It is almost a year since Microsoft struck its controversial intellectual property deal with Novell, and almost five months since the company claimed that various pieces of unspecified open source software are chock-full of Microsoft patent infringements, but when it comes down to the question of exactly what IP Microsoft is talking about, we are still none the wiser.
CEO Steve Ballmer did not help matters much last week when, during a speech, he heavily implied that customers of Red Hat, which does not have a Novell-style relationship with Microsoft, owe Microsoft money and may wind up getting sued.
His exact words were: "People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property, in a sense, have an obligation to eventually compensate us." Ambiguous remarks earlier in the same address talked of hypothetical court action.
Of course, Ballmer's reputation for only ever opening his mouth to switch feet is well documented, but his remarks were unusual only in their frankness. Microsoft executives have been beating the our-IP-in-Linux drum since at least last November.
Without any kind of substantive claims to back up these statements, this is pretty much the dictionary definition of FUD. Fear, uncertainty and doubt.
The same kind of blathering that drove The SCO Group into the ground.
Microsoft is not SCO, of course. It is not looking to get acquired or paid off. And it will not be filing for Chapter 11 any time soon. The company is simply scared of losing more ground in the server operating system market to Linux, and wants a piece of the action on its terms, much as it managed to secure from Novell.
Red Hat, for its part, promises to indemnify its customers against IP claims from the likes of Microsoft with its Open Source Assurance program. So when Ballmer talks of '"an obligation to eventually compensate us', in practice the obligation is Red Hat's, rather than Red Hat's customers. Ballmer knows this.
With that in mind, his publicly stating that Red Hat customers need to worry about liability could therefore be safely categorised as a dirty trick, transparent FUD designed merely to strengthen Microsoft's hand during the back-room talks it is undoubtedly having with Red Hat right now.
It could work, of course. Every time IP liability becomes a sticking point between Red Hat and a potential customer, it will surely push the Linux vendor one step closer to signing up to a Novell-style indemnification deal and further tightening Microsoft's grip on the operating system market.
Enterprise IT buyers should not have to worry about this nonsense when they are simply trying to buy an operating system. Linux users are also Microsoft users, so when Microsoft executives lay on the FUD so thickly, it serves only to show disdain for these would-be customers.