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01.10.08

Scalix/Xandros Release Microsoft-compatible Ballnux Binaries (Patent Tax Included)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Interoperability, Linspire, Mail, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Protocol, Scalix, Xandros at 11:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“The essence of a competitive market is its impersonal character. No one participant can determine the terms on which other participants shall have access to goods or jobs. All takes prices as given by the market and no individual can by himself have more than a negligible influence on price though all participants together determine price by the combined effect of their separate actions.”

Milton Friedman in “Capitalism and Freedom”

For those of us who love proprietary software that is built by exploiting free software developers, a new product has just arrived. As you are probably aware by now, Xandros acquired Scalix and soon afterwards, just as we predicted, Scalix became the victim of a Microsoft taxation scam. A few months go by and Xandros reveals another clone of a Microsoft product, for which Microsoft gets paid.

Scalix is an open source mail server based on OpenMail, which runs on Linux servers, and uses e-mail standards such as POP, IMAP, SMTP, MIME and works with any standard Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory.

Sadly enough:

  1. It is proprietary;
  2. It uses non-standard protocols (industry standards which Microsoft kindly ‘extended’); and
  3. The company licenses protocols from Microsoft (i.e. awards Microsoft for its objection to standards).

In simpler terms, here were have a proprietary software product which is only built upon open source technology and uses (also pays for) Microsoft protocols.

“In simpler terms, here were have a proprietary software product which is only built upon open source technology and uses (also pays for) Microsoft protocols.”For the same reasons, as ‘taxation’ above shows, there is a good reason to avoid OOXML and Silverlight, ensuring that they never become widespread. All these technologies present the same issue and are a reflection of the very same strategy which is to subvert the nature of GNU/Linux — making it something that Microsoft can more easily defeat.

In the title we have once again used a tactless term (“Ballnux”), but we do try to stress a point. It’s the point that attempts are made by Microsoft to make Linux users pay Microsoft. What for? for Linux. It’s a sheer case of abuse because no patents have ever been shown. Having a generic/encompassing/umbrella/ term to describe products to avoid is needed and “Ballnux” was a good suggestion that came from a reader.

We apologise for using a strong word, but mentioning products like the Koobox (Linspire), Wizpy (Turbolinux), and Eee PC (Xandros) is just hard without issuing some sort of warning.

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3 Comments

  1. Florian von Kurnatowski said,

    January 12, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Gravatar

    Roy,

    while I appreciate your thoughts in general, just to get a couple of facts straight. Two of those latest add-ons to Scalix, i.e. support for Outlook 2007 and the ability to run the network connection between the Scalix server and the Outlook connector over an SSL connection relate to proprietary protocols and Microsoft technology, however none of them has anything to do with Microsoft licensing deals, royalties paid or any of the like.

    The Outlook connector is ours (plus HP’s, in the old days) own development, so is the protocol used (called UAL, specs are available) and the extensions done all bear our own copyright, not anybody elses and no money changed hands.

    The third addition to this new version of the product, which should also be mentioned in context, is an implementation of the CalDAV protocol (standardized as RFC 4791 last year), which allows for integration with standards-based calendaring clients from Mozilla, the Open Source Application Foundation and Apple. We’re member of calconnect.org, a group that promotes the use of open standards in calendaring.

    We have indeed licensed some Microsoft technology under the Xandros-Microsoft agreement; this includes the ActiveSync-over-the-air protocol, a protocol that allows you to wirelessly sync Mail, Calendar, Contact and other data between the Exchange server and devices implementing the protocol natively; these include Windows Mobile devices as well as SmartPhones from Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and others – those companies have decided to license the protocol to implement their clients as well. When we implement this, the customer will then be able to connect all these devices with a Scalix server without deploying a connector on the device side – which is actually what our customers are asking from us.

    Your assessment of the business model here is correct – for every client that uses this implementation of ActiveSync, Microsoft will get their royalties under this agreement. This will, however, be an optional feature, so as a customer you have full control and choice – if you wish to use such a device and if you wish not to install any software on the device, you will be able to optionally license this server-side wireless support to do so. You will pay a price for this option, per-user, and the money goes to those who have developed the technology, some to us for doing the implementation, some to Microsoft for doing the protocol and promoting it’s use and implementation on all these devices.

    Re-iterate: For this wireless bit, the customer is in control and it’s his choice. He choses to use proprietary devices and he wants mail server support for it based on Microsoft’s proprietary technology, he pays for it and he gets it.

    We will not taint the Scalix server with the code, ActiveSync support will remain a separate module for this very reason.

    As a side remark: we would love to see a solution that allows us to support all popular devices on the wireless side without using proprietary protocols. This solution, however, does not exist. Completely open platforms for mobile devices are under development, such as Google’s solution (and it’s somewhat questionable how fully open it would be) or have basically no market share (OpenMoko or Trolltech’s QTopia). Open Standards for wireless synchronisation do exist (SyncML), but standardization is poor, device-specific code needs to be put on the server and even highest-end devices such as the Nokia E61i only provide a minimal set of functionality over them (on the Nokia, Calendar and Contact data can be transmitted over SyncML, but no eMail – sorry to say, but how useless is that). Other solutions use proprietary protocols AND require you to install something on the device – for larger organisations this is a no-starter as it makes deployment hard and complex.

