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06.16.09

Canonical to Look Into the Question of Mono/Microsoft Patents in Ubuntu

Posted in GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Red Hat, Ubuntu at 2:39 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Canonical responds to Mono issues

AFTER persistently ignoring those who warned about Mono, Canonical finally follows Fedora's (Red Hat's) footsteps and takes a closer look at the Mono licensing question. Here is a new statement:

Mono has been the subject of various heated discussions recently. While there is no urgent question to resolve, it seems appropriate for the TB to give it some consideration.

We recently considered the topic of alleged patent violations in some detail. Although the TB meeting in question does not appear to have been written up, logs are available here:

http://irclogs.ubuntu.com/2009/03/24/%23ubuntu-meeting.html

“At present, were there to be an issue, Mono would be easy to extricate.”To summarise briefly, we will of course engage with patent holders who contact us with a claim of a patent violation in Ubuntu; the technical board is the correct point of contact for this. Although others are welcome to inform the technical board of allegations of which they have become aware, and any developer with a question or concern about a particular patent should contact the TB who will advise if they are aware of an issue, we will not in general act solely on third-party allegations or rumours. In the case of Mono, Canonical (who would bear most of the liability for any violation) does not currently believe this to be a major risk, as should be evident from the fact that it has been shipped in Ubuntu main since 5.10 and in the default desktop since 6.10.

In general, we will ship the best available free software applications, in the judgement of the relevant development team; the desktop team has responsibility for desktop application selection, as is natural. In a small number of cases, Mono applications have been selected there on their merits. At present, were there to be an issue, Mono would be easy to extricate. Making it more of a core requirement is likely to encounter some performance concerns at present anyway, since the budget for desktop startup is increasingly tight as we work on boot performance.

In short, at the moment, Mono is very well-maintained in Ubuntu and there appears to be no significant cause for concern over its IP situation. We will attempt to clarify in suitable places what developers and/or rights holders should do in the event that they have evidence of a problem.

It’s a small step in the right direction. One point they seem to be missing is the strategic dangers of Mono.

Mono advances Microsoft (Windows, Visual Studio, etc.) at Ubuntu’s expense. Thus, it’s detrimental to everyone.

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21 Comments

  1. Dave said,

    June 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Gravatar

    Yes, they looked at it and found it is fine by them, and OSI, and FSF and RMS and GPL and Torvalds.

    “In short, at the moment, Mono is very well-maintained in Ubuntu and there appears to be no significant cause for concern over its IP situation”

    “Mono advances Microsoft (Windows, Visual Studio, etc.) at Ubuntu’s expense. Thus, it’s detrimental to everyone”

    we’ll providing more tools and methods and more ability for the many many Windows only developers to easily provide their apps for Linux is good for linux and good for the computing, and development environments in general.
    If we were really concerned about patent liability, we would not use C at all, or anything else, after all, Linux (the same license as mono) grew from the proprietary world, as did GCC, emacs, Vim and so on.

    IMHO, if its good enough for the GPL, OSI, FSF, RMS and “those in the know”. then its ok with me.

    Ater all is not RMS the spiritual leader of the FOSS movement who is very against proprietary systems, (even though he himself needed proprietary systems for his GCC development, ((kept quite))..

    Ofcourse, the highly technically literate FOSS users would find it trivial to remove it, yet for some reason its easier to defy RMS, FSF, GPL and so on to persue their own adjender..

    With total disregard to what are the long term implications that may affect the very viability of the FOSS movement.

    Especially, IF splinter groups continue to break and devalue the GPL, the very same license that binds the kernel and the FOSS community.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    For the record, “Dave” is a nymshift of “Darryl”, who is considered a Microsoft shill and got banned in Linux sites.

    twitter Reply:

    In other words, he does not speak for RMS, FSF, OSI or anyone else with a clue? That sounds about right.

  2. David Gerard said,

    June 16, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Gravatar

    The boot-time argument is interesting. If Mono supporters really want Mono in the core of the desktop, they’re going to have to do some remarkable things with the VM startup time. Which might even involve people outside Novell contributing to Mono.

    I wonder if Microsoft will find some patented VM tricks for Novell to apply that aren’t already in Java or academic research.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Speaking of patents:

    RE: [Dotnet-sscli] Microsoft applies for .Net patent

    Beppe,

    As one of the inventors on that patent as well as the person heading up
    the standardization efforts for the CLI, I’d like to explain why I’ve
    never felt the two are in conflict.

    The ECMA process requires that all patents held by member companies that
    are essential for implementing its standards are available under
    “reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms” for the purpose of
    implementing those Standards. This is the normal condition used in all
    International Standards organizations, including both ECMA and ISO.

