The paranoid style pervades internet discourse like sap coursing through a tree - as we've seen with the 9/11 "Truth Movement" and the net neutrality scare - and as we've previously noted in the fascinating SCO vs Linux saga.
For three years conspiracy theorists examining the entrails of the litigation have looked for the smoking gun: evidence that behind the curtain lurked Microsoft, directing investments and pulling all the strings.
Microsoft had good reason to see Linux come a cropper, and SCO knew its litigation offensive would eventually bring it head to head with IBM, the world's biggest computer company, and the business which needs Linux the most. So rationally, SCO could have used some powerful help.
Then again, direct involvement would have damaged Microsoft immensely, exposing it to catastrophic litigation (remember that it's a convicted monopolist that's monitored for compliance, and that's sworn to behave). So was Microsoft really the power behind SCO's Linux jihad? Or did it simply wink approvingly from the sidelines?
We now seem to have conclusive evidence that while Redmond's Black Helicopters revved their engines, they never took off - let alone flew any active combat missions.
Gun nut and self-appointed spokesman for the open source "movement" Eric S Raymond thought he'd found evidence of a conspiracy two years ago, by exposing an email from a long-time associate of new SCO boss Darl McBride, Mike Anderer. Retained as a contractor to look for new capital for SCO, Anderer boasted of Microsoft's influence in gaining SCO some high profile investment.
"Microsoft will have brough [sic] in $86m for us including Baystar," he claimed.
VC firm BayStar bought a 17.5 per cent stake in SCO for $50m in late 2003, but the relationship turned sour. Baystar withdrew from the deal six months later, blaming McBride for being all mouth and no trousers.
Raymond said this proved Microsoft was funding the anti-Linux litigation and that SCO was just a "puppet".
In fact, BayStar's Lawrence Goldfarb was simply confirming that Microsoft had approached BayStar two months before it disclosed its investment, but hadn't stumped up any cash. Far from being the smoking pistol, it was the conspiracy that should-have-been, but never was.
Now those communications between Goldfarb and Microsoft have been disclosed in a little more detail. An IBM filing contains testimony by the Baystar member himself.
A senior Redmond VP, Richard Emerson, approached Goldfarb "sometime in 2003" about investing in The SCO Group. Goldfarb alleges Emerson, "stated that Microsoft wished to promote SCO and its pending lawsuit against IBM and the Linux operating system. But Microsoft did not want to be seen as attacking IBM or Linux".
"Mr Emerson and I discussed a variety of investment structures wherein Microsoft would 'backstop', or guarantee in some way, BayStar's investment...Microsoft assured me that it would in some way guarantee BayStar's investment in SCO."
That much we already know. Goldfarb confirms the offer was never followed through - Redmond stopped returning his calls - and Emerson subsequently left Microsoft.
So no guarantee was ever made. Maybe Emerson was a Register reader, and got wise? About the same time, we noted how Intel had evaded anti-trust scrutiny by avoiding written communications - while Microsoft's gassy executives emailed themselves into heaps of trouble by committing every comical boast and threat to email or IM (see Why Intel doesn't write stuff down) The cautious Emerson left no written details.
Yesterday, Microsoft confirmed that it had done little more than make approving noises, to Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Todd Bishop:
"Microsoft has no financial relationship with BayStar and never agreed to guarantee any of BayStar's $50m investment in SCO. The BayStar declaration confirms that no guarantee was ever provided. Microsoft does have a deal with SCO that has been widely reported. We paid SCO for licensing rights to ensure IT interoperability for UNIX migration technology, currently in use in Microsoft Utilities for UNIX-based Applications."
And yet people will imagine the shadows of Black Helicopters, if they really want to. Facts only make the dedicated conspiracy theorist more determined.
"This won't faze the nuts. They're immune to any reality check," wrote Alexander Cockburn recently, describing the 9/11 conspiracies. "Such fantasists are not the foot soldiers of any movement for constructive social change." ®