Free the mainframes from Steve’s Ballnux
The Microsoft/Novell deal was in many ways an anti-Red Hat deal [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], but Red Hat was not the sole victim whom Microsoft’s top guns wanted to suppress.
It is interesting to see how market share differs for the top Linux vendors in different areas such as HPC, desktops, mainframes, Web servers, mail servers and so on. One area where Novell performs pretty well is the mainframe, where IBM still reigns (mind the possible mainframes proxy war from Microsoft because there might be others against IBM).
The following new article seems to suggest that Novell is putting the heat up on Red Hat. The goal? Prevent Red Hat entry into the mainframe. While it isn’t anything too malicious, it’s just something to bear in mind. It’s reminiscent of Microsoft’s dumping techniques, whose purpose is to ensure opposition cannot grow any roots. Antitrust concerns arise.
Over the past year or two, Red Hat has gotten serious about pursuing the mainframe market, said Joe Clabby, the principal of Yarmouth, Maine-based Clabby Analytics, based on his conversations with IBM sources. Clabby speculated that Novell’s price cut is an effort to keep Red Hat out of the mainframe game.
It is also unfortunate to find Novell’s presence in this area for a variety of other reasons, including:
- Microsoft tax. The convicted monopolist is being paid for deployments of software it never developed.
- Microsoft grip, by proxy. Remember that Novell is Microsoft-dependent. As such, Novell even offers Microsoft a ramp for Windows adoption in HPC where GNU/Linux is already dominant, leaving Microsoft grasping at straws.
For the good of the mainframe and the freedom — in terms of cost at the very least — of GNU/Linux on the mainframe, it’s worth getting Novell out of there, to the extent possible. █
“I feel we are much too smug in dealing with Novell. Perhaps they didn’t hurt us in DOS yet — but it’s not because of product or their trying. It’s because we already had the OEMs wrapped up.”
–Jim Allchin, Microsoft
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Heaps don’t lie
Money, money, money. Everywhere you turn. If you look closely enough at the news — and only if you look very closely — you’ll find the trail of obligatory disclosures Microsoft reluctantly unleashes to give away clues about its lobbying activities. For the unaware, lobbying can be brutally described as the act of paying a middleman (independent or part of an agency) to spend time with politicians and either share this wealth or spend this wealth together, sometimes negotiating what is done in exchange for what else (favouritism, nepotism, legalised bribery, or whatever else you wish to call this). It’s disguised as something that’s done for the benefit of citizens (‘consumers’), but shouldn’t the one paying the bill be expected to benefit the most? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.
“Despite recession, the finding seems to suggest that the pace of obligatorily-disclosed amounts now trivially exceeds $10 million for Microsoft alone (annually).”As we are all being taught (or forced) to believe, software patents are being encouraged for the benefit of programmers when they get assigned and added to the employer’s portfolio and this thing called “piracy” (something about software and not about boats, apparently) costs the economy a lot of money, never mind the savings alternatives can offer.
There is nothing comforting about lobbying. The word “lobbying” sounds soothing though. You know, like ordinarily lounging in some hotel, spoiling oneself and generally having a good time. In reality, lobbying is so loathed by those who understand the practice and are secretly affected by it. It’s filthy. It’s subversive. It’s almost corrupt.
In the past few weeks alone the apparent backlash led to some new rules being ratified in the UK [1, 2] where lobbying is prevalent but probably not a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon (well, not just yet, based on what the authorities and watchdogs know). According to reports, the industry already exceeds a billion dollars in the United States and that’s just based on amounts that get disclosed, i.e. it excludes off-the-record, back-room/boiler room deals. Can you criticise Larry Lessig for his “Change Congress” initiative? He too realised that his country is run by corporations, which frequently use lobbyists as mediators? It’s polycracy, as Noam Chomsky would call it, not a democracy.
On a few occasions recently, we shared some findings about Microsoft lobbying and you can probably find some of them if you search this Web site. That said, here is the latest find from yesterday. Despite recession, the finding seems to suggest that the pace of obligatorily-disclosed amounts now trivially exceeds $10 million for Microsoft alone (annually). That’s a sharp increase, based on my personal memory and judgment. Among the activities of the lobbying you’ll find patents also (there’s no weighting in the breakdown).
Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, spent nearly $2.6 million in the first quarter to lobby on competition in the online ad market and other issues, according to an amended disclosure report.
Microsoft also lobbied the federal government on numerous other issues, including Internet security and crime, privacy, health technology, patent reform, software piracy, immigration reform to help with recruitment of highly skilled foreign workers, high-speed Internet service through use of unoccupied TV channels, free trade and taxes.
