Fork off Mr Ballmer!

Fork off Mr Ballmer!

Any serious, committed user of GNU/Linux who hasn’t heard about the Microsoft/Novell deal has either been slightly dead or at the bottom of an Albanian tin mine shaft wearing a particularly sturdy pair of ear muffs.

Seriously though, the digital wires have been humming back and forth with the original story and the chain-reaction stemming from it. Is it all a storm in a teacup, an over-action? And, does it really matter to the mere, humble end-user like me? I think that it does matter.

It matters because, if you are a typical GNU/Linux end-user like me, you may have found your way to it after enduring the progressive miseries of Windows. In my case, the culprit was the notorious Windows ME. By the time I was ready to jump the proprietary ship, the monitor was heading towards the unopened window. Once I was able to compute in pleasure, stability, ease and security, my interest turned more and more to the ethics, philosophy and politics of free software.

I came to realise that this was the guarantor of the technical aspects I took for granted but as the saying goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance and whilst this may be a dry, tedious business it is as necessary as pension planning. Nobody likes it but come the day when they present you with the retirement clock and you are looking down the financial gun barrel...

So, who has been saying what? Nicholas Petreley, a former editor of Tux Magazine. He was near inchoate with anger and did not pull his punches. He wasn’t the only one. The Samba team also laid into Novell, as did Petreley, for putting short-term business gain before the long-term interests of the Linux community, which has given freely to Novell many of the GPLed tools we all take for granted. Meanwhile, over at the ever dependable and informative conduit at Groklaw, Novell was accused of getting cute with the GPL and Eben Moglen is reported as saying that the upcoming GPLv3 will be re-drafted to make the Microsoft/Novell deal a violation of the GPL. Bruce Perens was unequivocal in his condemnation: Novell was the new SCO.

When names of such quality and recognition are speaking out so vehemently and with much greater knowledge and experience than me, I’m inclined to sit up and take notice. You don’t need to be classed as an FSF purist or ideological bigot to see that something is happening here that concerns all GNU/Linux users which, if left unchecked, will lead to further attacks on free software.

Think I’m exaggerating? Well, if you don’t believe me just look at the reaction of a certain Mr Steve Ballmer. Barely had the ink dried on the deal, which the spin told us was to protect Novell customers from action by Microsoft for infringement of their patents, when Ballmer immediately started to crow that other Linux users could owe his company money for using its intellectual property! Excuse me while I reach for the Imodium. Here’s a little puzzle for you Steve: rearrange the following words—black, calling, pot, the and kettle. At least Novell hit back very quickly and refuted Ballmer’s interpretation. The words “constructive ambiguity” spring to mind, a term that implies the issue is being fudged.

Perhaps I am being too naive or too cynical. I’m not an IT professional or a business consultant and ill-equipped to tease out the machinations and tactics of large corporations but like most other GNU/Linux users I know that Microsoft is (in)famous for retailing an inferior product and deploying a lot of FUD in doing so. It may come as a something of a surprise therefore to discover that Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical/Ubuntu fame has been accused of spreading FUD too! He made a pitch to Novell developers to jump ship and join the Debian-based distro. I read some of the reactions. They were unanimously hostile.

Well, that was quite an interesting tour of the current furore. Doubtless the story will continue and we will all have to decide whether or not to have a SUSE uninstallfest. What did I do? Sorry, but I’m not saying lest I make a fool of myself. I’ll sit on the fence for the time being and keep a watching brief on what the experts decide to do and recommend. In the final analysis, if you have the inclination and the skills you can always fork off and develop your own distro or contribute to someone else’s efforts.

As a parting note, I will make this observation: when Warren Buffett donated his billions to Bill Gates’ charity to dispose of at his will, Gates gave Buffett his first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Perhaps someone should have underlined the following passage: “men of the same trade seldom meet together, even for the purposes of amusement, but the conversation turns into a conspiracy against the public”. Need I say more?



