And You'll Guarantee That the Linspire Summer Picnic Festivities Will No Longer Include the Annual Steve Ballmer Piñata?
Time is the great healer, is it not? In December 2001 Lindows, a small company marketing a Linux-based OS capable of running major Microsoft Windows apps, was sued by the software giant, which claimed Lindows violated its Windows trademark. Most upstart ventures in Lindows’s position would likely have backed down in the face of Redmond’s heavy legal machinary. Not Lindows.
Under the leadership of then-CEO Michael Robertson, the company proved an unyielding and wiley opponent–a gadfly that mounted a challenge to the validity of the Windows trademark on the self-evident grounds that the word “windows” is a generic term for a category of products–you know, like windows. The battle between the two companies raged for years, peaking in 2003 when Lindows announced the “MSfreePC” program–a service that allowed Microsoft customers living in California to claim more quickly their rightful portion of the software maker’s $1.1 billion antitrust settlement by giving Lindows the right to collect that money on their behalf, in exchange for a free PC and some Lindows software. It was an ingenious little marketing initiative, and one that no doubt inspired some chair-tossing up in Redmond.
In 2006 Microsoft agreed to pay Lindows $20 million to end its campaign to invalidate the valuable Windows mark and to change its name to Linspire, an easy concession when the world’s biggest software company is cutting you a check for a sum nearly 10 times your 2003 revenue.
Anyway … As of yesterday, all those years of legal sparring are behind the two companies, which entered into another of the Linux patent covenants that Microsoft has been peddling since its hell-freezing agreement with Novell. Like others that have come before it, the agreement will shield Linspire customers from Microsoft’s patent claims. Additionally, it calls for Linspire to work with Novell and Microsoft to develop open-source “translators” that allow OpenOffice and Microsoft Office users to share documents more easily.
Quite a turnaround, yeah? But as Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony told me, it’s more a sign of the times than anything else. “In the early days of Linux, we had no choice but to bang the ‘fight Microsoft’ drum (and as you know, no one did it better than Linspire), because we needed to get everyone’s attention, including Microsoft’s, and to be honest, back then, Linux didn’t work very well on the desktop, so it was pretty much the only thing we could find to say about it to get attention,” Carmony explained. “That’s no longer the case today. Microsoft has a better understanding of what Linux and open source is, and how to work in a cooperative manner with Linux, and we have a lot more interesting things to talk about.
“It’s time to move past all of the idea that for Linux to succeed, Microsoft must fail,” Carmony continued. “We need to let it go, and start working with all the players in the PC ecosystem, and that certainly includes Microsoft. I can’t speak for the rest of the Linux and open-source community, but from Linspire, you can expect less fighting and name-calling, and more attention to partnering to build a better Linux. We will certainly still compete, just like Apple and Microsoft still compete aggressively, but we’ve also built a bridge to work together when necessary. There are those who want to isolate Linux from the other 99% of the desktop computing world, and if they succeed, Linux will never grow past 1% of the desktop market. I want to see Linux move in the opposite direction, and rather than be exclusive, more inclusive.
“Bottom line, this was a market-driven agreement. I’m excited that we have a model in place, that moving forward, we can collaborate with Microsoft, with both of us having an incentive to see the other succeed. ‘Coop-petition’ is a healthy thing for the PC ecosystem.”