There’s a lot more to be said about things like “immigration reform” for example. We alluded to this quite recently, but we ought not to explore this further in this post, whose sole focus is software patent.
About a week ago we wrote about McCreevy, who is said to be attempting to shove software patents into Europe, via the back door. It turns out that McCreevy’s spokesperson now denies this.
In its statement on the results of the Transatlantic Economic Council negotiations, issued last week, the council made brief reference to the intellectual property rights issue. A single bullet point in the statement references a roadmap issued jointly by the European Commission and US Patent Office aimed at advancing “global patent harmonization”.
According to FFII President Alberto Barrionuevo, in the TEC talks the commission overstepped its bounds with respect to commercial rights. “The European Union has neither a Community patent, nor a common material patent law.” The only exception is the Biotech Directive. For that reason Barrionuevo believes that, “Discussing a bilateral patent treaty with the United States is superfluous. It is the blind leading the blind.” He thinks that if the US really wants to fix its patent practises, it should first enact its controversial planned patent reforms and become a signatory to the European Patent Convention. McCreevy’s spokesperson stated that the treaty was not about software patents, “Something not approved here could not be recognised.”
It’s all staged, it’s all gradual, and it’s precedence-based. Remember that Novell denied that it had signed a software patent deal with Microsoft, insisting that it was all about interoperability (straw man). It was later that the two companies just “agree[d] to disagree” and less than a month ago that we found out “SUSE coupons” are now being called “patent royalties” and Microsoft discusses these with “[open source] community members.” All in all, the point to be made here is that McCreevy’s exemption is rather moot. It’s a matter of phasing in, not just direct intent.
For more information on this subject, consider the article “The patentability of software and business methods in Europe”
[PDF], which contains a section on “Patentability of computer programs”. It was all found at Digital Majority where there is also a pointer to this article on cross-border patent litigation
[PDF] (in Europe specifically).
Benjamin also extracted this quote from another article among the latest batch from IAM:
“The open source movement probably cannot achieve its original goals so long as patents exist.” — Tom Ewing, IP Value Added Consultant, Gothenburg, Sweden
This hopefully serves as an eye opener that justifies the fight against this monster, whose purpose is to defeat Free software not based on technical merits but through the introduction of new laws that essentially ban change and block disruption to the status quo. Refer back to the beginning of this post about the role of money.
Cheer Up, Patent Terrorist, It’s Your Birthday!
Whether Microsoft has truly got anything to be used effectively against Free software, nobody knows. Maybe Microsoft does not know, either. Eric Lai has just published this ‘celebration’ of the first anniversary of Microsoft's "patent terrorism" (“patent terrorist” is not our own phrase, mind you, and the t-word is notorious for its use as propaganda in law-making/law-setting). Here are some key bits:
“Claiming you have IP that folks are infringing isn’t the same thing as proving it,” wrote Pamela Jones, author of the open-source legal blog Groklaw.net, in an e-mail. “I think they [Microsoft] are in a weaker position *because* they did the [cross-licensing] deals. It makes them look needy, like they can’t make it any more without Linux.”
“The [legal] threat [to open-source] is no greater” today than a year ago, wrote Mark Radcliffe, a lawyer with DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley office and the general counsel of the Open Source Initiative, which oversees the approval of open-source software licenses, in an e-mail.
Take Redmond’s attempts to persuade vendors to sign cross-licensing deals that include protection from potential open-source patent lawsuits by Microsoft.
Loud Bark, No Bite
In other news, Microsoft has just lost another patent lawsuit. Let it suffer and maybe learn that its software patents are useless once the court weighs in, proving that there’s hope for sanity under the juridical system (as opposed to the USPTO, to which patents — not justice — mean business and money).
Microsoft loses U.S. patent suit vs Alcatel-Lucent
Microsoft had accused Alcatel-Lucent of infringing four patents for software in a system that integrates telephones with computers for calls, messages and videoconferences.
“A system that integrates telephones with computers for calls, messages and videoconference,” eh? It sure sounds like Microsoft has just become a troll, not an innovator. This seems like a sign of misery and it looks bad for the potency of Microsoft’s software patents, which it loves so much to rave about without disclosure of specifics (it just ran out of paper, it alleges). █
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“I am convinced we have to use Windows – this is the one thing they don’t have. We have to be competitive with features, but we need something more — Windows integration.”
–Jim Allchin, Microsoft
The previous post showed just what Microsoft has to gain by announcing ODF support Some Time in The Future© 20xx.
