathetic to software patent violations because software patents are stupid and unnecessary. If Microsoft needs to sue someone, how about copyright infringement. The patent system is broken, but at least copyright is broken in a way that isn't conducive to software companies.
          • by mrchaotica (681592)
            It's not impossible for Linux or Linux users to be in the wrong by, e.g., infringing MS's patents.
            Yeah it is, because software patents are wrong and MS's patents should be invalid.
            If there is infringement, regardless of MS's motives, they are justified in taking action to protect their patent rights.
            That's a load of bullshit because the system is broken.
          • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Billly Gates (198444)
            Years ago slashdot editor Katz wrote a silly entry about patents. Basically the letter a used in a font is already patented.

            Infact you broke patent laws just by replying to this post. Probably a half a dozen.

            You can not and I mean can not ever develop a software product that does not infringe on some patent.

            Do you think Microsoft Windows is infringement free? I think not.

            If Linux developers follow patent laws it would not be an operating sytem or even usable.

            Its a serious problem.
          • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Monday March 27, 2006 @08:28PM (#15007512)
            It's not impossible for Linux or Linux users to be in the wrong by, e.g., infringing MS's patents.


            It's not that Linux developers are above and beyond the law. By all means, if something like this has been done - point it out. But first know that it has, indeed, happened... and be willing to back the claim.

            The "FUD" comes from the wink-wink-nudge-nudge nature of the statement. Note that Ballmer does not confirm nor deny. But he does attribute all manner of dire consequences to these claims. Assuming they're correct. But you can't tell - you don't even know who the "experts" are... much less what the claims are. It's classic FUD.

            A more appropriate way of handling this question would be either "we are investigating these claims", "we are not aware of any such case at this point", etc. These are not FUD statements. However, I understand that Ballmer just isn't that kind of guy. A spade being a spade and all that.
          • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:5, Interesting)

            by jc42 (318812) on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:32PM (#15008102) Homepage Journal
            If there is infringement, regardless of MS's motives, they are justified in taking action to protect their patent rights.

            Possibly. But they might also be reasonably worried about the result of an actual court case. It's entirely possible that if they were to sue over linux permitting such things as double clicks or nested scrolling (which they also have a patent on), the courts just might laugh and throw out the patents.

            Like atomic weapons, patents such as these are primarily useful as threats and PR tools. Actually using them in a legal action could easily end their usefulness.

          • by Shelled (81123)
            Which makes more sense to you, that the completely open to all for examination, community created Linux is using MS IP, or that the completely closed, distributed as binaries, NDA locked, backed by a thousand lawyers and $30+ billion in the bank MS product infringes on 'freely accessible' OS code? It doesn't take a statistician or soothsayer to calculate the probabilites.
          • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Interesting)

            by tolkienfan (892463)
            Why should someone who, in utilizing software they have on their computer (that they may even have purchased), be subject to a lawsuit for double clicking on something? They can neither know that their use of the software is infringing, nor are they in a position to correct or remedy the situation, and they didn't act in any malicious way to commit the infringement, yet the law stands. It is a system that plainly doesn't work.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:03PM (#15005798) Journal
        If companies are incorporating patented MS technology into their Linux distros, then why should he rule out going after them? Anybody has to assume they will if they think they have a case; it's only FUD if they do it without a case.

        The point of a FUD attack is to scare off customers (or investors, or partners, etc.) by hinting that their is a problem with the competition but without giving enough information about the hinted event for the listener to determine that the hinted-at problem exists.

        In this case they're hinting that there is misappropriated technology from some unspecified items from their large patent portfolio in Linux and that at some point in the indefinite future they'll come down on Linux vendors and pull the rug out from under their customers. Yet they don't say when, don't specify what patents, don't specify which Linux components, and so on.

        It's a vague threat. It can't be falsified (i.e. potential Linux adopters can't effectively determine whether there are actual violations or if Balmer is speculating through his hat). It would tend to scare away customers, partners, adopters, contributors, etc. Any claim of wrongdoing can be deflected by pointing out that the ACTUAL STATEMENT is just a truism of business policy, not a deliberate attack on Linux and its community.

        If it really is just a truism of business, it would not be newsworthy. If Microsoft is actually gearing up for a patent fight it would be very newsworthy. Yet it makes headlines, without announcing the launch of an attack, or anything but the non-newsworthy truism.

        So IMNO the fact that he made the statement at all meets the above definition of a FUD attack.
        • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Interesting)

          by defile (1059)

          So IMNO the fact that he made the statement at all meets the above definition of a FUD attack.

          Uhhh, actually, the interviewer brought it up and Ballmer avoided the question without limiting his options by committing to a course of action. "No, we aren't suing anyone (but that doesn't mean we can't.)"

          From what I read of their behavior, it seems to be an unwritten policy of theirs to only file defensive patents.

      • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Informative)

        by ivanmarsh (634711)
        I wouldn't call this FUD so much as common sense.

        If there was any common sense when it comes to patents no one would be able to patent something as trivial and global as a "double-click"... or something they didn't invent for that matter.

        Remember: MS sued Borland over having drop-down menus in their applications... and won.

        Xerox innovated (to use an MS BS term) the drop-down menu. Hell, VisiCalc16 for the Apple IIe had drop-down menus in it.

