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On Microsoft's feeble Fortune-based nastygram to Red Hat

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Comment Microsoft has lost its guts. Maybe they're on the floor of Bill Gates's "think week" cabin.

Chairman Gates owned a steel sack once upon a time. You all remember the missive deriding computer hobbyists as software stealing criminals. "I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment," Gates wrote in 1976. "Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software."

It would seem that Microsoft now relies on the likes of Fortune to perform scoldings. The software maker, as you've no doubt heard, placed a terse article with the publication. In the piece, both Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and top lawyer Brad Smith go after the free/open source crowd, saying 235 Redmond patents have been violated - 42 of them in the Linux kernel, 65 in the GUI (graphical user interface), 45 in OpenOffice, 15 in e-mail and another 68 scattered across various other packages.

You have to read all the way to the end of the Fortune story to grasp the full feebleness of Microsoft's grousing.

Reporter Roger Parloff asks, "If push comes to shove, would Microsoft sue its customers for royalties, the way the record industry has?"

"That's not a bridge we've crossed," replies Ballmer, "and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you."

With this unbelievable, weak reply, Ballmer chose to threaten many of Microsoft's largest customers with the possibility of legal action, if they've picked up Linux, as most of Microsoft's largest customers have. In so doing, the CEO replaced Gates's straight-forward feistiness of yesteryear with a vacuous grimace delivered via the vehicle of a business publication.

Microsoft has such little respect for its customers these days that it won't even yell at you to your face - a task for which Baller is uniquely suited.

Let's be clear here. Microsoft has no intention of suing its customers. It's already tortured users enough with product delays and under achievement. Only pure insanity would drive Microsoft to mimic the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) by clogging US courts with lawsuits. We don't think Microsoft is insane.

Time wasted not hunting Google

The actual meat behind Microsoft's Fortune play seems thinner than a well-beaten carpaccio.

As we read it, Microsoft wanted nothing more than to remind Red Hat that it will need to go ahead and strike a deal like Novell. Microsoft sees the free software types maneuvering the GPL to undercut its voucher/no lawsuits against users agreement with Novell. The software maker also, no doubt, noticed Dell behaving badly by agreeing to support Ubuntu on computers. And, of course, Microsoft sees the same trends as the rest of us in the middleware game where open source has really taken off in recent months. Red Hat could enjoy the most revenue from this trend thanks to its new Exchange program.

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