Here you have the exceptional news which follows BECTA's complaint to the European Commission. Remember that BECTA, just like the rest of the UK [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], is quite a large ‘Microsoft Shop’, so this is surprising.
MICROSOFT has suffered further set-backs in the UK education sector this week after Becta, the government procurement quango, reformed its purchasing regime to break the software giant’s hold on education, and launched a programme to get schools to adopt open source software.
At least three open source software suppliers submitted tenders to Becta yesterday for the £270,000 Schools Open Source Project. The winner will spend two years building a community of schools which uses and develops its own open source alternatives to Microsoft software.
Becta has also specifically called on open source companies to join its £80 million framework list of certified suppliers of software to schools, contracts for which will be awarded in June. The last framework list consisted entirely of Microsoft suppliers and drew Becta widespread criticism for favouring the convicted monopolist over cheaper, homegrown alternatives.
This is a bizarre turn of events, so Glyn Moody sheds some more light, arguing only that “the story continues.” He is cautiously optimistic at best.
If Becta means business over this – and it’s a big “if” given the roller-coaster ride we’ve had from them so far – this is potentially huge. I’ve long maintained that Microsoft’s stranglehold on the British education sector is (a) a total scandal and (b) one of the root causes of this country’s poor showings in just about every survey of open source usage. Here’s hoping….
Further to this, some hours ago a reader sent us the following thoughts:
“Microsoft Office 2007′s failure to deliver native OpenDocument support has gotten it into trouble in the UK.
“The new, proprietary format used instead will impede the UK’s educational initiatives, which require instead an open format. It also puts it at odds with the EU and even the WTO, both of which also require open formats.
“Several leading competitors, among others Koffice and OpenOffice.org have offered full native OpenDocument support for a long time already.”
“…Microsoft was more bothered about the requirement for FOSS, not ODF.”This hopefully sheds light on Microsoft’s latest decision, having it realised that OOXML could fool nobody, not even with an expensive ISO rubber stamp that’ll cost Microsoft some more money (heavy fines for abuse are likely on their way).
While the recommended applications are Free software, there are quite a few players in this area whose products are proprietary. That includes Microsoft Office. In South Africa, Microsoft was more bothered about the requirement for FOSS, not ODF. We saw proof of this just days ago. And then there’s the WordPerfect lawsuit, which is led by Novell.
We last wrote about Corel about a month ago, referring to previous summaries of the situation over there (regarding direction and supported formats in particular). Why doesn’t Corel try to compete by opening up its source code and enabling itself to comply with stricter government needs? It would also receive more code (legitimate reuse and contribution from the outside), which makes development a lot more rapid and long-term survival a given, i.e. reduced actual and perceived risk. Fernando Cassia at The Inquirer has asked out loud exactly that question:
In a nutshell, StarOffice and OpenOffice.org give users freedom. Both run on almost every modern popular OS the user might choose to run. Corel’s Wordperfect Office? “Windows!”, “as expensive as Microsoft’s Office”, “no freedom, same kind of vendor lock-in, only with a different owner at the end of the dog collar”.
In short: Wordperfect Office has a niche, and will continue to have one. It won’t get very far into the 21st century if Corel doesn’t open its code. They could sell support and an enhanced version, just like Sun does with StarOffice – and it embraces mutiple operating systems – as the OS is increasingly irrelevant, as Linux-based tablets and Ubuntu pre-loaded Dell machines show.
An article from yesterday insinuated that “Open Source [is] Threatening the Status Quo.” It’s a case of evolve or perish. Microsoft too needs to realise this, but it’s trying very hard to change the meaning of "open source" to suit its own financial needs.
This and only this, namely the way “free/open source software” is redefined, has become one of the greatest dangers at the moment (dilution and contamination versus added value, visibility versus freedom), which is something that must be watched and scrutinixed as much as software patents. Hasn’t Microsoft already 'taken care of' SourceForge, the cathedral (or bazaar) of Free software? Microsoft got plans. █
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What did mother tell us about empty promises and what about the boy who cried “Wolf”?
It’s deja du all over again. Microsoft claims it will support ODF.
The other day we shared a court exhibit which explains very clearly how vapourware can injure competition/competitors by “freezing the market” (the terminology is used internally by Microsoft) and also disappoint users.
It is safe to judge a person or a company based on repeated past behaviour — a track record, a pattern, a history. That’s just why the ‘big announcement’ from Microsoft deserves to be taken with a grain of salt.
