I'd like to thank God, the academy, and Microsoft for making possible everything I've acheived to date...

You know how when people win awards, like an Oscar for example, they get up there and gush things like “I’d just like to thank my parents, and the academy, and my fifth grade drama teacher, and God for this award, omigod!!!”? Well, if I was put in a position today where I was going to have to gush on stage about, say, my computer use, then I know what I would say. There I would be, staring into the sea of admiring faces, and I would gush: “I would just like to thank my PC, the internet, and Microsoft... because as a Linux user I have naturally been complicit in intellectual property infringement and therefore owe Microsoft a good deal of money. Thanks baby, couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, and the cheque’s in the mail.”

Or that’s what Steve Ballmer reckons I should say, anyway.

Good ol’ Steve. There he was, hanging out at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference in Seattle having a bit of a Q & A session as reported in the Computerworld article Ballmer: Linux users owe Microsoft, and apparently “Microsoft was motivated to sign a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell Inc. earlier this month because Linux ‘uses our intellectual property’ and Microsoft wanted to ‘get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation.’”

Isn’t that nice? There I was, thinking that if I was going to thank anyone, to owe anyone for my techno-stuff, the list might include my significant other, a couple of programmer friends, Mark Shuttleworth and the Ubuntu developers, all those who worked on Debian before them and the mass of people involved in developing GNU/Linux in the first place... And now, all of a sudden, those people aren’t worth a damn because what I am ACTUALLY doing, according to our mate Steve, is trampling all over Microsoft’s intellectual property, wantonly using it for my own personal gratification and possibly my income, and I haven’t even paid for that priviledge!

I feel so dirty and cheap.

Most people in the FLOSS community think Steve and Microsoft are FUDslinging, and have made it clear that any so called infringement charge wouldn’t stand up in court. Furthermore, Pamela Jones says Steve should actually TELL the community where the bits in the kernel that infringe actually are, because then we could get rid of them or work around them. But apparently, all those of us who don’t use SUSE (and therefore haven’t paid our intellectual property dues) are infringing on Microsoft’s intellectual property, and someone will have to pay. Steve has been pretty generous though, and has mentioned that the deal with Novell isn’t exclusive and they are happy to make other deals with other companies (Red Hat, your name was mentioned) so that they won’t be infringing if they sign some burning parchment in their own blood.

What I would like to say to Steve is echoing Pamela Jones’s sentiments. Tell us where it is, Steve—this infringement you speak of. I’m sure lots of people will be willing to pick up a metaphorical scalpel and dig out the offending bit of code. I wouldn’t want to OWE you, Steve. I want to be free of any notion that I should be grateful and accountable to you. And I certainly don’t want you to own me, or any of the products that I use.

Now that would make me feel really dirty and cheap.


Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

With thanks to Fremantle Counselling to keep FSM editors sane.