        Obviously any company should be able to protect their IP... but the
    • Ballmer just happens to receive so cheap question, every once in a while. Any suspicion that a Forbes journalist could generate such lowlife levels of questions seem just outrageusly unlikely. Or?
    • Keep in mind ... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lead Butthead (321013)
      that merit is unecessary in the said lawsuit (see SCO) but only need to generate enough FUD to halt or slow adaptation.
    • Re:More FUD from MS (Score:3, Informative)

      by johnMG (648562)
      As GNU/Linux gains marketshare, Microsoft will become more and more desperate, and the teeth will *really* come out.

      This is related to why I like the way GNU handles their official projects: you assign copyright to the FSF when you contribute to GNU projects. This means that the buck stops with them. They own the copyright, and they are doing the distributing. If MS wants to sue them, my guess is that RMS (or another FSF rep) will go to bat and either the patent will get nullified (dunno the correct termi

    • Bye bye Microsoft. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MikeFM (12491)
      Seems like a death cry to me. When a sofware company can't get it's own software working properly and turns to filing more and more patents just so it can sue other companies that is a sure sign that something is terribly wrong. Is Microsoft going to become a huge version of SCO? Rather than making products they'll just try to cash in on anyone else that tries to make a product. To bad they're big enough to cause a lot of damage on their way to the bottom.
  • by bigpat (158134) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:37PM (#15005499)
    and already owns more than 4000 patents, including many patents on fundamental, but trivial technologies, like double clicks.

    Patent the triple click or click(n + 1) and sue the bejesus out of Microsoft for all those times you have been waiting around for something to open and you just keep clicking.
    • > > and already owns more than 4000 patents, including many patents on fundamental, but trivial technologies, like double clicks.
      >
      > Patent the triple click or click(n + 1) and sue the bejesus out of Microsoft for all those times you have been waiting around for something to open and you just keep clicking.

      Patent #13,378,008,135: Method for trebuchet-Barcalounger-based propulsion. [trebuchet.com]

      The present invention propulsion devices for software developers, developers, developers, and, more particularl

    • It's actually news to me that Linux deals with clicks at all. I thought that was more in the realm of the X-Window (or Xorg) project.
    • by TekGoNos (748138) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:17PM (#15005953) Journal
      Microsoft's double-click patent only applies to buttons on handhelds (or, as they word it : "limited resource computing device", and later "Small, mobile computing devices, such as personal desktop assistants including hand-held and palm-type computers and the like").
      And if I interprete the patent [uspto.gov] correctly, even then, only to physical buttons.

      And I still think that the patent is bogus.
      (You know, it's an innovation because ... well ... everybody did this, but never on ... well, you know ... small, portable computers. Yeah, there, it's a complet novelty.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:38PM (#15005516)
    What Ballmer is saying is this: if (and that's a big if) there's patent or IP imfringement anyhere in the Linux kernal, they'll look into it and take legal action if they have to. Should MS not enforce their rights, they're hosed and the stockholder get's POed. It's a sound business decision and, frankly, so obvious that it should not have even been reported. It falls into the "duh, no shit, sherlock" category. So what else is new? This ain't FUD people, this is business as usual.
    • by TechnoGrl (322690) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:42PM (#15005555)
      This ain't FUD people, this is business as usual.

      The really, really sad thing is that you are absolutely correct.

    • by heatdeath (217147) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:44PM (#15005591)
      They're sound business tactics, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're right or make sense. Leveraging a monopoly is also a very sound business tactic.
    • Good (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mfh (56) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:55PM (#15005707) Journal
      I welcome a Microsoft lawsuit against Linux. If MS can point at Linux open source code and make claims -- the claims must be backed up with hard evidence (and stalling tactics would be frowned upon as bullying by many, thus hurting MS in the media). The Linux legal team could argue that since Microsoft has a right to view Linux code and raise legal concerns about it, then the Linux "team" (ie: open source community) must also have a right to view the Microsoft code, and scrutinize it heavily as well, for GPL infringements. Which code will have more infringements? Care to hazard a guess?
      • Re:Good (Score:5, Informative)

        by pieterh (196118) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:58PM (#15006348) Homepage
        Bzzzt. Wrong.

        I've never heard of a patent lawsuit where the defendant was allowed to inspect the plaintiff's source code for other random violations. It probably made sense when you made this up but it's not the way the world works.

        Take random huge Linux user, e.g. a large bank that runs 70% of its servers on Linux and is migrating the other 30% as fast as it can. Now produce a patent with 17 claims. Now if large bank cannot disprove each and every one of these 17 claims, they must stop using Linux immediately, or pay whatever the patent holder asks. It is up to the defendant to break the patent claims.

        Microsoft will not enforce their patents, if they have any that they think undercut Linux, not because there is any real defense (there is not) but because they will wait until Linux is well-enough established that the patent negotations will go smoothly.

        Patent licenses are a large planned revenue stream for Microsoft, and they are only possible when there is a large captive public of infringers who keep infringing. Thus, Linux growth is actually good for Microsoft, seen from this point of view.

        Where the whole lovely effice collapses is when we see that for ever dollar MSFT can hope to earn from licensing "their" IP in this way, they will spend ten times that fighting and settling patent ambushes.

        Patent holders have a huge power. Look at NTP's extortion of RIM. Microsoft think they can use this power to extort future Linux users. But it's a very risky gamble because MSFT are a lovely target for extortion themselves.

    • by justsomebody (525308) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:58PM (#15005740) Journal
      What Ballmer is saying is this: if (and that's a big if) there's patent or IP imfringement anyhere in the Linux kernal, they'll look into it and take legal action if they have to.

