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03.10.09

Why is OpenSUSE Looking for Sponsors?

Posted in Hardware, Novell, OpenSUSE, Servers at 5:49 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

LAST month we came to the realisation that Novell had been betraying the OpenSUSE people (including its paid developers) and instead promoted Microsoft technologies (mostly American employees, not the Europeans whose offices it closed down). Well, it’s getting hard not to see it.

Just appeared in the mailing list:

I’m sorry to say that download.opensuse.org will be unavailable for some time.

Its storage array broke down once again, and we have no backup. (We are in need of hardware since ever; if anyone would be able to sponsor some, we would be very glad about it.)

This affects stage.opensuse.org as well (same box).

I can’t give a timeline yet, but expect it to be offline for one to several days.

Are SUSE developers reaching out for sponsors of hardware? What is this, a charity? This is not the first such downtime, either [1, 2, 3].

We’ve already spoken to someone from OpenSUSE and were not given a satisfying explanation. What does that say about Novell’s relationship with the people who build the foundation of its future business, which is probably the only one that’s growing?

What is going on at Novell?

Patents Roundup: Splashtop Encumbered by Patents, Google Linux Phone Sued by Patent Troll, TomTom Update and More

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, GPL, Law, Microsoft, Patents, TomTom at 9:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Linux, Splashtop, and Patents

Splashtop is a wonderful development that will enable more people to be exposed to GNU/Linux on their personal computers (usually Windows). This helps the burial of tired Linux myths and can — overall — boost the perception and adoption of GNU/Linux as a sole operating system.

One of our readers, Stefano Forenza, took a look a little more closely at Splashtop. He found out that the technology may already be somewhat of a patent minefield.

While a Linux based operating system riskying to become a de-facto standard on every computer may seem gold, not everything shines. Reflect: if it’s so cool to have already been adopted and everybody likes it so much, how comes they didn’t patent it ?

They did:

Patents:

* Mechanism for intuitively invoking one or more auxiliary
* Method and apparatus for virtualization of appliances

Other (unspecified) patents are pending.

This may open the door to yet another lock in scenario. And possibly even worse than the actual force-Windows-on-every-consumer. Thruth to be said, so far, the approach of splashtop toward developers seems much more open that Apple’s and Microsoft’s, but patents always raise concerns, no matter what:

* as patenting means Splashtop will be the only player in the BIOS-as-OS business
* or will be anyway more cheap than commercial competitors

So, what make this worse than MS monopoly ? For maybe the first time in computing, patents will be possibly able to completely forbid competition in a non-secondary area. That said, I’m no patent expert and probably over-simplifying, that’s just what popped into my mind when I saw those patents referenced on their homepage.

Over in Germany, it turns out that Google’s first Linux-based phone has come under a lawsuit which was filed by a patent troll.

Tech companies are getting sued for patent infringement regularly, but this recent case of patent litigation might mean serious trouble for HTC, at least in Germany. Munich-based IPCom, which is not your usual insignificant patent troll, says the Taiwanese company is infringing its patents (IPCom doesn’t have a website).

Android
Paranoid Android

TomTom Case

Microsoft’s lawsuit against TomTom (and Linux) is far from forgotten and not just because of the public protests. At the moment, even Microsoft bloggers add their skepticism to the lot. One of them (in InformationWeek) advises Microsoft to call this thing off.

Microsoft’s FAT32 Deserves Its Freedom

[...]

So what are the implications of Microsoft having a patent on FAT technology? Let’s look at a simple example. Whenever you plug a flash drive into your PC, the odds are that it’s formatted with Microsoft’s FAT32 technology. If you take that flash drive to another non-PC device, the software on that device needs to be able to understand the FAT32 format in order to read the files. Microsoft says that to do that, you need to license their patents.

[...]

Allowing Microsoft to control the FAT32 patent this way is allowing them to leverage their monopoly status.

Here is another new take of the patentability of software in this context:

Last week I spoke with Phil Marcus, a Maryland attorney and electronics and software engineer who concentrates on intellectual property issues. As a point of clarification, he reminded me that most software is not subject to being patented. Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that certain algorithms or “programming recipes” could be patented as “business methods.” (And that may soon be limited further, he said, depending on how the Supreme Court handles a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that only those “business methods that run on specific machines or somehow “alter matter” can be patented.)

Katherine Noyes wrote about the Allison take, which we previously covered in [1, 2, 3]. Is this really a GPL challenge?

