05.28.08

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Moonlight: Patent Bait Inside Your GNU/Linux Distribution

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents, SUN at 10:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Why sue? Just cross-licence. Same thing, looks better.

We have been denouncing and protesting against Moonlight’s legal baggage since the very beginning. Miguel de Icaza joined in, but he woke up to smell the coffee when it was a little too late. He had already implemented the little monster. He trusted Microsoft and wanted us to trust his deceptive friends from Microsoft, too.

Head over to Groklaw and find out just why Moonlight is poison inside your GNU/Linux box, unless you’re a paying Novell customer. The concluding sentence:

My conclusion now, after having reviewed it, is the same as I predicted. This is worthless and potentially harmful vapor-speak.

Fortunately, adoption of Silverlight is poor, so whichever desktop environment or distribution you’re using, you might never require Mono. You can vocally object if Webmasters use this technology, which excludes Microsoft’s #1 competitor (as confirmed by Ballmer back in February and implicitly acknowledged by Ray Ozzie only yesterday). Don’t permit Microsoft to tax the Free Desktop.

“Without a fight, let alone a disclosure, it’s even worse to surrender if you have counterparts like Mandriva, Ubuntu, Red Hat, etc.”As a side note, the term “Linux tax” seems to be used spuriously at the moment. It talks about the cost of PCs with GNU/Linux preinstalled. Can you sense an ambiguity here? Should “Linux tax” not be a referral to the equivalent of “Windows tax”, wherein Microsoft uses mythical software patents to threaten vendors until they pay for GNU/Linux (thus the term “Linux tax”)? These are two separate things.

NetApp's lawsuit against Sun ought to teach us about the risk of allowing Free software to be taxed; there are lessons to be learned here. As the latest development shows, software patents may be moot in the court of law (see fragment below), so the worst one can do is give up and pay up like Novell did. Without a fight, let alone a disclosure, it’s even worse to surrender if you have counterparts like Mandriva, Ubuntu, Red Hat, etc. Novell should work with them, not against them (with Microsoft).

Portfolio Media, New York (May 27, 2008)–A judge has partly stayed software company Network Appliance Inc.’s patent lawsuit against rival Sun Microsystems Inc. over Sun’s ZFS technology, pending the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s re-examination of one of the patents in the suit.

One reader wrote to us just moments ago. He explains this situation better than we have:

“I saw it mentioned that Microsoft has “never sued anyone for patent infringement.” Some even go so far as to make the silly assumption that they do not like patents. That may have been true in the beginning, when Bill Gates wrote his now-famous memo on software patents in the early ’90′s. Now, Microsoft has made their peace with patents.

“They are in a bind at present, but they certainly are not suing out of benevolence. As Bill Gates said, “if you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.””“I can recall generally an instance several years ago where there was a free software project which aimed to be able to play Windows media files. It was shut down due to patent threats from Microsoft, when the author decided he couldn’t afford to defend a possible suit in court. In recent times, their attitude could well be summarised with “why sue when you can generate FUD and cross-licensing deals with threats?” Also, there are some good reasons for Microsoft to hold fire and not try to assert their patents in court.

“The first is that they may get a negative outcome in that their patent would be ruled invalid and they would be faced with a countersuit. Another reason is anti-trust related. I doubt the anti-trust authorities would look favourably on it if Microsoft tries patents as a further method to exclude competition. They are now testing the waters with their appeal of the latest EU sanctions to see if the court will see things their way and somehow rule that, yes indeed, intellectual property rights do trump anti-trust laws. Finally, Microsoft is making all of these soothing noises about “openness” lately, which include “covenants not to sue.” They may be afraid of a negative public relations backlash if they were to sue an open source project at this time. They are in a bind at present, but they certainly are not suing out of benevolence. As Bill Gates said, “if you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.” If they wanted to make it good, they wouldn’t sue *and* they wouldn’t make patent threats in the first place.”

Related readings:

Monopoly

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24 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    May 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Gravatar

    Pity many of those links just read like advertising for flash. Which is just another crappy non-internet-standard being rammed down our throats.

    Of course, if the w3c could get its act together and mandate a video format (an open royalty free one at that) a good chunk of what flash is used for can be thrown away (good riddance to bad rubbish), and most of the rest could be handled with svg. But there are probably too many commercial interests against such a move for it to happen any time soon.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Gravatar

    Pity many of those links just read like advertising for flash.

    I think that only 1 or 2 of these can be interpreted this way. I dislike Flash as much as the next FOSS guy, but video is where it’s most difficult to avoid. You might want to read this. A former Microsoft employee was behind interception of Ogg (out of HTML5). Openness is a rival of some companies.

  3. AlexH said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Gravatar

    “Fortunately, adoption of Silverlight is poor, so whichever desktop environment or distribution you’re using, you might never require Mono.”