      Unfortunately, too late for MS. If they did that 2-3 years ago, they might've even succeded. It would be easy to pick on standalone home developers, a free open season on Linux hackers.

      Now? Not really. Too many corporations are getting money from Linux and they will fight for their piece of pie. If they would proceed with this steps, all they would achieve is corporate fight without any rules, but no gain.

      One case that proves what I'm saying. OIN http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/10/ 1321238 [slashdot.org]

      MS is just too late with this idea as every time.

      Should MS not enforce their rights, they're hosed and the stockholder get's POed.

      Unfortunatelly, MS stockholders stand just as much chance as SCO.

      It's a sound business decision and, frankly, so obvious that it should not have even been reported. It falls into the "duh, no shit, sherlock" category. So what else is new? This ain't FUD people, this is business as usual.

      In bussines, timing is everything. MS has missed this oportunity (as every other time). While I agree with your saying it isn't FUD, it is not sensible reality either. It would like MS is declaring the start of the last battle in this war (First they ignore you, they they laugh at you, they get scared, they fight, they lose), where MS is not fighting, but pissing against the wind. And this is business as usual to.
      • Now? Not really. Too many corporations are getting money from Linux and they will fight for their piece of pie.

        True. When we're talking about Linux-loving corporations we're talking about corporations like Big Blue. And Big Blue has bigger (or at least more) guns than Microsoft in the case of a full-scale patent war. Add to that companies like Novell or Sony and you get a force that can just walk over Microsoft. Heck, they could simply walk into Mordor if they wanted to.

        Also, as has been already pointe
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:38PM (#15005518)
    Who exactly do you sue? Linus Torvalds? Stallman? A bunch of working class coders who send in patches in their spare time?
    • by cbreaker (561297) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:43PM (#15005578) Journal
      Perhaps. Little shit lawsuits haven't stopped the RIAA. Microsoft has *much* more money then them, and they could possibly sue 100,000 people and not even sweat it. They could sue every Linux vendor, every medium and large enterprise using it, and do it all in your home country.

      Most of the suits would be bullshit, but they could do some serious damage.

      Microsoft has done some sordid things in their time, but I do fear the potential of Microsoft's wrath much more then anything else. With that much money on hand, there's no limit.
      • would never happen, SCO could do what they did because they have nothing to lose. if microsoft went nuts with lawsuits they have a lot to lose, and IBM would be more than happy to pick their bones clean.
      • by jesterpilot (906386) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:49PM (#15006259) Homepage
        So they sue 100k people in the US. On the other side of the Atlanctic Ocean, all their precious patents are futile. Oh, and there is some woman in Brussells who is not very happy with the M$ monopoly. She's got some power over there. But the negative press about the suits will NOT be futile on the other side of the ocean. Linux will be totally legal in Europe, while every newspaper tells people 'they couldn't beat Linux by technology, now they try it The American Way' (Europeans are on average not very impressed by the merits of the US legal system).

        The fun is, there is more than one ocean. On the other side of the Pacific one, US patents are worth less.
    • That is easy to figure out. You sue the person/company with the cash.

      That means anyone making money off linux or using linux. Just like SCO delivered warning letters for anyone using the 2.4 kernel before their big lawsuit (we got one of these from SCO's general counsel), Microsoft will do the same. Lawsuits follow the cash and therefore IBM will be the first sued.
    • Easy; you simply tie up the large vendors (Redhat, et al) with legal actions and put cease-and-desist orders on the developers and you're set.

      MS could do this without breaking a sweat.
    • You sue the users. Writing code covered by a patent without a license is illegal, but so is using it.

      Of course you can also sue the coders, if you feel like it.

      Patents are pretty broad. And of course ignorance isn't a defense, so you're legally obligated to have memorized all umpteen millions of existing patents so you can be sure you're not infringing on them.

      (Sometimes I think that last point is the strongest anti-patent argument there is; the bar is set so low you're effectively guaranteed to be in viola
  • by ImaNihilist (889325) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:38PM (#15005519)
    Ballmer is just saying that he wants to challenge Linux Torvalds to a chair throwing match. What better place to do this than in a court of law? There's a lot of other things in a court room to throw, too. Personally, I think Ballmer is going to kick his ass.
  • But we've got dibs on the single-click.
  • if i get in a car accident and i refuse to dismiss the idea of any back/neck injuries arising on the spot, does it mean i'm an evil litigation-happy opportunist?

    he would be considered unfit to run the company if he wasn't capable of producing similarly guarded responses by default.
  • So, let's say Ballmer says he'll never pursue legal action against Linux. And decides 2 years from now to do so anyways.

    What happens next?

  • by jimmyhat3939 (931746) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:41PM (#15005547) Homepage
    I just wish Microsoft would stop with this behavior and actually work on their core products. It's been nearly 5 years since the last major revision of Windows--it's getting kind of ridiculous.

    I think the best analogy for Microsoft's current situation is when Apple was struggling to come out with Copland. At that time, Apple flailed around a lot trying to figure out ways to make money. Ultimately, they concluded they needed to find a way to start all over with their OS. Microsoft will wind up doing the same, eventually.

    In the meantime, let's hope their flailing won't harm Linux.

    • by grovmalet (785341) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:00PM (#15005762)
      I just wish Microsoft would stop with this behavior and actually work on their core products.