    But Microsoft (and our co-sponsors, Intel and Hewlett-Packard) went
    further and have agreed that our patents essential to implementing C#
    and CLI will be available on a “royalty-free and otherwise RAND” basis
    for this purpose.

    Furthermore, our release of the Rotor source code base with a specific
    license on its use gives wide use to our patents for a particular
    (non-commercial) purpose, and as we explicitly state we are open to
    additional licenses for other purposes.

    –Jim

    Miguel de Icaza insists that for a patent licence/clarification for Mono “You ask Microsoft.” When asked “who specifically [to] ask at Microsoft,” Miguel replied: “How would I know? Dunno, as an exercise, you might want to try to get licenses from companies for stuff they contribute to IETF. Like IBM, Macromedia and Microsoft, the standards should be free, so you might to do a trial run and ask them to give you whatever paperwork you require.”

    Another suggestion of his was that concerned people “should try to get other covenants, as a control group.”

    Frankly speaking, adds de Icaza: “I have been trying to get some internal paperwork done at Novell for over 9 months now for some internal projects; My request is just not at the top of their priorities. I do not know how Microsoft operates internally, but it could be that they are slow.”

    When asked whether it “would it impact Mono-based projects negatively” de Icaza replied: “It already does.”

    “If you want to understand patents, you really need to sit down with a lawyer for him to explain it to you,” he explains.

    In response to the concern that “With the Novell/Microsoft covenant, Novell developers and customers are protected from any lawsuits from Microsoft. What about people who aren’t Novell customers or developers?

    De Icaza says: “That question has been answered a million times already. The Novell/MS agreement covers a lot of things. MS *claims* that the kernel infringes some 200 of their patents.”

  3. eet said,

    June 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Gravatar

    Well, ‘Im happy that there’s reasonable people at Canonical who don’t jump on the paranoiac bandwaggon.

    “there appears to be no significant cause for concern over its IP situation”. That’s a truth that needed saying! If it’s good enough for Canonical, it’s good enough for me. ;)

  4. jay said,

    June 16, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Gravatar

    too little too late – i’m installing a new os tonight (wiping xp from my laptop) and i’m not entirely sure what i’ll land on eventually but i’ll try a few. probably fedora11 first being that they seem to have a healthier stance on mono. i might land on crunchbang in the end because i’ve used it in virtualbox for a while and love it. it -is- ubuntu based though so even when it doesn’t contain mono itself there’s a stronger link than i like…

    being that i already run ubuntu on my two other machines, ubuntu would have been the natural choice for this laptop – but i will not run a distro that gives me mono per default anymore.

    if today’s announcement had been stronger i might have goen that way. must admit i got a little happy when i read the headline, but the statement is too weak.

    how hard is it to throw mono off the default install and put it in the repos for those who want it? that’s all i ask…

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I don’t think it’s fair to leave Ubuntu because of that. But bear in mind that Ubuntu included Mono a year before the Novell/Microsoft deal, which divided GNU/Linux into two classes[*]: those who can legally distribute Mono (until January 2012) and those who cannot. Things have changed since Canonical’s initial decision.

    [*] “There is a substantive effort in open source to bring such an implementation of .Net to market, known as Mono and 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.”

    Bob Muglia, Microsoft President

  5. zelrik said,

    June 16, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Gravatar

    I think Mark Shuttleworth is smart enough to not fall into those traps. If there is a problem, I am sure he’ll notice it.

    Also, it’s more dangerous for Microsoft to attack Canonical than it is to attack other Linux-based companies. Mark has the money to buy an army of lawyers to defend it.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    But that’s missing the point. As Groklaw pointed out, in reference to my correspondence with Mark Shuttleworth, Microsoft would not attack directly. That’s what patent trolls are for. What about Nathan Myhrvold, for example?

    Watch the latest SCO news and remember that Microsoft used Baystar to fund SCO.

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    He’s missed it so far. Mono advances Microsoft lock-in (Windows, Visual Studio, etc.) at everyone else’s expense. It’s detrimental to everyone and goes against the spirit of FOSS.

    Some appear to have been duped into arguing over the letter of the agreements instead of the spirit of the project. Ubuntu was supposed to be about helping, not tripping people up.

    The noise and smoke generated by MS’ seditionists must not be a distraction from the spirit and goals of the FOSS-based projects like Ubuntu.

  6. eet said,

    June 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Gravatar

    You do sound like religious extremists (nutjobs); you people know that, don’t you?

