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03.13.08

The GPL Case Against Intellectual Monopolies and Patent Agreements

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GPL, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Patents at 11:23 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Why going against the GPL is going against one’s chances of survival

Linux Magazine has published this very decent article that explains in simple terms why Microsoft might struggle to compete. The autor typically writes about high-performance computing, so naturally he uses this one area of an example.

If you are the multi-billion dollar IT industry you stick you head in the sand and just keep making cars. It is after all, not your problem. That seems to be the attitude of almost every company with a vested interest in the computing market. There was a recent announcement indicating Intel and Microsoft have put up $10 million to fund research in parallel software. Hah! I’m going to laugh harder this time HAH, HAH! Ever here the phase pissing in the ocean, well this is more like throwing a match into the sun. We need more — much more.

[...]

Second, the entire in industry must co-operate and be involved. We need everyone working on this problem. The best minds in high performance computing have been at it for quite a while and it is time to turn up the volume. Fantasies of telling your R&D guys to get on it are not enough. Trying to corral your Intellectual Property (IP) with trade secrets and patents is wishful thinking. The rocket scientists (and plenty of other smart people) have been working on this issue for a long time. You don’t have the time to waste trying to expand your IP fiefdom. Instead start thinking about what happens when the next generation of products is of absolutely no interest to your customers.

Third we need to respond quickly. There is no time for IP agreements, posturing, and NIH ego trips (Not Invented Here). We need leaders to recognize the scope and magnitude of this challenge and act. Before too long, it will not be unreasonable to have four or even eight cores in a desktop. A workstation or server may have double this amount. It would sure be nice if my software could effectively use all these cores.

[...]

Using the GPL will immediately remove issues that would normally choke such an important undertaking. First, the any IP barriers get pushed aside and everyone can cooperate openly

Remember that if virtualisation is accounted for, GNU/Linux dominates over 90% of the world’s top 500 computers. Windows domination may seem hard to deny, but only if you take into consideration desktops and laptops.

The article above praises the GPL, which various related parties — typically those which are affiliated with Microsoft — seem to be skeptics of. The GPL is by no means a case against business and money. If there are projects that illustrate this, one of them would be WordPress, with which I have been involved since 2004. Matt Mullenweg, a co-founder of the project (a b2 derivative) and the founder of Automattic, speaks about the success with the GPL, which rivals struggle to compete against.

WordPress is 100% open source, GPL.

All plugins in the official directory are GPL or compatible, 100% open source.

bbPress is 100% GPL.

WordPress MU is 100% open source, GPL, and if you wanted you could take it and build your own hosted platform like WordPress.com, like edublogs.org has with over 100,000 blogs.

There is more GPL stuff on the way, as well. :)

Could you build Typepad or Vox with Movable Type? Probably not, especially since people with more than a few blogs or posts say it grinds to a halt, as Metblogs found before they switched to WordPress.

Sam Varghese posted a hypothetical and somewhat comical news piece that echoed a similar one from Steven Vaughan last year. It asks wether Microsoft would be able to compete more successful had Windows been licensed under real Open Source terms.

But, given all the pressure that Microsoft is under these days from different quarters, what if the company decided to reveal those jewels? Would it have any impact on FOSS? Would people in the FOSS sphere really care? Would it make a difference?

As Movable Type (Six Apart) found out in the face of WordPress, going open when it’s too late is just a case of catching up. It might as well be considered a lost cause. Those who go against the GNU GPL, just as Novell did with Microsoft, take the route to nowhere. No matter the technical merits, they are unable to attract a passionate crowd of developers and enthusiastic collaborative customers. Once a week we post progress about the OpenSUSE project and it seems safe to say that it has slowed down significantly.

Remember: it’s always about the licences. IANAL.

Links 14/03/2008: More Linux in Brazil, Red Hat Buys Company, Microsoft Loses Vice President

Posted in News Roundup at 10:33 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Europe to Increase Use of Free Software, Lobbyists Try to Force Software Patents Onto Europe

Posted in Courtroom, Europe, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 7:19 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft’s headache continues, underhanded tactics ensue

A press release from europa.eu reaffirms and substantiates what many knew would come. [via Glyn Moody]

EU: European Commission to increase its use of Open Source

[...]

The European Commission will take a more pro-active approach to its own use of Open Source.

In a document published last week, the EC states among others that the Commission will prefer Open Source software for its new IT projects: “For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission Infrastructure, Open Source Software will be the preferred development and deployment platform.”

