R. Fink | As ye sue, so shall ye reap?

The Packet Rat

Packet Rat

Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti

Finally, the Rat understands the full implications of Microsoft's recent deal with Novell over Linux. Of course, so does everyone else, now that Microsoft has claimed 235 patent violations in Linux.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, told Fortune magazine about the alleged infringements in an interview that appeared May 14.

His assertion sounds like the overture for a legal fusillade that could lead to global thermonuclear war ' or at least enough lawsuits to keep a petabyte of intellectual property lawyers employed for life.

Which, of course, made the Rat reconsider his chosen profession for a moment. 'Maybe I should have taken the LSAT after all,' he mused to his spouse as he read the morning news feeds.

'Oh, come on, Dear,' Mrs. Rat replied. 'You can't even find your car keys. How would you find patent infringements?'

Regardless of the Rat's career choices, the Microsoft declaration will be sure to cause problems for the cyberrodent ' if only because of the potent warheads of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt it comes tipped with. 'This much FUD is going to make my Windows-to-Linux migration plans more complicated,' he said through clenched teeth.

Microsoft seemed satisfied in the past to wage the battle against Linux through its SCO Group proxy, but SCO's lawsuit against IBM ' claiming IBM contributed SCO intellectual property to Linux ' has been slowly circling the drain for some time. With Windows Vista sales hardly taking flight, and Microsoft's next-generation server operating system ' Longhorn ' still not ready for prime time, it seems that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer decided it was time to unleash the lawyers to buy the Redmondians some time.

Meanwhile, Novell may start selling a lot more SuSE Linux, because Novell and Microsoft's software patent agreement shields the distribution against Redmond's wrath. But that agreement hasn't won Novell a lot of friends. The free-software community has risen up to protest Novell's moves, urging people to dump SuSE. And many open-source license-holders are considering relicensing key libraries to the Limited GNU Public License to exclude SuSE from using them.

In an open letter and petition to Novell CEO Ron Hovespian, Linux and open-source senior statesman Bruce Perens spelled out the world of hurt he and others planned to lay on Novell for taking Microsoft's money. 'In short,' he wrote, 'now that Novell has chosen not to hang together with the Free Software community, we've chosen not to do so with you.'

The petition, now signed by more than 3,000 techies, urges Hovespian to not accept any covenants protecting Novell's users unless they are applied to all of the free-software community as well. Somehow, the wirebiter suspects, Ron is going to pass on that idea. Or at any rate he will until he figures out which set of thumbscrews he likes better ' and Microsoft's at least are gold-plated.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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