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04.30.09

Microsoft Interoperability Crushed by the TomTom Case

Posted in GNU/Linux, Interoperability, Microsoft, Office Suites, OIN, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents, TomTom at 3:32 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Crushed building

Summary: Microsoft slammed for using software patents against interoperability, the OIN responds too late

THIS new report from Asia says that Harish Pillay put an end to Microsoft’s “interoperability” nonsense by bringing up an example where Microsoft strives for exactly the opposite.

A Microsoft panel discussion with two members of the open source community changed course when attention was swung to patent issues raised by a member of the audience.

During a Microsoft interoperability event Tuesday, Harish Pillay, president of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore), asked if Microsoft would make its software patents available to the open source community.

Pillay asked if Microsoft would release its patents to the Open Invention Network (OIN), in line with its pledge toward interoperability.

The OIN, whose founders include IBM, Novell and Red Hat, acquires patents, licensing them royalty-free to companies that agree not to assert their own patents against Linux or open source applications.

As Shane emphasised two years ago, Microsoft was invited to join the OIN, but unsurprisingly it declined. The same goes for ODF.

“Interoperability” is hostile towards open standards like ODF, which Microsoft now pretends to support in order to prevent defection away from Microsoft Office.

OFFICE 2007 SP2 – ODF Support

[...]

On a related note, Ive noticed with the podcasts I listen to that OGG is becoming the download of choice when offered with MP3. Another good sign that its now users who are demanding open standard file formats? We have already seen a similar “battle” between XVID and DIVX.

Regardless of what packages you use, its seems to me its getting harder for companies to force you down the route of their own proprietary formats.

As one person pointed out yesterday, “Ministry of Interior, Slovakia not accepting documents in ODF format and violating standards required by the law. Should we call the police?” That’s the type of thing Microsoft would be delighted about. Slovakia said it had chosen ODF, but Microsoft’s shenanigans still have impact.

Going back to the OIN, its people responded a little too late and it’s good that someone calls them out:

Oi, OIN: What Took So Long?

[...]

Right, so it seems that OIN won’t be doing anything directly, other than getting the relevant patents posted the Post-Issue Peer-to-Patent website associated with the Linux Defenders portal.

Isn’t this a rather roundabout way of doing things? I can’t help feeling that this could have been done rather quicker: after all, if it’s just a matter of posting the relevant patents for people to examine and poke holes in, why wasn’t it done as soon as Microsoft attacked TomTom? Did we really need to wait for TomTom to join OIN, and for the latter to pass the message down the chain a few weeks later?

Saul Goode adds: “Peer-to-Patent does good things for bad reasons. OIN does bad things for good reasons.” SFLC is in no state of despair, but it does ask:

If We Can’t End Software Patents Tomorrow, What Should We Do In the Meantime?

As we’ve talked about in our recent podcasts, and as I mentioned in various blog posts, software patents (i.e., patents that read on software) are a major threat to software freedom. Due to this constant threat, the primary goal of the Software Freedom community must be an end to all software patents worldwide. “Patent reform” will never be enough. The hard part, though, given that abolishing the software patent system is such a long and tough war, is what to do in the meantime about software patents that stand in the way of immediate advancement of software freedom.

It is abundantly clear that Microsoft wants to use software patents as part of its new business model. It tried entering the hardware business several times and failed pretty badly.

One must hit Microsoft where it makes a real difference: not market share but margins. ISVs can do so too. A lot of people still think that Microsoft will lose grip only when its market share declines, but it’s a convenient fallacy. What Microsoft fears a lot is real competition that affects pricing and forcibly leads to dumping or illegal kickbacks. That’s why it introduces software patents, which are directed squarely at low-priced competition.

As Mike Masnick has just reminded his readers, “Patents Do Not Equal Innovation.” Patents are simply government-granted monopolies; as such, they increase (or can be equated to) monopoly.

Once Again: Patents Do Not Equal Innovation

The real reason for the decline in patenting may actually be buried at the bottom of the article: companies are realizing that patents aren’t particularly cost effective, and they’re cutting back, focusing on actual innovation rather than throwing money away on the patent system.

Let’s spread a new slogan: more patents = more monopolies.

“It was Edison who said “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. That may have been true a hundred years ago. These days it’s “0.01% inspiration, 99.99% perspiration”, and the inspiration is the easy part. As a project manager, I have never had trouble finding people with crazy ideas. I have trouble finding people who can execute. IOW, “innovation” is way oversold. And it sure as hell shouldn’t be applied to products like MS Word or Open office.”

Linus Torvalds

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2 Comments

  1. NotZed said,

    April 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Gravatar

    Although I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, i’m not sure that ZDNet article really supports the conclusions you state (not uncommon for you I know). It was raised, but that was about it.

    However, I found this part of that article particularly disturbing:

    “Another panelist[sic], Michael Cheng, PHP User Group owner, rated Microsoft’s efforts at interoperability an eight-over-10. Cheng said he is happy with Microsoft working with Zen on its server products, as well as Microsoft’s Expression Web product supporting PHP. ”

    8/10 is a pretty bloody good score, and is not one that M$ deserves for interoperability in any way shape or form for anything – just ask Sun about their version of Java. I guess that was more than 80% interoperable, but that is still worthless. Maybe they deserve an 8 for FUD and the start of the EEE process for yet another one of their direct competitors.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Although I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, i’m not sure that ZDNet article really supports the conclusions you state (not uncommon for you I know). It was raised, but that was about it.

    I use a string of articles here, not just one.

    “…Cheng said he is happy with Microsoft working with Zen on its server products, as well as Microsoft’s Expression Web product supporting PHP. ”

    That article probably means “Zend” and not “Zen”. They are buddies of Microsoft (with a deal) and they are not PHP per se.

    Zend says that 95% deploy PHP on GNU/Linux. It said so a month ago and needless to say, some company ain’t happy about it.

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