  7. vexorian said,

    June 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Gravatar

    It’s just a small step. Let’s judge whether the direction is right or not later.

  8. aeshna23 said,

    June 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Gravatar

    One point they seem to be missing is the strategic dangers of Mono.

    Strategy should be the top of Shuttleworth’s mind, not legal minutiae. But that appears not to be the case. I wonder about something analogous.
    Why don’t people care more about the effects of human global overpopulation on the environment. I used to believe that people didn’t get the problem because most people don’t understand exponential growth. And that may be true, but the more I see people defending Mono, the more I realize that many people really aren’t capable of thinking strategically in any serious sense. Or is it that are refusing to think strategically–to think about the long run–out of some fear of something. Perhaps death? I just don’t know.

    David Gerard Reply:

    sabdfl-mancy is probably futile. He is a geek, a successful businessman and impossible to buy off. Possibly he’s saying “sue me, make my day.” Possibly he’s waiting for Bilski in the Supreme Court. He publicly says only that he’s not worried. It’s just disquieting for the rest of us.

    I’d say the gnote route is best, i.e. replace the apps with C versions that perform ridiculously better. Or, if you must keep a VM around, translate to Java ;-)

    Jose_X Reply:

    Here is my view on what Mark S does.

    Mark will look after himself. If that coincides with what helps others (eg, “me”), then that is wonderful, but I don’t assume he will. I don’t sit still and wait to be rescued. ["God helps those who help themselves."]

    I pay attention to arguments, and I am certain I am not the only one that does. Mark (or whomever) may want to consider sharing why he would not be worried about mono and sees more gains to losses in allowing mono influence to grow (if that is the plan). Maybe he thinks mono won’t go far and wants to keep some developers happy. Maybe he wants to project there is a lack of threat. Maybe he wants to pressure Microsoft to be direct (as they were with VFAT). Maybe he understands he might miscalculate but knows he most likely will not have financial problems down the road.

    It makes a lot of sense not to run from Microsoft’s FUD, but how much mono will you allow to gain momentum and influence (trusting perhaps that ports to eg C will happen and will be able to avoid Microsoft’s patents)? Will you say mono is fine and leave it at that?

    Mono might be allowed today in default Ubuntu but taken back a year from now after people have been motivated to port mono apps to eg C or should the SCOTUS decisions not be favorable.

    Maybe patents will not be a major threat for a long time (or ever) because Microsoft will have much to gain from dotnet/mono newly created LOC and mono/dotnet knowledge spreading (as was mentioned on IRC recently).

    Maybe M Shuttleworth believes a long stream of patent owners will keep attacking Microsoft and ultimately force Microsoft to support patent reform (but this would likely be to limit monetary damages.. something that helps Microsoft but not small players nor FOSS).

    boycottnovell and individuals can get away with acting on doubts and avoiding Microsoft, but Canonical might feel pressured not to play that game (at least not to the same level). I understand that.

    In going after some of the same business as Red Hat, Canonical might try to differentiate (like Novell) with mono/dotnet instead of Java. This is another possibility.

    Keep in mind that the money and time spent to beat Microsoft’s VFAT patents most likely can’t be spent repeatedly to knock out their many patents. They create the patents much faster (and for much less) than we can knock them down [though maybe a revolutionary FOSS-like advance here would change that game]. And the sad part would be that we can avoid most of the problems, eg, by avoiding going into dotnet, OOXML, etc.

    There are many possibilities.. for Mark (some less positive for us than others). We are not Mark. I don’t know if Mark sees some or many positives from a Microsoft partnership, for example. People should have an idea of the game details. Blind trust is not a very good idea. You put yourself in a weaker position and leave chunks of your fate to the whims of others. Those who wait to be saved are sometimes heavily disappointed and end up the sacrificial lamb (no religious allusions intended).

    This was not an attack on Mark (whose person or opinions I don’t really know). The point was that people should try to avoid following others if they have doubts about the direction being taken. This is the open source world not the closed source follow Bill Gates blind faith world.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    For all I can tell, Mark Shuttleworth is aware of the Moonlight/Mono issue because he’s responsive when I tell him about it. But neither of us is a lawyer.

    eet Reply:

    Mark Shuttleworth has answered to your mail, that’s all, he doesn’t share your concerns in the slightest.

  9. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 17, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Gravatar

    Why don’t people care more about the effects of human global overpopulation on the environment. I used to believe that people didn’t get the problem because most people don’t understand exponential growth.

    Here is a really good lecture on the subject.

    aeshna23 Reply:

    You amaze me by how much information you know.

    eet Reply:

    That was sarcasm, right? :)

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