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07 Jul 2017
13 Sep 2013
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And so it begins.

Someone at Google has decided enough is enough, and pushed the big red button in the form of the bogus patents blog post. This all has, Mr Anderson, the sound of inevitability about it. It's almost certainly no co-incidence this happened right at the time the news Android powers almost 50% of the worlds smartphones came out - that train Neo dodged is literally unstoppable. The rest have to try to use other tactics beyond the products themselves. This is business, and any weapon will do. But let's rewind a little. How did we get here? And just where is "here" anyhow? How deep does that rabbit hole go?

Linux and FUD

Way before Android was a mere glimmer in Andy Rubins eye the geek world was tinkering away with its obscure lovechild, Linux. For its first decade of existence, with its command line mastering users,  it was looked down on by the mainstream desktop crowd who always asked the simple question: why? Why learn all that extra stuff, and go to all that trouble, for what appeared to be a much worse experience than me and millions more enjoy. Even worse - the dominance-via-compatibility war was lost, so sorry, your new printer won't talk to your PC whilst it's running your wierdo software, nor will your data such as the word processing documents you use at home and work. Business took no interest in these hobbyists - they had no users - but more importantly no money, nor a business model to generate any. In fact quite the opposite - this "Open Source" movement positively encouraged giving everything away for free. Crazy! They meant well, bless 'em, but you'd as much chance finding anything professional about them as finding snow on the sun.

Time passed. Those geeks kept at it. As hardware matured, so did their software. To everyones suprise, it turned out there were a lot of them. All spread over the planet, collaberating, for free - so they did it for fun, with genuine passion. It was inevitable their OS, Linux, would catch up one day and continue. An OS with no owner, because of it's pecular license, and hence no one to sue. However, its very freeness made it start to become attractive to a growing pool of users which started to spread beyond club geek. Microsoft, the biggest player by far in this OS space, slowly started to realise the very real threat it posed. They embarked on what because known as the FUD campaign - to spread Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt amongst those who would choose it as an alternative to their own. Steve Balmer in 2001 even said "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." Ouch. However, none of this was working - Linux market share, particularly in servers, was growing all the time. A larger market share means real money starts to appear as businesses start spending on support, customisations etc - particularly in the booming ISP market which Linux came to dominate. Some other way to attack this growth was needed - enter m'learned friends for the first time.

SCO - You cannot be serious?

In a nutshell: through acquisitions, a company called SCO, which at the time was actually a respected Linux distribution vendor, thought it has somehow attained the rights to most of Linux and went to court attacking those it said were violating them, in particular IBM. It lost, spectacularly, but the role of Microsoft was the one to watch in all that, for it supported SCO directly and indirectly. Linux was its threat, and since Microsoft had been patenting everything it could there was another way - do what SCO tried, but do it right. In other words, sue, or use the very real threat of suing, anyone who uses Linux because Linux, they say, at its core violates several patents they own. A pattern was emerging.