Novell and Microsoft: Stop with the FUD already

Unlike a lot of open-source supporters, I don't turn red with anger at the very thought of Novell working with Microsoft. Like it or not, getting Linux and Windows to work better together makes good, hard business sense. What I do find annoying is that Novell is continuing to feed Microsoft's FUD machine about Linux.

In an e-mail interview with Ian Bruce, Novell's public relations director, Bruce wrote me that customers wanted the Novell/Microsoft package, in part, because it "provides IP (intellectual property) peace of mind for organizations operating in mixed source environments."

It does? Since when?

There are many good reasons to buy into Novell/Microsoft. These include network directory, virtualization, and document format interoperability. IP protection from Microsoft isn't one of them. You might be able to get a good deal on SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) from Microsoft!

I talk to a lot of business people who have either already committed themselves or are considering using Linux in their data-centers and offices. Not a one of them is seriously concerned about Linux's IP issues. I also know many extremely bright IP lawyers. None of them think there's any real danger to Linux from IP.

For that matter, after Novell and Microsoft first made a deal, Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian spelled out that "Our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property." It bothers me like an ill-fitting shoe to hear someone from Novell using language that indicates that people feel the need for Linux IP assurance.

No, the only people talking up Linux and possible IP problems these days - since SCO is all but dead - is some loser named Steve Ballmer. You might have heard of him.

Ballmer is a great sales guy -- can't you just see him prancing around and shouting about his great deals at his used car lot in one of those awful local TVs ads? -- But he's no lawyer. About once a year, Ballmer shoots his mouth off about how Linux is violating Microsoft's patents. Nothing ever comes of it. Perhaps that's because way back when Ballmer first made his claims in 2004, the author of the study that Ballmer always refers to said that Ballmer had got it wrong.

Of course, Linux companies can be sued for IP issues. This is America anyone can, and too often does, sue anyone else for almost any reason. In fact, late last year Novell and Red Hat were sued by IP Innovation and Technology Licensing Corp. for patent violations.

"Just like Ballmer predicted," you say? How about "just how Ballmer orchestrated it?" It turns out IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corp. And who is Acacia you ask? It's a patent troll company. Eight days before it sued Red Hat and Novell, Acacia hired Brad Brunell, Former Microsoft General Manager, Intellectual Property Licensing, to be its senior VP. Coincidence? I think not.

But, and here's the important part, I'm betting that except for those of you who like me follow IP legal issues like a hawk, you've never even heard of this suit. It certainly hasn't made any difference to Novell or Red Hat's customers. Once in a blue moon an IP suit will come along that actually impacts end-users, like the RIM vs. NTP Blackberry fiasco, where a patent troll without any valid patents still managed to hijack hundreds of millions from a company. Most IP cases never come close to touching users.

So, the next time that Novell and Microsoft announce another step forward, please Novell, let's have no talk about how customers want IP protection. They don't. Let Microsoft talk it up, it's Ballmer's job to try to distract customers from looking too closely at Microsoft's junky products by talking up FUD about Linux, not yours.

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