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06.13.09

Novell News Summary – Part I: Seedlings of OpenSUSE 11.2

Posted in GNU/Linux, Kernel, Novell, OpenSUSE at 6:19 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Train track

Summary: OpenSUSE news from the past week (not much of it)

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Criticism of Mono Now “Disappearing”

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Ubuntu at 4:27 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Wearing a suit

OKAY, this is just not fair:

[T]he ubuntu forums are “disappearing” threads that are critical of mono … and people seem perfectly alright with that. I spent a lot of time posting to a thread yesterday, only to come back on today to see it removed from the boards. Same thing on brainstorm with votes being “disappeared”.

This happens in response to polite debates [1, 2], not disruptive people who are giving Mono critics a bad name.

“To support Mono is simply unwise and to make opposition vanish is plainly dangerous.”Novell has created an entangled mess of Microsoft-inspired software deep inside GNU/Linux distributions. Why are people so closed-minded to the simple observation that Microsoft is already using software patents against Linux and admitting that “Every line of code that is written to [Microsoft's] standards is a small victory; every line of code that is written to any other standard, is a small defeat.” To support Mono is simply unwise and to make opposition vanish is plainly dangerous. It’s totality, it’s suppression of dissenting speech which in turn leads to blindness

Microsoft’s .NET is inferior to Free software that we already have here today. It’s called Java. It’s most widespread and it is very mature. Compare that to the flukes of .NET, this post being the last evidence:

But ASP.NET MVC was based on ASP.NET. Which checks for the existence of a file before running any scripts. Which means it will check directories that have COM1-9, LPT1-9, CON, AUX, PRN, and NUL in them, with any extension.

And that is why, in 2009, when developing in Microsoft .NET 3.5 for ASP.NET MVC 1.0 on a Windows 7 system, you cannot include /com\d(\..*)?, /lpt\d(\..*)?, /con(\..*)?, /aux(\..*)?, /prn(\..*)?, or /nul(\..*)? in any of your routes.

Will these artificial limitations be inherited by Mono? How about viruses? We addressed this question before.

Microsoft Promotes SUSE Coupons (Software Patents)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Servers, SLES/SLED at 3:57 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Subscription

Summary: Why does Microsoft so desperately try to replace GNU/Linux with patent coupons (Ballnux)?

A LOT of headlines this week boasted a growth for SUSE. The coverage was inspired by a press release referring to an insignificant milestone rather than an event or a new release of some kind. Now, look at the press release (copies here and here). It’s primarily from Microsoft. It has only Microsoft’s logo on it.

“The less FOSS-aware people are among those who just believed what Microsoft/Novell had claimed…”It says a a lot about who benefits from those SUSE coupons, which Microsoft agents are already calling what they are. On April 21st 2008 Matt Asay wrote: “I’ve heard from Novell sales representatives that Microsoft sales executives have started calling the Suse Linux Enterprise Server coupons “royalty payments”…”

It is worth noticing that it’s the Microsoft PR person who wrote about Microsoft/Novell’s latest rave over at CNET (not the open source people, who deliberately ignored it). The less FOSS-aware people are among those who just believed what Microsoft/Novell had claimed (and thus parroted the press release), despite the fact that no major contracts were actually signed. There was probably some artistic rendition with statistics/arithmetic there.

Other Microsoft-friendly sources covered this and so did Ziff-Davis, which is working with/for Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4].

The Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Lab was inaugurated in September 2007 in a joint effort from the two companies to build interoperability between their respective platforms. At that time, the lab could also be considered the celebration of the first year since Microsoft and Novell inked their interoperability and intellectual property assurance agreement. On June 10, as the duo announced that it had surpassed the $200 million mark with sales of SUSE Linux support certificates, the companies emphasized that they continued to focus on providing additional value for customers running mixed source environments.

Watch that last page. It requires Silverlight, which is not available for GNU/Linux users (only for Mac and Windows users). The same site has another “yes men” placement repeating pretty much the same message, all uncritically of course. Not only has Novell — by its own admission — struck no major deals, but it also continues to flaunt “intellectual property” whilst an article from a few days ago reveals that Novell carries on applying for software patents. Latest ones:

Method and framework for using XML files to modify network resource configurations , patent No. 7,546,313, invented by Kelly Sonderegger of Santaquin, assigned to Novell, Inc. of Provo.

