“Black Helicopters” caveat
A reader of this Web site, who sincerely wishes he is wrong on this one, has had some finds and thoughts to share about Microsoft’s open source strategy. Here it goes. Judge for self and take it with a pinch of salt.
IT is a small world: From your blog to Eric Raymond’s to S. Walli’s to Andy Updegrove
I know this is focused more on Microsoft than on Novell, but I wanted to share my opinion and two interesting pieces of text I reached thanks to your Web site linking to the first stop in the way.
From one of your articles referring Eric S. Raymond story about how Microsoft tried to hire him, I searched for S. Walli, a former Microsoft employee with whom, at the time, Eric had an interview. Here is an inspiring excerpt from Eric where he explains the ultimate reason why Microsoft can’t ever ever be trusted, and it is absolutely impossible that this company will ever change its behaviour:
“I had my serious, constructive converstation with
Microsoft last year, when a midlevel exec named Steven
Walli took me out to dinner at OSCON 2004 and asked,
in so many words, “How can we not be evil?” And I told
him — open up your file formats (including Word and
multimedia), support open technical standards instead
of sabotaging them, license your patents under
royalty-free, paperwork-free terms.
I believe Steve Walli went back to his bosses and
told them that truth. He is no longer with Microsoft,
and what little he’ll say about it hints that they
canned him for trying to change their culture.
This didn’t surprise me. Microsoft’s profit
margins require a monopoly lock on the market; thus,
they’re stuck with being predatory evil bastards. The
moment they stop being predatory evil bastards, their
stock price will tank and their options pyramid will
crash and it will be all over.
That being the case, negotiation is pointless.
Microsoft is not reformable. Jeering at offers like
this is actually the most constructive thing we can
Sam Walli got the boot and he runs a blog where we can
find some insights from a person who has been in both
sides of the wall: He is at the same time an
(ex)insider and an open source convert, and he even
quotes Andy updegrove in the war Microsoft is waging
for the ISO rubberstamp, so I think it is an
interesting source wher to look for strategic insights
I found a most interesting and clarifiying comment from one of the readers of Walli’s blog:
Personally I would have to think long and hard at what kind of IT future we want. One where MS controls everything, or one where developers and IT are free to innovate.
Make no mistake, MS has no love for Open Source, any more than it does for Linux. MS will offer empty platitudes to the Open Source administrators and developers who support MS with their efforts, while behind the scenes, they will only use Open Source as a means to prop up their fledging server business.
The two faces of MS will invariably show, as they always have. On the left side of the face, MS will claim victories of working well with Open Source. On the other side of the face, MS will be doing everything they can to destroy the OS movement. How? They will look at the Open Source solutions and attempt to find fault with the OS projects. They will start hiring the top Open Source talent to create MS proprietary equivalents or to create extensions that only run in a MS environment.
Those developers who take the MS deal, will be forced into a campaign through coercion and wild MS laced koolaid parties, to vociferiously refrain, “Open Source OK, but MS much better.”
MS knows that they are in serious trouble, Vista is a show piece of why MS is so bloated and over managed, that they cannot even put out a competent OS that has been cooking for five years. MS is rapidly seeing Open Soruce taking over the Web. MS knows it cannot compete with Linux Servers in price, features, security, nor scalability. This is rapidly becoming so apparent, that even financial magazines are starting to see and report on this phenomenon. It will not be long until even the most ardent Microsoft devotee will have to acknowledge that E-Commerce does not run on Microsoft.
IIS is not king, Apache is. NET is not king, Java and PHP are. MS has been and still are losing the Internet/Intranet/Extranet battle. Yes there are some areas where MS is entrenched, but as more and more IT shops start trusting their Web based infrastructure to Open Source, it is only a matter of time till they start replacing the Exchange and Sharepoint servers for Open Source solutions. If Open Source is reliable and trustworthy enough to run their B2B, why would it not be trustworthy enough to run their email and File sharing needs?
