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Massachussets vs Microsoft Takes a Linux Twist
Massachussets vs Microsoft Takes a Linux Twist

(July 9, 2003) - The State of Massachusetts says it's looking into whether Microsoft has punished a computer maker for promoting Linux, because if that were the case then the Redmond software giant would be in breach of the Microsoft antitrust settlement - against which Massachusetts (and only Massachusetts) is currently appealing.

Alas Massachusetts is not at this stage naming the company concerned.

From a legal point of view, the problem is that in order to prove that Microsoft may have retaliated against the unnamed company for its activities in pushing Linux, Massachusetts would have to meet the burden of proof in such cases. Since most agreements with OEMs are executed under NDA, it seems highly unlikely that they would be able to meet that burden.

"It is abundantly clear that Microsoft has a 'get Linux' policy," John Lettice of The Register contends. "And as far as the PC companies (and indeed the customers) at the other end of the shotgun are concerned, this will have a discouraging effect." he notes, in an analysis of the situation published today.

"But it will be discouraging for all sorts of not obviously retaliatory reasons. Say you've done a bit of piloting of Linux systems in your company, you figure you're all set for a general rollout, but then people in your own company start coming to you explaining how much green-lighting it is going to cost, because you lose the special pricing deal Microsoft is offering? This is the 'slush fund' in operation, and as far as Microsoft is concerned it's all perfectly legitimate and part of the product marketing process. It's certainly difficult to tag discounts as retaliation - unfair, maybe, but you can argue the toss about that for a long time."

Lindows.com CEO Michael Robertson has claimed that one of his major sales outlets, iDOT, has been on the receiving end of the Microsoft discount process over Lindows sales. So stifling Linux sales by smaller OEMs certainly doesn't seem beyond the realms of possibility, in terms of being a policy Microsoft is adopting - but proving it in court is always going to be quite another matter.

As the State of Massachusetts, most analysts believe, will (eventually) find out.

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