      But they are focusing on what they do best...
    • Oh come on...the patient business is proving to be quit popular these days. How many companies are we reading about that can't make a dime and then they start to sue people and win because they filed some absure patient first? The "buy-it-now" patient and the double-click patient are great examples of this. Its the new business model. Can't make money by marketing and implementation. So now you can make money by thinking up something and then patienting.

      In traditional ./ equiquation
      1.) Think of idea
      2.) Pati
    • by Zathrus (232140) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:22PM (#15005998) Homepage
      Ultimately, they concluded they needed to find a way to start all over with their OS. Microsoft will wind up doing the same, eventually.

      I don't think that's a foregone conclusion, although it would be a welcome one. They're going to put out Vista first though, come hell or high water.

      As the NYT article [nytimes.com] states, MS holds backwards compatibility sacred. And yes, they've broken it in small ways in the past (XP SP2 was probably one of the largest breaks in recent years), but nothing big. They're scared of breaking it in a "big" way because they know it could cause market fragmentation -- if I'm stuck on Windows because of some proprietary app that we lost the code for years ago and that's essential to my business, well if Windows 2010 breaks it, then why should I stick with Windows?

      Frankly, I think they're a little over-concerned on this front. Yes, there are a number of apps out there like that. But that's solvable now -- they could spin up an entire virtualized copy of XP in a VM. It'd be slow, but it'd at least work. And most businesses would stick with Windows over the alternatives because that's what their IT knows, it has the widest range of apps available, and the widest hardware support.

      Heck, how much crap could they be rid of if they simply ditched DOS and the entire 16-bit layer? What about for crap like WMF and other archaic data formats? Would ditching FAT32 as a bootable FS (or an FS for "special" files, like profiles and swap) buy anything?

      Of course, I suspect that that's not the real sticking points when it comes to "compatibility". There's craptastic API calls all over the Windows API. There are entire layers of APIs that MS stopped promoting years ago, but are still used. And what about the craptastic IE5/6 renderer? Talk about a support and development nightmare.

      Apple had the "fortune" circumstance of being a bit player. Microsoft doesn't. If Apple fragmented its market share, well, there wasn't all that much to lose in the first place. The same cannot be said for MS, and MS's entire business plan has revolved around a unified OS (supplied by it) for decades.
      • by ansible (9585)

        But that's solvable now -- they could spin up an entire virtualized copy of XP in a VM. It'd be slow, but it'd at least work.

        Doesn't even have to be that slow. With Xen, you taking only a small performance hit, 2% to 8%.

        The trick, of course, is to get the VM guest OS applications to interact with the rest of your system in a seamless fashion.

    • It's been nearly 5 years since the last major revision of Windows--it's getting kind of ridiculous.

      You are right, it has been nearly 5 years, but I don't know that it is getting ridiculous.
      Windows XP is fast, (relatively) stable, pretty, and easy for the average user. Microsoft has kept it patched and updated (to some degree), and provided a service pack for some larger upgrades. And at the same time they've released several versions of media center, tablet pc, etc. All the while building the tools f
      • I don't know what the world needs from Vista, but if Microsoft wants to actually be the innovation powerhouse that they sometimes pretend to be, they should figure it out. They've got money to hire some bright people to think up new things that we'll find useful. Fifteen years ago, I didn't know I'd need a web browser, and now I spend hours per day in one. Ten years ago I didn't know I needed an IM client, and now I use one constantly. Et cetera and so on. And let's not forget better security.

        I know the pac
      • by WebCowboy (196209)
        Windows XP is fast, (relatively) stable, pretty, and easy for the average user.

        XP can be MADE to be fairly fast, but it can even more easily be made to be a big, slow pig.

        For some time hooking up a stock XP machine to the 'net would bring it crashing to a worm-infested halt within minutes--literally. XP has reached a point of stability but for a great deal of its lifetime it was unstable as hell--mostly because of its massive vulnerability to exploits and "turned on by default" philosophy regarding service
  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:41PM (#15005552) Homepage
    Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. ... That SCO group, was it? And if not, I'm sure we can find someone to pretend to be an expert and falsify information like we paid SCO, er, *head explodes*
  • These patents simply stifle competition and therefore advancement, so it stands to reason that Microsoft, being the kind of company they are, will practice underhanded methods such as this.

    They are simply incapable of any real innovation and never have been, so they stifle and steal ideas and use marketing muscle to sell it as thier own.

    I'd say these methods have a limited lifespan, as is clear with Vista.
    They are being beaten to the punch due to lack of this innovation, by Apple, by Google and by Linux.

    No amount of FUD or threats is ever going to stop that, time to move over microsoft, as your going to be played at your own game and your going to lose.
  • by DrFrob (568991) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:42PM (#15005561)
    I seem to recall playing around with an Apple IIe program when I was a kid that taught you how to use a mouse. I swear there was some double-clicking involved.
    • I seem to recall playing around with an Apple IIe program when I was a kid that taught you how to use a mouse. I swear there was some double-clicking involved.
      But Microsoft's patents are different. They only apply to a limited-resource computing device. An Apple IIe with 64K of main memory, 64K of auxiliary memory, and 32K of ROM just doesn't fit the bill... err, wait a minute...
  • by FecesFlingingRhesus (806117) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:43PM (#15005572)


    I suspect that the Open Invention Network [openinventionnetwork.com] was set up to defend against this very possibility. If Microsoft makes a move the alliance will use their patents to counter. Which the companies involved have a pretty comprehensive portfolio.
    • Yeah, that's just the thing. You can't mess with Linux based on your patents, because friends of Linux -- Novell, IBM, et al. will just crush you. You think MS has a lot of patents? IBM has received over 2,000 patents annually for over ten years (making it the #1 recipient annually for just as long)!

