Steve Ballmer says "Linux stole our IP"

Written by Brett Thomas

November 17, 2006 | 16:30

Tags: #steve-ballmer

Companies: #microsoft #novell

Everyone who was a skeptic about Microsoft's open-source intentions got another reason to doubt today.

Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, gave a keynote speech yesterday at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference in Seattle. While he was there, a reporter asked him about the recent deal with Novell and the potential partnership that could be developing. In response, Mr. Ballmer told reporters about his interpretation of why MS made that deal - and what he had to say wasn't pretty.

Ballmer didn't really talk at all about interoperability or building better products - instead, it was much more about the $40m that Novell had to pay Microsoft. These payments are to cover for the fact that "Linux uses our intellectual property." Apparently, he wanted to "get the economic return for our shareholders from our innovation." Of course, Ballmer stopped providing any useful information at that point, instead switching to accounting talk of "off balance sheet liabilities" for every SUSE Linux user if Novell hadn't entered the deal.

If people in the open-source community were skeptical before, they will be more so now. Microsoft has leveled the "IP" complaint many times, but has never once explained exactly what intellectual property that Linux has stolen. Even in reporting of the deal, the $40m has never been associated with patent infringements. Comments like this end up sounding like vengeful rhetoric, particularly when one weighs in the $440m that Microsoft is paying Novell in the very same deal for "support." Such statements don't go very far to win the trust of a community that didn't really believe you to start with...

Personally, I'm of the mind that the man is like a PR black hole; and, much more often than not, his statements come across horribly. How can we forget his adamant declaration that his children are not allowed to own such things as iPods? Unfortunately, this time he just gave millions of potential users another reason to doubt, and instead stick to their competing product.

Could this be the sign of a good deal looking to go bad due to ego? Or was it just a bad choice of focus for Ballmer to reply with? What do you think of it? Tell us in our forums.
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