ERROR #000000F6: incompatible with freedom
The cost of Free software may still depend on the ability to keep software patents away. But companies such as Sun Microsystems cannot resist talking about software patents, having been granted quite a few of them. It’s a case of obligation to their investors. or so they would openly argue and have you believe.
We recently mentioned Simon Phipps’ powwow with Michael Tiemann about software patents and Open Source. Don Marti summarises:
Simon Phipps proposes a hard problem: expanding the definition of ‘open source’ to include patents.
The easy part is dealing with any patents that are actually licensable by the person or company who is licensing the code. To get to a new “definition” you could say that copyright licenses that don’t also grant a patent license must be accompanied by a patent license grant.
The correspondence there mentioned the term “patents” very loosely. A couple of days ago we were reminded by a reader that it is crucial to make the clear distinction between patents and software patents. To quote:
“…could you correct the reference to ‘patents’ to say instead ‘software patents’ in the cases where it fits?
That is of utmost importance and I wish we could get Slashdot to tag its articles accordingly as well.
People have been trained for decades to get the warm and fuzzies for ‘patents’ which are touted as the ultimate metric for productivity in the private sector. Going against ‘patents’ has that barrier to overcome.
However, as we all know everything, even the rules of economy and physics, are completely different for software.
So headway can be made iff (if and only if) the debate is properly framed. That requires that new concepts be given new names.”
To get an idea of how software patents are treated around the world, consider this new comprehensive text. To get an idea of the harms, just watch the news. On the face of it, a new AJAX patent threat is looming and it could affect the entire Web, regardless of whether you’re a programmer of not. We gave recent examples of this, showing that everyone would suffer from software patents and be sensitive to lawsuits.
In supporting documentation it is claimed that pretty much the whole of the web uses this method to operate AJAX-based applications. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and eBay are identified as among those whose products “potentially” infringe on the patent.
The software patent problem is further complicated by scale, as demonstrated in this short article from CNET.
Under the law, the public is deemed to have constructive notice that something is patented if that something has a patent number on it. The idea behind the law apparently is that if one sees a patent number, one has the ability to look that patent up, read it, and maybe even understand what it says. For the corrugated sleeve, it was simple enough for me–albeit a little geeky–to take a look at the ’473 patent and understand how the sleeve works to make the heat from my latte more bearable.
But many times, the patents behind products marked with patent numbers are not as easily understandable. For example, the notice on Adobe Reader v. 8.1.2 lists over 60 different patents. I’m pretty sure that most of those patents are far more complex than the ’473 patent. But, assuming the numbers are properly listed, the law says that I and the rest of the public are on notice of whatever it is those patents cover.
Breadth and scale aside, trolling is probably the most severe problem. Remember the patent troll Acacia [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]? It’s keeping very busy, having just made some more money yesterday (probably after threats of litigation).
Diagnostic Systems Corp., a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corp. (NASDAQ: ACTG), has entered into a license agreement with SAS Institute Inc. covering a portfolio of patents that apply to rule-based monitoring.
The subsidiary has also entered into a license agreement with BMC Software Inc. (NYSE: BMC), covering a portfolio of patents that apply to rule-based monitoring. This resolves a dispute that was pending in the District Court for the Central District of California.
The patent number is not listed, but go ahead and figure what “rule-based monitoring” actually means. Watch what Bill Gates said before Microsoft became a monopolist (and claimed that Linux, its #1 threat, infringes on its software patents):
“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today… some large company will patent some obvious thing… take as much of our profits as they want.”
Send this to a friend
“We will never make a 32-bit operating system.”
–Bill Gates, At the launch of MSX
Transparency is an important issue which is discussed in this new interview with Bob Sutor and it’s lesson for Microsoft to learn from [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Undocumented ‘extensions’ — or “undocumentation”, as Microsoft refers to these internally — are definitely the plan for OOXML. Alternatively, there is the possibility of demanding a fee for access to undocumentation.
This interview with Sutor also touches on the issue on tensions and controversies, which in light of the old ECMAScript battle, become even more relevant. On the face of it, based on the following new article, Microsoft’s plan to ‘extend’ the Web with neither transparency nor consent lives on.
Asked if Microsoft will implement ECMAScript 4.0, Mr Hachamovitch prevaricates and talks about competing demands on the IE development team.
“Right now there isn’t really an ECMAScript 4 offering to implement, there is an ECMAscript for discussion.” he says.
Remind yourself of Microsoft's history with Java. Also recall XAML and Microsoft's Silverlight. Microsoft pretends to obey Web standards, but it’s only means of diversion.
Microsoft continues to praise itself at every opportunity given, even if only its business partners are used as pseudo-endorsement. It’s the “Yes men” tactic. Here is the latest example:
Microsoft’s Statement Appears to Be Sycophantic
In the Indian context, Microsoft’s post [OOXML] rejection statement carries no weight. When the statement itself is communicating that even at international level, the final decision is still pending, it was a vainglorious hope for the organization that the Indian body would accept its proposed format, especially, when the proponents of the idea of independence of standards from any particular environment or application are quite active here.
From the same site, the following new article is noteworthy also. Of interest:
One major reason for such anti-XML sentiment is that Microsoft does not intend to support its own standard. According to Microsoft once OOXML becomes a standard, it will have a governing body outside of Microsoft therefore it cannot guarantee if that governing body’s decisions will be acceptable by itself.
