Ten Tech Blunders: Whoops, We Stepped in It!: Page 2

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2) That “Linux is a Cancer” Remark

The Blunder:

In a horrible case of foot-in-mouth that revealed deep fear behind a thin mask of disdain, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer compared Linux to cancer. Ouch!

What Happened:

In 2001, Microsoft was feeling embattled. The year before, in the case United States v. Microsoft, a federal court handed down a judgment declaring the company to be an “abusive monopolist.” There was talk of breaking the corporation into smaller, component parts.

Perhaps just as bad, the Linux OS was gaining server market share quicker than expected. An IDC report in early 2000 study found that Linux had already grabbed the No. 2 operating system, with a 25 percent share. (Windows NT was on top with 38 percent.) Yet IDC had earlier forecast that Linux wouldn’t earn the No. 2 berth until 2002 or 2003. Linux was challenging Redmond faster than experts had forecast.

In 2000, IBM very publicly announced it would spend an impressive $1 billion on Linux in 2001. (In early 2002 the company crowed it had nearly recouped its investment, a claim that analysts questioned.)

Apparently all these developments got under the collar of CEO Steve Ballmer. In the spring of 2001, he told the Chicago Sun-Times that “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

Digging himself further into a hole, he claimed, "The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source." However, this statement is directly contradicted by the GNU General Public License, which presumably Ballmer was familiar with.

Then came the kicker. Making his comments seem truly absurd was an agreement Microsoft signed with Novell in 2006. The headline: “Microsoft and Novell Announce Broad Collaboration on Windows and Linux Interoperability and Support.”

Which begs the question: if it’s a disease, why are you working to make your software interoperable with it?

Moral of the Story:

In the constantly changing tech world, today’s competitor is tomorrow’s partner. In general, it’s not a good idea to equate competing technologies with deadly diseases.

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