Of course there are true developers and engineers at MS who really want to work with and on Open Source projects, They see really neat stuff being done in Open Source and are truist to their professions. These developers and engineers want to be in on the action. I am sure their employer actually feeds them the line that, “MS wants to do some real Open Source as well”, and encourages them to take a look, but not leap.
In reality, MS is the same predatory company it has always been. The “Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish” philosophy of MS has not changed. It only has a new target.
IT is a small world: Part 2: Now in BLACK HELICOPTER MODE
***Warning: This is a BLACK HELICOPTER MODE PARANOID SPECULATION***
I just read in S. Walli’s blog that this guy is coming to Spain and is jumping inside the advisory boards of some of the more promising Open Source projects in my country.
He spoke about some very interesting and promising projects based in Spain (where we have been traditionally handicapped by a culture of disregard for science, technology and innovation): BitRock/Bitnami, OpenBravo and EBox-Platform.
I am specially a fan of Ebox-Platform ( http://ebox-platform.com/ ), quite similar to SMEServer; it is a Debian GNU/Linux-Based full-featured perfect replacement for Windows Server, and I think of it as a direct threat to the SmallBusiness server Microsoft product. Any SME implementing this solution would be automagically free from Microsoft Lock-in, since it replaces Windows Server as file-server, replaces Exchange Server, ISA Server (it includes a firewall), etc and is costless. Moreover, it takes 10 minutes to install and configure.
I wonder why this solution is not better known. I also sent a letter to the developers suggesting them to release it under the GPLv3 in order to avoid patent threats (very much as I did with the developer of hmailserver), still no reply.
“Can it be that Microsoft is disseminating its “droids” (even if they present themselves as ex-Softies) as fifth-columnists in the companies they perceive a biggest threat to their closed business model?”What ringed my “Bad Karma Master Alarm” was this article about infiltrating Open Source through marketing and how well he knows the intricacies of this business.
And the way it praises and promotes Microsoft marketing campaign in order to gain brain share among open source developers and try to fight back the web going open standards and free software innfrastructure-based.
And he is also advertising the latest EclipseCon, where Microsoft has just infiltrated with Sam Ramji.
Can it be that Microsoft is disseminating its “droids” (even if they present themselves as ex-Softies) as fifth-columnists in the companies they perceive a biggest threat to their closed business model? Is Walli still working for the Borg?
I know I might sound a bit paranoid, and while I really look forward to see that Walli’s intentions are honest and I really want to be wrong, it seemed quite a coincidence to me to see Walli reaching some of the most interesting projects in my country, which is not much reputed for innovation in IT, though we are seeing some very interesting developments related to GNU/Linux and Open Source as of late, e.g. www.linex.es and www.guadalinex.org. This latter one caused an emergency flight of Steve Ballmer to my country in order to avoid the regional government of Andalusia adopting it and ditching Windows (www.molinux.es).
Again, take this with a grain of salt. For context and further reading, consider this recent post about Microsoft infiltrating Eclipse. The many links there help draw a broader picture. █
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Who runs this show anyway?
Alex Brown has unleashed some more material just days after protests against ISO’s miserable failure. Groklaw takes a look at what’s available and soon concludes that ISO has just shot itself in the foot with sheer hypocrisy.
There are two more documents from the BRM meeting available now on Alex Brown’s blog:
If you open the zip file and look at the document titled PT-62A2.doc and put it next to the Resolutions document [text], specifically Resolution 23, I think you’ll find that they say, put together, that any applications wishing interoperability with OOXML in sound must use MP3. This is non-free, being patent-encumbered. If you go to Audiopeg.com, it tells us, “Audio MPEG is protected by a portfolio of patents covering a large number of countries.” Therefore, by my reading, the proposed spec can’t be implemented in free software and in a backhanded way, the GPL has just been exiled again. What kind of standard is OOXML if the GPL, which is what Linux is licensed under, can’t freely interoperate? FOSS is a new factor that standards bodies simply must consider. It’s not like the old, proprietary days, when it was like a club, and everybody had similar business plans.
Deja vu. ISO did this before. Remember the Cuba story?
