12.12.06

Bipartisan Computing

Posted in FUD, Humour, Marketing, Microsoft, Novell at 2:59 pm by Shane Coyle

Go and have a look at Microvell’s new billboard, spotted in Massachusetts.

They are touting Bipartisan Computing, which is fitting since that is the point of the Microvell deal – its either Microsoft Windows or Microvell Linux, that’s your choice.

It’s a two party system now, and even if there are "third parties", why would you throw your vote away?

Dont blame me, I voted for Kodos.

Everyone Apologize to PJ

Posted in Fork, Formats, GNU/Linux, GPL, Interoperability, LGPL, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML at 2:19 pm by Shane Coyle

Novell OpenOffice.org is a Fork.

There was much furor over a recent Groklaw headline regarding Novell forking OpenOffice.org, with even Miguel De Icaza taking the time to respond, albeit in a somewhat "fast and loose" manner. Everyone said, "Novell forking Open Office? No way."

During Stafford Masie’s Question and Answer session at the CITI forum, he explained how Novell has two streams of Linux products – "FOSS" and "OSS", with OpenSUSE and OpenOffice.org being "FOSS" and SLE(S|D) and Novell OpenOffice.org being "OSS" Masie goes on to say that in their version of Novell OpenOffice, they add extra interoperability, backward compatibilty and testing, in addition to licensed fonts and graphic rendering engines. These differences are in addition to the Open XML support and even more controversial VBA support, which may or may not be accepted into OOO’s main branch.

So, Novell OpenOffice.org is a fork, it has been for some time, its okay and you don’t need to deny it. Correct me if I am wrong, but OOO is LGPL and as long as you do it right, you can have a version linked with proprietary stuff, Novell.

Now, it is just a question of how closely OpenOffice.org wants to follow their lead into Microsoft’s embrace, or branch off towards Freedom, that will determine just how much of a fork Novell’s OpenOffice.org becomes.

Windows Users Undisclosed Balance Sheet Liability

Posted in Apple, Courtroom, Deals, FUD, GNU/Linux, GPL, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Patent Covenant, Patents, Steve Ballmer, Windows at 1:43 pm by Shane Coyle

And Mac, BSD, and Solaris Undisclosed Balance Sheet Liabilities for that matter…

John Carroll had called for an end to the bashing of Microvell, I just assumed he didn’t mean us and went about my business. His argument was somehow that Microsoft cannot grant the patent covenant to any Free Software projects because it would not protect them from suits from distributors such as Novell and Red Hat.

Some have suggested that the right thing to do would be for Microsoft to create a blanket “promise not to sue” vis a vis open source technology, much as IBM has done with a slate of patents it owns. To be sure, the community that develops and maintains Linux is not a patent threat. They don’t own patents, and to their credit, take a strong line against the hindrances that software patents can pose to the software development process.

The threat, however, is not from the Linux development community, but the companies that either distribute the products that the development community produces or else makes money from services related to the same. Those companies include Novell, RedHat, and, of course, IBM…owner of more software patents than any other company in existence.

In other words, Microsoft merely gains more risk by issuing a blanket patent moratorium for Linux. As a fierce competitor to many companies that stand to benefit from Linux’ success, they can be expected to be a target.

Firstly, there is a term, subject to reciprocity I believe, which you will see in various verbiage in all of those Patent Covenants that the software companies have been granting. Basically, they always say that we will grant you free use of our patents, unless of course you bring a patent action against us, then we revoke that right and will sue you back. I’m sure Groklaw has a much better explanation somewhere, I will look for that and post an update.

Secondly, the Patent Covenant is to not sue each others end users, remember? The companies still have reserved the right to sue each other, so really Microsoft gains no protection from any of those competitive companies from such deals and no one gets protection from patent trolls.

Ed Burnette uses a play on Ballmer’s own words to drive home a point about software patents and the likelyhood that there are numerous patent violations in Microsoft’s own offerings (a fact that has been proven in court before).

I’m making this point not because I seriously think Windows users are at risk of getting sued, any more than I think Linux users are at risk of getting sued. I’m making it because I think we’re painting ourselves into a corner here. Who can tell what infringes what any more? Also, I wonder if we should even care. Patents were originally created to protect the little guy who invents a gizmo, tries to sell it, but sees another company come along, copy the gizmo, and make all the money selling their version. But today’s application of patents to software is completely warped and twisted from that noble idea of fairness and reward for hard work.

