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03.28.08

OOXML Roundup; BSI’s Sellout Did Not Go Unnoticed

Posted in Africa, America, Europe, GPL, Microsoft, Open XML, Patents at 11:52 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

John Pugh, a British member of the Parliament, has on several occasions slammed the government for its blind pro-Microsoft stance. This type of obedience (or short-sighted admiration for the abusive monopolist) drew his attention and led to some stories we covered here before, namely:

Seeing what happened in the UK as far as OOXML goes, Pugh wrote a letter to the BSI:

Dear Mr Low,

I am deeply concerned that some national bodies have considered approving DIS29500 “in their national interest”.

It is not in the interest of the UK or any other country for DIS 29500 to be published as an international standard in its present form as there are a significant number of unresolved issues, including incompatible licensing conditions, single vendor interest and control as well as those other
factors uncovered since the original comment period closed. There is also the issue that is no current form of DIS 29500, as yet another exception to the process was made regarding the presentation of the proposed changes.

Issues raised by the BSI and others during the original 30 day objections phase have also never been properly addressed, not least of which is the unsuitability of such a large and complex specification of an unproven format to the fast track process.

Such a standard, if approved, would govern the manipulation of all future documents and lock users into a single supplier environment. The OOXML specification contains significant Intellectual Property Rights and other traps which will:

- Stifle competition

- Diminish innovation overall

- Severely restrict consumer choice

- Block Government choice

- Limit the ability of UK SMEs to innovate and compete

[...]

For recently-posted information about the situation in the UK, see:

This cheeky new article from The Register (UK) says a little more about this letter, but it totally neglects to mention the main problem with the OSP which it refers to. Many other reports turn a blind eye to some of the more serious issues, including omission of all irregularities and exclusion of Microsoft’s number one competitor.

Over at Africa, FOSSFA continues to apply pressure. We saw FOSSFA’s good effect earlier this week.

FOSSFA made the call to encourage public involvement in the open standards debate at the national level throughout Africa in a statement following a conference in Dakar, Senegal, that ended last week.

Over in Venezuela, a “Yes” became a “No”, so it’s too early to predict anything.

(snip) Venezuela wishes to modify its position on DIS 29500 (snip)
(snip) from Approval with comments to Disapproval with comments.

More on Venezuela (only by mention) here:

It’s going to be a tiresome weekend.

Links 28/03/2008: Loads of Good News for Free Software

Posted in News Roundup at 12:43 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

Microsoft’s 90th-minute Software Patent Lie for OOXML

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software, GPL, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, Standard at 12:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Talk about timing.

Yesterday, Groklaw exposed yet another serious gap in Microsoft’s so-called ‘Open’ Specification Promise. This didn’t stop Microsoft from pushing onto the press yet another article and claim that everyone is safe. Well, unless that “everyone” happens to be Microsoft’s #1 competitor, of course. Here is the article in question, in case you want to see for yourself how Microsoft 'writes the news'. Watch how they address the wrong question:

Microsoft: We won’t sue over future OOXML versions

Microsoft has assured coders that its Open Specification Promise — a pledge that it won’t sue developers using OOXML — will apply to future versions of the document format.

[...]

Linux Australia president Stewart Smith said Microsoft’s announcement has helped to allay fears over one issue that the SLFC raised but did not deal with its biggest concern: that the OSP-covered specifications are not compatible with the General Public License (GPL).

Related articles (external):

Related and recent posts:

Main takeway: OOXML remains a case against the GNU GPL, not just against competition at large. Microsoft never chose to correct this, so it’s a question of design, the engineering of exclusion.

Quick Mention: Has Korea Just Voted “Yes” to OOXML? (Updated)

Posted in Asia, Microsoft, Open XML at 9:41 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Russell has just sent this one in. It’s in Korean, but here is an automated translation:

Gipyowon, MS Open XML an international standard ‘favor’

Microsoft (MS) Office Open XML (OOXML) international standard specifies the voting deadline a day away and representatives of the United States had the right to vote under the technical knowledge and Economy decided to vote in favor of international standardization OOXML KATS is a final cleanup plan.