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. For Smith, monopolies were only one of ways by which regulation could restrict the freedom of self-interest. Smith was opposed to hampering freedom through the imposition of all types of overbearing regulation. Torvalds is onto something when he says the beauty of the GPLv2 is the simple quid pro quo. What Stallman, Moglen and company are envisioning for the GPLv3 is also a "conspiracy against the public". They may talk about freedom but they don't walk the walk.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

> What Stallman, Moglen and company are envisioning
> for the GPLv3 is also a "conspiracy against the public".

Really ? How is that ?
The process is open, the intentions are clear.
Please point to us where's the conspiracy, so that we don't die stupid.

> They may talk about freedom but they don't walk the walk.

If you are not allowed to murder or rob someone on the street ... does that mean that you are not free ?
Real freedom, according to many, is the presence of laws that protect your freedom from others.

And btw ... if we have today reliable Free and open source Software it has little to do with Tolvards.
And I would take his word with a grain of salt ;)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

> The process is open
Stallman and Moglen will do exactly what they want to serve their agenda. It has nothing to do with the public. Well, only in the sense that they believe "nanny knows best".

> Real freedom, according to many, is the presence
> of laws that protect your freedom from others.

You should read Smith before quoting him. Laws can cut both ways but I think that's probably lost on you.

> reliable Free and open source Software it has little to do with Tolvards.

How well do you know this person "Tolvards"? If it is the person I think you mean, I can understand why you might hold that opinion given that you equate Freedom with having a couple of guys telling you what you can and cannot do.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

One thing I don't understand about your comment is how the GPL3 is a "conspiracy against the public". What will the GPL3 do that is conspiracy?

>They may talk about freedom but they don't walk the walk.

The FSF has always been about the four freedoms. Their agenda is to educate the world about the four freedoms as well as facilitate the development of free software. To help with this goal, they developed the GPL which was intended to keep free software as free software. Up until recently, version 2 of the GPL has served the free software community very well. The reason why Stallman wants a new license is because recent events have shown us threats that WILL deprive us of the the four freedoms for the software we write.

Laurie Langham's picture

It is time for the Free Software community to completely expel Novell from any association among our number. We can no longer afford to be seen in their company.(See " Novell puts MS code in OOo"

Novell are now one of 'them', not one of 'us'.

One cannot sit down at the negotiating table with Satan without losing their soul, not to mention their business if they are so foolish as to lay that on the negotiating table as part of the attempted deal. This, Novell has done.

The aims of Microsoft Corporation are diametrically opposed to our own.

We aim to provide free software to all, and we provide our own hard work, free of charge, in the selfless interest of attaining that goal. We welcome and encourage all groups who are working to attain similar aims.

Microsoft are one of the most ruthless corporations in the world, and aim to establish an absolute global monopoly by any foul means possible, with the aim of supplying the most expensive software their monopoly position will allow them to charge. Microsoft Corporation aims to destroy all other software groups because they present a threat to Microsoft's absolute monopoly aspirations.

Microsoft Corporation is composed of a greater number of very expensive corporate and patent lawyers than programmers, and the low standards of their ultra-expensive software products dutifully show it.

We are only composed of programmers and users, with very few, if any, lawyers, and the high standard of our free software dutifully shows it.

Microsoft, and all profit-driven corporations, know that they must eventually lose out to the high standards of free software being produced by our ideologically pure aims, and they rightfully recognise us as their most deadly enemy in spite of all their billions of profit-dollars.

