Ballmer's Macaca moment

Ballmer's Macaca moment

Summary: A deal Novell signed as a lifeline is becoming an anchor and Microsoft, which tried to get some street cred by dealing with Novell, is now about as popular in the open source community as the guys at SCO. All because of a few ill-chosen remarks.


It's beginning to look like Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's outburst claiming patent rights over Linux may be his Macaca Moment.

You remember Macaca, don't you? S.R. Sidarth (right) was a little-known aide to underdog Senate candidate James Webb in Virginia this summer, assigned to follow and photograph incumbent George Allen.

It's common these days. They're looking for the rival to do something stupid.

Allen did. Sidarth's video led to other revelations and crystallized the nature of opposition to Allen. Webb won, narrowly, and will be part of a new Democratic Senate majority. Salon named Sidarth its Man of the Year.

Flash forward a few months to Ballmer who, after keynoting the PASS conference in Seattle, rashly claimed in the Q&A that anyone who didn't use a Novell Linux might henceforth be in Microsoft's legal crosshairs.

The unscripted remark crystallized opposition to the Novell-Microsoft deal in the open source community. Despite Novell's best efforts, the stain won't wash out. And as with the Allen campaign things just keep getting worse.

As Mary Jo Foley reports Jeremy Allaire, the lead developer of Samba whom Novell hired with great fanfare in April, 2005, has suddenly quit, citing the Microsoft deal and saying it corrupts the company.

A deal Novell signed as a lifeline is becoming an anchor and Microsoft, which tried to get some Linux street cred by dealing with Novell, is now about as popular in the open source community as the guys at SCO.

All because of a few ill-chosen remarks.  

Topic: Enterprise Software

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  • allISON

    Please at least get the name right.

    It's worse than usual -- Jeremy reads and posts here.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Rubbish Commentary

      Amen... If you're going to sandbag Ballmer for a slip of the tongue, the least you could do would be to get Jeremy Allison's name right.

      I doubt you even know the difference between Jeremy Allaire (created ColdFusion) and Jeremy Allison (works on Samba). Then again, why let a few facts get in the way of a good Microsoft/Novell bashing.
      • Bit more than a slip of the tounge

        Instead, we got a glimpse of what Steve Ballmer really thinks.
        John L. Ries
        • As in a 'Fruedian moment'?

          George Mitchell
          • Absolutely

            John L. Ries
  • paying bills

    I'm a software engineer. I have spent time and money getting degrees from Universities. I also spend time learning more about software and programming. These skills are not easy to learn and master and I do want to get paid a decent salary.

    Your previous article on OSS taking the cost out.
    One of the costs of software is salaries of programmers. Taking the cost out and you have programmers who dont get paid. Isnt this precisely thats happening at RedHat too. Didnt Marc Fleury make the comment that RedHat isnt spending the required amount on JBoss software development.

    OSS just does not pay programmers. Only the selected few get paid or you have to be at a company that donates software/money to OSS or be in a research project.
    To be in this select few you first have to do a lot of software development for free before they even contact you for the possibility of being in the select group.

    What OSS is doing is taking software programmers and making them into tech support. I'm a programmer, I like to get paid for programming and not for providing support to the non programmers.
    • Necessary cynicism

      1. Open Source is not to blame for an increasing lack of willingness to pay programmers. Certainly there is a lack of willingness to pay programmers what we have been but you will find this is driven by other factors (including "bad money drives out the good"). Your comments about the problem with Fleury and JBoss may have some merit but the truth is that Red Hat is a publicly-traded corporation which recently moved from the NASDAQ to the NYSE and has to answer to investor and analysts who are quite willing to talk about how bad "investing too much in research" can be. Were you paying attention when M$'s stock was pummelled after it changed "Longhorn" to "Vista" and announced new hirings to get it out the door?

      2. What OSS is doing is making a more free-lance approach to the creation of software affordable to more people. This does have a few advantages. Talk to any writer, photographer or other artist though and you will discover there are many many disadvantages in America at least to doing freelance work. The whole system is rotten, as far as the rights of creators versus the rights of distributors. At the same time, one of the things I and presumably everyone else was taught in art school was how to offer support for our creations and that it was our responsibility. So yes. Your last paragraph is dead on.

      OSS is not the cause though. It's the world that's changing.
      • Correction

        Microsoft stock declined after the company announced its intention to spend $ billions obtaining the resources necessary to compete with Google in the search ad market. You're right that the market foolishly penalizes investment, but the issue was not related to Vista.

        More generally, the software industry has matured like other industries, and now a few big companies predominate. Good ideas are still worth money in the proprietary marketplace, though the money is more likely to come from selling the idea to a large company than from a product.

        And OSS is (in part) a method of development which saves money by not paying the people who do essential work well. A company like Red Hat is then able to sell the software to organizations which do not take full responsibility for elaborate software in use.

