Speaking of Imaginary ODF ‘Service Packs’, Novell Has a Service Pack
As you may be aware by now, Novell has released a Service Pack for SUSE. It was not a low-key announcement, but it’s truly interesting how this event was just lumped in together with announcements about Red Hat’s update (version 5.2 of Enterprise Linux). Novell was somewhat of a second fiddle in the press. A reader wrote to say: “I see Novell has started to release ‘Service Packs’. This I presume is what used to be called updates, patches and bug fixes only without actually using those words. I wonder, is this available to subscription-only ‘customers’?”
The Service Packs are actually not new and Novell used this terminology before. It might make a convenient wording in case Novell and Microsoft ever become one (more on this later). Here are a couple of articles about Novell’s latest Service Pack. Mind the headlines and be aware that we are not being selective here. These just happen to be the most prominent articles which note the update.
Red Hat debuts 5.2 version; Novell issues service pack
Novell issues Service Pack for SUSE
Meanwhile, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. just released its Service Pack 2 for SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, with improvements in interoperability, virtualization, management and hardware. Based on the Citrix Systems Inc.’s Xen virtualization engine, SUSE Linux is fully compatible with Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization, Novell said.
Jones said neither announcement was monumental. Novell is delivering on its promises, adding interoperability and improving support for its management tool update system, he said.
“Both vendors are making progress, fixing problems and adding features to keep up with the market,” he said. “There’s no wow factor here.”
Most of the article is just about Red Hat. Here is another.
Novell, Red Hat upgrade Linux offerings
Novell also updated its YaST (Yet another Set-up Tool) to ease boot-ups and add network module support for new devices.
Red Hat also focused on improving its virtualization capabilities, which are based on the same Xen hypervisor technology Novell uses.
Returning to our reader, he had some more insights to share. He highlights this clarification which he has found:
“SMT is fully supported and available as a download to customers with an active SUSE Linux Enterprise product subscription”
On this he comments: “I guess that answer to that one is NO. From what I can gather, Novell is paying lukewarm support while acting to steer the ‘best bits’ to SLED. Unlike Ubuntu and a few others who release the same code under dual licenses. This, together with the Microsoft covenant, makes their commitment less than enthusiastic. Does this matter? Is Novell benefiting in any way from Open Source/Linux. Considering NetWare is moribund and Novells business is being built on SuSE, a bought in Linux distro, I do believe the answer is yes.
“I got into a discussion with one of the OpenSUSE forums moderators a while back (before I was banned). He said the only worthwhile thing in Linux was the Kernel. Let’s see Novell dispense with everything else then.
“From what I can gather, Novell is paying lukewarm support while acting to steer the ‘best bits’ to SLED.”“Personally I feel kind of tainted when market speak starts creeping into technical documents. See also where they refer to regulatory compliance. Like, does the machine know it’s in compliance and will this thwart the crooked hackers?”
Further, he points out these bits from the press release:
“Novell today announced the availability to customers worldwide of SUSE® Linux Enterprise 10 Service Pack 2 (SP2) [...] with full support from Microsoft for Windows* Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003”
“The Subscription Management Tool (SMT) for SUSE Linux Enterprise helps customers easily manage their SUSE Linux Enterprise software updates while maintaining corporate firewall policy and regulatory compliance requirements”
His conclusion: “Of course, no one in their right minds would ‘update’ a live system. And getting the latest bug fix, sorry ‘Service Pack’, isn’t so important in Linux land. As a bug won’t generally lead to a total system compromise.” The next post will discuss some more severe issues. █
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“There won’t be anything we won’t say to people to try and convince them that our way is the way to go.”
–Bill Gates (Microsoft’s CEO at the time)
Microsoft intervening with the ODF committee up, close and personal? Boy, that’s exciting!
It took Groklaw a while to respond to the latest announcement from Microsoft, but after some studying, a detailed article was dispatched. The analysis at the start is eerily similar to ours (serving as further validation), but PJ then notes that there are legal traps too. Do take a look because it sounds similar to the RAND+OSP stunt.
Microsoft Supporting ODF? — Close, But No Cigar
Once again, the problem is software patents. Internet News indicates that commercial Linux/FOSS vendors, and the GPL license that Linux comes with, will be excluded…
GPL developers can’t obtain patent licenses. That would violate the terms of the GPL. Period.
Like Microsoft doesn’t know that.
But, you say, Linux is GPL’d and that’s Microsoft’s primary competition. Can it be that commercial vendors and the GPL will be exiled again from the “even” playing field everyone else gets to be on? Why yes. It appears so. Commercial Linux vendors need not apply. Or they can sell out.