    Scalix customers who choose not to use this option will not have to pay and price and no money from normal Scalix server business goes to Microsoft, so the “general” tax that you describe does not exist for our product, and we have no plans to change that.

    It is and will remain our preference to use and build on top of open standards, just as we say in the quote that you provided; CalDAV is the perfect example and you can rest assured that there is more to come. A fully standards-based solution would ideal. The ultimate check if this is possible, however, is on the client side and it’s end users who choose clients. As long as no viable clients exist providing adequate functionality and exploiting open standards to their fullest, their will be no open solution. And as long as customer’s and users clients of choice are Microsoft’s, the industry will follow some of the standards they set. And this will go on until someone comes up with true alternatives on the desktop and client side – unfortunately, way too little of this exists today.

    So please – and yours is an important battle to fight – stick with the facts, avoid the type of FUD you prefer to spread around your victims and help us moving towards a more open world.

    Florian von Kurnatowski, Director Program Management, Scalix.

    P.S. You mention another product that we’re related with, the eeePC. Same story on that side – no impact or royalties to Redmond in this case, most of it open source, the stuff that’s not ours and Asus’ own development, and given the numbers this little thingy leaves the building in, actually one of the most successful end-user products based on open technology, ever.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 12, 2008 at 1:56 am

    Gravatar

    You will pay a price for this option, per-user, and the money goes to those who have developed the technology, some to us for doing the implementation, some to Microsoft for doing the protocol and promoting it’s use and implementation on all these devices.

    Why reward those who subvert and circumvent standards by making up their own? Profits should be made not through pipes and rules, which are the universal umbrella that makes everything tick. Have we not learned about the deliberate, selfish and even sinister nature of this from the leaked Halloween documents?

    I understand that you might address customer demand, but it must also be realised that by embracing proprietary protocols you make them more widespread (at the expense of open ones that can soon face extinction). To make matters worse, protocols that are paid for are seen as acceptable each time one tolerates them. Where would the Internet be if one had to pay a fee per protocol, per computer? Would things ‘interoperate’ at all? Haven’t we all learned the importance of open standards? A month ago I wrote an article which explains why the thing you did with Microsoft is akin to spitting in the face of open standards.

    I wish to add a more general question.

    Your CEO, Andy, has said that he does not believe Linux infringes on Microsoft’s software patents. His company is located in New York as I understand it and that’s where owning mathematics is seen as acceptable. But anyway, if he believes that statement of his, then why did he sign a deal with Microsoft which supposedly protects him from patent violations? How did you feel about being absorbed by a company which does this? You seem to insist that you cherish open standards, yet here also you support:

    1. Proprietary protocols
    2. Closed-source code, which you copyright

    If appear as though you do not adhere only to standards. Open source software is only involved where it suits you guys well, namely as users of it, not contributors (maybe I’m missing something here). By mimicking the Microsoft framework you merely become part of it, subjected one company’s demands, tariff, and mood swings.

  3. Florian von Kurnatowski said,

    January 12, 2008 at 3:51 am

    Gravatar

    You are missing one of the key points I made: The ultimate choice is with the users!

    And … while some of them do as you would prefer, i.e. only use technology based on open standards, because they think it’s better, most of them don’t. The reason for this is very simple – we talk about technology here and all these people want is something that works. They want tools for their lifes and work, not components and parts. They don’t want endless trying, they want solutions. That’s because not everyone is focusing all their time around technology. They have other jobs, other interests, other challenges and other lives than ours. And – believe it or not – they are the majority.

    My main computer is a Mac. It runs Mac OS/X. I use Apple iWork as an office suite and I also have a copy of Microsoft Office for the Mac on it. I’ve tried Open Office for the Mac, but in it’s current state, it’s not useable for me. It’s too slow, printing is awkward, and other limitations, in short, it’s a big pain. I understand that I would promote openness if I did use it and I understand that over time it might make the world somewhat better, by I don’t have that luxury. I need reliable document processing, the ability to work with stuff other people – who I have no control over – send me and I need that now and I can’t wait. I could use Linux on my desktop as well and it would be better than using Apple’s almost completely proprietary stack, at least in a way. Again, I don’t have that luxury and I don’t have the time. I see colleagues and co-workers figting with their Linux laptops whenever they connect to a wireless LAN, discussing what to do, which driver to use with which chipset and what access point the WLAN’s owner should have used so that everybody from the Open World could connect. All appreciated. If there was a standard, everybody would adhere to that, if all the wireless chipset vendors would put their drivers and specs out in the open, it would be a better world. Agreed. But it’s not there and it’s not useable. And again, I don’t have the time to wait and I can’t stop doing my work because I’m trying to use open technology only.

