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04.30.08

Apple’s Latest Software Patent Headaches, Disregard for Standards

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, GPL, KDE, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenOffice, Patents, Windows, Xandros at 12:03 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Hey, Steve [Jobs], just because you broke into Xerox’s store before I did and took the TV doesn’t mean I can’t go in later and steal the stereo.”

Bill Gates, Microsoft

For a company that possibly shelters software patents and also accumulates them at a high pace, the following report seems like a begged-for punishment. Apple should really know better.

During the first four months of 2008, Apple was named as a defendant in eight patent infringement lawsuits, up from five during the same period in 2007. Only one such lawsuit was filed during the first four months of 2006, on behalf of Burst.com. Apple settled that lawsuit for $10 million last November. The first four months of 2005 also brought just one patent lawsuit against Apple. In 2004, three patent lawsuits were filed against Apple from January through the end of April.

Microsoft, by the way, finds itself in a similar situation. They all ought to just join ESP and put an end to software patents once and for all, but that’s a Utopian suggestion. In reality, on balance, Apple and Microsoft have a lot to earn in this status quo of intellectual monopolies because they are both monopolies in separate areas of technology.

“Among those that suffer from Apple’s stance on software patents you also have GNU/Linux.”Has it not been proven yet that, other than exclusion of Free software, patents on algorithms are not economically or practically viable? Bear in mind that Apple is no friend of open source (relevant articles are appended at the bottom), so it has little incentive for demanding and actually bringing change. DRM, which is a wonderful tool and excuse for platform lock-in, is an excellent analogous case.

In a public relations stunt last year, Apple publicly protested against DRM (keeping up appearances, shifting blame to music labels). It probably ought to do the same to address software patents and the troll epidemic, or else it will carry on suffering [1, 2, 3].

Among those that suffer from Apple’s stance on software patents you also have GNU/Linux. Take for example this rant from KDE, or even Compiz-Fusion. Apple patents prevent them from implementing or at least ‘safely’ incorporate features into GNU/Linux desktops.

To make matters worse, there is also Apple’s stance on standards. It would be frank enough to state that, as far as standards are concerned, Apple has never truly been better than Microsoft and not much as changed.

Apple’s incompatible filesystem

[...]

What I don’t get is why didn’t they just stick with a standard UNIX-like file system? Wouldn’t this have: (a) made less work and (b) ensured UNIX compatibility?

Or is that my answer? Did Apple not want UNIX compatibility? On a number of occasions (and with a number of devices), I have had to deal with incompatibilities on the part of Apple. And the more I deal with it, the more I start feeling like Apple is like Windows back in the 90s — when I was struggling to get any given version of Windows to talk with Linux. Ultimately, I won that battle. But the OS X battle seems to be one that might be more of a challenge, and that is disturbing.

Only days ago we mentioned Steve Jobs' snub of Linux. At the bottom of this post you’ll find evidence suggesting that Wozniak wouldn’t have been more receptive than Jobs. In addition, Apple supports OOXML and Microsoft used this as a marketing tool to change people’s minds and discriminate against ODF. To give another recent example which involves BT and/or Asustek, this bundle of an OOXML Trojan horse isn’t helping.

BT bundles MS Office with Linux laptop

[...]

This week’s award for the Most Astutely Selected Software Bundle goes to BT after the teleco tried to hook potential purchasers of Asus’ Linux-running Eee PC 900 by offering to ship it with a copy of Microsoft Office.

BT is offering the 20GB 900 for £335.99, but if anyone out there is willing to buy it for £422.34, the telco will include a copy of Office Home and Student in the box.

So now you can have Linux along with some anti-Linux poison. What a bundle. Lovely! Curious minds might speculate that the Linux-powered Eee, which uses OpenOffice.org, has urged Microsoft to offer BT some discounts so that an OpenOffice.org-incompatible/hostile product (Office 2007) should be seen as enticing.

Incidentally, the following old article came up the other day and it’s centered around the misconception that Microsoft cared for standards in the past.

Serendipity No. 4: Desperately Seeking Standards

Corporate user’s reluctance to deviate from a hardware path once it is established carved a deep trench through which flows Microsoft’s seemingly endless supply of revenue. Despite the fact that DOS, and its follow-ups, Windows 1.0 and 2.0, were genuinely inept and insulting products, even by the standards of the day, Microsoft was always granted another chance to get it right.

No matter how awful, DOS running on a PC clone was the anointed “standard,” regarded as so sacrosanct that it hardly mattered what sort of grief people were forced to put up with to use it, how long a product was delivered after it was promised, or whether it even worked as advertised when it arrived on the market. Microsoft may wish to take credit for instituting an OS standard, but history suggests that this occurred despite their best efforts, not because of them.

[...]

As Paul Saffo of the Institute of the Future suggests, this explains why Microsoft is “a company that is desperately resisting change.” According to Saffo, Microsoft is attempting to “hang onto what it’s got: making the operating system important even though we’re moving into a world where the OS becomes steadily less important…. [e]verything it’s doing is going into that. It is a classic case of a change-hating company; it is desperately trying to retard change.”

It’s all quite interesting in retrospect.

Older articles of relevance:

There is a cost for not being a good Open Source citizen and that cost is loss of goodwill in the community. That loss is more expensive in the long run than Apple realizes.

In the speech predicting how Apple would expand its market share, Jobs showed a slide with Safari dominating almost a quarter of the market–a market shared only with a single other browser, Internet Explorer.

Lilly says he doesn’t believe that this was an omission or simplification, but instead an indication that Jobs is hoping to steal people who use Firefox and other smaller browsers in order to run a “duopoly” with Redmond.

In an interview with eWeek, Woz said that there are always people who want things to be free and the open-source movement starts with those sort of people.

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