In short, I think Microsoft has no intention of interoperability with its actual competition, namely commercial Linux, like Red Hat and Ubuntu, et al, all the vendors who refuse to sell out to their patent demands. I’d say it has to be deliberate on Microsoft’s part, because when Microsoft offered its Open Specification Promise (OSP), the promise not to sue over OOXML, sorta, kinda, it was clearly informed by the Software Freedom Law Center that the OSP’s terms are inconsistent with the GPL and that the promise provides no assurance for FOSS developers. And Microsoft is certainly knowledgeable about the problems with RAND terms for FOSS. But they persist in offering what they know commercial GPL developers can’t accept.
Please note that they too expressed dreams of maintaining ODF, not just OOXML, and making the two “interoperable”. So, now Microsoft says it will join OASIS and “help” ODF and it hopes ODF will go to the same folks who mangled OOXML.
Does that sound helpful?
I wish they were sincere. I’d love to be proven wrong. But I’m afraid, having watched Microsoft shove OOXML through the Fast Track process, despite it not even being usable, that ODF will be harmonized out of meaningful existence. I suspect that is the plan. And so to me, the announcement of “support” for ODF sounds like it could just be the next chess move in Microsoft’s strategy to maintain its heavy footprint.
The fragments and findings above were missing from Glyn Moody’s new analysis, so he was sent a headsup on these overlooked aspects. Here are some of his own reasons for skepticism, as he articulated them in Linux Journal:
As I’ve written elsewhere, I see increasing signs of new Microsoft approach to open source, which involves loving applications to death, while undermining GNU/Linux. The idea might be to lull the wider free software community into a false sense of security while digging away at the foundations, so that one day open sources apps find themselves running mostly on Windows, with Microsoft in the driving seat.
That’s more of a long-term threat, albeit one that the free software world needs to be aware of. So, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Microsoft is sincere, that it really will offer proper ODF support in Office, and that it really wants work with rather than against the OASIS technical committee: why might that be?
Microsoft wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants the regulators off its back while at the same time finding itself able to EE&E ODF. Don’t believe it yet? Then read on.
What the EC May Think
Europe’s regulators took a cautious stance. They formally said only that Microsoft’s announcement had been noted. There was no praise or protest. Looking a little deeper, you find some further analysis such as this good one.
The sudden moves by Redmond point out two hard facts:
1. It’s not nice to fool Mother Europe.
2. If Microsoft says you’ve got five fingers on each hand, many people will insist on an independent count.
In my view the second problem is bigger than the first. Credibility may not mean much in the proprietary universe, where money counts for everything and truth is a commodity.
In the open source world, political values like credibility are real. Microsoft has only just begun to recognize this.
More from Marcich:
Marcich advised caution for now, noting that Microsoft announced its intention two years ago to implement “support” for ODF for via a third-party translator that is still in beta (under development) and will not be completed until the first half of 2009. There was limited functionality available via the converters and they were poorly integrated into the overall Microsoft user interface, as compared with the integration and functionality Microsoft offers for its own OOXML format.
“What governments want is direct, internal support for ODF in Microsoft Office. Governments do not want to waste time waiting for translators to load or re-engineering default-save functions for their workforce,” added Marcich. “If Microsoft actually follows through with this most recent promise, it will reinforce the global market-led demand by customers, particularly governments, seeking open standards based interoperability through ODF.”
Here is the BBC quoting Marino Marcich of the ODF Alliance: “Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases.”
More of the same here:
Microsoft’s ODF support looks good … but on paper only
Microsoft’s pledge to support ODF as a native file format in Office 2007 SP2 is good news for OpenOffice – but on paper only.
The devil is in the details – and Microsoft hasn’t spelled out precisely how or if its ODF 1.1 implementation will support macros and other challenging aspects of document interoperability. And it will be some time before we find out. Office 2007 SP2 won’t appear until the first half of 2009.
When Microsoft says “first half of 2009,” it does not actually mean this. Remember that when Windows Vista got RTMed, Steve Ballmer promised a release of Windows every two years. Almost 20 months later Ballmer called Windows Vista “work in progress” and there are no signs of a Vista successor coming any time before November 2008. In fact, there are hardly any signs that anything as such even exists. Mary Jo Foley reported a few days ago that Microsoft is oddly mum on this issue.
All Microsoft offered was vapourware. Remember that Longhorn (Vista) was intended to be released in 2003. That’s what Microsoft told us when it showed flashy videos comprising some futuristic mockups (it tries this again at the moment with OLPC, so be warned). It never materialised and came to no no fruition, even 3-4 years late. Almost 7 years later people choose to jump back to 2001 (XP days, when I was a teenager) rather than tolerate the pains of Windows circa 2008.