The text isn’t entirely clear, so judge for yourself.

Update: Here is another decent (probably out-of-date) breakdown.

Votes
P Members:

Canada: No
Czech Republic: Yes
USA: Yes
India: No
China: No
Belgium: Abstain
Germany: Yes
Netherlands: Abstain
Denmark: No
Finland: Yes
Kenya: Abstain

O Members:

Brazil: No
Cuba: No
Romania: Yes

Predicted total result

P Approval: 60.6%, (higher than 66.7% needed).
Overall No Votes: 24.3%, (lower than 25% needed).

OOXML Fails.

Also see this.

Novell&Miguel Brings [sic] Microsoft Downstream to Our GNU/Linux

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents at 8:53 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

For those who still believe and insist that cries about Novell’s deeds are unjustified, here comes another rather compelling way of presenting the situation. A day ago we showed that Novell had served as Document Freedom Day's black sheep. It turns out that were were not alone in noticing this. Have a look: [via LinuxToday]

I just hope it’s a better kind of help than C#, OOXML, and a barely-working Silverlight clone. Unless you have some grand scheme for making software patents go away?

Miguel, you’re a smart person and I respect what you’ve done. But your current infatuation with All Things Microsoft is, frankly, scaring me and a lot of other people. I didn’t switch to Linux so I could have Microsoft technologies in my face.

More importantly, watch what chromatic says in reference to an issue that was raised earlier, its context being OSBC 2008 and downstreaming of code/binaries.

Don’t Work Downstream from Redmond

[...]

This is my problem with Microsoft’s patent pledge, with the Microsoft-Novell deal over codecs for Monopolight, and just about everything coming out of Redmond except for the pretty words of the open source interoperability lab.

Discriminatory distribution clauses are contrary to the four freedoms of software. Couching that discrimination in the language of business ($40 billion in annual revenue seems like a pretty fair return for $7 billion in annual research to me) and waving the tired old tatters of the flag of innovation doesn’t make that discrimination right, and it doesn’t hide it very well.

Whether we have Microsoft impose its unique rules and interpretation upon our own licences or not, with things like Moonlight around, Microsoft simply passes its own licences to us, which essentially beats the whole divide. It works well for Microsoft (and Novell, which claims to have received exclusive ‘protection’). Why else would Miguel denounce the Novell/Microsoft deal, the context being Moonlight very specifically?

Can anybody not see this yet?

Silverlight puke, barf

OOXML Believed to be on Path to a Loss at ISO (ITNews) (Updated)

Posted in Formats, IBM, ISO, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Oracle, Red Hat, Standard, SUN at 6:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Marbux has just mailed us this pointer, suggesting that OOXML is unlikely to be approved, at least judging by the following early assessment:

With less than two days to go before the International Standards Organization (ISO) decides on whether or not to approve Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML), lovers and haters of the format are intensifying their arguments for a last hurrah.

[...]

For OOXML to be approved, at least two thirds of the participating countries need to have voted in favour of the format, and no more than one quarter of the total number of votes can be negative.

As things stand, numbers are not looking good for Microsoft. 18 countries have voted in favour of OOXML, and 14 countries have voted against it. Nine countries, including Australia, have chosen to abstain from the vote.

The is some more new coverage of Document Freedom Day, including this report which ends with:

“But [OOXML] fails the test for an Open Standard in various ways, including an unclear legal status as well as inclusion of and reference to proprietary technologies. It has all signs of a vendor-specific format that only Microsoft will be able to implement completely,” the group writes on its site.

If you are interested in OpenOffice.org, be aware that its Web site has just had a major redesign. Also, you may wish to see this new feature walkthrough of version 2.4.0.

When updating extensions, OpenOffice.org will launch the web browser to the appropriate web pages for more convenient updating. Extensions can have non-geeky-looking display names, but if the publisher omits the display name, the geeky-looking filename is used instead. Extension publishers can include links to their sites and to release notes.