How can a body which strives to deliver standards be so naive? To make matters worse, to require the use of ‘anti-standards’ applications (e.g. Microsoft Word) as tools for voting on choice/replacement is a catch 22. It is almost as though they promote the same problem which they purport to be trying to resolve. In fact, not being part of the solution arguably makes them part of the problem.
They ought to have known better. █
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Striving to avoid the use of the word “innovation”, which is somewhat of a propaganda term used to justify ownership and deviation from standards, let’s talk about “progress”. Progress is typically increased when multiple parties compete with one another and develop better products. Better products sell better not owing to exclusion merits. They deliver more value in the form of function that complies with standards, not ‘extends’ them unilaterally.
The first article worth highlighting in this context is from Mercury News. Its headline is “Tech leader assesses state of innovation in valley”. Is this innovation? See for yourself:
The presumption is that, OK, we’ve got patent trolls, and we need to go and stop these guys from asserting weak patents against companies (to) gum up the works. In any ecosystem, there’s always going to be parasites, and I consider patent trolls to be parasites.
Those so-called “parasites” are the small guys, but these are not the same small guys that the patent system was intended to protect. If large companies more rarely assert their rights, then who is truly being served? Where is the ‘innovation’ being protected and how? Techdirt published a short item which calls for people to reject what it calls “The Myth That More Patents Means More Innovation”.
Patents don’t help with that. In fact, patents quite often can often do a lot more damage by slowing the pace of innovation — limiting the ability for companies to improve upon a technology or even a business model concept.
In line with the same logic, Ars Technica bemoans the existence of game (software) patents.
At first blush, patents on gameplay mechanics are a good idea; they allow the creators of these ideas to profit from them. The issue is that the patents are so becoming so broad, and so prohibitive to fight in court, that very basic ideas are being locked down by a few companies.
Lastly, consider this reminder [via Glyn Moody] that every company is at risk provided it uses software in-house. This means that software patents have a chilling effect on progress not just in the software industry. Not only software companies can find themselves sued and distracted by the need for lawyers. We saw that in the SCO case, for instance.
An enormous number of programmers are employed in organizations we don’t think of as software firms, developing custom applications for the internal use of their employers. In a sense, every company of non-trivial size is a software company.
Not only software developers should be concerned about software patents. Protests against such patents ought to attract a wider audience and thus greater resistance. █
More Patents = Slower Progress
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Can Red Hat and Ubuntu laugh at Novell’s expense?
As programmers with only mere knowledge of the law (primary based on intuition), we still fail to understand — with full confidence at least — the impact of OpenOffice.org upgrading its licence [1, 2].
Looking elsewhere, we begin to find legal interpretation which explains the impact on Novell.
These news does of course upset Novell, as it is one more move against their brilliant scheme of alliance with Microsoft (« ’till thy death, my beloved master »). In effect, it nullifies the legal threats from the integration of Microsoft’s own intellectual property into OpenOffice.org. If you wonder what I’m talking about, just consider the work that is being done jointly by Novell and Microsoft on the now famous plugins and converters to OOXML. Some of the codes, ideas, and methods, let alone presumed patents will find their way back inside Openoffice.org, in two places. First there will be a full import and export filter developed by Novell and Microsoft in the Novell edition of OpenOffice.org (ain’t that sweet?) that will permeate Microsoft’s intellectual property.
Before the release of the (L)GPL v3, only Novell could grant you, lucky you, the complete protection on the code (hence creating a lack of balance among OpenOffice.org, courtesy of Microsoft). Fortunately for us though, the licence upgrade is now protecting OpenOffice.org from the claims of Microsoft and anyone legally affected by them. Patent protection is thus the second major advantage to this upgrade, as Simon rightly pointed out.
In light of this recent development, it is worth recalling that Novell pretty much forked OpenOffice.org [1, 2], creating its Microsoft-oriented version of the software, It comes with semi-cooked OOXML ‘translators’, patent ‘protection’, Microsoft fonts, macros (only for Windows) and so forth. For further information see:
It is not just Novell which is affected by Sun’s decision. Remember what Microsoft did to Linspire just shortly after they had signed a patent deal. Linspire continues to seem like a lost cause and this article agrees. The article is from yesterday and here is another one about Freespire, which is equally problematic.