      That's why SCO had to do it with copyright. Violating copyright is like getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. As soon as you say the word "patent", though, everybody who has something to lose i

    • "I suspect that the Open Invention Network was set up to defend against this very possibility. If Microsoft makes a move the alliance will use their patents to counter. Which the companies involved have a pretty comprehensive portfolio."

      This sounds like a Star Wars plot only better. Too bad you can't have voice over sound effects of snythetic breathing and symphonic music of the Imperial march theme.

      Darth SourceSafe: "The IP is strong in this one"
      Ob1_compile to
      Luke SyntaxWalker: "Luke, use the source"

      I ne
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:43PM (#15005579) Homepage Journal
    You mention intellectual property. What's going on in terms of Microsoft IP showing up in Linux? And what are you going to do about it?

    Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I'm not going to comment. But to the degree that that's the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy. And when there is something interesting to say, you'll be the first to hear it.

    All you're seeing in that answer is "we have an obligation to our shareholders to protect our rights if we're being infringed". And if there's something interesting to say (in the mysterious future), he'll let Forbes know about it.

    Taking that comment to mean MS is threatening to sue various companies over Linux infringements is akin to screaming the sky is falling when a bird shits on your head.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:44PM (#15005586) Homepage
    and by they I mean Microsoft's management. At a time when their status quo has lead them to a debacle with Windows development, all Ballmer can think of is lobbing bombs blindly at the enemy. He's proven himself to be no real tactician nor to have a good eye for managerial talent.

    I own stock in Microsoft and want to see these asses go. Stop wasting my money on threats against Linux and start getting Vista out. You idiots cannot get blood from a turnip, which is about what your suits against OSS developers will amount to. The only way to keep the value of my stock up is to develop a product that brings in more revenues, and suing Linux developers won't do that.

    Fuck you Ballmer, Allchin, etc.

    -From a shareholder who sees right through your wag the dog campaign to CYA.
    • At a time when their status quo has lead them to a debacle with Windows development, all Ballmer can think of is lobbing bombs blindly at the enemy.

      He was asked a direct question about it. What should he have done? Lied? Run away? I suppose he could have just said "no comment," but all things considered, don't we want more transparency, not less?

  • by ChrisGilliard (913445) <christopher,gilliard&gmail,com> on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:45PM (#15005600) Homepage
    He didn't state that he's sure that Linux has violated Patents, but he's saying that if they did (as some experts say), they would be forced by their shareholders to take action. This is entirely true and will always be true in every situation. If someone materially infriges on a corpoations patents and there are substantial damages to the corporations ability to make money, the corporation has a duty to it's shareholders to enforce the patents. Balmer really doesn't have a say in this matter he has to act.
  • We're pathetic... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by soren42 (700305) * <j@son-[ ].com ['kay' in gap]> on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:45PM (#15005603) Homepage Journal
    What is going to take for the open source community to fight back? To stop porting code to Windows? To stop releasing Firefox for Windows? To create artificial incompatibilities - I know that's counter-productive, but let's talk politics and economics, for a second.

    If the U.S. government won't use the Sherman Anti-trust Act to stop Microsoft, we need to rely on one of the fundamental principles of capitalism - Adam Smith's invisible hand. We need to stop buying, supporting, using, and working with Microsoft software. I do know how crazy that sounds, but revolutions require revolutionary thinking.

    Many of you claim that you use Windows because your employers do - that's a crock. Make a personal choice. I work for a Fortune 50, in an enterprise-level position, and I haven't owned a Windows machine in over 5 years. I have may 98% of everything I need at home and work function with Mac OS or Linux. In the extreme cases (that last 2%), I use CrossOver Office. Once (ONCE) in the last five years, I had to borrow a colleagues' Windows machine to complete some training - because our server software was so out of date that the manufacturer's Mac drivers didn't support the old protocols. Every opportunity I have to recommend standards, I oppose the implementation of further Windows desktop or server deployments.

    Not, seriously, I'm not crazy - I know all of this isn't feasible for all of you. Don't do anything to risk your livelihood, your sustainable income, or the ability to feed your family, but seriously ask yourself... "Am I doing everything I can to support Linux and Open Source, and help prevent the patent threat that Microsoft represents?"

    So may on Slashdot these days have become Microsoft apologists - they aren't that bad... their UI is far superior... I have to use them at the office... all the good games are only written for Windows... ad nauseam. We need to use what power we have to stave off a serious threat to the technologies we are personally passionate about. We are the developers, the administrations, and the infrastructure of the nation and world's IT organizations. We must stand strong if we want to have any options. Because after Linux, it's Mac OS, then Solaris, then AIX, until all that's left is Windows. All that's left is crap. Yes, it is *that* slippery a slope.

    And, if we stand united, we can affect Microsoft's profits. Make their shareholders listen. Make the board of directors require policy changes. I don't hate Microsoft or any company - but this "Patent Cold War" is despicable.

    I am not advocating overnight change 180 degrees. Only that you ask yourself one simple question every day...