According to the document, the EC is an early adopter of Open Source. A first strategy document on this type of software was presented in 2000. However, it is for the first time the European Commission publishes such a document. Valerie Rampie, spokesperson or Siim Kallas, the European commissioner who is responsible for administrative affairs, said the publication of the strategy is “mainly for information purposes”.

Need it also be mentioned that, according to this new article, the US Navy is now dumping proprietary software and will focus only on free/open source software? [via Matt Asay]

“The days of proprietary technology must come to an end,” [Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, deputy chief of naval operations for communications] said. “We will no longer accept systems that couple hardware, software and data.”

When Steve Ballmer said just two weeks ago that Microsoft’s number one competitor is Linux, he probably meant it. This has actually been said for many years, albeit reluctantly.

“Microsoft will make every possible attempt to limit or illegalise Linux.”So, how will Microsoft responds? Will it embrace Linux? Will it resort to more FUD tactics or find another brigadier like SCO? More likely, Microsoft will continue to try to change the law and also spend on manufacturing precedences. Microsoft will make every possible attempt to limit or illegalise Linux.

Digital Majority continues to take a close look at the situation in Europe. Several articles seem to suggest that the lobbyists are busy. Very busy. Here is one obnoxious report from Ireland.

O’Connor is a leading expert on European software patents and explained to his audience, which comprised 250 technology transfer and intellectual property experts from a range of companies and universities including Yahoo!, Microsoft, MIT, UC Berkeley and Stanford, why software patent applications fail in Europe, and what needs to be done to resolve these problems.

On the issue of ambiguities in the law getting misused, see this article.

The problem arose because the EPC and the derivative UK Patents Act excluded from patentability “methods of doing business and computer programs ‘as such’”. It took a number of stages to get a consistent interpretation of what was allowed. The problem arose because a computer program is often a convenient way of implementing a set of instructions which produce a technical advance (technical effect in patent-speak). Early on it was decided both in the EPO and in the UK courts that where the computer program is used to implement a method which produces a technical advantage, the process would be patentable.

Lastly, see how a fight against software patents gets described as a loss in the Guardian.

The chief judge in the landmark European Microsoft antitrust case highlighted the doubts of critics on Wednesday, saying in his first public comments on the decision he hopes it will not discourage investors.
The 13-judge Grand Chamber of the European Union’s second highest court handed down a sweeping ruling in September, upholding a tough European Commission decision saying Microsoft abused its dominance of PC operating systems to crush rivals. It also endorsed a 497-million euro fine.

[...]

Vesterdorf said that many critics believe the decision weakened patent law and the rights of patent holders to do as they wished with their intellectual property.
There was no doubt that the CFI had significantly enhanced the authority of the European Commission beyond its rulings earlier cases, he said, giving it “a wide margin of appreciation.”

Mind the use of the word “investors”, which is very different from the word “inventors”. Patents are increasingly seen as a financial tool which serves not the developers but serves those who capitalise and profit while they marginalise and elbow rivals off their ‘intellectual territories’. In light of that last article bemoaning the EU’s decision, consider the quote below.

“The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”

Government Official, Washington Post

Microsoft’s Patent FUD Not Even a Consideration for Asus miniBook Company (Linux-based Laptops)

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Interview, Microsoft, Xandros at 6:49 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

In the following new interview with the CEO of RM, the patent question comes up. It validates what people like Matt Asay have been saying all alone. Customers, just like distributors in this case, don’t care for Microsoft’s intimidation attempts. They see no need for so-called promises which Microsoft makes to those who shell out (or “sell out”) ‘protection money’.

John Spencer talks to Tim Pearson Chief Executive of RM. RM is the largest most successful supplier of ICT to the UK education market and, for good measure, is British too. Tim has been there from the start and so is really now Mr RM. This autumn he gave the school ICT world a jolt when RM announced its Asus miniBook. It retails to schools for only £169 and runs Open Source software throughout. The miniBook has preceded an avalanche of new products and new thinking.

[...]

JS: The Minibook uses the rather well finished Xandros Linux OS (I have one of my own). Xandros signed a ‘no sue’ agreement with Microsoft last year do you think this will be a necessary trend for other OSS companies?

TP: I suspect not, it was certainly not part of our consideration either way.

A guy from Scalix (Xandros) insisted that the Linux distribution from ASUS is not tied to Xandros. You can find the comment here.

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.

From a legal perspective (i.e. ‘liability’ to Microsoft), this remains somewhat uncertain and the only company that can reliably answer this question is probably Asustek, which began offering Windows XP options. The strategy of Asustek remains focused on Linux, according to its recent admission. Moreover, the days of Windows XP are numbered.

