LJ Archive


The Benevolent Racketeer

Nicholas Petreley

Issue #160, August 2007

We present a fair and balanced picture of the other side of the Microsoft covenant not to sue.

We at Linux Journal have taken a dim view of the Microsoft/Novell deal and Microsoft's attempts to monetize the work of the Open Source community by offering covenants not to sue. However, in an effort to remain fair and balanced in our coverage of these controversial issues, we are publishing the following testimonial from a happy Microsoft customer who wishes to remain anonymous because he doesn't exist.

Dear Linux Journal Editor,

I must take issue with the negative stance Linux Journal has adopted with respect to Microsoft software patents, licensing and covenants not to sue. Our company represents one of the customers to whom Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia refers when he says, “Customers have indicated to us that it's problematic to them that when they work with open-source software, they don't have similar intellectual property protection.”

I find this to be so true. Our company simply could not adopt open-source software without intellectual property protection. Open source represented a grave liability to us because no company claimed control over it. Put simply, how could we have confidence that someone would not sue us for using Linux unless we paid someone not to sue? We were anxious to pay protection money to solve this problem, but to whom would we pay it? We would gladly have paid Red Hat, but Red Hat did not threaten to sue us, so what would be the point? That's the problem with Linux. It is not owned by a single entity with the power to license protection, and those who distribute it are remiss in threatening to sue in order to make intellectual property protection available to paying customers.

We feel Linux advocates and developers should be grateful that Microsoft stepped up to the plate in this regard. Now that Microsoft has graciously offered to solve this dilemma for us by threatening to sue us for using Linux, we have finally found a reason to adopt Linux and open source. We now know where to send our protection money.

Technically speaking, SCO was the first to offer us a covenant not to sue, and we were almost ready to adopt Linux in a big way when SCO provided us this option. We backed away when IBM and Novell tried to make it difficult for SCO to follow through. Why? IBM is much bigger than SCO. If IBM created enough trouble to put SCO out of business, it would set us back to square one, without anyone to pay protection money. This was a risk we were not willing to accept.

Then Microsoft approached us behind the scenes and offered us a sweet deal. We agreed to pay Microsoft $20 for every copy of Linux we would install, in return for which Microsoft promised not to sue us for $400 per copy throughout the terms of the agreement. This deal not only provided us with the intellectual property protection we customers demand, as noted by Bob Muglia, it also saves us $380 per copy of Linux until the agreement expires! Think of it. Even if we deploy only 1,000 copies of Linux, that's a $380,000 savings. With an economic incentive like that, how can anyone question Microsoft's commitment to the open-source model?

This is not the first time Microsoft volunteered to assist us with intellectual property protection. Some years ago, Microsoft conducted an audit of our Windows and Office licenses, which brought to our attention the fact that we had not organized and stored our product licenses properly. Microsoft solved our problem easily by selling us all the replacement licenses we needed. It may seem unreasonable to some people to pay twice for the same software, but we beg to differ. We think of it as paying not for software, but for peace of mind, which is what intellectual property protection is all about.

Some like-minded customers advised us to adopt SUSE Linux, as it is covered under the Microsoft/Novell covenant not to sue. We consider this an acceptable option, but not the ideal one. It is much more effective to deal directly with the threatening party.

Think of it this way. Our regular fire insurance covers accidental fires. We've had two accidental warehouse fires (minor ones, thankfully) since we bought the policy. In what way did our insurance protect us against accidental fires? It didn't help at all. In contrast, we donate money in a manila envelope each month to another “insurance” company who has sworn to protect us against arson. Since we started making those payments, we've seen a 100% reduction in fires caused by arson. You can't argue with that kind of success, and it's all because we deal directly with the source of arson fires.

I hope this testimony has opened your eyes at Linux Journal. It's not too late for you to secure your own intellectual property protection.

Nicholas Petreley is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal and a former programmer, teacher, analyst and consultant who has been working with and writing about Linux for more than ten years.

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