Personally, I never use office suites (I’m more of a LATEX person), but knowing how OpenOffice.org eliminates barriers to Free software adoption, I am willing to help promote it. ODF is supported by dozens of applications from many different vendors (whom Sun/IBM/Red Hat/Oracle/Google did not have to pay/bribe, unlike Microsoft). ODF is not to be confused or seen as analogous to OpenOffice.org.

Update: Marbux adds the following good bits, which he permitted us to share in public.

Even if DIS-29500 (“OOXML”) is approved by JTC 1, that is not the end of file format war; it is only the beginning. Under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (“ATBT’), international standardization is merely *preparation” for decisions to adopt technical regulations at the regional/national/local level. See sections 2.4 and 2.6. And what do we find in section 2.2?

Members shall ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.

So even if Microsoft wins the “prepared” stage, it still has to win the “adopted or applied” phases.

Similarly, under the Agreement on Government Procurement (“AGP”), Article VI sections 1 and 2, we find:

1. Technical [procurement] specifications laying down the characteristics of the products or services to be procured, such as quality, performance, safety and dimensions, symbols, terminology, packaging, marking and labelling, or the processes and methods for their production and requirements relating to conformity assessment procedures prescribed by procuring entities, shall not be prepared, adopted or applied with a view to, or with the effect of, creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.

2. Technical specifications prescribed by procuring entities shall, where appropriate:

(b) be based on international standards, where such exist; otherwise, on national technical regulations(3), recognized national standards(4), or building codes.

Note that the footnotes I have omitted from the original text directly paraphrase ATBT definitions.

While the requirement that technical specifications be based on international standards in section 2 would seem to create tension in the context of OOXML with the section 1 prohibition against procurement specifications that create unnecessary obstacles to international trade, traditional legal analysis would call for resolving that tension by looking to the purpose of the Agremeement. So under my interpretation, the prohibition in section 1 would trump section 2. But I caution that this is an issue the WTO dispute resolution process has yet to rule on.

Both the AGP and the ATBT apply to every level of government in signatory nations. So, e.g., in the Massachusetts situation, the battle was over a technical regulation that was also to be used as a procurement specification. Hence the decision was subject to both treaties.

Think of the “prepared, adopted, or applied” phrase as a three-phase test that has to be applied by governments at every step of the way, in their NB positions, in their national standards decisions, in their state standards decisions, in their municipal standards decisions, in their procurement decisions.

In other words, OOXML approval at JTC 1 is simply phase 1. There are myriad battles yet to come even if OOXML survives JTC 1. All subject to challenge by individual nations in the WTO dispute resolution process. The AGP also requires that competitors be provided with a judicial review remedy on procurement decisions by each signatory nation, although in the U.S., Congress in ratifying the Uruguay Round Agreements (includes both AGP and ATBT), declined to acquiesce to this provision in regard to state governments, a reservation of dubious legality because of the AGP and ATBT’s “all or nothing” provisions for accession to the agreements.

I’ll note here that government procurement of software as a service is governed by a third treaty, the General Agreement on Trade in Services. But I’ll save that discussion for another day.

So short story: The fight ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. Microsoft can be knocked out in Round 1 and lose the war at JTC 1, but at best it can only survive into Round 2. I.e., the best Microsoft can do is win a battle, not the war. That is why I have not been worrying too much about what happens at JTC 1. The real war is in the government software market, in the potentially thousands of technical regulation and procurement specification battles. And it will not be the big vendors making those decisions. It will be their customers.

Another ‘Patent TrollTracker’ in the Making and Questions About the ‘Big Bad Troll’ Called Nokia

Posted in America, Courtroom, KDE, Microsoft, Patents at 6:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The following new article speaks about Bodog, which is said to be a patent victim that in turn became a patent troll fighter [via Digital Majority] whilst Rick Frenkel and Cisco fight in the courts.