Links 13/03/2008: Scientific Linux 4.6 Released; Debian Leadership to Be Decided

Posted in News Roundup at 3:36 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Brussels (Europe) Explains Stance on Standards, But Questions Remain

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Free/Libre Software, GPL, Microsoft, Protocol, Servers, Standard, Windows at 7:11 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Europe’s notion of standards remains somewhat unclear, incomplete

Over the past week we have raised on several occasions Europe’s implicit consent for Microsoft’s patent games (payment for documentation and reasonable fees for software patents — whatever “reasonable” actually means). It appears as though many of the cries for change paid off because Europe has seemingly responded with this press release praising standards. It remains a bit fuzzy though. Take a quick look. [via Andy Updegrove]

Standardisation can make an important contribution to the development of sustainable industrial policy, unlock the potential of innovative markets and strengthen the position of European economy through more efficient capitalising of its knowledge basis. These are the main conclusions of a European Commission communication “Towards an increased contribution from standardisation to innovation in Europe” published today. It identifies the most important challenges faced, presents concrete objectives for standardisation and the use of standards, and consolidates on-going efforts and proposed measures to be launched both by relevant stakeholders and by the Commission. The communication identifies key elements for focusing EU standardisation policy on innovation such as commitment to market-led standardisation and to the voluntary use of standards, inclusion of new knowledge in standards or access to standardisation of all interested stakeholders, in particular small and medium enterprises, but also consumers and researchers.

[...]

The success of the European standardisation system in removing technical barriers to trade has played a vital role in ensuring the free movement of goods between Member States

The quote above is worth a careful look. Europe must realise that transportation of data (information) must not involve a cost, unlike the cost of actual software (development). Charging royalties on data movement — or input and output to put it differently — would be absurd. To borrow from the quote above, free protocols would play a “vital role in ensuring the free movement of goods [data] between Member States.” Anything else would be a hindrance and a peril to vital communication.

Over at ZDNet, Samba tells the story about the role of the European Commission in achieving what was achieved.

Tridgell went onto say that the 2004 European Commission decision broke the ice between the company and open-source developers and that “the channels of communication are now basically open again”, despite Microsoft’s ongoing disputes with the EU’s legislative body.

Interestingly enough, this agreement which Samba established with Microsoft after the EU had resorted to intervention in fact set the tone for interoperability based on payments [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Microsoft hopes to establish Samba-type agreements with fewer concessions, using Samba as precedence. it is therefore worth reiterating and restating previous concerns over Europe’s understanding/stance on open standard, which remains largely GPL-incompatible.

OpenDocument Day
ODF: compatible with the GPL, unlike OOXML

Novell States Its Business Case, at Ubuntu’s and Red Hat’s Expense

Posted in FUD, GNU/Linux, Novell, Red Hat, SLES/SLED, Ubuntu at 5:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“I think the vast majority, and I’d quantify that at about 80 percent to 85 percent, of the open source community actually supports this deal [with Microsoft].”

Novell’s Justin Steinman, making stuff up

Remember the times when Novell ridiculed ‘opponents’ such as Ubuntu, making all sort of small and subtle implications? As Shane pointed out back then, Justin Steinman gently suggested that Ubuntu is not suitable for the enterprise. Shane said: “Novell’s Justin Steinman went so far as to say that Ubuntu lacked “enterprise quality” support options, making it suitable for the “technical enthusiast” community.” He took similar cheap swings at Red Hat.

A long time has passed since then. But here we have a bit of a deja vu. Have a look at the following remarks.

“Frankly, we consider Ubuntu a consumer desktop,” says [Novell's] Applebaum. “When you use Linux in the enterprise, you need to be able to dial 1-800 ’someone’ for help.” Novell’s SuSE Linux team and channel partners are best positioned to offer that business help, Applebaum insists.

And what about Red Hat? “Candidly, we don’t see Red Hat on the desktop,” says Applebaum, before quipping: “But we’re still waiting. We’ve yet to encounter them [in the desktop market].” (Red Hat’s efforts to jump-start things on the desktop have hit snags.)

Justin Steinman joins this show as well. Once again it appears as though Ubuntu’s technical support gets ignored (thus perpetuating a myth) and Fedora is treated as inexistent. Novell will find it increasingly hard to give real reasons to choose SUSE. It knows this.

Also see: Novell’s FUD Affinity

Novell error message

Links 13/03/2008: Firefox 3 Praised; Yahoo Makes Escape Attempts

Posted in News Roundup at 4:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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