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Conspiracy Theories and the 'Smoking Gun'

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 29, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Linux bloggers are never shy about laying blame at Microsoft's door, but in recent days the accusations seemed to be flying faster than ever.

Conspiracy Theories and the 'Smoking Gun'

First, Groklaw published a post entitled, "Linux on Netbooks: The Smoking Gun."

Referring to a post from earlier this month by ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn, Groklaw zeroed in on comments made by Li Chang, vice president of the Taipei Computer Association, in response to a query at Computex about "where the Linux went," as Blankenhorn put it.

"In our association we operate as a consortium, like the open source consortium," Chang reportedly said. "They want to promote open source and Linux. But if you begin from the PC you are afraid of Microsoft. They try to go to the smart phone or PDA to start again."

'Mystery Solved'

Groklaw's reaction: "Mystery solved. Totally blatant... next time you hear Microsoft bragging that people *prefer* their software to Linux on netbooks, you'll know better. If they really believed that, they'd let the market speak, on a level playing field."

So that was the smoking gun, and by Friday it had drawn more than 460 comments on Groklaw and 170 on ZDNet. It drew 400 on Slashdot, where the debate was taken up soon thereafter.

"Microsoft continues their predatory ways," lamented Anonymous in the Groklaw comments. "I often wonder if the rumored cooperation between MS and NSA is a factor."

On the other hand: "This leaves a huge opportunity for a maverick entrepreneur," wrote PolR. "If you are willing to sell low cost linux devices, you are guaranteed an exclusive access to the Linux market for quite a while since Microsoft won't let anyone else get into this market but other entrepreneurs using the same strategy as you."

'I Don't Buy It'

Another blogger argued that Groklaw had misinterpreted Chang's words.

"To me, Mr. Chang's quote could be paraphrased as, 'We are a hardware consortium, just like the Open Source Consortium. They [the OSC] want to promote Open Source and Linux. But when you [again, the OSC] attempt to start that promotion on the PC, you have to contend with Windows, which is scary. So they [once again, OSC] avoid the PC platform for now, and try start with PDAs and smartphones, where Windows isn't so much of a threat'," Anonymous asserted.

"In other words, he is not saying the hardware manufacturers refrain from bringing GNU/Linux netbooks to market because they are scared of Microsoft, but rather putting the guilt on OSC's hands," Anonymous added. "Under this interpretation, the reason for the absence on GNU/Linux on netbooks would be that OSC chooses not to compete in that arena, but rather on the smartphone and PDA."

Of course, "I don't buy it," Anonymous added. "It would surprise me very much if OSC were chicken to confront Windows in the netbook market. I am afraid that Mr. Chang may have just been doing a pretty good job of weaseling out of an uncomfortable question, but I don't think this quote is anywhere near a smoking gun..."

'Completely Untrue'

Fuel was only added to the fire, of course, when a post on the "Linux and Free software" blog asserted that 90 percent of the world's desktop computers are controlled by Microsoft.

"Completely untrue" was tuxchick's assessment on LXer, for example, and the protests proceeded from there.

Perhaps most intriguing of all, however, was Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' recent assertion that Linux stories get deliberately buried on Digg.

"I became aware of this because in the last few weeks I've had several stories that were pro-Linux and anti-Microsoft," Vaughan-Nichols wrote. After becoming popular on Digg, the stories had been buried -- effectively removed -- an hour later," he charged.

'Buries Should Be Exposed'

"Digg admits that groups of users -- say, Microsoft employees, partners, and supporters -- can 'abusively bury content'," he wrote. "I'd add, not just 'can', but 'do.'"

Besides making this LinuxInsider reporter feel a whole lot better about her own Linux stories (so *that's* what keeps happening!), the notion also drew 90 comments on Vaughan-Nichols' blog and was picked up on LWN and on Digg itself, where bloggers were quick to respond.

"Let's bury this one too [grin]," quipped antdude.

On the other hand: "I thoroughly agree that Buries should be exposed just as Diggs are," wrote Carpy. "Why is one public & the other private? Makes no sense."

'Asus Was Bought Out'

So what's actually going on here? Does it all add up to so much paranoia, or is there something to these conspiracy charges? The enquiring minds at LinuxInsider want to know.

"M$ has a long history of no-holds-barred 'Technology Evangelism'," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. "M$ trained people how to infiltrate/buy-out/co-opt people to spread the word that competitive platforms were junk. This has been pretty well demonstrated in the news media, blogs, conferences and the web -- one need look no further than forums or Digg to see that this is so."

The much-discussed 'apology' by Asus for "the showing of a netbook with SnapDragon CPU is proof enough that Asus was bought out by M$," Pogson asserted. "There is never a business case for apologizing for innovation."

Microsoft can buy out or intimidate "the big guys" because "they have a lot to lose if they lose the blessing of M$," he added. "But, with ARM and the netbook, there are 10 little guys waiting in the wings for the business the big guys pass up."

'The Penalties Would Be Huge'

Chang's response at Computex doesn't yet constitute a smoking gun, "but it sure is a signal to the antitrust authorities in several jurisdictions that they need to take a closer look," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. "If this is true, it will make everything the EU has investigated to date seem like an act of sainthood in comparison. If this is ever proven, I expect the penalties for Microsoft would be huge."

On the other hand: "It's not a conspiracy when there are no partners," Slashdot blogger drinkypoo opined. "These companies aren't Microsoft's partners; that would imply a two-way street. In actuality, there is no complicity; Microsoft is exerting the same control over OEMs that they did regarding forcing them to bundle IE."

The results of that have already been seen -- "the EU is going after them for fines every other Thursday, while the US DOJ gave them a free pass (thanks, Ashcroft!)," drinkypoo told LinuxInsider. "I suspect that in five or 10 years, it will come out that Microsoft forced OEMs to neglect Linux, and nothing at all will happen to them because of it."

Regarding Digg, "You don't need a conspiracy to bury anything on Digg," drinkypoo charged. "Just allow the users to comment, and they will bury the story in nonsense themselves. I used to think Slashdot was bad like that, then I checked out Digg. Just wow."

'Sorry, Linux Guys'

At least one blogger felt that conspiracy has nothing to do with it.

"There is actually a simple reason why OEMs aren't supporting and selling Linux -- it is the same reason I don't," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. "It is because it costs too much money compared to MSFT.

"I'm sorry, Linux guys, but your OS is not ready for the home consumer," hairyfeet charged. "If you want proof, just go to Wal-Mart or Best Buy or and see how many items there have Linux support. If you don't research, the odds are zero that you will get full functionality in Linux, if anything works at all."

In other words? "No contest," hairyfeet said.

'The Movement Is Too Large'

Not everyone, however, is quite so sure.

"Unfortunately for M$, the strategy that worked so well against Netscape, OS/2 and other commercial technologies cannot succeed against GNU/Linux and Free Software," Pogson said. "The movement is too large, too diverse and is not dependent on just a few supply lines.

"M$ can delay ascendance of GNU/Linux, which does bring in more money," he added. "But that is the best they can do."

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