A couple of days ago, the FSFE’s newsletter covered document formats, among other things.
2. Lack of quality in standardisation a serious problem
“FSFE published its ‘Six questions to national standardisation bodies’
before the September 2nd vote last year.  Considering the statements
about progress made on MS-OOXML, one would have hoped that at least one
of these questions enjoyed a satisfactory response,” states FSFE’s
German Deputy country coordinator Matthias Kirschner. He continues:
“Unfortunately that is not the case. Issues like the ‘Converter Hoax’ 
and the ‘Questions on Open Formats’  are still equally valid. As the
‘Deprecated before use’  and ‘Interoperability woes with OOXML’ 
documents demonstrate, MS-OOXML interoperability is severely limited in
comparison to Open Standards. In addition to these issues, there are the
legal concerns that were raised by various parties. ”
FSFE vice-president Jonas Öberg states: “Governments have to start
asking themselves what the ISO seal of approval really means. As
demonstrated by the MPEG standards, it never meant that something
qualifies as a meaningful ‘Open Standard.’”
The BBC also quoted Georg Greve from the FSFE regarding the very latest developments (unaccounted for in the message above): “Support for ODF indicates there are problems with OpenXML that Microsoft cannot resolve easily and quickly.” █
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This is just a very quick roundup that serves as a reminder of the “Alice in Wonderland” state we must cope with (or fight against).
Barracuda Versus Software Patents
Linux.com has a new video interview with the CEO of Barracuda. I’ve asked politely for an Ogg Theora version in the comments (they typically produce one for everything they publish). Either way, here’s the summary:
It’s unusual for companies engaged in patent litigation to comment on how the fight is going. But Barracuda Networks CEO Dean Drako has openly sought FOSS community support for his company’s defense again a Trend Micro lawsuit that, while filed against his company, is really about ClamAV. We’ve written about this before, as have others. In this video, however, we’ll let Dean tell you in his own words what’s going on — and why.
We previously wrote about this case in [1, 2]. External links:
- Trend Micro patent claim provokes FOSS community, leads to boycott
- Call for action: Boycott Trend Micro
Intellectual Monopolies Versus FOSS
Dana Blankenhorn has this good new post.
The purpose of copyright and patent rights is not the permanent enrichment of authors, inventors, and their descendents or assigned corporate parents. It is to provide an incentive for the creation and distribution of new work.
Mighty Mouse Versus Apple
Well, isn’t this unfortunate?
Apple sued over Mighty Mouse”
Apple licensed the right to use the name Mighty Mouse from US broadcaster CBS, which owns the name through its rights to the 1940s cartoon show – Mighty Mouse.
How careful must one be with words? Here is another article about this.
Landover, MD-based Man and Machine (M&M) has filed a lawsuit against Apple and CBS for their use of the term “Mighty Mouse.” Apple uses the name to describe its computer mouse and CBS uses it for a cartoon character.
Weeks ago we saw Microsoft fighting the Dutch dictionary in court. It won. █
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We previously mentioned the Microsoft “open source heroes” propaganda, which they have been plastering in the form of advertisements even in blogs with an established tradition of being open source-oriented and quite Microsoft-hostile (or comprising Microsoft doubters, to put it more gently).
At the beginning of this month I stated clearly that I had never clicked on these ads (they circumvent AdBlock), but those who do might find themselves forced or encouraged to swallow Microsoft patent poison.
The phrase, “Microsoft’s open source heroes,” doesn’t trip lightly off the tongue. But that’s what we’re seeing when we visit a page on the Microsoft Web site: “Heroes Happen Here/Open Source.” Do not expect to meet Linus Torvalds, Roy Fielding, or Andrew “Tridge” Tridgell on this page. Do expect to “Click here to download Silverlight.”
For information about Silverlight/Moonlight, see this recent post. Moonlight ought to be installed in the bit bucket (
/dev/null/). Avoid it. Ignore it. Denounce it. It’s not catching on anyway. Maybe it will go down the same tube as SoapBox and Zune, circling itself to the bottom of the toilet. Microsoft decided to ignore GNU/Linux when it developed Silverlight.█
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“What Microsoft really wanted was that ISO stamp of approval to use as a marketing tool. And just like your mother told you, when they get what they want and have their way with you, they’re probably not gonna call you in the morning.”
By this stage, even the MSBBC has broadly commented about widespread skepticism over the announcement from Microsoft.
Just to repeat what it is we’re referring to, shortly after the farce that was an ISO process, Microsoft got what it wanted (see quote at the top) and moved on to playing defense. Yes, it made an announcement. It made a promise, but didn’t present an actual product. It has been agreed by some folks that this whole thing seems like vapourware, whose main purpose is to freeze the market and EE&E [1, 2].