Methods and systems for managing network traffic by multiple constraints , patent No. 7,546,367, invented by Jamshid Mahdavi of San Jose, Calif., assigned to Novell, Inc. of Provo.

“Using XML files to modify network resource configurations,” eh? So Novell is now obtaining XML-related patents. It’s good to know. It’s bad for Free software.

SUSE Interoperability and Mono Good for Microsoft: Easier Migration to Windows

Posted in Interoperability, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Xandros at 2:55 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Every line of code that is written to our standards is a small victory; every line of code that is written to any other standard, is a small defeat.”

James Plamondon, Microsoft Technical Evangelist [PDF]

Summary: Microsoft longs for a more dominant position through control of APIs and Novell actively permits this to happen

LAST WEEK we wrote several posts about Novell integrating Mono with .NET and Windows [1, 2, 3]. To Microsoft, if GNU/Linux assimilates itself to Windows, then it becomes easier for Microsoft to embrace and extend it. It puts Microsoft behind the steering wheel.

“There are other new areas where Novell assimilates itself to Microsoft’s software.”It is abundantly clear that Mono is better to Microsoft than Java is. To Microsoft, Mono is a latch. That’s why it likes it so much and to repeat a ZDNet comment from the Microsoft blog (mentioned in the "Microsoft Moonlight" post):

Sounds like one more way to help migrate from linux to Microsoft Windows. If this is implemented pulling data from a linux server will be that much easier until the server is no longer needed. I’m liking this interoperability.

There are other new areas where Novell assimilates itself to Microsoft’s software. Here is the latest example from IDG (assimilation through submissive connectivity). It will be formally announced quite shortly.

Novell next week plans to release yet another tool that is the product of its three-year-old integration agreement with Microsoft, this time a plug-in for Microsoft’s management tools that lets users manage Novell’s Suse Linux.

The tool, which will ship June 19, was produced as part of Novell’s involvement with the Microsoft/Novell Interoperability Lab, which opened in 2007.

Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Management Pack for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager, is designed to extend across seven SUSE Linux Enterprise OS services the monitoring capabilities within Operations Manager 2007 R2. Users will be able to monitor both Linux and Windows environments from one console.

We wrote about Operations Manager before [1, 2]. It is about putting Microsoft in charge of datacentres. Novell supports this and so does Xandros. Elsewhere in the news this week we found the following:

“More customers are moving to Microsoft, so legacy has been declining ­ Novell was not growing for us.”

This shows who controls the relationship between Microsoft and Novell, does it not?

End of Microsoft Money Shows Why Free Software is Better and Standards Are Important

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Open XML, Standard at 2:17 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Many coins

Summary: A lesson in lock-in, courtesy of Microsoft

A few days ago we wrote about Microsoft Money coming to an end (there are many punchlines which properly fit this rare item of news). Other interesting perspectives continue to appear after all that Microsoft PR (and damage control, mostly to do with migration of existing clients). TechDirt writes:

A great example of this is the failure of Microsoft Money. The company has now announced that it’s going to discontinue the product despite years of effort and millions of dollars spent to try to defeat Intuit’s Quicken product.

One particularly good article on the subject comes from Sam Varghese, who explains how this whole situation serves as a reminder that Free software can be one’s savior.

Open source takes no hostages

Have you ever had the experience of creating and storing data in a certain application, only to find that your dependency on a proprietary format means that you have lost all your data?

[...]

With a package like Money, new versions take into account the changing laws that govern small business and personal finances and the headache of managing money disappears.

But what about your data? Is Microsoft going to offer a package that can translate that data into something that could, perhaps, be used by a package like that put out by Intuit?

Unlikely, given that Microsoft once tried to buy Intuit and was only stopped by the US department of justice which “felt strongly that the proposed merger would lead to higher prices and less innovation in the personal finance software market.”

The article as a whole is recommended and so are the comments. Classic arguments about curation, portability, and long-term preservation neatly apply here. Just take OOXML for example. If Microsoft Office is discontinued a few years from now (let’s say due to unsuccessful migration to the Web), how will data encoded in OOXML be accessed 10 years from now? Or 50 years from now? OOXML is proprietary, it is poorly documented, and it contains binary blobs; no application other than Microsoft Office can handle Microsoft’s de facto implementation of something which is only close to ECMA OOXML but drifts further away from it as time goes by (not to mention the crime associated with OOXML). It is designed this way to tighten lock-in.

