In the interview, 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. And when there is something interesting to say,
you'll be the first to hear it."
Mueller reasons that, "By 'intellectual property' he must
mean patents. IP is a broad term and includes diverse
rights, but it's hard to see how Linux would infringe any
trade mark rights or copyrights held by Microsoft. However,
given the size of the Linux code, it's almost certain that
it will violate a number of patents, and some of them, such
as the ones on the FAT file system, may indeed be
held by Microsoft."
Others who are also concerned with open-source and patents
don't see Ballmer's recent comments as being anything new.
"Well, I wouldn't say that [these comments are] noise, [but]
it's actually less than they've said in the past," said
Daniel B. Ravicher, executive director of the Public
"The 'experts' I think [Ballmer is] referring to is my
report from a couple years ago about Linux and patents. But,
I've been over that and directly responded to his
misinformed interpretation of that study," said Ravicher.
Specifically, though, in the current situation, Ravicher
said, "I like Florian a lot, but I think I see this a little
differently than he does. To me, these statements by Ballmer
are nothing new. Of course, there's always a threat that
Microsoft will use its patents against free software. I just
don't think that this interview by Ballmer manifests an
increase in that threat."
Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL (Open Source Development Labs),
agrees with Ravicher.
"Microsoft subtly makes these threats from time to time to
maintain a level of uncertainty for Linux vendors and users,
said Cohen. But, "We know Microsoft would fall on its own
sword if it launched a large suit against a Linux vendor or
user and would lose any credibility it might hope to gain in
the world of open source software, which needs to be an
increasing aspect of its business strategy"
"Also, Linux and open source software are simply too infused
in the enterprise for Microsoft to alienate its own
customers, who are also Linux users. In fact, studies are
showing that Linux has overtaken Unix and is now displacing
Windows on the server. It is also making inroads on the
desktop, and last week's Vista delay opened that window even
Microsoft is too smart a company to attempt these losing
efforts and now, more than ever, needs to embrace open
source instead of hiding behind a strategy of FUD,"
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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