Is Microsoft Targeting Linux Through Tom Tom? Oh Please


Watching litigation is often like watching a messy divorce. People will often say things they don't actually believe are true just to get the response they want from the audience. If you want to determine who is right, you have to step back and look at the behavior from the parties outside court to determine who is at fault and what the real issues are.


This latest case between Microsoft and TomTom, which has some Linux leaders speaking out, is to point and it may showcase how others are likely to try to manipulate us during these difficult times.



Linux leaders have a problem. Ever since Microsoft adopted the "let's get along" strategy of licensing and interoperating, it has been hard to get people to volunteer their time for the platform, and interest seems to be waning. I could argue that the current market conditions likely are contributing to this greatly, as companies that once volunteered their people's time are finding it harder to do that due to layoffs, budget cuts and a renewed focus on that magic word "revenue."


Linux has always seemed strongest when being attacked by Microsoft, and it clearly is missing that strength this year.


TomTom, which hasn't exactly been an open source poster child, has a problem, too. Unlike other companies in this space that have licensed navigation technology from Microsoft, it chose not to. That can be a dangerous path with any Fortune 50 technology company. Tom Tom really doesn't have the resources to defend against an IP infringement attack during what is likely to be an ugly revenue year. It recently warned that it probably won't be able to repay creditors -- it took a 989 million euro fourth-quarter loss -- and doesn't appear to have the money to pay anyone at the moment. (How it will rigorously defend itself against Microsoft with no money will be interesting to watch).


Microsoft has a problem. It has been in the navigation business for more than a decade and makes money by licensing technology to others. It can't allow anyone to simply take the technology without paying. On the other hand, its cooperation strategy with Linux and open source appears to be working well, and its server and tools division, as a result, is the highest performing in the company. It certainly would not sacrifice the success of the Server and Tools division for a little incremental licensing revenue from TomTom.



It appears, to address the open source and Linux problems, the Linux leaders -- or those who seem to play that role -- are becoming outspoken on Microsoft leveling a FUD attack on Linux, or that people need to look at this Microsoft behavior and "prepare for the worst." Granted, this last warning, given the current economic conditions, would appear prudent even if you took Microsoft out of this statement.


It seems the motivation is less what Microsoft has done and what these folks need to have happen. They want Microsoft to become the rallying cry again and drive back the kind of interest and effort that they had five or so years ago. Given the economic conditions, even if Microsoft were a real threat, I doubt this would happen. No one is seeing the kind of interest in anything, except perhaps commodities and home safes, that existed five years ago. Linux is safe from Microsoft for now; it has other things it needs to be concerned about.


On the TomTom side, getting the open source community to apply pressure on Microsoft could prevent expensive litigation and a possible judgment it can't afford. It is an interesting and creative strategy, but it probably won't change the outcome. A better path might have been to try to get this arbitrated so it could focus back on the market and its real competitors. This is one of the problems with litigation: It provides false hope because you are often told what you want to hear, not what you need to know.


Microsoft needs to defend its intellectual property, much like gpl-violations.org did, and has a new head of intellectual property who has to show value. However, getting blood out of a stone probably won't work. With the kind of losses TomTom is taking, my guess is it probably won't survive the year. That's a shame, because it makes nice products.


Recommended Outcome:

The Linux folks need to move on. The open source folks in Microsoft have taken positions of power and it is unlikely Microsoft will intentionally attack open source or Linux again unless the status quo changes dramatically away from Microsoft, and Microsoft starts to fail. Neither seems likely in the next five years.


The Open Source leaders need to find some other way to motivate the troops. Maybe, I don't know, some kind of revenue model would work here.


For Microsoft and TomTom, the litigation path is a waste of money and probably terminal for TomTom. Microsoft would rather have a live licensee than a big legal bill. Both sides could come to the table and perhaps work this out.


This is probably a long way of saying "there is nothing to see here, move on," but it also suggests that folks will, in this economy, likely be trying to manipulate us a lot. Spending the time to look under the statement before reacting could save us all a lot of grief.