Legislation

Here is Microsoft lobbying for more patents in WIPO [PDF]. It’s stuff like that which prevents a so-called 'reform' from becoming anything useful. It merely removes the elements unwanted by monopolies (mostly those pesky patent trolls) while keeping all the rest in tact so as to empower the monopolies. This is what happens in a corporocracy, naturally.

One of the prominent defenders (or proponents) of software patents has just reposted the coalition statement on this so-called ‘reform’ bill.

The Chairman of the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, Gary Griswold, released the following statement after the introduction of The Patent Reform Act of 2009, in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The bills introduced in the House and Senate today contain several provisions that did not have sufficient support to become law because of the potential negative impact on innovation and job growth.

Patently-O has meanwhile covered some more Bilski material and it seemingly coined the term “European Bilski” in relation to the EPO’s EBoA referral (c.f. full text of EBoA referral and of In Re Bilski decision).

# European Bilski: The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO is looking for third-party input on four issues:

1. Is it only proper to exclude patents covering computer programs as such when explicitly claimed as a “computer program”?
2. Does a claim avoid the computer program as such exclusion by mentioning a computer or data storage medium? (If not, what technical effect is needed?)

Nonetheless, despite the Bilski brouhaha, we’re continuing to see what appears like active discussion about business method patents and their application. Here is a new press release.

Integra, Inc. and Medicine-On-Time have released an interface between Integra’s industry leading set of work flow and document management solutions, DocuTrack and DeliveryTrack, and Medicine-On-Time’s personal prescription system.

[...]

The system combines software and patented packaging components, allowing pharmacists to custom sort and package a patient’s prescription medication into a series of clear dosage cups.

It’s not entirely clear what was patented here, but it seems to at least comprise a physical device [1, 2, 3, 4].

Bad Patents

On several occasions one year ago [1, 2] we wrote about Guitar Hero patents being used aggressively. Fortunately, these have just been officially tossed:

A California court has tossed out Gibson Guitar’s patent infringement lawsuit against Guitar Hero maker Activision, saying Gibson’s arguments “border on the frivolous.”

On the other hand, a different reexamination process proved fruitless a few days ago.

Pictometry International Corp. announces a significant win in the reexamination proceedings instituted by GEOSPAN Corp. against Pictometry’s U.S. Patent No. 7,424,133 entitled “Method and Apparatus for Capturing, Geolocating and Measuring Oblique Images.” In sum, on February 2, 2009, the U.S. Patent Office upheld the validity of priority ownership to the inventive concepts claimed within Pictometry’s patent thereby rejecting recent allegations made by GEOSPAN Corp. Furthermore, the Patent Office held that the majority of GEOSPAN claims are without substantive merit.

For an impression of the sort of junk that gets through to the USPTO, behold this one (patent pending from IBM). Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Patent Bullies

Sisvel, the ‘patent mafia’ of Philips [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], is still putting a barrier in the face of manufacturers of media players — many of which are based on/powered by Linux — using MP3 patents. Here is the latest about unnerving cooperations (consider also this report).

There was no dawn raid by police to seize patent-infringing MP3 players at this year’s Cebit trade show — but behind the scenes, haggling over technology licensing continued.

Raids by German police or customs officers had become a regular feature of shows such as Cebit, in Hanover, and IFA, in Berlin, in recent years, often at the instigation of an Italian company, Sisvel, which licenses patented technology essential to the manufacture of MP3 players.

Microsoft too is a licensee [PDF], i.e. it’s paying Sisvel. Microsoft paid SCO for a licence it did not require whilst SCO was aggressively suing Linux. As Bruce Perens put it, “Microsoft hardly needs an SCO source license. Its license payment to SCO is simply a good-looking way to pass along a bribe…”

“The trade fair raids are a means of social pressure. Most press people get trapped by the product piracy spin, in particular when it is about an European company versus Chinese manufacturers,” says a shrewd reader to us. See this [PDF] for more details. “The MP3 technology is usually licensed from Frauenhofer/Thompson. Sisvel is a free-riding troll but it is a shame that they use the customs authorities as their aids,” says our source.