Among the first sources to have spread this news (except for Microsoft of course) was Andy Updegrove, who wrote this:
Regardless of the motivation, today’s announcement is indeed good news for everyone that believes in open document formats in general, and in ODF in particular. Once Office users can round trip documents with ODF users, and vice versa, the frequency of that process should begin to increase. Hopefully, Microsoft’s years-long delay in agreeing to participate in the ODF working group will allow better interoperability as well over time.
While this is very welcome and it’s also a big win for ODF, bear in mind that Microsoft ‘supported’ ODF before, but this support was so horrible that it gave a bad name to ODF and discouraged its use. Stories about this go as far back as early 2007 or 2006. See this post for example.
Amongst those who were a step ahead of the hype there was Steve Stites, who saw the hidden possibilities.
Now Microsoft customers are faced with the Microsoft vaporware problem. Microsoft is asking customers to hold off buying any ODF compliant software until Microsoft produces one. Any Microsoft customer who is planning to move to ODF must ask themselves the following questions before they decide to wait for Microsoft to fulfill their promise.
Microsoft’s support announcement (not implementation) is hardly a panacea. It’s scarcely a solution to anyone at this stage. Another decent comment reveals the true motives at play.
Scott at Beta News is a Windows expert who has written many books on the subject, so his opinion and selected quotes from Microsoft employees should be approached only with prudence, even suspicion.
In a breakthrough development, Microsoft has announced its future editions of Microsoft Office, beginning with Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, will enable users to choose OpenDocument support as an alternate default option.
“Breakthrough development,” as Scott puts, seems like an exaggeration. It will be a breakthrough when they *IS* development. All we have now is some announcement on some Web page.
Remember the promises Microsoft made about Vista. It delivered a service pack many months late and it was chaos. It seemingly introduced more problems than it resolved, but it kept people patiently hoping, possibly tolerating the aches of Windows Vista or locking in some entire enterprises that foolishly adopted it early on when there was artificially-generated hype everywhere (Microsoft spend half a billion dollars on advertising in late 2006 and early 2007 in order to conceal what it had already known too well, based on court evidence divulged in a class-action lawsuit).
CNET too seems enthusiastic about the announcement from Microsoft, but words are cheaper than deeds.
Now, the company is going a step further by building ODF and PDF support directly into Office. In addition, customers will now be able to set ODF as the default file format in Office 2007.
Meanwhile, over at Groklaw, the findings from a New York State study are shared and they suggest that multiple formats are detrimental as a whole. In other words, OOXML was never needed in the first place.
What did they find? You can find the “Major Findings” on page 8 of this PDF, part 1 of the study. The most significant finding is that having more than one format doesn’t provide increased choice. It confuses and increases complexity and costs instead. It would be better to use single, standardized formats to increase efficiency and interoperability. Well, we all tried to tell ISO that Microsoft’s argument was wrong. They didn’t listen, but that doesn’t mean that governments will just fall into line. It’s obvious that if you want interoperability, you need to agree on one standard everyone can use equally.
In case you wonder what led to Microsoft’s latest ‘acceptance’ of ODF, which some said was inevitable, it’s not goodwill or openness. That’s just a convenient excuse. It’s like the use of ‘charity’ to make an endowment to political entities. The press would label it “humanitarian causes” while in reality it can be bluntly described as “bribery”. We provided some examples of this over the past year.
“Another bonus for Microsoft here is an escape from scrutiny and/or further fines.”What led to a change of heart in this case? It’s most likely the fact that Microsoft loses government contracts. It also risks losing business because large nations in Europe, for example, simply refuse to touch OOXML. They require ODF and sometimes PDF as the adjunct static document format. Mind the fact that Microsoft opportunistically keeps — or at least squeezes in — its duplicity with XPS in the announcements above and it wants it standardised too (multiple ISO standards for achieving the same thing).
Another bonus for Microsoft here is an escape from scrutiny and/or further fines. While the sheer abuse of the process won’t be pardoned, there are the fresh complaints from BECTA, for instance.
Lastly, recall the frustration at the requirement for ODF (and particularly FOSS) in South Africa. Remember who it has that has just gotten back from there (lobbying against ODF, probably without any success) and who it is that’s largely involved in the announcement above. Coincidence? Maybe; maybe not. That man is Jason and he’s quoted at the bottom just to remind you who he really is. Microsoft isn’t being ‘nice’ and ‘fair’, but it wants
the its press to characterise it that way. Microsoft just plays its cards right.
In summary, we have another victory for ODF, but the implications for FOSS (OpenOffice.org for example) are a more complicated question. Additionally, Microsoft Office is pressured by some nations at the moment. That’s the subject of the next post. █
[More Open Than Open]: “I am constantly amazed at the flexibility of this single word.”