Free software has been around for ages. It can never be “discontinued” as long as determined users or developers are willing to hack on it. Free software does not depend on any one company for its existence and maintenance. Mozilla/Firefox, for example, outlived the demise of Netscape, using Gecko.

“People sometimes ask me if it is a sin in the Church of Emacs to use vi. Using a free version of vi is not a sin; it is a penance. So happy hacking.”

Richard Stallman

Even Microsoft Can’t Secure Its Windows-based Web Sites (MSN Canada Cracked)

Posted in Microsoft, Security, Windows at 11:09 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

New Web site

Summary: MSN Canada the latest to be compromised, Windows botnet tools put up for display

SOME weeks ago we learned that even 'amateur' users like the FBI are unable to dodge Windows viruses. Just a few weeks ago we also saw a Microsoft Web site (MSN New Zealand) falling victim to crackers and it has just happened again, proving that even Microsoft cannot secure its servers. How do they expect others like their clients to succeed?

MSN Canada Website Compromised by Hackers

[...]

Researchers from net security company Websense warn that a particular section of the MSN Canada website has fallen victim to hackers who injected rogue code into a page used for redirection.

In other news, CNET shows that even kids can now create their own Windows botnet.

The abstract concepts of “botnet” and “Trojan” just became a lot more concrete for me.

In less than an hour on Thursday, I was able to use programs readily available on the Internet underground for as little as $300 to infect several Windows clients and take complete control of them in a test environment.

No wonder so many teenagers are wreaking havoc across the Internet (some are too young to be held accountable by national law) and ~320,000,000 computers are estimated to be zombies. Some researchers are rather astounded by the fact that the Web keeps standing at all. But at what cost? Damages are huge. We too are among the victims.

Microsoft to ‘Pay’ $0.1 Billion to Settle Mississippi Case Against Its Crimes

Posted in America, Antitrust, Europe, Microsoft, Vista 7 at 10:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“…[Windows 98] must be a killer on shipments so that Netscape never gets a chance…”

Former Microsoft Vice President James Allchin in an internal memo

Summary: Microsoft’s settlement in Mississippi wrongly estimated at $100 million; abuses in Europe carry on

MANY states have already sued Microsoft only to be granted what we call ‘funny money’ settlement, which is just encouraging even more sales (possibly of the very same products that led to legal action in the first place).

The Comes case (Iowa) was unique because it was a very public one and loads of evidence ended up online. We shall soon resume going through exhibits (throughout this summer).

In large states like California there were very massive settlements (over a billion dollars), but much of the money is not being reclaimed by the public. This is a tragedy which means that Microsoft need not even pay the fines imposed. It shows that crime pays.

But anyway, out of nowhere comes this news about Microsoft settling Mississippi’s case against it. When did all that happen? Is there any material for the public to gain access to?

Microsoft settles suit with Mississippi for $100 mln

[...]

Microsoft faced a rush of class-action suits on behalf of consumers in individual states after a U.S. federal judge found in 2000 that the world’s largest software company abused its monopoly power by tying its Internet Explorer browser to its Windows operating system.

Microsoft’s de facto PR person in CNET alluded to this settlement and confirms that indeed it’s just ‘funny money’.

Those in Mississippi who purchased Microsoft products or computers containing Microsoft products between January 1, 1996, and Thursday will be eligible to receive a voucher of $12 or $5, depending on which products were purchased. The vouchers can be used toward the purchase of any software or hardware product.

This is also covered in:

A lot of people tend not to remember why such cases came up in the first place. Younger generations believe (or are led to believe) that Microsoft is being punished for having high market share, not for obtaining it illegally. A US government official famously said: “The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”

There is another important development right now, but it is happening in Europe. Groklaw wrote about it thusly:

Microsoft Announces It Will Ship Without IE in Europe – Reactions – Updated

[...]

My first reaction was, I guess that means you actually can remove the browser and Windows will still run, despite what Microsoft told the court in the US. My second was, if OEMs can choose to install IE, why wouldn’t Microsoft just sit on them in various subtle ways to make sure it’s in their best interests to always “choose” to install IE? And does this fix Vista? XP? I have some other reactions for you. Thomas Vinje of ECIS says this is “an acknowledgement of the validity of the EU Commission’s case, but it is by no means enough.

