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Quality of threats rather than quality of software


By Scott Bradner


Microsoft seems to have changed tactics.   Once upon a time Microsoft was proud of its software and tried to sell it on the basis of what it could do.  But the tactic of 'selling the steak' (as the advertising biz puts it) or even 'selling the sizzle' (which you do if you do not have steak) seem to be in the process of being pushed to the background.  Microsoft seems to have switched to a protection racket approach.


This shift has been happening for a while now.  Microsoft has been warning users that the intellectual property rights picture with open source software is fuzzy.  Now it has moved past merely issuing warnings to issuing implied threats. 


On November 18th that Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer told a Microsoft Asian Leader's Forum that governments which use the Linux operating system will get sued.  Balmer pointed out that a report last summer claimed that Linux violates more than 228 patents. (Detail, the report claims 283 patents) (  Balmer did not say that Microsoft was going to sue them but the threat was sure there.   But the threat was clear - if the governments did not stick to Windows software someone would come by to break their legal kneecaps.


Maybe Steve was thinking that SCO would be the enforcer. Microsoft has helped bankroll SCO's wacko multi-billion dollar demand for IBM to rescue SCO from having to rely on selling SCO's own software for its future.  The tea leaves do not look all that good for this effort.  But if SCO is successful they will try to collect hundreds of dollars per Linux system even though, by their own admission, SCO code (if there is any) would only be a minute percentage of the overall system.  I guess Microsoft would consider that a positive development and a lot easier than improving their software to actually compete with Linux.  Since Microsoft has buckets of numbers that purport to show that the total cost of ownership for Linux is higher than the total cost of ownership for Windows, the only reason anyone in their right (Microsoft) mind would chose Linux is because they thought it was better.


Microsoft is far from immune to patent infringement lawsuits itself.  According to published reports, Microsoft is already fighting more than 30 patent suits.  In the last year or two Microsoft has paid out more than two billion dollars to settle a subset of the claims.  Maybe there is an anti-Microsoft clone of SCO that will decide to sue Microsoft customers over their use of Microsoft software.  In this day and age it does not take much imagination to foresee that type of thing.  Microsoft recently had to extend its indemnification program to most Microsoft customers to mitigate this risk.  (ADD LINK)

People could still get sued and disrupted, as some companies were when SCO was trying to raise the pressure on IBM, but Microsoft has agreed to pay some of the expenses if that happens.


In any case, it is very sad to see Microsoft decide, along with most of the political advertising I saw over the last year, that defining their opponent as a threat to the listener is more effective than actually saying what you have or stand for.


disclaimer: As far as I know, Harvard only does 'come hither' ads and not 'escape from them' ads.  Maybe that is because there are good reasons to come hither.  In any case the above is my, not the university's, opinion.