Freespire: An Open OS, but Proprietary is No Problemo
Many times, when I talk to people who are just dipping their toes into using Linux, they complain that they end up wishing they could use a mix of proprietary drivers, codecs, applications and other tools with their newfound open source applications. Especially for people used to the Windows environment, I usually recommend Freespire in these cases. In this post, I’ll show how Freespire—an open source Linux distribution with tons of plug-ins and extras—creates a great bridge between the worlds of proprietary and open source tools.
Will Linspire, which is not permitted to use Novell’s edition of OpenOffice.org, be permitted to use OpenOffice.org 2.4 (and successors)? IANAL, but it seems like they are now stuck. They are stuck in the past. █
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BoycottNovell was cited by the Washington Post, PCWorld, Yahoo News and other respectable sources over the weekend, which is probably a sign of maturity and acknowledgment of credibility. Thanks to all the readers who have stayed with us. We do manage to get the word out and influence people’s understanding of the Microsoft/Novell deal, which is hard given the scale of Microsoft’s and Novell’s ‘public relations armies’, not to mention the natural biases of the press.
Yesterday I published the following article about the way standards and patents affect GNU/Linux. It’s cautiously optimistic.
Looking ahead, GNU/Linux will continue to evolve very fast. No other highly-distributed programming project thrives in development by a group so large and so highly motivated. It has become apparent, however, that some of the challenges to address along the way are more than just technical.
I’ve already received one important correction to the text (from zoobab) in reference to:
One could reach the point of discussing another logical possibility. Might we be seeing the whole patent system implode, primarily due to self-inflicted damage and serious deficiencies? Familiarize yourself with the work of the open invention network for example. It is one possible solution, but it is worth considering ways of working around patents also.
“OIN is no solution against proxy-trolls,” he says, pointing to:
GM: Typically, patent trolls don’t have any products, so they are unlikely to be infringing on any of your patents. Isn’t that a problem for the OIN approach? JR: Very clearly there’s not much we can do with regard to patent trolls.”
Further, he adds: “The typical strategy is that a company who wants to annoy a competitor pays a troll to do the dirt job. A bit like the mafia.”
In this context, mind the Acacia story [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. █
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Further to the previous post, consider some of the more recent developments and the push for Europe not to pull another Neelie Kroes [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Europe is being criticised for its endorsement of RAND-’protected’ ‘standards’ and Digital Majority has some details about it.
An MEP has written a question on the use of patented standards within public administrations. The position of the DG Enterprise is definitely to prefer RAND patented standards, and exclude free software from public administrations.
In Open Forum Europe, a call was issued for change as well.
At a time when the EU Commission investigates the anti-competitive behaviour of a market-dominant player, the European Parliament (EP) still imposes that same specific software choice on both the European Union’s citizens and its own MEPs. OpenForum Europe, The European Software Market Association, and the Free Software Foundation Europe today launched a petition to call on the EP to use open standards so that all citizens can participate in the democratic process.
You can find out a little more about OpenForum’s role and position as well. It would be sad to see Europe leaning Microsoft’s way and abandoning the very same principles that made the World Wide Web possible.
OpenForum’s conference featured keynote speeches from Vint Cerf, who is often dubbed “the father of the internet” for his role in developing ARPAnet, and shared the common concern that…
Interestingly, many of the delegates of the “other meeting” attended the keynotes and some presentations, presumably out of a common interest in the meaning and definition of “standards”, but were the soul of discretion when it came to discussing events in the other place. The structure of the conference and the tone of its presentations was discursive, not didactic, and there was a genuine interest in finding resolutions to the issues that beset standards in the computing industry. Standards affect innovation, barriers to entry, interoperability and the neutrality of data, and are fundamental to the future of computing. Technology moves at speed and the idea that protocols, APIs and data formats are “trade secrets” can be viewed as regressive, and an impediment to the transmission of ideas.
The next post will touch on this issue yet again (and for the last time today). █
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