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David Sugar [opinions]

The software protection racket [software-freedom-microsoft-mafia]

Again in the case of Intellivision, much like so many other of its “partners” (including Sendo), Microsoft demonstrates that their business model is based primarily on fraudulent and deceptive business practices. This is a company that finds it easier to use and control other people’s ideas rather than introduce their own, and often tries to claim privileged use of existing ideas by patenting other people’s existing and published works. To this they seem to now have gone head first into using IPR, the “Intellectual Protection Racket”.

Hence it seems clear to me that when Mr. Ballmer tries to threaten and otherwise intimidate legitimate businesses such as Red Hat with unstated patent claims, while impugning their professional and business reputation, as had recently happened in the U.K., I imagine this must be what in psychology is called projection.

This does not concern me directly because I work in the free world, that is, where freedom exists. However, this does not mean that I am unfamiliar with “business people” that are very much like Microsoft. Close to 20 years ago I came to live near the shores of the Atlantic, in Bayonne (NJ). I was at the time living in this lovely property that used to also be a confectionary which still had a commercial zoning variance. Hence, I originally opened Tycho Softworks there—initially to sell a user interface toolkit for QNX that I wrote.

It was not long before I heard from members of the “local business community” about needing “special insurance”. When I turned away their “sales reps”, I was asked out to dinner to explain my reluctance by a member of one of the local families representing the local business community. This is how it came that I went to dinner with a member of the Genovese family at this wonderful 5 star restaurant near Fort Lee, Capricios(sp), which was closed a few years later after a terrible dinner shooting incident.

I can hence imagine how Matthew Szulik from Red Hat must have felt when invited out to dinner by Mr. Ballmer from Microsoft back in 2005. What is generally known though only recently become public is that for over a year afterward Red Hat was being pressured to sign onto an agreement with Microsoft. Fortunately Mr. Szulik eventually made the correct choice, for Red Hat, for his customers, for even his competitors, and for the free world in general: Red Hat eventually said “no” to Microsoft.

Only after Red Hat said no, did Microsoft call Novell and find someone much more eager and willing to sell out their own customers and the community in general for tainted money. Of course it may come as a surprise to Novell that Mr. Szulik was concerned about what Microsoft was trying to do, and chose to actively consult with members of the community, even with those who would strongly oppose such an agreement. For this I believe Mr. Szulik showed considerably more class and consideration for others, even for his very competitors, than Mr. Hovsepein did in Novell’s willing to try throwing the community under the bus in pursuit of some Microsoft money.

During my dinner with the local don, I too offered to make a deal. But it was not like the kind of sellout that Novell, Linspire, or Xandros made. It was much simpler, and one I have lived by ever since. I agreed to stay out of their business, and the don kept his word about staying out of mine, as none of the New York crime families have entered the software licensing racket to date. I would be happy to make the same deal with Microsoft; just as I have no interest in selling drugs or prostitutes or other anti-social activities, I have no interest in entering the racket of selling proprietary software; I would be happy if Microsoft simply agreed to leave the free world alone.


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