    And that’s me; I understand and know and appreciate technology, I am capable of handling a lot of the complexity. There are other people out there, lawyers, doctors, scientists, economists, philosophers, great thinkers – people with IQs well beyond yours and mine, who can’t – they simply can’t handle it and they also need to go on with their own work, because as important as technology is, it’s not all about it. And if they cannot handle it, how can a normal person?

    Back to us as a company – in the case of the wireless device example, we’re pretty much without influence, because other people make that decision. The wireless device market is a multi billion dollar power play and there are very few companies who completely dominate the market – amongst them Nokia and Sony-Ericsson, add Motorola and RIM, add Apple and Microsoft. It’s those folks who make the decisions. None of them, I repeat, NONE OF THEM really promotes the use of open standards for wireless email and device synchronisation. However, the functionality delivered is in high demand by everyone, certainly in organisations, but increasingly with consumers as well.

    So for people like us who have some relevance in the email server market, but none (and that cannot be changed for us) in the wireless device market, we have to listen. And If I ask our customers what they need on that side to be able to use our product, there is two words I here – naked truth: ActiveSync, BlackBerry. It’s as simple as that. I hear minority reports (after all, we cater to an audience friendly to Open Source and Open Standards) asking for SyncML, but after people try it and understand what limitations they would see by using it, they typically dismiss that thought because they couldn’t satisfy their internal customers (=users!) with it.

    So this is not really about making the choice for someone like us – this is about acknowledging or ignoring customer demand; now, companies that ignore customer demand typically don’t last very long and this particular area of wireless email is, in our product category, one that makes or breaks a company. And if we broke, the main winner in that game would be Microsoft, because at the end of the day, it’s typically Exchange that we do compete with. I’m sure you would agree that us going down (and again, that is a possible consequence of ignoring customer demand) doesn’t help your cause either.

    I don’t really wish to comment about other people and their thoughts and rationale, they should do that themselves, if they wish to. My words here – btw. – are not official marketing speak of my company, they are my own and I believe in what I’m saying, based on my accumulated experience and all I’ve seen, so I’ll stick to my side of that fence.

    On your final comments, first of all I don’t feel that Scalix has been absorbed at all by Xandros; something new has been created, and both parts that contributed to it have contributed to the identity of the new thing. Scalix – as product, technology, people, policy – has changed Xandros and vice versa. In general, the goals of the two companies did fit quite well – both are competing with Microsoft, offering alternatives and smooth migration paths through combining the use of open standards with proprietary technology where necessary and focussing on user and admin experience to make it accessible and relevant for people.

    For the Xandros-Microsoft agreement, the often-cited patent discussion is only a very small part of the agreement, key of it is technology exchange – Microsoft is getting technology from Xandros and vice versa, very much inline with the goals.

    If you now ask the question what their interest in all that is – while the final answer remains a matter of speculation on my side, for me it makes sense that they know they have to open up, allow competition and embrace other technologies to remain sustainable. In principle, a company with a market share like theirs really cannot exist forever, and IMHO they are trading market share for sustainability, which, in an expanding total market, should theoretically allow for increasing revenue and business success. In that sense, I don’t see anything sinister in their actions, just a lot of business sense and pragmatism – again, based on the market share that WE (as users, customers, governments) have GIVEN them; this, btw., is something we always have to keep in mind.

    For the open source side – Scalix (as HP OpenMail) did exist even before the term was coined. As such, we don’t use much of it (I am getting asked that question quite often – however, we have a pretty much clean track record – our product is not built on top of open soruce components, most of it has been written in house between HP and ourselves, even such fundamental components as the IMAP server engine and other things). The choice of Linux as a platform is pretty much arbitrary and based on market demand – the product would in theory run on any flavor of Unix, and in the past it did; we do use some common libraries and actually recently started using some open source components like OpenSSL and Lucene, but the vast majority of code is our own. We do provide some of it in source code form, and some not; the reason for the latter is business interest (as in the case of the Outlook connector), existing 3rd party copyright and license that we can’t simply remove or code sanitization needs based on the fact that some of our stuff was written using proprietary libraries in times where noone thought of Open Source in business software at all – more than 15 years ago.

    One thing that we do provide for what we gain is a freely useable version of the product and that is seen by the community as a valuable contribution – in a sense that it is used in many places to avoid having to setup Exchange servers (and all the other Microsoft products that this inevitably pulls into the building) because of end user demand for certain functionality that cannot be easily achieved in other ways.

    Then things we do in Openland are important to us; I’ve been a big believer in CalDAV as the next big thing and building block for open groupware and collaboration suites, given the importance of calendaring in organisations. Some of our competitors are not following along yet (even some who claim to be more open, more open source, more whatever than us), because “it’s not ready yet”. I fundamentally don’t believe it works that way – technology will never get ready if nobody uses them – as such we’re making another strong contribution by promoting the use of this standard and we plan to continue along that path.

    So while each of your thoughts touches a valid point, reality is not that simple. We don’t simply bend ourselves over, making deals with the devil or any of that kind. We try to strike a balance between openness and else, based on customer demand, to maintain a sustainable business model in which we can move forward on promoting the use of open standards, systems and technology, so that long-term freedom of choice remains available for our customers and the community.

    Florian.

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