        Services? Primarily a line item on the bill so that the senstivities of those being exploited for cheap development do not feel their ideas are being violated. If Red Hat eliminated services others could easily replace them, and Red Hat would probably not reduce its prices.

        As Red Hat tells investors, it's in the business of providing software.
        Anton Philidor
      • end of the road for SUN

        What are the consequences of OSS (Linux). Its replacing Unix and it pretty much looks like it makes the existance of Sun Microsystems questionable.

        If SUN continues along its current path things will only getter worse and ultimately hard working engineers will be laid off.

        A good company like SUN will cease to exist. Is OSS worth it when you look at it this way, especially when OSS dont recognize others patents and intellectual property and repeatedly keep violating them.
    • Programming What? Robots?

      "What OSS is doing is taking software programmers and making them into tech support. I'm a programmer, I like to get paid for programming and not for providing support to the non programmers."

      If serious - it looks like college was a waste of time.
    • So...

      ...don't work on free software. If your work is worth paying for, people will pay for it. If, however, you're primarily engaged in cash cow maintainance (and a number of large companies are), don't be surprised if the free developers eat your lunch.

      The free market doesn't guarantee anybody a living; that has to be earned.

      Oh, and about "providing support for non-programmers", if you spent more time talking to end users, maybe you'd have a better idea of how to meet their wants and needs (resulting in better software). Personally, I think all programmers should do at least a little tech support.
      John L. Ries
      • Techies need to learn to listen

        [i]Personally, I think all programmers should do at least a little tech support.[/i]

        100% agreed. As a software developer, project manager, and customer, I find that too often developers don't have a clue what their customer want. In meetings, getting the technical people to [b]listen[/b] to the customer is a nightmare. They spend too much time trying to impress people with how much they already know to actually learn something about the customer's needs and wants.
    • Sigh, yet another OT rant. (NT)

  • Gaffes are useful

    What people say in unguarded moments often provide useful insights into their personalities.

    Sen. Trent Lott's comments about the historic impact of Strom Thurmond's non-election as President in 1948 were interesting (I certainly didn't agree), but his efforts to explain it away revealed enormous political cowardice. Sen. Allen's "macaca" moment revealed him to be an abusive bully (which is a lot worse than being a racist). Ballmer's comments about Linux show him to be much the same, and have demonstrated that MS' seeming efforts to play nice are little more than a public relations ploy.

    Sometimes the most useful thing a public figure can do is to talk without a script.
    John L. Ries
  • Microsoft's Undisclosed Balance-sheet Liability

    NT influenced by Unix

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | (Gates:) "And through Windows NT, you can see it throughout the design.
    | In a weak sense, it is a form of Unix. There are so many of the
    | design decisions that have been influenced by that environment. And
    | that's no accident."
    | In light of the recent saber rattling about Linux and patents, the "There
    | are so many of the design decisions that have been influenced by that
    | environment" sentence is particularly interesting if these patent
    | threats include things that are prior Unix art. "In a weak sense, it
    | is a form of Unix" is also telling. I said before that I don't think
    | that's the case; I think the patent stuff is talking about things like
    | Samba and Mono, but even there the "influenced by that environment"
    | could be important in the court of public opinion if not in actual
    | law.

    Microsoft's stolen code and IP infringements

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | Soon, MS-DOS 6.0 was released, including the Microsoft DoubleSpace
    | disk compression utility program. Stac successfully sued Microsoft
    | for patent infringement regarding the compression algorithm
    | used in DoubleSpace...
    | F. Scott Deaver, owner of Failsafe Designs, says Microsoft is guilty of
    | the "outright theft" of his product name and intellectual property
    | (IP)...
    | Alacritech sued Microsoft in Federal District Court on August 11,
    | 2004, alleging that Microsoft's existing and future operating
    | systems containing the "Chimney" TCP offload architecture uses
    | Alacritech's proprietary SLIC Technology architecture...
    | In April 2001, Intertrust initiated a lawsuit against Microsoft. The
    | lawsuit ultimately accused Microsoft of infringing 11 of Intertrust's
    | patents and almost 130 of the company's patent claims...
    | Visto Corporation has filed a legal action against Microsoft for
    | misappropriating Visto's intellectual property... "Microsoft has a
    | long and well-documented history of acquiring the technology of
    | others, branding it as their own, and entering new markets," said
    | Mr. Bogosian...
    | Telecoms company AT&T accused Microsoft of infringing its patent for
    | a digital speech coder in its Window software in a lawsuit it filed
    | in 2000...
    | The likelihood of Microsoft having to pay millions of dollars in
    | damages for infringing the contested Eolas patent for web browser
    | technology increased last week when the US Patent and Trademark
    | Office reaffirmed the patent's validity...
    | A bitter fight has broken out between Symantec and Microsoft.
    | Symantec claims that Microsoft stole code from Veritas software...

    Is Microsoft infringing upon Xerox, Apple and Unix intellectual property?