    "Am I doing everything I can to enable choice in technology?"
    • Re:We're pathetic... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by vdboor (827057)
      What is going to take for the open source community to fight back? To stop porting code to Windows? To stop releasing Firefox for Windows? To create artificial incompatibilities - I know that's counter-productive, but let's talk politics and economics, for a second.

      Well, I'm going to get a good laugh if KDE4 (actually the libs only) are ported to Windows and form a nice alternative to .Net based applications while being truly cross-platform. Not that I'm confident it will happen but it has a lot of potent

    • Adam Smith (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vlad_petric (94134)
      ... lived in the so-called "age of reason". The economic theory he created is pretty much based on the principle that people act rationally and in their best interest when doing an economic transaction.

      Unfortunately, that's simply not true. Perhaps the best example is the herd behavior that's very cleverly exploited by Microsoft. Not to mention the efficacy of Microsoft-sponsored FUD. There are actually people out there who consider that Windoze is more secure and stable ... no kiddin'.

    • Re:We're pathetic... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by leereyno (32197) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:14PM (#15005911) Homepage Journal
      "Am I doing everything I can to enable choice in technology?"

      Creating incompatibilities with Windows and other Microsoft technologies is doing this HOW?

      Please, don't be like Apple. They tried to do the whole 'we won't play ball with you' routine and look where it got them? Apple could be where Microsoft is today had they played their cards differently. But because they didn't they've consigned themselves to be a perpetual "also ran."

      Open source is about technology, not ideology. People in the real world choose it and use it to the degree to which it is superior and/or more economical. No one cares about the ideology of the developers. The more ideological someone is about a piece of technology, the less likely they are to be listened to for very long. No one respects wild-eyed zealots for whom computers and computer technology are a religion. People like that are eternally confined to the lower rungs of IT organizations because they lack the ability to be impartial and are by their very nature NOT pragmatic. Religion belongs in church, not in an IT environment.

      The best way to beat Microsoft is to refuse to play by their rules. The very LAST thing that Microsoft wants is technologies that are a direct replacement for their own. Such technologies are dependent upon their ability to interoperate with Microsoft's products. The better Linux and other open source technologies work with Microsoft's stuff, the more they will be used. The more they are used, the more impact they have upon the creation of defacto standards.

      You hate Microsoft, well guess what, no one cares. The people who make decisions about how their IT budget will be spent don't give a rat's ass about your feelings. The only things they care about are protecting their jobs and choosing the technology that is best suited to their environment. Creating incompatibilities with Windows or other "evil" technologies is a damned fine way to ensure that your preferred technology is NOT chosen.

      Lee
  • The more popular GNU/Linux gets, the more proprietary software companies and programmers will revolt. It's a simple clash of "classical" non-free software and open source software which we have seen glimpses of so far with SCO and other companies, but I'm afraid it's going to get worse.

    The good part about this is, however, that in a way, Steve Ballmer was right - Open Source software IS like cancer. Not in the harmful way as he had hoped his audience to invision, however, but in the sense that it will becom
  • IBM (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nohea (142708)
    This is just puff - if MS ever resorted to that, IBM would have to dust off their extensive patent collection and retaliate.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:49PM (#15005641) Homepage

    Red Hat and Novell? They're big enough to fight it, and even if they lose, I was using GNU/Lunix before they were around, and it'll still be available after they're gone. IBM? IBM have been building a patent portfolia for decades. Bring it on!

    Linus? Not even Microsoft could countenance a PR gaffe of that scale. People like Linus.

    The FSF? Well, Stallman is no Linus in the popularity stakes, but I'm sure he'd relish the opportunity to be given a soapbox to point out that patents are indeed the big threat to competition and choice.

    Whatever they do though, Microsoft will send one message loud and clear: they can't compete on technology, so they have to stifle the competition.

    Is that really how desperate they've become? If so, then that's a good sign for their competitors, both Free and otherwise.

  • corporate bow shot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hedley (8715) <hedley@pacbell.net> on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:50PM (#15005645) Journal
    I think a lawsuit (if it happens) whould be to discourage businesses from
    selecting Linux. I am sure there are a lot of corporate IT depts out there now
    that at one time would never have considered Linux, now are selecting it for
    all the reasons we use it for. Whats better is the growth has been a cushion
    for these IT managers to not have to be out there on their own. One way
    Microsoft can turn the table is to sow a little fear in the IT managers boss.
    Just a wiff of a patent lawsuit or some form of injunction and it would have
    the desired effect of steering some IT depts away from Linux and towards Microsoft.
    Its a bit hard from a conceptual point of view to see how you pin the tail on this
    one, whats injunct worthy here is not necessarily so elsewhere.
    Not to mention the ill will it may engender. Still corporate Vista is on track
    so they say, and thats the one Ballmer would be trying to force upon IT depts. The timing
    would be right, sow the lawsuit, reap the rewards.

    Hedley
  • Patents (Score:3, Funny)

    by Randall311 (866824) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:52PM (#15005679) Homepage
    Ballmer: What do you mean we can't patent the word "Start"?!! *picks up chair and launches across the room*
  • And here we go.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by beheaderaswp (549877) *
    I'm sure this is review for most of us, but this is the end game right here, right now.

    Microsoft has been hoarding patents, regardless of prior art, for some time now. The patent office will grant a patent, when it's not contested. They have 4000 or so now....

    Now comes the fun.... litigate.... and do so against open source. Leaving the cost of this litigation with the large Linux vendors who's pockets are not nearly as deep as Microsoft.

