Following the discovery of Microsoft’s “A Few Perspectives on OpenOffice.org” anti-FOSS video last month, Linux bloggers have been thinking even darker thoughts than usual about all things Redmond — if that’s even possible.
But now there’s more! In its apparently ceaseless quest to attain new heights of hypocrisy — the company does say it loves open source, after all — Microsoft has now managed to shock and amaze once again.
How, you ask? Simple: By reportedly charging royalty fees to prevent Acer and Asustek from adopting Android and Chrome OS in their netbook and tablet offerings.
Are there even words to describe this kind of shenanigans??
‘E-Mail, Multimedia and Other Functions’
Sure enough, Microsoft plans to impose royalties on the Taiwan-based vendors “for using its patents in e-mail, multimedia and other functions,” according to a report in Digitimes. Among other such vendors, only HTC has signed up to license Microsoft patents so far, the report points out.
Some US$10 to $15 per handset is the amount in question, Digitimes notes.
“Since Taiwan-based vendors have not been in strict compliance with the requirement for royalty fees, adoption of Android incurs considerably lower cost to them than using Windows Mobile,” it adds.
Now, many Linux bloggers were still weary from the shock of the anti-FOSS video. Nevertheless, the latest news was too much to resist.
‘Probably Cheaper Than a Lawsuit’
“This is legal blackmail, nothing more,” wrote ArcherB on Slashdot, for example. “HTC is paying MS off because it was probably cheaper than a lawsuit (and probably gets the money back in WinMo7 licensing deals).
“This is about companies installing software that isn’t written by MS,” ArcherB added. “This is about not paying licensing fees, BECAUSE OPEN SOURCE HAS NO LICENSING FEES!!!”
Along similar lines, “It seems their strategy is to target Windows customers that are starting to make the switch to a Linux based OS,” jrumney observed. “Probably in an attempt to scare them back onto the Windows path, but I hope suing their customers backfires on them.”
‘Who Hasn’t Seen This Coming?’
And again: “This is why the cell phone industry is in as sorry of a shape as it is,” opined Shihar. “Only people armed to the teeth with both piles of money and patents dares step a foot into this market. Everyone is patenting the obvious next step, and then suing when everyone goes to take that obvious next step.”
The outrage went on from there, even as Asustek reportedly denied the assertions. What’s really going on here? Linux Girl knew it was time to dig deeper.
“Who hasn’t seen this coming?” began Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “Really…. folks have been predicting this for years. However, the more interesting question is, what has taken this threat so long to materialize?”
‘Every Gambler Loses a Hand’
The move is potentially dangerous for Microsoft, Travers asserted.
“Microsoft has been found guilty of predatory practices in violation of anti-trust law,” he pointed out. “There is a legal record which states that Microsoft has market power in the operating systems market. By asserting patents, Microsoft has allowed folks like Acer a choice of venues if they wish to sue the software giant for unfair attempts to extend or support their monopoly.”
There’s a chance, in fact, that “Microsoft’s patents could become unenforceable if they are found to be abusing them in this way,” Travers said.
What that means is that “Microsoft is willing to take substantial business risks to try to crush Linux on the handset and netbook,” Travers concluded. “This is the first major challenge to Microsoft’s operating system monopoly in quite some time, and they are doing what they can to hold it steady. Some risks may pan out, but at some point every gambler loses a hand.”
‘M$ Cannot Win, Only Delay’
It’s particularly notable that “M$ is not charging royalties to Google, knowing that Google will fight,” blogger Robert Pogson pointed out. “This is a divide-and-conquer strategy from M$ and a sure sign that they are in a weak position on software patents.”
Legally, “it would be much more efficient for M$ to get an injunction against Google than to sue a dozen smaller companies if they were sure to win,” Pogson explained. “While Google does not indemnify users of Android against patent suits, they would be well-advised to provide legal resources to anyone threatened by M$ for violation of patents.”
Either way, “this is M$’s last desperate attempt at stopping GNU/Linux,” Pogson said. “They have no competitive software on smart-thingies and have ceased to innovate, at least in proportion to their huge investment in ‘research.'”
Further, “as we have just seen in details of the Oracle v Google suit, software patents are extremely weak when the attacked party has the means to fight through all the layers of the legal system,” Pogson concluded. “These efforts by M$ may delay uptake of GNU/Linux for a few months, but as in SCOG v World, soon the world will see through the lies and the efforts will be in vain. M$ cannot win, but only delay.”
‘Don’t Expect Free as in Beer’
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.
“As long as software patents are allowed, you will see more of this,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “Just look at Apple v. Nokia.
“You can’t expect ANY company not to fight to protect their patents,” hairyfeet added. “At least from what I understand they are willing to offer fair license terms for their tech, but don’t expect to be ‘free as in beer’ if you create products that step all over someone else’s patents.”
Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson, who goes by “Tom” on the site, wasn’t so sure.
“‘Pay us a fee to use our (un-named) patents on Android and Chrome devices’ — Leopard, meet spots. Spots, meet leopard,” Hudson quipped. “This is no different than the ‘linux infringes on 235 patents’ FUD from the previous decade.”
‘Steve Ballmer’s Last Chance’
Now more than ever, “Microsoft lives or dies based on their OEM numbers,” Hudson explained. “The days of line-ups to buy Microsoft’s latest and greatest are a distant memory. In the age of ‘good-enough computing,’ almost nobody needs to upgrade their OS except when they buy a new computer. And no OS upgrade means no tie-in for an Office upgrade sale.”
Even on the business side, Microsoft’s “lock-in has backfired — Microsoft has to continue supporting XP and IE6 because businesses who are locked into IE6 can’t upgrade. Ouch!” she added.
As the high-tech sector recovers from the “Great Recession,” meanwhile, “hiring is going to pick up, but Microsoft can no longer sweeten the pot with stock options — they have to pay real cash,” Hudson asserted. “Part of this is due to Bill Gates’ regular sales of stock, but most of it is due to Microsoft no longer being seen as a technology leader.”
Windows Phone 7, then, is “Steve Ballmer’s last chance to show that Microsoft can compete in a fair fight,” Hudson concluded. “If their current ad campaign — ‘a phone to save us from our phones’ — is any indicator, they have a problem.”
Add to that “the paucity of apps,” she added, “and they might as well have asked Bill Gates to wiggle his behind for Jerry Seinfeld again.”