While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was taking a break from dealing with cranky users still waiting for Vista, he went ahead and told the entire Linux community that they owe him a big thank-you. Yes, yes he did. In a Q&A session at the Professional Association for SQL Server conference, Ballmer (sans sweat) said that Microsoft signed a deal with SUSE Linux distributor Novell in order to get some money back for its "intellectual property." Among other transactions, the one in question sends $40 million to Microsoft in exchange for Microsoft's promise not to sue Novell over possible patent violations. As to whether or not the SUSE Linux distribution actually infringes upon any patents, Novell's payment appears to be some sort of admission fee, and, according to Ballmer, Linux users owe him a big "thanks." After all, he was just assuring that Microsoft gets the "appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation." Meanwhile, Red Hat called the whole thing an "innovation tax" and plans to protect its customers against any infringement claims by Microsoft, asking Ballmer to go ahead and show us all what part of the Linux kernel infringes upon Redmond's patents. So while Ballmer pens his report, get to it, open-source community -- start writing your thank-you notes.