For this reason, the Free Software community must recognise that Microsoft is our worst enemy, who will stoop to any legal trickery imaginable to destroy us, and absolutely eject any group that attempts any serious negotiations with them

Christian Fernandez's picture

I think this is something lot of us think..
please take a look at the sites below and consider joining :-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It is hard too understand how two mature companies such as Microsoft and Novell could jointly exercise a great joint effort to create a loop hole in GPLv2, then crawl into it.
1) They each know what they did in advance.
2) Each sees an occasion to use the work of others for profit.
3) Each created a legal back door to use without public knowledge.
4) The Spirit of the GPL gives each the benefit of doubt. Now there is no doubt from any right thinking person.
5) When you make money quickly and effortlessly some innocent person will loose that amount that you have gained.
6) No moral fiber was considered on either side of Microsoft and Novell companies.
7) Both Microsoft and Novell are willing to sell code given in good trust for their own pockets.
8) All that approve of this union are once again, only considering themselves and their personal gains. Each approval has a self interest attached. If you do not believe this, just read each blog that does approve and you will see it is self-serving.
9) Microsoft and Novell are each guilty of the above, then should we shoulder the responsibility of the outcome?
You can not possibly give me Windows Vista or SuSe for free.
I will pay for what software I use to the people who are trusting me to do so. I will demonstrate more character than the cruel injustice happening to Free/Open Source distros.

Kenneth R Hughes

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you were to ask a random person "Would you like to see the whole world working together for the benefit of everybody", what do you pre-guess the answer to be? And if you do ask somebody, were you right?

That the open-source co-operation/development model has gotten Microsoft to do what they currently might think they're doing is only the beginning. It doesn't matter that they have an "army of fitters" (people that perceive computing to be only Windows because that is all they have learned thus far).

That open-source has beaten Microsoft hands down on software quality, global co-operation, and democratic behaviour to date is only the beginning.

I look forward to the next stage when the open-source communities, with their deeper knowledge and fair ethics, develop together in marketing and support.

That day is not far away, and all that Microsoft can do thus far is make public noises about promising not to attack one small element of us.

Divide and conquer won't work Mr. Ballmer. Threats won't work. And we see you cannot change your ways.

Now, back to my original question .....

Patrick Dickey's picture

I chose to reply directly to this one comment, however my comments apply to every set of comments here. And I want to apologize in advance for my long-winded rant here. I can say for certain that some of the people at Microsoft use as much Linux and Open Source programs as some of you do. I can also say for certain that the actual 'programmers' and most of their development teams do want to make quality products. And in some (IMHO most) cases they succeed. You're equating the entire workforce at Microsoft with the words of a few people who speak.

I'm a strong advocate of Open source and Free Software (both free in cost and free in 'freedom of speech'). Do I agree with the Microsoft/Novell deal? Nope. Not at all. Do I swear off Microsoft as the Great Satan? Nope. Not at all. Microsoft is doing the same thing that RedHat, Novell, IBM, HP, Canon, Kodak, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Toyota, and every other company on the face of this Earth is doing. They're trying to make money. Granted, they are stealing IP from other companies. But, look at one of the options in KDE (in fact it's the option I have set up on my Debian desktop). You can have KDE start up looking almost EXACTLY like Windows XP's startup. If you want to throw stones, then KDE is stealing Microsoft's IP by using the same startup screen. Yes, I know Microsoft probably stole it from Apple. Which leads right back to my earlier statement about throwing stones.

I have said before, and will say again. If I could find a program (e-mail client) that can download every e-mail message from my hotmail/msn accounts, then I would switch over to Linux full-time. I'm not talking about screen rippers, but programs that can get all 120 pages of e-mails. Yes, I know. I shouldn't even be using hotmail or msn. Hmmmm. My ISP (who bundled my msn account with their service) may or may not care if I use it. But, I'm paying for the msn account, whether I want to use it or not. And since it's cheaper then the other ISP's in my area, I'm not going to fork out more money as a matter of principle. Unless someone else wants to pay the difference, since some of us live on tight budgets.

I beta test for Microsoft, along with other companies. Does that make me in league with Satan? I would hope not. Since I run my web server on Linux, using Apache. I could very easily set it up on IIS. In fact, it would have been easier to set up my web server on IIS and have everything working out of the box. But, I chose to set it up on Linux. As for my beta testing, it's really simple. I don't care who the product is for (or who the manufacturer of the product is). If I can help them to make it better, then I will. Isn't that what most of you are doing with Linux and Free Software? I know that it's what I'm doing.

