Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer has warned Asian governments that if they use Linux they should expect to be sued, according to a Reuters news report. That's because Linux violates more than 228 patents, reckoned Ballmer and, at some point, the owner of that intellectual property (IP) is going to come a-knocking.

He added that "someday, for all countries that are entering the WTO [World Trade Organisation], somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property." This could even be an allusion to a potential condition of entry to the World Trade Organisation being dependent on not infringing the IP of large corporations. [Microsoft has since taken issue with this quote, claiming it is out of context - for the full context, click here.]

Ballmer's outburst follows the Singapore's Ministry of Defense switch last month of its 20,000 PCs from Microsoft to open-source software. Other governments in the region have made moves in this direction, particularly China, Japan and South Korea, who this year agreed to jointly develop open-source, Linux-based application software. In particular, the Chinese government is said to perceive its reliance on Microsoft as a potential threat.

This is the latest in a long round of Microsoft initiatives to try and undercut the growth of Linux and open source in an area of the world where Microsoft itself does less well. In particular, it launched a cut-down, cut-price Windows XP Lite which appears to have done little to boost Microsoft's reputation, although it only started shipping last month. Analysts and other commentators though have given short shrift to the chances of the initiative working as Microsoft plans.

It was only last March that Microsoft was claiming to open-mouthed reporters that open source represented no threat to the Redmond-based software giant. At the time, the company's Asia-Pacific chief technology officer Peter Moore said elliptically, "I believe there is no government that has a policy going beyond recommending open source. If so, I believe that is not to their best interest." Moore also noted that open source does not compete solely with Microsoft but with the entire field of commercial software providers.

According to the Reuters story, Ballmer added that Windows was more secure than Linux: "We think our software is far more secure than open-source software. It is more secure because we stand behind it, we fixed it, because we built it. Nobody ever knows who built open-source software", said Ballmer.

Conspiracy buffs believe certain patches in the Windows code might give US authorities the power to access Chinese networks and disable them, possibly during a war over Taiwan.