Thursday, June 14, 2007

Linspire, Xandros, SuSE

What do the three distributions have in common?

Yesterday, Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony announced that Linspire and Microsoft are now in a patent agreement. The announcement is quite confusing and it is not clear what Linspire stands to gain, though my guess is that there is a lot of money changing hands behind the scenes.

The announcement makes little or no sense because of its timing. This deal comes in the wake of agreements that Microsoft has made with two other Linux distributors. Despite the intensely bad publicity these have generated, Kevin is convinced that this is a great idea, and something the customers have been pleading for. I do not know of any Linspire forum in which people were thinking, "What we need is patent protection from Microsoft".

In fact, it is generally believed by geeks and lawyers alike, that the Microsoft patent claims will not hold up: either because of prior art, counter lawsuits, or because the workarounds will be all too trivial. There is also the possibility that if Microsoft does enforce its patents, it will cause a major rehaul of the US software patent business, which sorely needs a rehaul by now.

The other thing that Linux users get is "interoperability". With Windows Media files and Windows IM. This might be more reasonable, but if this is required, why should Microsoft team up with Linspire? Why not make their IM protocol known, so someone can write his own program? Why not develop a Microsoft IM for Linux, like a little known VOIP company did? How hard can it be for the giant eye at Redmond to do what a few hackers at Skype did?

Then there is interoperability with OpenXML which, despite its name, is far from Open. If interoperability is so important, then why isn't Microsoft writing an ODF plugin for MS Windows? Or cleaning up its act with OpenXML? There are countless clauses in the OpenXML spec which ensure that nobody but Microsoft can implement it well.

Is this the same interoperability which prompted Microsoft to break SMB2, just so that Samba couldn't work with it anymore?

In the most extreme case, if it really was interoperability, then why doesn't Microsoft release a version of its software for Linux? Like VMWare does? Sell your software directly to any Linux user, and not have to sign a patent covenant with each distributor separately. Linspire sells software through its Click and Run service, and including Microsoft software should not be too hard. If there is such a huge growing band of Linux users screaming that they need interoperability, then they must be willing to pay for it, right? Why not sell to them directly? And if they're not willing to pay for it, then why bother?

That's the other thing I am not sure about: this growing crowd of interoperability demanding customers. It could be that these are all corporate customers. How many corporate customers does Linspire have? And if it is personal users, then it must show up on the Linspire forums, right? Why are the forums so silent on the interoperability issue?

If you do check the forums on responses to Kevin's move, it is filled with confusion. There are longtime users who have a feeling of betrayal. This quote sums up the feeling of some users,

And Thanks to you for your betrayal. I really really feel bitter and used.

How much are they paying Kevin? I am sure they had you sign a contract sealing your lips for evermore but it wouldn't prevent someone with a shred of honesty admitting they were "ahead" in the deal. You certainly didn't do the deal for me.

It is so hard to lie about what the customers wanted, especially when the customers are vocal, and their needs are easy to assess. Dell's Ideastorm is an acceptance of this fact. If you lie about what your customers want, you will find out, very soon, and very vocally, from the very customers you lied about.

So what's the answer to my question at the beginning of the post?
Their users have this link fired up.