In a speech last week at an internal event in London, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Red Hat customers would have to pay the software giant for their use of its intellectual property. The comments are just now coming to light thanks to video distribution of the speech on the Internet.
"Red Hat users will have to eventually compensate us," he said. "People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense have an obligation to compensate us."
Microsoft has long said that the open-source Linux operating environment violates several of its patents, and the company has in recent years signed cross-licensing agreements with various Linux vendors such as Linspire, Novell, and Xandros. Despite ongoing talks, however, Red Hat has thus far avoided signing a deal with Microsoft.
Ballmer said that Microsoft would like to create an intellectual property framework that would bridge the proprietary and open source software (OSS) worlds. This framework would govern the interaction of software from both sides of the fence, which today are licensed in completely incompatible ways. It's unlikely that such an agreement will come about quickly, if at all, however.
Ballmer's threats aren't helping matters. Despite Microsoft's claims about patent infringement, the company has never actually documented how Linux has violated its intellectual property. Open-source proponents say these claims are thus surprisingly similar to baseless accusations from The SCO Group, which recently lost a long-standing and frivolous legal battle against the open-source community. If Microsoft is serious about interacting with the open-source world, it's time to put up or shut up.