Court records suggest that Scott Lewis and his related “licensing” companies currently have pending litigation against Playtech, Parlay Entertainment, Tiltware, Electronic Arts, Viacom, Microsoft, Betcorp, Giga Media, Harmonic Systems, Grand Virtual, Cambridge Interactive Development, Ultranet Internet Media, Lasseters, Leisure and Gaming, IQ-Ludorum, and Kolyma. The number of outstanding demand letters threatening litigation that may be on the desks and minds of other businesses is unknown.

Here is another article about Bodog, which explains a classic supposition on which such trolling relies.

“They count on organizations being forced to make the assessment of whether fighting a patent claim will cost more than to simply settle it. They say their patents are valid. They say their claims are legitimate. Well, it’s time to prove it.”

Over in this WordPress blog you will find skepticism over Nokia’s alleged role as a lobbyist for software patents.

If you care about the topic you can help by providing more precision and data in the accusation and the demands: Is Nokia really lobbying for software patents nowadays? Which countries are we talking about apart from the EU? What does “lobbying” exactly mean? What would you find reasonable about Nokia dealing with software patents?

A FFII report made four years ago seems to be the source of the complaints, but what was that action and where it stands today? Are there more original sources to look at? Searching the Internet most of the stuff seems to be echoes and opinions resonating each other and sometimes linking to the original FFII source.

Watch the first comment and remember Nokia’s odd involvement with GNU/Linux (and with Microsoft).

Here are good places where one can start looking for evidence about Nokia and patents:

There are people who are more familiar with Nokia’s history, patent-wise.

Microsoft’s OSBC As a Showcase of Battles Against GNU/Linux

Posted in Courtroom, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Red Hat, SUN at 5:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Whose conference is it anyway?

As we showed a few hours ago, Microsoft puts a tremendous amount of weight behind OSBC, so its presence there is not surprising. It’s probably even a prerequisite, making it mandatory. In other words, it’s a good platform for Microsoft to present its own views on ‘open source’ and speak face-to-face with its rivals, whom it want to befriend for defection of will or submission to will.

Over at Digital Majority, a short item was published to show how Microsoft’s case at OSBC was yet another gentle demand for software patent royalties. It hasn’t been long since the last time (video).

Brad Smith continues its FUD spreading, wants to tax RedHat. The only solution for Microsoft to tax linux is software patents. Microsoft wants to render GPL free software non-free. The message is clear.

[...]

Microsoft needs to be sued more often, because in their current position they still believe too much in a patent system where no software developer has ever used a patent to write a computer program.

Matt Asay is talking about Microsoft’s attempt to pollute FOSS with software patent — a task for which Microsoft has already recruited 4 Linux vendors including Novell.

To work within the open-source community, which Microsoft will absolutely have to do if it wants to remain relevant in the 21st century of the Web, Microsoft must stop polluting the downstream with patent encumbrances. Period. Full stop. Microsoft is not alone in being threatened by open source. Everyone is to a greater or lesser extent, including open-source companies. MySQL’s biggest competitor is not Oracle. It is fee-free use of MySQL. Ditto for other open-source companies.

Matt mentions MySQL, which was acquired. It ought to be added yet again that Sun Microsystems’ ambivalent view on software patents does not help all that much. Watch the language in the following news report about Sun’s counter-strike against NetApp:

But perhaps the harshest accusation Sun leveled against NetApp in its latest filing came in the opening paragraph of the suit. Chiding NetApp for only spending about $390 million on research and development last year and for holding “only approximately 200″ patents, Sun declared: “Indeed, rather than innovate, NetApp builds on the innovation of others” and “NetApp … uses extensive amounts of open source code developed by others, without contributing any innovation of its own.”

“Innovation this” and “innovation that”. Sun, are you listening to yourself at all? Are you still pursuing Free software companies with a stance like this which blames and accuses all by the giants for ‘stealing’ ideas?

Patents != Innovation. For a summary (a list links) of the Sun-NetApp case, start here. Sun should really address the problem at the core, not by embracing what it considers defensive software patents. Not everyone can buy patents, especially not Free software developers. It’s wasteful.

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