Patent extortion at gunpoint is one thing, but how about people who potentially die because of patents? Mike Masnick tells this latest story:

Bob Austin, who for many years has worked in major metropolitan fire and EMS departments, had the idea of creating an open source medical dispatch system. Such a system would have numerous benefits. Beyond being a free system, it also would allow best practices to easily bubble up in a way that actively would help save lives. If another EMS department could improve on the system, they easily could do so and contribute it back to the community.

[...]

The whole situation is rather sickening, and I’m really hoping that folks here might be able to help see if we can get this project back on track. Priority Dispatch’s decision to scare these open source developers into submission for merely offering up a free project to help save lives is really a rather disgusting use of the patent system, and obviously goes against the very purpose of that system: “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Instead, such things are being actively stymied in a way that puts all of us at risk.

We have already seen how patents can kill and so has the European Commission, which embarked on responsive action.

“My message to the patent world is: Either get back to the doctrines of forces of nature or face the elimination of your system.” —Hartmut Pilch, Paraflows 06

Ogg Theora

New Articles About Lobbying and AstroTurfing

Posted in America, Europe, Finance, Fraud, Marketing, Microsoft at 8:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Funny man

Summary: Four more reports/essays shed light on the quaky waters holding — or breaking — the system of commerce

Microsoft’s perversion of the EU system as of late [1, 2, 3] (using hired guns) will not end until people stand up and demand change. On the face of it, rules that were proposed or introduced just over a year ago are not being obeyed because lobbyists are not interested in disclosing their activities, which they would rather conduct behind closed door with budgets and funding sources that they keep secret. As EurActiv has just put it:

Large numbers of businesses, consultancies and industry federations do not intend to sign up to the European Commission’s lobbyists register, found a EurActiv survey presented at a conference last Wednesday (4 March).

It’s not only Microsoft which does this. A lot of US-based companies are doing the same kind of thing in Europe, as detailed here:

Lobbying by U.S. businesses in Brussels is not unusual. More than 30 U.S. companies like Pfizer, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Philip Morris, Westinghouse and Kraft Foods employ lobbyists in Brussels, according to the European Parliament. Foreign countries and businesses also hire lobbyists to work in Washington. But most of the time, lobbying by foreign entities tends to be discreet.

“The author has no idea what lobbying of US companies [such] as Microsoft in Europe is like, rather makes up his mind what it is supposed to be,” says a person who sent this news to us. Also, according to him, Microsoft somehow managed to have the EU fund its own lobby group (formal evidence in europe.eu).

Visa, Microsoft join EU fight against Internet child

[...]

The European Commission will provide up to 427,000 euros (537,000 dollars) in funding for the new coalition which was officially launched by Barrot and others on Tuesday at the London headquarters of CEOP.

The amazing thing here is that Microsoft gets positive PR at the expense of European taxpayers. Microsoft did similar things in Australia not so long ago. It was only similar but not identical because it’s akin to EDGI more than anything else. The core idea is to dump software so as to be anti-competitive and at the same time claim to be charitable (in this case, claim to protect children, as opposed to helping their education).

If that’s not bad enough, on top of the lobbying there is AstroTurfing, of which we include many examples in the links at the bottom. There is a new essay about additional evidence because this receives a lot of media coverage at the moment.

Fresh off the presses, another asstroturfing site brags about how they game social bookmarking like it was Three-Card Monte. The story got posted on Reddit so Redditors can laugh and point at Digg, as if the exact same thing never happens on Reddit.

Of all the spam and advertising fraud out there, it is perhaps asstroturfing that is the meanest. Asstrturfers undermine the social web. The story you see that’s voted up to the front page, even though it’s a troll? People were paid to vote that up. Your social-network-site “friend” who recommends spams and scams to you non-stop? He’s paid to pretend to be your friend. The comments that flood a story, flaming about one side of the issue, insulting and modding down everybody who objects, and make it sound like it’s the world-against-you? They’re paid actors. The troll who harassed you in a thread for numerous replies until you gave up in frustration? Paid to do that.

More hilarity can be found here:

Social media marketing is a tricky balance. If you can come up with a viral smash hit, there’s nothing better. But if you grossly underestimate the intelligence of the community you’re targeting- it can create devastating backlash

Unless the system reforms itself by expelling parasites, it will merely protect — sometimes in highly abusive ways — the minority of opulent from the large majority — or as FFII tactfully puts it — the digital majority.