    Er, what does this have to do with Mono again?

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:09 am

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    Moonlight is means for Mono to intrude other desktop environments. We covered this issue in considerable length before.

  5. AlexH said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:17 am

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    You might have covered it before, but that doesn’t mean your previous articles are correct. They often are not.

    Even if we cared about Mono “intruding”, how does using Moonlight help Mono?

  6. master_chief said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:17 am

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    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20080528133529454

  7. master_chief said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:18 am

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    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20080528133529454

    “My conclusion now, after having reviewed it, is the same as I predicted. This is worthless and potentially harmful vapor-speak.”

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Gravatar

    Okay, Alex, so just to give the gist of this (I can’t immediately think of where to find it): GNOME is already quite chummy with Mono, but other desktop environments need none of the same programs, which typically use GTK. With Moonlight, however, there’s an imposition coming from the Web (i.e. platform independent) for all GNU/Linux users to put Mono on their systems. The same goes for the OOXML translators.

  9. AlexH said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:35 am

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    That’s fine, except that Moonlight isn’t written in C# and doesn’t need Mono to run.

  10. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:39 am

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    Silverlight stack

    Image from the public domain

  11. AlexH said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:54 am

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    Theory is nice, but the fact is Moonlight isn’t written in C# as stated previously on this blog.

  12. Dan O'Brian said,

    May 29, 2008 at 7:27 am

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    Silverlight 1.0 (which is all Moonlight currently implements) is not scriptable from any .NET languages. You can only script it via javascript currently.

    Silverlight 2.0 is scriptable from .NET and afaik, Moonlight plans to implement support for that – however, obviously you won’t require Mono unless you actually visit Silverlight 2.0 sites.

    I believe I also read somewhere that Microsoft is releasing the source code to a bunch of their Silverlight 2.0 controls (the ones written in managed code) under the MS-PL (which is GPLv3 compatible, btw).

    I’m not sure why you guys are in such a huff over Moonlight anyway…

    IF Silverlight usage on the web becomes widespread (and that’s a big IF), Moonlight is just a way for Linux users to be able to view those sites if they choose to.

    I double Silverlight will become even more widespread than Flash is now.

    There are basically 3 groups of people on Linux when it comes to Flash:

    1. Those who refuse to visit any flash-enabled sites… and if we take the word of the posters on Slashdot/LinuxToday/Digg/etc, who all claim to boycott Flash sites, then there must be quite a few of these. Silverlight won’t affect these people – if they find no reason to view Flash sites, what will make Silverlight more of a requirement? None that I can see.

    2. Then you have another group of people who happily install Adobe’s proprietary Flash plugin to view their favorite Flash sites. Are these people going to be morally opposed to installing Moonlight? I somehow doubt it. Besides which, Moonlight is actually open source compared to Flash which is not, so it would actually be giving these people more freedoms.

    3. Thirdly you have the people who install Gnash or Swfdec and who are not legally protected from any patent attacks over (at the very least) video codecs (and possibly attacks for any non-codec related infringements by Adobe or any other 3rd party which may own patents related to Flash). These people seem to have no qualms with breaking the law or putting themselves in a risky legal situation (at the very least), so what could possibly be their reason to avoid Moonlight? Clearly patents do not concern them.

    I suspect Roy is in either group 2 or 3, especially since he posts Flash videos on his blog all the time – I assume he must actually view them (or maybe it’s like the articles he links to – posting without reading/viewing?). His hypocritical reasoning for being anti-Moonlight is that he thinks Microsoft is more likely to sue over patents.

    If you think that Microsoft is more likely to sue over patent infringements than Adobe, you’d be wrong. Adobe has a history of attacking other companies over patents, Microsoft has none. Adobe has also already attacked at least one Free Software project.

    Do the math.

  13. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 7:41 am

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    Dan,

    I can’t offer a very lengthy response at the moment (OOXML is a more urgent problem), but one point I would like to make is that it’s naive to accept Silverlight and assume that v2.0 features will always stay in the corner. The second point, which is related to the first, is that Moonlight gives people the illusion that the target audience for Silverlight is large. We’ve gone through this problem before, e g. here.

    As a side note, it would be fruitful if you guys don’t descend to insults (I rarely/never do). It takes us nowhere. It makes neither of us look decent.

  14. Dan O'Brian said,

    May 29, 2008 at 7:56 am

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    Find me a website/developer who makes Linux users a priority and has chosen Silverlight “because Moonlight exists”.

    You won’t find a single website/developer.

    The websites out there that use Flash are the same way, Linux support is an afterthought.

    The web developers out there with any desire to create truly cross-platform websites will do it in HTML and javascript.

    I fully support HTML5 and other truly open/cross-platform web technologies and hope they eliminate the need/usage of Flash and Silverlight, so don’t get me wrong.