    And here's what they bank on: They can bankrupt the Linux movement fina
  • by NZheretic (23872) on Monday March 27, 2006 @04:59PM (#15005747) Homepage Journal
    Aside from the high probability that Trade and Antitrust officials worldwide would soon step in if Microsoft started using government granted intellectual monopolies to restrict the one of few remaining desktop competing OS for the PC platform, an open source IP companies own patents that Microsoft uses.

    Fedora's Greg DeKoenigsberg [fedoraproject.org] has finally posted a explanation on why Redhat has now included Mono in Fedora Core 5 [livejournal.com]:

    Fedora and Mono and OIN -- clarifications
    Sorry for referring to a magazine article that most people can't actually get to. My mistake.

    Let me give a little bit more detail, for the benefit of those who can't read the article in Linux Magazine.

    1. What is OIN, and why do they matter?

    OIN is the Open Invention Network. Prominent members include Red Hat, Sony, Novell, IBM, and Philips. (If I've left out your prominent organization, sorry.)

    The idea behind OIN: throw a bunch of patents in a pool. Make those patents available to open source developers, and to companies who support open source developers.

    More importantly: pool those patents to counterattack companies who might accuse us of infringing *their* patents.

    One of the biggest weapons in OIN is the set of Commerce One [siliconbeat.com] patents. Basically, Commerce One got lots of potentially scary patents on e-commerce stuff, and then they went bankrupt -- and the question "who's going to buy the Commerce One patents" was hot for a while. When a mystery buyer scooped them up, it was big news in certain circles.

    Turned out that the buyer was Novell. And they turned around and contributed them to the OIN pool. Well-deserved kudos to Novell.

    For those who prefer the "nuclear patent war" analogy: OIN is the NATO of software patents -- and the Commerce One patents are ICBMs.

    2. Where does Mono fit in?

    Mono is on the OIN list of "protected patents". Meaning, "if someone sues you for allegedly infringing a patent on this list, you can use any of the patents in OIN's arsenal to go after them."

    3. Why couldn't you tell us this in January, when you first dropped Mono into Fedora trees?

    The existance of OIN has been public knowledge for a while, but the specific applicatations that were to be protected were not. (And applicatations is a funny typo, so I'm leaving it in.)

    We were waiting for OIN to publish their "protected list" of applicatations. We didn't want to jump the gun. We started putting Mono stuff into our trees in January with the belief that OIN would be publishing their "protected list" any day now... any day now... any day now. For whatever reasons (good reasons, I'm sure), that didn't happen as quickly as we expected. By then we were committed to putting Mono into FC5, though, and so we had to make an uncomfortable public statement about "certain business issues" and so forth.

    I don't actually know whether OIN *has* published this list -- going to openinventionnetwork.com doesn't show this list anywhere -- but since our lawyer is now comfortable listing them in a magazine article, that's good enough for me. :)

    Hope this clears things up a little.

    Disclaimer: I AM NOT A LAWYER. I AM NOT GIVING ANYONE LEGAL ADVICE. I AM MERELY EXPLAINING RED HAT'S POSITION FOR OTHER LAYMEN LIKE MYSELF. MARK WEBBINK'S ARTICLE IN LINUX MAGAZINE IS MUCH BETTER, IF YOU CAN GET A COPY OF IT. SORRY FOR SHOUTING. HAVE A GOOD DAY.
    If Microsoft should choose to sue people for using projects under the umbrella such as Linux or MONO, the Mutually Assured Destruction clock hits midnight.

    Also see what Risk to USERS of open source from patent claims [slashdot.org]?

  • by Jerry (6400) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:07PM (#15005851)
    Ballmer would have been derilict in his duty "to the stock holders" IF he hasn't had MS coders scouring the Linux kernel source, and other FOSS projects, for YEARS, on the lookout for stolen MS IP. After all, UNLIKE Microsoft's practices, the development of the Linux kernel, and other FOSS projects, has always been and still is an OPEN PROCESS!

    Further, I have no doubt that Gate's lawyers would already have filed a legal action if they found MS IP in ANY FOSS project, especially the Linux kernel and FireFox. In fact, if they are aware of such violations they have a legal obligation to inform those projects so that the projects can mitigate the damage.

    No, the REAL QUESTION is: "How much Linux & FOSS IP is hiding in Microsoft's secret code base? I'll wager it's MILLIONS of lines of code.
  • by Pecisk (688001) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:11PM (#15005892)
    ...to bring "Microsoft Democracy(R) and Peace(tm)" in the world. We will just "nuke" everyone who will stand in our way to our last fort. Now we see why there is software patents. They are weapons. And again "we didn't know what monster it will create" from creators. No, you didn't. Because those who had forseen it, won't make such system in the first place.

    There is a reason why economics should be regulated by scientists.

    It is getting more and more farse. It is really all? It is all you can do? West? It is called progress? Capitalism?

    It is *sad* to see all what have been good, go. But it is has to go. Such thinking is dead end for free market and capitalism itself. Anyone sees it more and more.