John says that “getting rid of [software] patents is not a solution”. In my opinion, that is pretty sad. I believe we’re wasting our time and talents on paper problems that we invented ourselves. It’s like all the obscure tax rules we have to deal with every year – a whole industry of tax accountants and lawyers and preparation software and books and classes has grown up around addressing a problem that doesn’t have to exist. Billions of hours of productivity could be regained by going to a simple tax code, possibly an automatic flat tax. Likewise, billions could be saved by dumping this self-induced group nightmare of a patent system.

As Bruce Perens wrote in his Open Letter to Novell Petition, "there can be no non-trivial computer program, either proprietary or Free, that does not use methods that are claimed in software patents currently in force and unlicensed for use in that program."

Software patents are inhibitive to innovation, and deals such as Microsoft-Novell only serve to cartelize the industry by creating a junta of software companies using their massive patent portfolios and cross licensing agreements as a barrier to entry for competitors. We need to move past the idea of Patent Detente, and get into Patent Disarmament.

If we can achieve Patent Disarmament, then perhaps one day as Burnett wrote, [we] "…will be free to let developers develop, collaborate, and innovate in peace like God and Richard Stallman intended. "

Microvell Survey Questions Mary Jo Foley Would Ask

Posted in FUD, Marketing, Microsoft, Novell at 10:50 am by Shane Coyle

I mentioned Microvell’s recent survey in passing, but luckily for us Mary Jo Foley took the time to give it some perusal and thought.

The questions asked as part of this study were about as open-ended and wishy-washy as you could get. Researchers asked customers deploying a mix of Windows, SuSE Linux and Red Hat Linux whether they were in favor of more vendor interoperability. They asked customers if they believed it would be helpful if Microsoft worked more closely with Linux vendors. They asked whether they approved of the Microsoft-Novell collaboration. And they questioned whether users "take responsibility for the intellectual property in the products they ship."

The only question on PSB’s list that I found remotely interesting was whether users would be any more likely to buy SuSE Linux as a result of the Microsoft-Novell deal. Sixty-nine percent said yes. (I’m actually surprised this number isn’t higher.)

Head over to ZDnet for the questions, there are only a few but I think they are fair. In fact, I think they will become the first few Poll questions here on BoycottNovell.com, the results should be comparable since our reader base is likely just as impartial as the one that PSB selected (all Windows users).

Further analysis can be found on CBR’s Open Source Weblog, where Matthew Aslett also points out that 1/3 of the respondents were unaware of the deal prior to the survey, and were provided a brief summary from which they could base their responses:

It is also worth noting that only 67% of all respondents were already aware of the agreement between Microsoft and Novell. The remaining 33% based their opinion of the deal on the following provided statement:

"On November 2nd, Microsoft and Novell announced a set of broad business and technical collaboration agreements to build, market, and support a series of new solutions to improve interoperability for customers and make Novell and Microsoft products work better together. The two companies also announced an agreement to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products."

Again, I should state that I do not disagree that the deal is good for the companies’ customers, but when a third of respondents are replying based on that statement – and only that statement – it puts a slightly different view on the results.

So, the only remarkable aspect of this latest Microsoft FUD survey is that it was Novell’s first appearance on the "good side" of the FUD.

A Coin-in-the-Slot Standards Organization

Posted in ECMA, Formats, Interoperability, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument at 3:18 am by Shane Coyle

That’s what Simon Phipps of Sun called the Ecma, seemingly echoing Bob Sutor’s opinion that Ecma approval of Open XML was never any more than a formality (remember, IBM is a member of Ecma).

They had a schedule they had to keep, largely because of the release plan of Microsoft Office, and they also needed to work around ISO’s upcoming schedule. There was no surprise here. I might imagine someone taking umbrage at this statement, but I don’t think it’s really debatable. It’s best to understand the large collection of votes that take place in ECMA over a long period and who is sponsoring what. That’s life.

We voted "no" because we fundamentally believe that this is doing nothing more than “standardizing” Microsoft’s formats for its own products and that’s not how the industry should be behaving in 2006. In ECMA you do get to vote, and we exercised that right. It’s nice that the Microsoft spec is XML, but that alone will not guarantee widespread correct and complete implementation for the many reasons people have laid out.

Make sure you follow how well the Novell and Corel implementations do, incidentally. If they falter, watch out for those who try to blame those companies or open source itself, when the root of the problem may be with the Microsoft Office Open XML spec in the first place. You heard it here first.