Related posts:

Quote of the Day: Microsoft on Commercial Death Without Windows API Franchise

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Microsoft, Quote, Windows at 6:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

From the European antitrust authorities [PDF] (with local copy [PDF] just in case):

In fact, Microsoft can behave independently of its end-customers. Microsoft is fully aware of this, as is shown by the following excerpts from Microsoft’s internal communication:

The Windows API is so broad, so deep, and so functional that most ISVs would be crazy not to use it. And it is so deeply embedded in the source code of many Windows apps that there is a huge switching cost to using a different operating system instead.

[...]

It is this switching cost that has given customers the patience to stick with Windows through all our mistakes, our buggy drivers, our high TCO, our lack of a sexy vision at times, and many other difficulties. [...] Customers constantly evaluate other desktop platforms, [but] it would be so much work to move over that they hope we just improve Windows rather than force them to move.

In short, without this exclusive franchise called the Windows API, we would have been dead a long time ago.

This paragraph, Paragraph 463, may also serve as a precursor to the OOXML corruptions (the ‘document API’). Many more posts on this subject will come.

Tough Time for Proprietary Software Companies (Novell, Microsoft, and Apple)

Posted in Apple, Finance, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat at 6:50 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Shackles

Summary: Apple is said to have laid people off whilst Novell’s outlook seems grim with Microsoft

WHILE MICROSOFT STRUGGLES to keep in tact its own workforce (without success), rumours swirl about similar problems at its 'sister' company. Apple Insider seems to be confirming Apple layoffs after repeated failures [1, 2].

Apple may be growing in wealthy countries, but it is virtually non-existent in the large majority of the world where GNU/Linux is the only viable substitute for Windows. Apple continues to rely on people who luxuriously spare money when they purchase computers and this becomes a poorer business proposition in a down economy.

After making itself appear impervious to economic conditions, Apple has reportedly shown 50 enterprise sales workers the exit in a low-key move that refocuses the company.

Novell will be hit too, based on the earnings call [1, 2, 3]. It just hasn’t been formally announced yet. SJVN, mostly a supporter of SUSE, is not particularly optimistic at this time. Yesterday he wrote:

Novell is in trouble. As Novell CFO Dana Russell said during the recent earnings call, “Our Linux business is dependent on large deals, which may result in some fluctuations of our quarterly invoicing. This quarter, we did not sign any large deals, many of which have been historically fulfilled by Microsoft certificates.”

What’s to blame, at least in part?

Novell first partnered up with Microsoft to boost its Linux business. Now, it appears Novell needs Microsoft to keep its head above water.

Novell stuffed its future prospects by making itself part of the Microsoft ecosystem. This ecosystem is not interested in promoting GNU/Linux.

Red Hat is meanwhile thriving and it’s among the very few companies which boast an increase in revenue, profit, and sales.

“Our partnership with Microsoft continues to expand.”

Ron Hovsepian, Novell CEO

New Casualties of Microsoft Windows?

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 5:42 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Hospital lobby
System is down despite emergencies

Summary: Another group of hospitals is besieged by Windows worms, patients turned away as a result

HOW MANY lives must be spared before hospitals realise that putting their operations in the hands of Windows is begging for trouble? This is mortal, too. Previously, we had seen such catastrophes that we covered in:

Well, it’s happening again:

Scottish hospitals laid low by malware infection

[...]

The infection of laboratory PCs at the Stobhill and Gartnavel General hospitals meant the bookings of 12 patients attending the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Care Centre in Glasgow were postponed, The Glasgow Herald reports. Systems were taken offline for two days to allow computer technicians to clean up the mess.

The Herald compares the outbreak to the infection of systems at three London hospitals by the MyTob worm four months ago. The malware outbreak at St Bartholomew’s, the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and The London Chest Hospital meant ambulances had to be briefly sent to other hospitals and meant that some appointments had to be rescheduled. In a small number of cases, medical staff had to fall back onto pen and paper backup systems. An independent review concluded the outbreak was “entirely avoidable”.

The article doesn’t mention Windows, but it does mention Conficker, which we last wrote about a few days ago. Heise has yet another report about this problem, which is by no means over.

Conficker modified for more mayhem

According to Symantec the Conficker worm has been modified to cause more damage. Previously the worm had only contacted about 250 domains a day, to look for commands and download new code. Symantec report that there is a new variant of Conficker using an algorithm which will contact up to 50,000 domains a day.

Might these “50,000 domains per day” include hospitals? Based on The Register, they might as well. GNU/Linux does not suffer from these problems.

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