For those of you who switched (or are dual-booting) to Linux from Windows, I present this question. Overall which one was easier to learn and use? I'm not talking about crashes and BSOD's or the occasional virus (which are around for Linux and Mac OS as well) or spyware. I'm talking about just starting the computer, and using it. Installing programs, and running things. If you say Linux is, then I'd love to know what distro you're running. Especially since it's the one that has installers for every program you want or use.

Finally, I love the constant complaining about BSOD's and crashes with Windows. And the constant quote of "cleaning all of the viruses and malware off of the computer". I've used Windows for the better part of 10 years (and DOS before that). I've had three viruses on my computer. All three of them, I knew I infected myself, and I prevented them from spreading. I've had some ad-ware on my computer. But nothing that made my computer stop running, or require a reformat or other extreme methods to fix. Oh wait.. I did install Xupiter one time. That trashed my computer within about 30 seconds. But, I don't think that it was something that could be attributed to Windows. More likely, it was something that was attributed to XUPITER.

My point is this. And this point holds true, regardless of whether you run Windows, Linux, Solaris, Mac OS, or any other Operating System. If you get infected by anything (or your customers get infected by anything), it's because you (or your customers) didn't do enough to protect yourself. For the people who will reply here that they are protecting themselves by dropping Windows, and going with Linux, I say this: In a few years, when there are as many viruses and malware attacking Linux as there are Windows, then I want you to come back here and tell me "I'm protecting myself by dropping Windows and switching to Linux." Right now, I want you to look at how secure Linux and Mac OS is, compared to Windows. You'll find three things. 1) They are all insecure. 2) No one is looking at Linux or Mac OS as 'potential targets' and 3) The only difference between the insecurity of Linux and Windows is the amount of time it takes for a fix. Although there are still issues in Linux that have been around for years. Just like there are issues in Windows that have been around for years.

Finally (and I know if you're still reading at this point, you're breathing a huge sigh of relief). Some of you would love to see a world that has only Linux and Open software, without Microsoft or Windows. Just like some people would like to see a world where it's just Microsoft and Windows, with no open software. The truth is, the world is going to have both. Businesses, Schools, and even homes will have both. Get used to it. Get over it. Instead of talking about how great Linux is over Windows, and how Microsoft and anyone who even considers the possibility of liking their products, is in league with Satan, try fixing your problems. Standardize Linux. It's totally stupid that only one or two distros (that I know of) can install using either .deb or .rpm files. EVERY distro should install using whichever file you have. If you're developing programs, then you need to develop them for both formats. Read this next sentence carefully and pass it on....

********** The easier that you make it to install and use programs that the average person will want, the easier it will be to convince the average person to switch to Linux. ************

You're not making your job any easier. So, get on the ball.

What sites are out there that are trying to standardize Linux???? Do you know, and do you have links? Are you doing ANYTHING to help those sites to succeed? Or are you just sitting on the bench, and whining about how you have to clean other people's computers, because they won't switch to Linux? If I was a developer or a programmer of any merit, I would be doing whatever I could to make the Linuxbase or the GNU projects work. I'm not, so I'm trying to put a fire under the butts of those of you who are...

Putting on my fireproof suits, because I know that a flame war is coming... As always, I could be and probably am wrong on some of this. Feel free to correct me constructively. I'll be happy to learn something new, if you'll be happy to teach me.

Support Operation Green at
Smile.... Someone out there cares deeply for you.

Terry Hancock's picture

Honestly, Linux was easier to understand. That's because its designers actually want me to understand what I'm doing with it.

Windows was easier for me to simply let it do whatever it wanted to do without consulting me. I don't consider that "learning to use" in any meaningful sense, so I discount it.

After a few hours, I can have a Linux system doing what I want. Likewise, after a few hours, I can have Windows system doing what Microsoft wants me to be allowed to do.