It should be noted that Sun has had a problem with Ecma in the past, while trying to standardize Java, and is no longer a member. I have only fuzzy recollections of the whole thing, honestly.

[editor’s note, ECMA is no longer a correct acronym, the organization is now Ecma International]

Sun pulled Java out of the ECMA standardisation process earlier this week, citing its concern that compatibility could otherwise suffer. But there are many subtle and not-so-subtle issues underlying the decision. Sun thinks that ECMA, the Geneva-based European Association for Standardising Information and Communication Systems (previously known as the European Computer Manufacturers Association), has been unduly influenced by Microsoft and HP, who have agendas that are quite different from that of Sun. Scott McNealy noted this week that standards bodies are highly political and are influenced by their need for money.

Also questioning the purpose of Ecma in an entry entitled "A cathedral of formats or a castle of cards?" is Charles H. Schulz:

This week the ECMA decided that the Microsoft’s Open XML office file format would become an ECMA standard, despite the opposition of IBM.

I think that it was an expected result. ECMA has strong ties with Microsoft, and the very philosophy of the ECMA is to acknowledge existing technologies and call them a standard. This view is quite opposed to the one of the OASIS consortium, because the consortium does try to design specifications based on consensus, plausible engineering decisions and not on the fait accompli.

Schulz goes on to point out some very disturbing problems with Microsoft’s Open XML Patent Covenant (Andy Updegrove compares it to Sun’s covenant re:ODF here), and agrees with previous assessments regarding the impossibility of a complete "conformant" OpenXML implementation by anyone other than Microsoft.

It is clear that Ecma is an Industry Standards organization, as opposed to an Open Standards organization, and is subject to influence. Nothing is more telling than their own website, which states (emphasis mine) "Ecma is driven by industry to meet the needs of industry, generating a healthy competitive landscape based on differentiation of products and services, rather than technology models, generating confidence among vendors and users of new technology.".

Professor Keats (UWC) Softens Novell Stance

Posted in Action, Boycott Novell, Deals, GNU/Linux, GPL, Intellectual Monopoly, Interoperability, Law, Novell, Patent Covenant, Patents at 1:34 am by Shane Coyle

Here, in its entirety, is a letter penned by Derek Keats, IT chief of the University of Western Cape. The letter is entitled "Update on letter to Novell re the patent covenant with Microsoft"

Last week I wrote a letter (viewable on my blog on the Chsimba Alpha code test site at http://5ive.uwc.ac.za/index.php?module=blog&action=randblog&userid=6648061010) to Stafford Masie of Novell South Africa, which I copied to a couple of mailing lists, and which in turn was picked up and published on a number of news sites. I would like to clarify my concerns, and report on the conversation that I have had with representatives of Novell.

In the letter I expressed dissatisfaction regarding Novell’s covenant with Microsoft about software patents. I suggested that this covenant had created considerable discord within the free software community, and that this could constitute risk to the ability of Novell to deliver on our business requirements as a customer.

It is important to clarify that I have no objection in principle to the part of the agreement relating to interoperability between GNU/Linux and Windows. Indeed, I suspect that this will be benefit penetration of GNU/Linux into the enterprise.

The free and open source software ecosystem differs from proprietary software ecosystems in having a strong element of community, which is itself heterogeneous in nature. The success of free and open source software depends not only on the quality of the technology and the actions of companies, but also on the behaviour of this community.

Aside from respecting any applied software license conditions, any company wishing to create business based on free and open source software has a thin line to walk between responding to business opportunities and satisfying the requirements of its customers, and ensuring that it does not do things that damage this community. This requires not just a good legal team, but an understanding of the community and its sensitivities.

I am a contributing member of that community, an advocate and activist promoting free software and free content, a user of products and services derived from the community, the ‘CIO’ of an enterprise that implements free software widely in its operations. Furthermore, the University of the Western Cape has a long history of commitment to freedom, having played a major role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. With this history, we are not afraid to stand up for freedom in the digital age, and to use such little influence as we may have to encourage any who cross the line described above to make amends and return to the right side of the line.

I believe that Novell did not consider sufficiently what the impact of their patent covenant with Microsoft would be on the community, of which they are a part. This is the case both with respect to the nature of the patent covenant and the manner in which the community were largely excluded from input. The Novell-Microsoft deal acts to protect Novell customers from the threat of Microsoft patents being used against them with respect to Suse the distributions of GNU/Linux, as well as the proprietary offerings of both companies. It does nothing to protect GNU/Linux more broadly or other free software from patent threats by Microsoft or companies with which Microsoft has significant share holding.