    Less on my emotional and moral rant... Now we see "then they fight you" phase at it's maximum. Question is - will be there "and then you win" phase for us, free/open source software and small business? What Microsoft, sinking like Titanic, will take with it?
  • by truthsearch (249536) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:18PM (#15005958) Homepage Journal
    Any organization that applies for more than 1,000 patents in the previous year should be charged $100,000 per application. If they're going to bogg down the system they need to pay for it. That should at least slow them down a little while we wait for our congress to make software patents illegal (yeah, I know I'm dreaming).
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:24PM (#15006017)
    Linux/OSS isn't playing Microsofts game.
    Sue all you want. Open your war chest of patents and fire away, Have IBM join the fray and fire back with an army of lawyers and tons of prior art. Drag Donald E. Knuth to court and have him confess that he came up with large parts of the stuff everybody claims to have a patent on. Force people to join patent ammo interest groups and have 10-20 wisecracks come forward who've managed to pass "pattern-matching" and "bit-vectors" passt the patent office clerks, ready to sue MS to chunky kibbles - or step down for a mean xx million sum.
    Be it that in the end, 50% of Linux is actually 'illegal code'. 'Illegal' as in 'patent-thought crime'. Illegal as in 'may never use FAT' and 'may never use CF12xx encoding for characters.'. And so on. But never forget:
    Linux/OSS isn't playing Microsofts game. It's not about money. It's about nice computer stuff that's fun to lots of people. It's about software that does interesting things, not about making money. It's made to work without money. It's about PHP. Mozillla. Python. Blender. Not about Money.
    MS won't survive as a software-only company. They can sue, burn 5-10 billion and set back desktop Linux by a decade. And they have to if the shareholders demand it. But they can't win. Because OSS is not playing their game. OSS has more IT expert manpower than MS can even dream of. And it's machinery is fuled by passion, not money. That's what scares the piss out of MS.
    "... then they fight you. Then you win." QED.
  • Top Men (Score:5, Funny)

    by tmlrv (129747) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:24PM (#15006019)
    Ballmer said: 'Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property.

    Interviewer: Who are these experts?

    Ballmer: Top men.

    Interviewer: Like who?

    Ballmer: Top men.

    Interviewer: Can you give me a name?

    Ballmer: Top. Men.
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:35PM (#15006132) Homepage Journal
    I think Ballmer is a clown, but here is what was actually said:

    Question You mention intellectual property. What's going on in terms of Microsoft IP showing up in Linux? And what are you going to do about it?

    Question Well, I think there are experts who claim Linux violates our intellectual property. I'm not going to comment. But to the degree that that's the case, of course we owe it to our shareholders to have a strategy. And when there is something interesting to say, you'll be the first to hear it.

    This statement does not imply that the only strategy is a legal recourse. It doesn't imply that the strategy will not be a legal recourse either. It just means that MS will have to look at any problem case by case.
  • Bring it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwin@amiran . u s> on Monday March 27, 2006 @05:42PM (#15006205) Homepage Journal
    MS is on the death march toward Vista, the death march toward Office 2007, the death march towards a .Net strategy.

    Wars on the IE front, Wars on the server front, Wars on the standards fronts.

    Legal battles with various corporations, the patent office, and various governments.

    Let them come against Linux. Who are they going to pick a fight with, IBM? Redhat? Novell? Maybe this lawsuit will break the (MS) camel's back. I do know that discovery in any MS versus (Linux Corp.) case will be very, very interesting. Linux's dirty laundry is avaliable for everyone to see, but won't it be nice for (Linux Corp's) our lawyers to take a look at MS source, MS confidential e-mails, MS's internal documents?

    I think so. Not to mention that IBM'll be able to contribute a bunch of that stuff from their current discovery involving MS's contacts with SCO. And if IBM gets drawn into (Linux Corp) versus MS, I think very interesting things will happen.

    Not to mention that MS will never have any success versus Linux; even if they smear one linux company, the "community" will rewrite those portions, and move on.
  • by Jerry (6400) on Monday March 27, 2006 @06:02PM (#15006380)
    Daniel Lyons wrote a scathing article asking why Microsoft invited 300 of his fellow journalists to an "Important Event", which happened to be scheduled at the same time as Novell's BrainShare. He reported that MS techies demonstrated flying whizbangs with VISTA, doing tricks so complex that "Average User" could never master them. What he got out of the whole event was the VISTA was XP with additional worthless bloat just piled on.

    Apparently, Lyons must have been taken to the woodshed by Forbes (or MS) and this article demonstrates Lyons in his usual role as MS lawn jockey, dutifully feeding canned questions to Ballmer.

    The question of major interest, "will Microsoft sue Linux for IP violations?" is amazing in its bluff and bravado. There is little doubt that this question was designed to deflect attention away from the FAILED LAUNCH of VISTA and, simultaneously, to slow the already rapid adoption rate of Linux. It has failed on both counts because MS has become too transparent and too desparate.

    Microsoft (Gates and Ballmer) know FULL WELL that if they sue the Linux kernel poject they have sued IBM, Novell, RedHat, HP, several foreign governments and agencies, not to mention the US DOD, the NYSE, movie studios and PDA manufacturers the world over. This will open up counter suits claiming that MS has stolen Linux code/IP. Then they'll have to PRODUCE their proof, which will open up their own code to public scrutiny. Considering how many times they have already been convicted of stealing other folks code Microsoft wouldn't survive that revelation.
  • Oh my! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Monday March 27, 2006 @06:35PM (#15006656) Journal
    Please, please, let him do it. I hope he does and the litigation kill Linux... IN COUNTRIES WHERE THERE ARE SOFTWARE PATENTS. Then when people start to notice that those countries have a competitive disadvantage (at least in some areas), with respect to others that can use Linux and other OSS perhaps the whole idea of software patents will go down the drain.

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made. -- Jean Giraudoux

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