Microsoft’s overzeal to have the OOXML format adopted as a standard seems to have let these issues remain unaddressed. With these limitations, OOXML may at best acquire the status of a technical specification (TS) that does not the very high consistency and completeness criteria of a standard.
The article is correct in pointing out that not even Microsoft will support OOXML. The company will adhere to all sorts of undocumented or scarcely-available derivatives. In other words, OOXML is a tool for ensuring that Microsoft’s competitors remain ‘incompatible’ and poorly suited for the task. You may wish to see this new open letter which explains in simple terms why OOXML should be terminated. █
Send this to a friend
A reader has provided us with some updates about South Africa’s stance on OOXML.
Referring to an article we recently mentioned he says: “It is always nice seeing a top politician with clear concepts.” He provides a link to the corresponding video.
Further to this, the reader adds a link to this followup article which strives to add ‘balance’ (corporate balance). Here is what he told us:
Notice that it is most interesting analyzing the typical reply by a Microsoft (angered) exec, instructed with the “Microsoft mindset-du-jour” trying to disqualify free software while equating it to valueless-charity while insisting in trying to monetize open source through software patents-taxation.
Also, what a difference in reporting news between Tectonic and mybroadband.co.za!!!
The type of spin we nowadays find coming from Microsoft (or its trusted proxies) is far from an exception. It has gone on for over a year, but it intensifies whenever crucial votes are looming. Watch this new story from a Brazilian delegate.
More issues now have surfaced regarding some tactics being used to get OOXML approved as a standard. This time it’s from a delegate from Brazil, who is challenging the “Law of Silence,” the expression he coined in an earlier blog post for the restrictions on revealing details of the BRM meeting. He alleges that he believes Microsoft has itself violated it. It relates to Microsoft’s claim that 98% of issues were resolved at the meeting, which he says is inaccurate, but his question relates to why Microsoft can talk about the BRM and no one else can. He thought that number was handled at the BRM, when a slide with that figure on it was shown, challenged, and he thought handled; yet he hears from a colleague in Chile that the same slide just showed up there, with the same figure, and with Dr. Sam Gyun Oh’s name on the slide, the Chairman of SC 34, in a “presentation made by Microsoft to demonstrate how everything was resolved in OpenXML”.
Eventually, Brazil voted "No" again. You may also find the following recent remarks from a Brazilian delegate interesting (“I Have Never Seen a Person So Nervous and Ashamed in My Life”).
Dangling rules and moving goalposts
“Confusion! Burden. That ought to do the trick.”
It is rather amazing how frequently the rules at ISO are changed on the spot or on the fly. We last saw this only a week ago. It appeared to have just happened again.
Groklaw told “New rules for changing your vote on OOXML. Yup. Like we didn’t expect that. I know you don’t want your votes to end up ignored, so here’s what I think you have to do by March 29″. Well spoken. Agreement for disapproval is not enough, your national body needs to vote correctly or the specification might get closer to a pivotal approval. Don’t forget that to continue with a BRM for a text with 2300 comments had been their idea — and to go fast-track with 19 difficulties.
Yes, it is okay for ISO to approve a broken standard because you didn’t follow their formalities. Or that Sweden gets no vote because of usances on the national level which were dissolved by submitting no vote in the September ballot (non-vote is different from an abstention and kicked Sweden out of the process!)
So again, if nations do not vote 'properly' (i.e. like Microsoft wants them to), they have to tread on coal. █
Send this to a friend
Not much has changed. If anything, the latest announcements from Microsoft validate all suspicions that Microsoft want everyone to play by its own rules and pay for the privilege.
OSBC 2008 has already begun and Microsoft’s prominent involvement started to show. We are yet to address this.
In the mean time, here is one good pick from Dana Blankenhorn.
Microsoft is playing good cop, bad cop, offering “to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice” on the one hand, dismissing efforts to build real standards on the other.
Specifically, it provided documentation allowing developers to link with its MS-XAML, an XML schema for embedding applications, while dismissing Google’s OpenSocial initiative, and having its little friend, Facebook, do so as well.
Choice in this case means there’s a Microsoft way to do things and the highway’s way of doing things.
There’s no better time to bring up this old quote:
“We want to own these standards, so we should not participate in standards groups. Rather, we should call ‘to me’ to the industry and set a standard that works now and is for everyone’s benefit. We are large enough that this can work.”
–Microsoft Corporation, internal memo (source
We will shortly return to OOXML, which has a lot to do not with Novell directly, but everything to do with Novell-type patent deals. It’s the beginning of a broader strategy. █
Send this to a friend
Large nations are harder to stack
China and India, the world’s largest nations in terms of their population, said “No” to OOXML (with China yet to repeat this action). A reader has just mailed to inform us that Brazil will join them yet again. It’s another giant nation that is genuinely not interested in OOXML.
It is now official. Brazilian vote was decided by consensus of the entire technical team, including Microsoft crew’s: OOXML does not deserve to be an international ISO standard.
Let Brazil carry on with its migration to Free software and GNU/Linux. Recent stories from the region include:
The following are just months old:
This is far from new, but it’s happening quietly, without press releases. █
Send this to a friend