While I do not dispute that Novell gives much back to the free software and open source communities, the company gains much more than it gives back. So the perception that Novell is looking out for its own interests, not the interests of the broader community of which it is a part, is at the heart of the matter.

This perception has resulted in discord, and the potential for changes to licence provisions that might impact on us as a customer. More importantly, as a customer which stands for the importance of freedom, we have a moral responsibility to tell Novell that what they did was not acceptable to us, and that Novell needs to make amends with the community. At the time when I wrote the letter, I could think of no better way to make this point than to stop doing business with Novell. I did not imagine that the views of such a minor player within a such a small organisation as UWC would be listened to and taken seriously.

For me personally, and for the University of the Western Cape, this is not just a theoretical issue. Our Free Software Innovation Unit is very active in the production of free software, having developed a cutting edge application framework (Chisimba) for building web-based applications. Although we are also major users of free software, and have a policy that says that we must implement all new initiatives in our infrastructure with free software unless we can prove in writing that it is necessary to do otherwise, it is in the production space that we are most vulnerable to software patents. This is an example to show how the community continues to be vulnerable, and provides some insight into why the community feels frustrated by the patent cooperation agreement.

One of the products created with the Chisimaba is an e-learning platform (sometimes referred to as a learning management system), KEWL. We have been active in this space since 1995. But the American company, Blackboard, announced on July 26, 2006 that it has been granted a broad patent in the US covering 44 claims related to learning management systems. Blackboard merged with Canadian-based WebCT in late 2005, meaning that Blackboard and WebCT are protected from any claims involving these patents.

On the same day that it issued its press release about e-learning patents, Blackboard started a patent infringement suit in a Texas court against Desire2Learn, a competitor in the learning management systems market. Blackboard is demanding royalties from Desire2Learn. The result of this was as big an outcry in the free software and open source communities as well as in educational institutions. While officials from Blackboard have repeatedly denied any intention of pursuing patent litigation against the free and open source software community, they have also refused to put such claims into writing. Given that companies change hands regularly, and new management might just change its mind, these assurances are worth less than nothing.

The latest development in this area is that the Software Freedom Law Center is seeking a re-examination by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The center believes that it has provided sufficient prior art to invalidate the patent, but Blackboard say the re-examination will rather prove its claims.

This is but one example of how the community is potentially vulnerable to patents. The patent issue is not just about the GNU/Linux operating system or the Suse variant of it. It is about the whole community of free and open source software. Novell could do more to protect that whole ecosystem, while still providing assurances to its customers that they are protected from threats from the Microsoft patent portfolio. Currently, the patent systems that impact many of us are anything but sane.

One way to rebuild these bridges with the free and open source software community is to take a stronger stance on patents, to support the community in expressing that stance widely and publicly, and to use its position to engage with legislators to discourage any legislation that permits software patents (and encourage the repealing of existing legislation) especially in South Africa, and for the interim contributing more patents to the OIN.

I believe that this is important because:

  • software patents represent a hazard to all software development, and a significant barrier to innovation;
  • software patents represent a particular impediment to the development of SMME-based software industries based on free and open source software, especially in the developing world;
  • software patents do not provide any legitimate business benefit, and in fact create many risks especially for smaller companies who have not created a defensive patent portfolio in the way that Novell has done.

The sooner the system of software patents is overturned and eliminated, the better for everyone, excepts perhaps certain unscrupulous patent holders who are exploiting the system without adding any value to it.

So, I am wondering what Novel’s[sic] stance would be on the more than 100 Microsoft software patents registered already in the South African patent office. Microsoft has been lobbying for legalising of software patents in South Africa.

Novell has been at the forefront of offering patent indemnity to GNU/Linux customers (for example, the SITA tender). This indemnity can now be more offered more effectively because of the patent covenant with Microsoft. The choice for Novell is stark – either Novell continues raising the specter of patent infringement in South Africa, or Novell joins the voices calling for lowering the litigious temperature and supporting the movement to strengthen the enforcement of the existing exclusions, ultimately eliminating software patents altogether.

With the patent covenant with Microsoft, Novell created the appearance that the company is pursuing the first strategy, thus angering the community, myself included. Will Novell align itself, in South Africa at least, with the second option? Is there something that Novell can do locally to help eliminate the patent menace and thus to help create a better climate for sustainable and relatively risk-free South African innovation?