Thanks to help from some readers, we’ve accumulated responses from more important figures and key ‘balconies’. Let’s go through them in turn.
Novell was happy. It has to be happy.
Microsoft’s buddies at Novell welcomed the announcement.
“Microsoft’s support for ODF in Office is a great step that enables customers to work with the document format that best meets their needs, and it enables interoperability in the marketplace,” said Roger Levy, senior vice president and general manager of open platform solutions at Novell.
“Novell is proud to be an industry leader in cross-platform document interoperability through our work in the Document Interoperability Initiative, the Interop Vendor Alliance and with our direct collaboration with Microsoft in our Interoperability Lab. We look forward to continuing this work for the benefit of customers across the IT spectrum.”
Michael Meeks (Novell):
The Microsoft announcement that they will natively support ODF is at some level encouraging. And better – MS will join the ODF TC and contribute: which could be really interesting (be careful what you wish for). Of course this may end up being really good for ODF: it all depends if the blatant psuedo-technical competitive marketing continues in the (already dysfunctional) TC context.
Simon Phipps (Sun’s open source chief):
Of course, I might also reflect on the fact they are finally doing exactly what Stephe Walli said they ought to do to kill ODF. But for now, it’s huge, warm congratulations on giving your customers the freedom to leave and the confidence to stay – and a small British mutter of “about bloody time”.
Stephane Rodriguez (OOXML crappiness guru):
First of all, Microsoft is a huge Office licensing monopoly. It’s so big it even surpasses Windows in sales. Any decline in Office licensing would be dramatic for Microsoft’s future. With that alone, you know that any announcement from Microsoft that they are willing to interoperate with other people’s software, namely applications, should be taken with a grain of salt.
Here is how, with the release of Office 2007, Microsoft intends to keep their monopoly in Office licensing :
Phase 1 – as long as there is not enough Office 2007 documents out there, make sure that customers understand that only Office 2007 can reliably migrate binary files to the new file formats. Hence the backwards compatibility claim which are part of the OOXML ISO marketing diversion (ironically inflated by critics).
Phase 2 – there is enough Office 2007 documents out there. Game over.
With that said, a few more words.
Mark Shuttleworth (of Canonical/Ubuntu) about the ISO process:
TG: Recently you publicly criticised the ISO for the way the way it handled the voting on Microsoft’s OOXML; how seriously do you think ISO’s credibility has been damaged by that episode?
MS [Mark Shuttleworth] Very seriously [for] anybody who is passionate about open standards. The ISO process has traditionally worked very well; it’s quite an academic, considered process, but it really wasn’t designed to handle a case with very, very vigorous corporate lobbying and an enormous amount of money being spent to try to get a particular outcome. And with hindsight, there were a number of very serious flaws in the process.
stegu at <NO> OOXML:
Of course, only time will tell if they will deliver on this promise, but the tone has changed dramatically, and this might actually be a good time to celebrate. We wish to welcome Microsoft to the party, even though they are very late and managed to make a fool of themselves in the process of trying to fight this outcome in every way possible.
There was also this bad article from Reuters, which yet again shows that journalists can confuse and mix open standards with open source (code). See our highlights in red below.
EU says to study Microsoft’s open-source step
Without adding any special software to Office, users will be able to open documents sent to them in the open source Open Document Format (ODF), the company said. Users will also be able to edit and save documents in that format.
The Commission has fined Microsoft 1.68 billion euros ($2.7 billion) since 2004, in large part for the company’s failure to provide proper interoperability between its dominant Windows operating system and other software.
The Times of India made a similar mistake quite recently. Microsoft capitalises on these stupidities which wrongly characterise it in trade journals as an embracer of “open source”. This is neither good nor accurate. █
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In last year's Alfresco customer/user survey, we saw quite clearly that Novell’s adoption suffered after its deal with Microsoft. One year later, nothing has changed for the better.
The Second Open Source Barometer shows the community growing like a hockey and the number of members choosing Red Hat RHEL mirroring that growth with the number of members choosing Suse flat in comparison. So maybe “it was the worst of times” and the response of the open source community is to let Suse “have a far, far better rest to go to than it has ever known”?
Such surveys don't typically work in Novell's favour, unless Novell cooks those surveys or conducts its own. Upon closer inspection, it’s even quite embarrassing [1, 2]. █
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Steve’s Ballnux: Fail
Another one of them stories…
Yast, the crappy package manager for openSUSE, had some squabble about dependencies, and apparently it decided to uninstall yast to resolve them. Hmmm, now I can not install anything without wading through dependency hell with rpm.
This isn’t an isolated observation or story, but hopefully this quick post won’t bore you, the reader. █
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