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | Intellectual Property is a term widely abused in the software industry
    | by firms such as Microsoft and SCO using it to scare people into not
    | using certain products in favor of their own. This disparaging tactic
    | has even been given a name: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). It seemst
    | hat anyone nowadays can make bold, unsubstantiated claims of IP
    | infringement without actually having any proof simply to hurt another
    | products reputation and destroy healthy competition. In this article,
    | we will explore what intellectual property is and why every computeru
    | ser should care when unreputable companies abuse legal systems in
    | order to gain an unfair business advantage.

    The Apple vs. Microsoft GUI Lawsuit

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | Without warning, Apple filed suit against Microsoft in federal court on
    | March 17, 1988 for violating Apple's copyrights on the "visual displays"
    | of the Macintosh. (Apple also filed suit against HP for its NewWave
    | environment that ran on top of Windows 2.0.)
    | Apple's suit included 189 contested visual displays that Apple
    | believed violated its copyright.
    | Microsoft countersued, but it failed to stem the bad publicity.
    | Windows' development community was terrified that any court ordered
    | changes to the software would render their products incompatiblea
    | nd make Windows undesirable to consumers. Borland's CEO said itw
    | as like "waking up and finding out that your partner might have
    | AIDS."

    Windows Vista vs. Mac OS X: The Copycat Olympics

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | In Microsoft's defense, though, why wouldn't you want to "borrow" ideas
    | from other successful products? Vista, Leopard, and Linux are all
    | competing against each other, although in reality, each one is better for
    | a different set of users. Apple may go on and on about the similarities
    | between Tiger and Vista, but they're there for a reason. When
    | innovation fails, then you need to try and learn from the best, and
    | that's what Microsoft is doing. However, they're a little late to the
    | game, and the competing follow-up usually isn't as good as the original.

    All the Myth about Microsoft!

    ,----[ Quote ]
    | * Microsoft was first with graphical user interface
    | * Microsoft designed BASIC Language
    | * Microsoft designed visual basic
    | * Microsoft invented DOS
    | * Microsoft designed the first spreadsheet - Excel
    | * Microsoft designed the first word processor
    | * First with Internet browser
    • Microsoft Myth link is outdated and broken

      New link is here:

      TY, BTW. :)
  • What do you expect from a buffoon

    If M$ was smart they wouldn't let Ballmer do any interviews or ever get in front of a camera. While he may be a good business man, he comes off as a hot headed madman when things don't go his way.
  • Who is Jeremy Allaire?

    I think you meant Jeremey Allison...
  • You've got it backwards

    Was MS [i]ever[/i] popular in the open source community?? Give me a break. What happened was when SCO sued IBM over Linux SCO became as unpopular in the open source community as MS. MS is the original "great satan", remember?

    It's telling that you chose a political moment to parallel what's happened with MS and Novell. I think the allusion to politics is very apt. A big part of what I dislike about the OSS community in general is its insistence on a certain ideology (like religious adherence to the GPL, continual carping about copyright and patent issues, etc.), a McCarthyite attitude towards those who don't drink the Kool Aid, and an insistence on defining itself in opposition to MS. Thankfully not all OSS projects define themselves in this way. They're just focused on building and enhancing their project. I find those waters nicer to swim in.

    The Linux community has once again chosen an enemy, because Novell wouldn't toe the party line with them. Is this constructive behavior? Is it going to get them anywhere? Do they care?

    What's happened with MS and Novell, and Oracle buying up OSS projects is a part of the process of OSS going mainstream in the business community. What some don't like is in order for this to happen the projects have to be taken out of the hands of the true believers and placed in the hands of producers who have to meet deadlines, and make a profit. It's a matter of priorities. It doesn't mean the death of open source. It's the maturity of some projects. Even with projects that get bought, there are earlier versions of those projects that remain open source. They can be forked. New open source projects can be started by whoever wants to.
    Mark Miller
    • We will see how Novell fares without the support of the community ...

      My expectation is that if this company is not careful to mend its ways, it just might end up crashing and burning like Caldera (remember, that was the Linux company that eventually became SCO). And just for a little background, I happened to be an outspoken supporter of this 'deal' until Ballmer shot off his mouth and Novell started speaking doubletalk as well. And for your information, since you obviously don't know a whole lot about the GPL, open source projects can't be 'bought'. Once they are under the GPL, there is no way that they can be removed from GPL protection, even by the original developer. So once opensource cooperation is removed, the value of the code vaporizes. And it would not take a whole lot of lack of cooperation to make SuSE Linux a has been. There is a lot of competition among the major Linux distros and those distros are very dependent on developer cooperation for their success. Novell is quite literally in the process of shooting themselves in the feet. So they had better enjoy their $400+ millions while they last. Even more millions in good will can vanish far more quickly and leave them stuck with their dying proprietary product.
      George Mitchell