One thing that Novell can do is to engage with FTISA (Freedom to Innovate South Africa) and assist with ongoing initiatives to help eliminate the patent menace locally. It is important that Novell continues to interact with the South African FOSS community to ensure that our SMME sector is not at risk from the badly broken patent system in SA and elsewhere.

Having discussed my concerns with Chris Papayianni, Djamel Souici and Stafford Masie of Novell, and participated in the CITI Foss Forum with Stafford this morning, I believe that continued interaction with Novell to encourage the company to rebuild bridges with the community is both desirable and feasible. So, for the immediate future, I will not be carrying through with the threat of eliminating Novell products from the University. Instead, we will continue dialogue with Novell, and we will be watching to see how Novell does indeed rebuild the damaged bridges.

The great thing about Free Software is that the total cost of exit is low enough that we can revisit this decision at any time.

I look forward to working with Novell both through UWC and through FTISA to ensure that this situation is turned into a win-win-win for Novell, UWC and the Free Software community.

Since I know this question will be asked, as to whether I have softened my stance with respect to UWC. The answer is “yes” with respect to the action to be taken, but no with respect to whether Novell crossed the line. But this is a qualified “yes”, for the time being, but I will not hesitate to take similar action with any company whose products we use and who acts in any way that undermines the free software community. Companies must know that UWC is serious when it comes to its stance on freedom in the digital age, and that I am personally committed to doing what we can.

Like Novell, we live in a complex world, and no doubt, like Novell, we will make mistakes. When we do, we hope the community will also apply pressure on us to come back across whatever line we have crossed. Freedom is at the heart of it all, and must be protected.

Sincerely,
Prof Derek Keats
Executive Director, Information and Communication Services
The University of the Western Cape
Cape Town, South Africa

New Microvell Survey

Posted in Deals, FUD, GNU/Linux, Intellectual Monopoly, Interoperability, Marketing, Microsoft, Novell at 1:20 am by Shane Coyle

Here is a Press Release announcing the results a new survey regarding the Microvell deal, I wonder how it feels in Waltham to be on the good side of a Microsoft FUD Survey for once?

I haven’t the time nor inclination to delve deeply into the study itself, I will just make you aware of it. If anyone wants to post an analysis, please email me ( shane < at > edu-nix.org ); it looks like a very simple and limited survey of PHB’s by a company that has performed such surveys on Microsoft’s behalf before.

The Respondents

Information Technology Decision Makers – An IT executive, manager or staff whose primary job is either in a formalized IT, information systems or MIS department, or one who performs IT functions in a non-IT, ISM, or MIS department, with significant decision-making authority related to technology purchases. Their organizations have to have at least 500 PCs.

The Surveyors (is that the proper term?)

Founded in 1975, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates (PSB) has been a WPP (LSE: WPP; Nasdaq: WPPGY) company since 2001. PSB is a strategic communications firm that specializes in research-based recommendations for its clients. PSB has conducted research studies for Microsoft over the past 8 years. PSB has offices in Seattle, New York, Washington, Denver, Los Angeles and London.

The "Findings"

  • Ninety-five percent approve of the collaboration between Novell and Microsoft. Microsoft, Novell and customers all benefit from collaboration. More than 90 percent of respondents approve of the Microsoft and Novell collaboration, believing it will benefit IT customers and increase interoperability of IT systems.
  • Eighty-seven percent said that customers benefit if leading Linux distributors and Microsoft worked more closely with one another. Four out of five believe their organization would consider doing more business with Linux dealers if Linux providers establish an alliance with Microsoft.
  • Sixty-seven percent said they’re more likely to consider deploying SUSE Linux from Novell. The Microsoft-Novell collaboration increased customer consideration of SUSE Linux. More than two-thirds of all respondents, and 79 percent of respondents who currently use Red Hat, said the agreement was more likely to make them choose SUSE Linux for their data center.
  • Ninety-seven percent said they wanted platform providers to improve interoperability of their systems. Interoperability is the area where respondents want the most focus. Customers want their platform providers to work together to improve the interoperability of their systems and provide tools that make it easier for the end user to navigate both Linux and Windows environments.
  • Eighty-nine percent want technology companies to take responsibility for the intellectual property in the products they ship. Also, more than seven in 10 are more likely to deploy Linux with intellectual property rights, which would limit their corporation’s exposure to
    risk. These customers see it as the responsibility of their vendors to work out intellectual property issues before deploying services.

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