“I don’t think anybody is going to have a dominant position in a network-centric world like they had in a desktop-centric world. I just cannot believe that. And I will tell you this: it will be a shame if they do.”

James Barksdale, Former Netscape CEO

From the BBC:

European buyers of Windows 7 will have to download and install a web browser for themselves.

But wait. This is a stunt. Microsoft chose to do this for selfish reasons and Opera’s CEO calls this “a game”.

“They are trying to play a game,” said von Tetzchner, “and I don’t think anyone appreciates that fact they are trying to get away with a solution that doesn’t solve anything.

“Microsoft is proposing a solution that is not going to solve the issue or provide consumers with choice,” he added.

“We are going to cut off their air supply. Everything they’re selling, we’re going to give away for free.”

Paul Maritz, former Microsoft Vice President, referring to Netscape

Mozilla is also complaining:

As Mike Shaver, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering, articulated to me, most people download Firefox…using IE, which means leaving them browser-less (even without IE) is tantamount to cutting off their access to Firefox.

“Pitting browser against browser is hard since Netscape has 80% marketshare and we have <20% … I am convinced we have to use Windows-this is the one thing they don’t have…”

Former Microsoft Vice President James Allchin in an internal memo

The EU too is underwhelmed. Microsoft is playing dirty again.

The European Unions however is absolutely not impressed by Microsoft’s move. It is clear that what the EU wanted was to force Microsoft to include alternative browsers with Windows 7 rather than removing Internet Explorer, and with good reasons. The EU competition commission has certainly not forgotten the Windows N debacle, when they managed to force Microsoft to sell a version of Windows without a media player only to see all OEMs ship the versions with the media player included.

Can Microsoft ever change its behaviour? That’s highly doubtful. It never tried, it never did.

“Microsoft is, I think, fundamentally an evil company.”

Former Netscape Chairman James H. Clark

Fedora “Concerned” About Mono for Legal Reasons, Ubuntu Debate Carries on

Posted in Debian, GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, OSI, Patents, Ubuntu at 9:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Signature sticker

Summary: Opposition to Mono grows in some GNU/Linux distributions and run over in others

THIS is a quick update about the Mono situation. We’ll treat some of the key distributions in turn, at least where developments exist.

Red Hat/Fedora

In a timely new report, Fedora leader and Red Hat employee Paul Frields admits that the company is looking into possible legal issues relating to Mono.

That said, Frields also told me that in his view there are some problems with the language used in the legalese surrounding Mono and its redistribution.

“We do have some serious concerns about Mono and we’ll continue to look at it with our legal counsel to see what if any steps are needed on our part,” Frields said.

While Mono is part of Fedora, Mono is not part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and hasn’t been since 2006. It’s not clear if mono will stay or go for the final Fedora 12 release when it appears 6 months from now.

“We haven’t come to a legal conclusion that is pat enough for us to make the decision to take mono out,” Frields said. “Right now we’re in a status quo. Gnote is a relatively recent development and unfortunately was too late in the Fedora 11 development cycle to include by default.”

Response from proponents of Mono would be helpful. The very fact that Red Hat is looking into it suggests that there is uncertainty and quite likely a real problem. Fedora has already rejected Moonlight for legal reasons (Microsoft licences/covenants for starters).

Canonical/Ubuntu

One person believes that Mono does not belong in Ubuntu by default (printed on CDs, as opposed to patent-encumbered codecs for example). It is very important to make the distinction between inclusion by default and inclusion in the repositories. If Mono-based programs are as great as their proponents claim they are, then people will install them. It is very trivial to achieve in Ubuntu and those who wish to accept the risk of Mono will do so by personal choice, not a choice imposed by those with unquestioned affinity for Mono.

Now when I install Ubuntu and therefor Gnome, it does not pull in Wine at all. In fact, I’ve been running Ubuntu without wine for most of the past 5 years. So killing wine would only affect people still locked in to certain windows programs and not have any effect of the Free Desktop by itself.

In contrast, removing mono rips out F-Spot and Tomboy and even the Ubuntu-desktop meta-package. You see, Ubuntu uses a lot of mono-apps by default and even vanilla-Gnome includes Tomboy and as such, depends on mono. Yes, replacing Tomboy is easy, but what if Evolution also comes to depend on mono, or Nautilus or gnome-panel? Then ripping out mono means the end of the Gnome Desktop.

Another new perspective goes like this:

The Ubuntu/Mono debate continues…

[...]