Discounting the lack of ethics in Microsoft's business practice on the grounds that "they're just trying to make money" is encouraging moral irresponsibility. I'm trying to make money too, but I'm not willing to do what Microsoft does to get it.

I have no illusions that IBM or Red Hat is without fault ethically, but I think in the grand scheme of things they are -- at least currently -- behaving more ethically than Microsoft. And that does count for something.

However, much more to the point, I don't have to believe Microsoft is "the Great Satan" to be annoyed and hostile towards it. Microsoft is a hazard and a great danger to individual freedom. It really doesn't matter if that's malicious or accidental. It is a circumstance which must be countered.

I don't hate rattlesnakes, nor blame them for their poison or their behavior. But I'll kill one just the same, if it's a threat to my children. It's a natural enemy, that's all.

Laurie Langham's picture

A number of points Patrick makes, concerning the operation of open software versus Microsoft, are true enough.

When Open Office 2.0 was first released I installed it onto an old laptop with Debian 'Sarge', and an old Windows 98 partition, so I could run Frontpage(another area where open software is noticeably lacking). In the Windows partition I only had to click on the Open Office.exe and it installed itself in about 5 minutes flat. In the Debian partition I had to struggle to get a recalcitrant Alien to agree to convert the RPMs to Debs, along with a general reluctance for the OS to get the office suit up and running, without considerable frustration. Getting OO 2.0 up and running on my Mandrake desktop machine was yet another frustrating can of worms. So Patrick's criticisms of open software are perfectly valid.

Yet, a couple of years earlier, I had deleted the original Windows XP off of that same laptop, and hadn't regretted replacing it with a free software OS for one single second.

When we consider Microsoft, we are not simply looking at another commercial software company trying to keep its head above water in the dog eat dog world of commercial enterprise.

Microsoft is the biggest software corporation in the world, bar none.

Microsoft didn't get to this position of world dominance because it built a better mousetrap. It got there via the exploitation of the most cunning and ruthless business and legal strategy, not by the inherent quality of the software it was trying to flog.

Look at it this way. You go down to the car yard to buy yourself a nice new Corvette. You go to take a look at the motor, but the salesman tells you, "Sorry mate, the hood's welded shut because of all the secret patented engine equipment that has to remain hidden because you might try to copy it,"

The thing sounds OK, and lots of flashing graphics come up on the dashboard to assure that its working OK, so you decide to buy it.

"Sorry mate, but the corporation doesn't actually 'sell' cars, they only 'lease' them to you under strict agreements of license."

So you figure it might still be worth all this BS just to listen to that ZO6 motor starting up each day and the thrill your wife and kids will get out of driving it.

"Other users," he says. "well, for a special deal costing less than the leasing price of three Corvettes you can also let your kids drive it as well. But, if you want your wife to be able to drive it too, it might be better if you paid our special Corporate License Fee for 'Extended Usage', which will only cost you about the license fee for five Corvettes, and, for minimal extra individual charge, each user can obtain individual access to our special Bulk Users Privileges Package, with such handy extras as 'Door Lock', 'Starter Motor', 'Gear Box', 'Brakes' and 'Steering Wheel' being password activated at no further cost." This is typical of the crap deals offered to business organisations who want to use Microsoft.

Not only that; you also get an OS that spies on itself, and tells their corporate lawyers and accountants whether all your leasing agreements are paid up to date and reports on the software payments of other users of Microsoft with whom you might happen to have any online dealings.

If you tried to sell cars with the same ridiculous terms attached as a Microdaft OS, you would be out of business in two days.

Apparently reputable business managers go out and tie themselves up with such unworkable and expensive deals. Go figure.

Author information

Gary Richmond's picture


A retired but passionate user of free and open source for nearly ten years, novice Python programmer, Ubuntu user, musical wanabee when "playing" piano and guitar. When not torturing musical instruments, rumoured to be translating Vogon poetry into Swahili.