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Editor's Note: Just Three Clicks Away

Mar 05, 2004, 23:30 (16 Talkback[s])

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

The SCO Group, after confirming the validity of the leaked memo from S2's Mike Anderer, has stated for the record that the missive was taken out of context and that Microsoft was not directly involved in the Baystar investment in SCO last year.

Okay, I'll take them at their word. I mean, after all, lots of companies and private investors deal with Baystar... Microsoft just happens to be one of them, right? That's not proof that the largest software company in the world had an active role in giving money to the one company that has the best shot of defaming what could be its most powerful competitor.

Right?

Except... except...

Even if I take SCO at their word, why was Mr. Anderer so completely far off the mark?

Blake Stowell, Director of Communications at SCO said this in an interview with IDG's Robert McMillan: "We believe the e-mail was simply a misunderstanding of the facts by an outside consultant who was working on a specific unrelated project to the BayStar transaction and he was told at the time of his misunderstanding."

Okay, if he was working on a project unrelated to Baystar, then why did he mention the company by name in his e-mail? He brought it up three times, and in each case, by the way, Microsoft was mentioned in the same sentence.

It's one thing to say that someone made a mistake, but to me, this is a huge misunderstanding. Mr. Anderer is discussing, among other things, the fee structure his company S2 is going to charge SCO for whatever project S2 was doing for them. It appeared that this project was the enforcement of SCO's IP, but now SCO is saying it was something else.

Well, okay, I guess, but what else could this project be? After all, even in SCO's SEC filings, the work Mr. Anderer's firm was doing for SCO is pretty clearly spelled out in Exhibit A.

And, when you are talking about charging someone money, even informally like this, do you want to be that vague? This is a delicate subject with any client, so why would S2's consultant be so completely wrong?

And why was Baystar mentioned in conjunction with Microsoft three times in this memo? Somehow, that idea got put into Mr. Anderer's head. Did he read it on Groklaw? Maybe SCO would like us to think so, but if you were a consultant trying to impress a client, would you base your preconceptions of that client on a Web site that was, even then, the sworn enemy of the client you were trying to work with?

So how did that idea get into Anderer's head? Did a colleague mention it to him and he took it as fact? Well, gee, I suppose that's a possibility, but how long would such a misconception last? According to that contract S2 signed to work with SCO, it was signed in August, 2003. The memo was dated October 12, 2003. Two months is a long time to carry such a big misconception. If, as Mr. Stowell indicated, Mr. Anderer was corrected at the time he sent this letter, are we to understand that he'd never brought up this Baystar/Microsoft notion before? If he did, surely someone at SCO would have corrected him long before he wrote this note.

Here's what I really think: I think Anderer, who is CEO of S2, by the way, and is probably no slouch, knew exactly what he was talking about. Someone at SCO told him about the Baystar/Microsoft connection. Since this information was coming from the client, he felt comfortable in discussing it with that client in a casual way. If he was unsure of where this information had come from, he would have never brought it up.

Again, I wasn't there, and there could be a perfectly reasonable alternative explanation. I merely state an opinion.

But one other thing keeps sticking in my head--the fact that Microsoft has a proven track record of fighting by proxy time and time again since the US antitrust trial. It is in their best interests to let others take care of competitors for them, because no matter what you think of the outcome of the DOJ settlement, I think Microsoft knows exactly how far of a leash they were given.

Even if they could legally avoid another penalty, the last thing they need is a hit in public perception at a time when Linux adoption is growing rapidly and Longhorn is still years away. They have to maintain the appearance of staying clean, or their customers, already smarting under patches, licensing fees, and endless vulnerabilities, will leave them. Microsoft knows what many have learned the hard way: customers are fickle, and will go somewhere else the first time they get a whiff of something that might be better.

That Microsoft fights by proxy is a suspicion many in the media, including myself, hold as a "pretty likely" scenario. That means we're not 100% sure enough to state it as fact, but reasonably sure enough to state it once in a while as our opinion--as long as it doesn't look like we're wearing tin hats.

Just today, a reader (Imatwork) sent in a contribution that seems to illustrate just this point. It was a Fox News opinion piece that was razzing Larry Ellison for ever wanting to get the government involved in Microsoft's affairs, since now the US government is looking at Oracle with suspicion. I thought the article was a bit over the top and it had nothing to do with Linux, so it's not going up on the newsfeed.

But right before I closed the tab, I noted the bio at the bottom of the article: "Jim Prendergast is the executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership."

If you were to click on the hyperlinked "Americans for Technology Leadership," you would come to that organization's home page. If you clicked on the About Us link at the top of the page, you would see a colorful synopis on the organization, and, near the bottom of the page, a link to Founding Members you could click.

In just three clicks, the motivation for that article against Oracle becomes a little more clear.

Habits are hard to break, and if this is indeed a pattern, then SCO will be hard pressed to explain another large investment if one ever comes their way again. Because, whether the popular interpretation of this memo is true or not, it has a lot of people's attention on SCO's coffers now. Coffers that Microsoft may never want to contribute to in any way, shape, or form.

Because now everyone is going to drilling down through documents, or clicking through Web pages, looking for connections. And maybe finding them.

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