Undoing the Novell deal with Microsoft

The title of this commentary is “Undoing the deal with Microsoft” but it applies equally well for Xandros and Linspire.

All three of these companies have made public statements (as I recall) that Linux does not violate any Microsoft patents yet they encumber Linux anyway in that regard simply because Microsoft pays them money and they think that it will help them sell their versions as against freely distributed versions. Each of these companies also have their free version as well but of course they want to sell a copy most of all.

But, what can you do to undo those agreements?

Well, maybe nothing. Or, maybe very little or perhaps quite a bit.

Of course if you are in control of a number of client/server licenses you can be much more effective than if you only seek to satisfy your own personal needs. However, if Microsoft is going to lie about it and Novell (et al) are going to lie about it, I suppose you could be tempted to do likewise. I am not suggesting you present any false situation. Fraud is not offset by even more of it.

However, you can be persistent in your efforts to talk to the “sales departments” of these organizations. They all have sales people. And they respond to email as well as phone calls if you wish.

Let them know you want to consider their distribution for use and license. However, also let them know that you understand that Microsoft has made promises regarding patent protection or not suing customers and that you require to know which of their patent (numbers) are covered.

If you do not have a patent number, you do not have a patent. And if you do not provide the patent number neither can you sue someone for having violated it, You do not have one. The patent number is a key piece of information. So, your job if you accept it, is to ask those vendors you may otherwise be interested in to detail for you just which patents apply to which of their products. You know, like you pick up a device off of the table and low and behold there is a big number on the bottom, right? You want to see the number. They have to know the number, right? Otherwise, what are they selling? Snake oil?

And, I must say that this exercise is not just to give those three companies a bad time nor consume all their sales time. Although it will affect that. Each of these companies have products that either do or may show up in other distribution. And they could be covered by a number of licenses including GPLs 2 or 3. Beagle is one from Novell. I have seen it in the Xandros and even Ubuntu distribution. So asking Novell the details there may be important to you. And, you can bet that Microsoft thinks it has desktop search patented up the zing zang. Xandros's file manager is another that deserves special mention because it is a clone of Windows Explorer and I must say the easiest file manager available for any of the Linux distributions. And, I am sure that Linspire has a product or two they want to see used with other distributions. It could be their Click-N-Run?. Or, it could be some of their media file capabilities.

The point is that each of these three companies need to understand that Linux customers are not as dumb as Microsoft customers. Linux customers need to know and in fact deserve to know the patent numbers applicable to any claimed coverage, redemption or promise not to sue. Otherwise, it is just fraud. And if they insist upon engaging in fraud, you will not do business with them or with any of the products they put out.

Fair is fair. If they expect you to part with money to buy this or that, they can at least identify what it is they claim to deliver. And that particularly includes any promise not to sue. If they want to claim that all Microsoft patents are covered by the promise, get it in writing and insist on the complete list of numbers.

Hey, this is just doing business.

I have used all of these suspect distributions. And it would be sad to see them go away. But, fraud and deceit is not going to cut it. If Steve Ballmer wants to open his big mouth he can say something intelligent rather than just try to trick and deceive.

Ah, you say, they do not know the patent numbers? Duh. I thought they hired intelligent people to run these companies? Maybe I was wrong. Dead wrong. And, if so they can go the way of the SCO boys.

Idiots and fools identify themselves by what they do. Dishonest people identify themselves by what they say. But, they are both looking for stupid customers. We have all seen what has happened to the victims of the SCO scam. Was any one of those victims insisting on proof that SCO held the copyrights? The federal copyright office does keep a public list of copyrights and their assignments. Lawyers at least should know that.

What we have seen is so-called intelligent customers paying real money for what does not even qualify as vaporware. At least with vaporware there is the promise that the product will eventually exist. But, Microsoft and SCO both have promised no such thing at all. No product. No service. No support. No nothing. So when you are asked to pay money for nothing you would think that the vendor could at least provide some details. You know, the kind of details that patent lawyer could look at and say “you are protected against this and that and perhaps another thing” but “not that”. Microsoft hopes you are so dumb you do not ask. (I do not expect to get many emails from readers that fit that category.)


A reader points out that Microsoft should be able to give the Novell patent numbers too. And that is so. Without those numbers they are both selling snake oil the disease for which they know not. All patents have numbers. Without a number you do not have a patent. Without a patent any pledge not to sue is meaningless. Fraudulent, in a word.