–Jason Matusow, Microsoft (for background see [1, 2])
There are still some missing options
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“[...] we [Microsoft and Novell] agreed on [...] essentially an arrangement under which they pay us some money for the right to tell the customer that anybody who uses Suse Linux is appropriately covered [...] They’ve appropriately compensated Microsoft for our intellectual property, which is important to us. In a sense you could say anybody who has got Linux in their data center today sort of has an undisclosed balance sheet liability, because it’s not just Microsoft patents.”
It was earlier today that we wrote about the need to keep an eye open and not be distracted by labels like “Microsoft hater”. Stormy Peters has shared the following thoughts about the Novell/Microsoft deal, including some of its impacts. She responded to yet another bundle of bad labels such as “purists” and “fanatics”, which just come to show you how Microsoft et al incite and poison the public against critics and opposers (Microsoft Mouthpiece Rob Enderle going as far as comparisons to 9/11 terrorists while others join in).
twessels: Novell claims their November 2, 2006, agreement with Microsoft has helped push forward adoption of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server in major commercial customer accounts. And having just attended Novell’s BrainShare I can see that the technical cooperation between Novell and Microsoft is starting to bear fruit. Was the knee-jerk reaction of the purists and fanatics worth all of the rhetoric that ensued? And if not, why has Red Hat refused to even consider such an agreement with Microsoft? It seems that they lost out on having a powerhouse marketing partner, like Microsoft, driving business their way.
Stormy_Peters: “Was the knee-jerk reaction of the purists and fanatics worth all of the rhetoric that ensued?” Absolutely. The open source community needs the purists and fanatics to keep us straight. That said, the world is not black and white and business is not always evil. Also, businesses are using combinations of open source and proprietary software in very effective ways. So if the Microsoft agreement brings more customers to Linux, good. If some open source developers protest the patent agreement, good too. (Now hopefully nobody quotes just one part of this answer!)
ITgirl: So, is it safe to say that the whole Microsoft threats thing has turned into nothing … do you think enterprises are at all concerned about that anymore? Do you think that Microsoft might still really take legal action against any Linux or open-source companies?
Stormy_Peters: First off, I’m not an attorney and I can’t say whether the threat is real or imagined. However, I think Microsoft is adopting the open source software model more and more. I’ve definitely been hearing less concern around the whole Novell/Microsoft agreement. I think the patent and open source issue is still a very real concern. It’s very hard for open source software developers to know if they’ve violated someone’s patent (out of the tens of thousands out there) and very easy for someone to see if an open source software developer has violated their particular patent.
In a land of disinformation, defeating the Microsoft/Novell-imposed characterisation of the news can be hard, but at least we can try. It gets harder in the face of smear campaigns. █
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Alex Brown has just said so.
Ultimately the situation raises questions which go to the heart of the relationship between JTC 1 as an entity, and its member bodies. Just who is in charge, the nations or the officials? The unfortunate state of the Directives have meant there have been too many occasions when officials have had to step in and save the nations from the folly of the Directives that they themselves approved. Like ODF and OOXML the Directives is (literally) a standard, a standard that has faults. Unlike ODF and OOXML, however, I am beginning to believe the Directives have got to a state where they cannot be redeemed by evolution and amendment. It may be time to start again from scratch.
Sounds good, Alex. Given the feedback from Bryan (see below), whom you succeeded, OOXML needs to be flushed and we need to “start again from scratch,” to use your own words. Thank you for your honesty. █
“This year WG1 have had another major development that has made it almost impossible to continue with our work within ISO. The influx of P members whose only interest is the fast-tracking of ECMA 376 as ISO 29500 has led to the failure of a number of key ballots. Though P members are required to vote, 50% of our current members, and some 66% of our new members, blatantly ignore this rule despite weekly email reminders and reminders on our website. As ISO require at least 50% of P members to vote before they start to count the votes we have had to reballot standards that should have been passed and completed their publication stages at Kyoto. This delay will mean that these standards will appear on the list of WG1 standards that have not been produced within the time limits set by ISO, despite our best efforts.
The disparity of rules for PAS, Fast-Track and ISO committee generated standards is fast making ISO a laughing stock in IT circles. The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting “standardization by corporation”, something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees. I am glad to be retiring before the situation becomes impossible. I wish my colleagues every success for their future efforts, which I sincerely hope will not prove to be as wasted as I fear they could be.”
Formerly Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 WG1
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