    But at least be honest, Roy, you only attack Moonlight because it’s a Novell product. If this was being written by the Gnash guys, you’d be praising it all over the place.

  15. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Gravatar

    You’re looking at this backwards. For me, being a GNU/Linux user at home and at work, it would be hard or impossible to complain about sites that use Silverlight. They would claim that GNU/Linux is not excluded. Just watch how Microsoft uses Novell to fake support for FOSS, to grease up antitrust regulators, please some naive critics, etc.

  16. gggggg said,

    May 29, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Gravatar

    Another ignorant troll. You’re in luck Roy. You might soon be receiving some “gifts” for promoting “Silverlight”.

    They can pretend everything, assume everything. They even might say that the sky is green. But saying so doesn’t make it the truth.

    I also “love” how all these trolls end their posts with something like this or a variant:

    “I’m true Linux use but…”; “I only use Open Source so you know I’m not a Microsoft shill/troll”; “I hate/dislike/don’t trust Microsoft but I don’t see nothing wrong with Mono/Moonlight/pick your own”

    In the more ridiculous statements like:

    “I don’t care about patents, they don’t affect me, so all is truly well and Microsoft is great”

    OR

    “Flash isn’t open source, it’s covered by patents (the patents have nothing to do with flash but with the video codecs anyway, but do they care about the truth, NO….)”

    You’re being it by “pros” now, no eets or Goldfarts.

    You’ve graduated. Expect some “gifts” soon. Hahahahaha….

  17. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm

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    Well, I don’t know about Alex and a few others, but quite a few critics have their careers or projects depend on Mono, so they merely fight for what they (want to) believe in.

  18. AlexH said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:07 pm

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    @g*:

    If that statement about not caring about patents was directed at me, then I have to say you misread what I wrote.

  19. Miles said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:26 pm

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    Which of your critics have projects or careers that depend on Mono? Mine doesn’t, AlexH’s doesn’t, does Dan’s?

    Even if they did depend on Mono, that doesn’t make them wrong…

    You, on the other hand, have been proven wrong on quite a few occasions and continue to be proven wrong time and time again. So if anyone “merely fight for what they (want to) believe in”, it would seem to be you, no?

  20. Miles said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Gravatar

    For me, being a GNU/Linux user at home and at work, it would be hard or impossible to complain about sites that use Silverlight. They would claim that GNU/Linux is not excluded.

    You might notice that the same would hold true for Flash sites, and Flash is hardly Free Software. So… how is this any different?

    As Dan already pointed out, you’re being hypocritical.

  21. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Gravatar

    How am I being hypocritical? I have nothing to do with Flash and I don’t defend it. Read the article again and remind yourself why the patent holder is the key issue.

  22. Miles said,

    May 29, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Gravatar

    How am I being hypocritical? I have nothing to do with Flash and I don’t defend it.

    1. You post flash videos to your site all the time
    2. You attack Moonlight as if it is somehow worse than Flash

    Read the article again and remind yourself why the patent holder is the key issue.

    You keep trying to convince yourself that the possibility of Microsoft having patents on Moonlight is somehow more harmful to Linux/FOSS than patent holders who aggressively enforce their patents.

    This is simply not the case.

    As much as you may hate Microsoft, it doesn’t make them evil – it just makes you full of hate.

    Microsoft has never sued anyone over patents. Ever.

    I know you like to claim they do it by proxy through Accacia (sp?) but considering your track record when it comes to you throwing out accusations left and right, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to take your word for it.

    “Accacia employs ex-Microsoft employees” is not proof of anything, especially considering how large a company Microsoft is and how many employees have come and gone over the years. It’s really not surprising at all that a company might actually employ an ex-Microsoft employee. *Gasp*

    Without proof, all you have is a baseless accusation (which is the only thing you are famous for, I might add). Time and time again, you make these accusations and time and time again you are shown to be wrong.

    Give me solid evidence. I’m not the average sheep that takes everything you say as fact without question like some of the trolls on this site do.

  23. Dan O'Brian said,

    May 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Gravatar

    You’re looking at this backwards. For me, being a GNU/Linux user at home and at work, it would be hard or impossible to complain about sites that use Silverlight. They would claim that GNU/Linux is not excluded.

    As Miles said above, how is this any different from current Flash sites?

    s/Silverlight/Flash/ and you get exactly the same deal, but I don’t see you attacking Flash with the same tenacity as I see you attacking Moonlight which I find rather hypocritical seeing as how Moonlight, by any definition, is freer that Flash.

    Are you really pro-Free Software, or just anti-Microsoft? Your actions speak louder than your words, and suggest you are the latter rather than the former.

  24. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 29, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Gravatar

    I’m afraid that you’re still dodging/missing the key point. Why would Adobe sue or intimidate Linux vendors? Might it be to elevate the price of GNU/Linux? To make that platform less attractive?

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