My perspective on the Mono thing is from that of a user and not a developer. I really fail to see why anyone would want to build new applications on top of a framework that has so many unanswered questions and causes so much angst in the community as a whole. We have plenty of other solutions that are – if not 100% free from controversy – certainly far less likely to end up requiring the kind of backtracking or complete re-writing that Jo describes above.

Software patents are not the only issue at play. As Microsoft puts it [PDF], “Every line of code that is written to our standards is a small victory; every line of code that is written to any other standard, is a small defeat.” One reader of ours adds: “Maybe that is some of what Mono is about: porting security flaws, bad design and vulnerabilities to new platforms.”

But looking at patents in isolation, one person asks whether it is an issue only in a minority of countries.

Is mono a problem outside the US and other patent friendly countries?

[...]

As Canonical is based in the EU this should not give the Ubuntu community any issue by itself. So keep any patent related problem for United-States based distributions and leave Ubuntu alone. Or move to a country that enforces your freedom all-day-every-day!

The situation is unfortunately quite different. TomTom, for example, is based in Europe, but Microsoft brought software patents to a case against it. Microsoft got its way for reasons we explained before.

As a matter of fact, at this very moment we are seeing attempts by the Microsoft lobby to make software patent fully enforceable in Europe (and not just Europe, either). The other day we wrote about what the EPLA had been doing and Glyn Moody has more to say about the latest findings:

More whining from the anti-software patent lot? Well, not actually. These words were written by Alison Crofts, who:

provides specialist IP advice and expertise in both litigation and commercial matters. This includes advising on: the creation, protection and exploitation of IP rights, including trade secrets, confidentiality issues, technology transfer agreements and licensing; the enforcement and defence of IP rights, including the conduct of litigation and arbitration proceedings; and IP aspects of joint ventures, co-ownership and transactions. Alison has an engineering background and has particular experience in the semiconductor, oil and gas, hi-tech and telecoms engineering industries.

In other words, she’s likely to be for rather than against software patents.

The OSI too is openly protesting against software patents at the moment. Its president understands the importance of this.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against software patents (SWPAT) since Richard Stallman first raised the flag at the League for Programming Freedom, and almost all of the arguments are variations on a theme. A valid theme, but a theme that, after 20 years, has become a bit monotonous. Herman Daly puts that theme in a new context that has me all excited. He says

Stop treating the scarce as if it were non-scarce, but also stop treating the non-scarce as if it were scarce. Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital (e.g. atmosphere, electromagnetic spectrum, public lands) in public trusts, and price it by a cap-auction-trade system, or by taxes, while freeing from private enclosure and prices the non-rival commonwealth of knowledge and information.

Until software patents are eliminated altogether — and there is a chance this might happen with sufficient public support — Mono will continue to be a weapon of FUD to Microsoft (and Novell). They’ll vilify — in a whisper campaign (behind-closed-doors) fashion — those who don’t offer "intellectual property peace of mind". Microsoft President Bob Muglia says that Mono is “being driven by Novell, and one of the attributes of the agreement we made with Novell is that the intellectual property associated with that is available to Novell customers.” What about Ubuntu users? OpenSUSE users? Fedora Users? Debian users?

Debian

Debian, unlike Fedora and Ubuntu, does not have a commercial entity behind it. Well, at least not in the sense that a company actually owns Debian. Some people have decided to treat this as an open door to a form of civil disobedience, so rather than claim that Mono has no legal issues, it is being added to Debian (by default) because legal issues can be disregarded.

For those who haven’t been following closely, the explanation behind Jo Shields’ recent post instructing us on the greatness of Mono and the Microsoft .NET approach to software development could be found in the fact that Josselin Mouette has decided that Mono must be part of the default desktop install for Debian Squeeze.

There are some interesting comments to be found in there and also cheap shots like the one we've been getting because Mono is “holy” or “sacred” (it cannot be criticised, it’s a taboo). It would be a lot more constructive to carry a technical discussion which also makes use of Red Hat’s assessment. Fedora already lists Moonlight under “forbidden” items for legal reasons and it is only now taking a closer look at Mono. So to simply toss Mono into Debian (by default) under the premise that “Mono doesn’t suck” and software patents are already void (i.e. made history prematurely ) is not the best way to proceed.

There are those who propose looking at Vala, so there is clearly acknowledgment that Mono presents/poses a dilemma.

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