Summary: Microsoft is trying to sneak patents-encumbered MPEG formats into the Web using Internet Explorer 9 (IE 9); Microsoft threatens (again) to go after Linux legally
IN OUR previous posts about IE 9 [1, 2] we mentioned not only security problems but also Microsoft’s ‘support’ of the video tag, which we expected to have a negative side when implemented by Microsoft. It now turns out that Microsoft — just like its buddy Apple — is trying to piggyback Web video to push H.264 into the standard. The W3C’s new CEO (Novell's former CTO who brags about software patents and helped create the patent deal with Microsoft) is unlikely to have a problem with this as the three people in his working group are from proponents of software patents (Apple, Microsoft, and IBM).
Here is the news article outlining Microsoft’s patent-saturated vision of the Web:
The rough version of IE9 that Microsoft demonstrated includes HTML5 video encoded with a particular technology called H.264. Apple’s Safari also supports this encoding and decoding technology, or codec.
But Mozilla is adamantly opposed to open-source-unfriendly H.264, supporting the rival Ogg Theora codec instead, and Opera is in that camp with its new version 10.5. Google’s Chrome supports both, tying the score at Ogg Theora 3, H.264 3.
Mozilla is fighting for us, but will it be enough? Mozilla is strongly against software patents, just like most companies that are without a monopoly (patent trolls don’t qualify as companies). According to this new post from Miro (formerly known as Democracy Player), the fight for free codecs intensifies and Wikipedia puts its weight behind it.
This is a concept that I had thinking about and trying to nudge towards reality for a long time; I’m thrilled that we’re finally there. There’s a bunch of interesting aspects, but perhaps the heart of it is a chance to bring open video to mainstream users and strike a blow for freedom.
Wikipedia is the most popular site in the world that posts video exclusively in open formats (specifically, theora). The steadfast commitment that the Wikimedia Foundation has to open information, tools, and formats, is amazing. They truly put their values first.
We are respectfully concerned that the W3C suffered some form of entryism in the sense that everyone there is a proponent of software patents, except Tim Berners-Lee, which is just so ironic and sad. Why are proprietary software monopolists given so much control over the Web’s direction? How was it allowed to happen? Even Apple, the company that’s attacking Free software using software patents [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and getting criticised for having software patents that harm the Web (this goes over a year back), was given a valuable seat, alongside its supportive friend, Microsoft. For those who have not read the past few days’ posts, Microsoft is openly supporting Apple’s action [1, 2, 3] against GNU/Linux. Only yesterday we quoted some of the latest FUD from Gutierrez (endorsement for Apple’s legal team), who led Glyn Moody to writing a sensationalist headline which he pushed into Slashdot. It says: “Is Microsoft About to Declare Patent War on Linux?”
Microsoft’s comments on happenings outside its immediate product portfolio are rare, and all the more valuable when they do appear. Here’s one from Horacio Gutierrez, “Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel”, entitled “Apple v. HTC: A Step Along the Path of Addressing IP Rights in Smartphones.”
By now, all the alarm bells should be going off: this is from Microsoft’s top intellectual monopoly bloke, writing about one of the most surprising and potentially disruptive lawsuits in the world of technology – and one that doesn’t even involve Microsoft directly. Why on earth is he doing it? Answer: because Microsoft has something very important to communicate.
Translated: smartphones are mostly about the kind of software that Microsoft produces; we have lots of patents in this area, and we are going to collect much more in this area – if necessary, through lawsuits (“continued activity”) of the kind Apple is bringing.
The question, of course, is against whom will Microsoft be bringing those lawsuits? And the answer, presumably, is everyone that makes smartphone software stacks, since these computer-like technologies will doubtless overlap with some of the doubtless broad and obvious patents that Microsoft will claim to have.
Some companies, used to these kind of games, will simply cross-license stuff if they have a big enough portfolio of similarly obvious patents. Others will just cough up some dosh to get Microsoft off their backs. But amidst all these conventional players, there is one very unconventional one: Linux, in its various mobile incarnations.
Taking legal action against *all* companies producing software stacks for smartphones would allow Microsoft to claim with some semblance of plausibility that it was not specifically targeting Linux this time (unlike its previous sabre-rattling statements about patent infringement that were specifically aimed at Linux). But the net effect would be that Linux would be the chief victim of such an approach, since any companies using it in their smartphones are likely to end up doing deals with Microsoft – and hence implicitly accepting its claims – whatever the open source community might think or want. It would be like Novell’s pact with Microsoft, writ large and much worse.
We don’t agree with Moody’s exaggeration here. Microsoft is just beating the bushes (it’s sometimes called “shakedown”) in order to find more sellouts like I-O Data and Amazon [1, 2, 3, 4]. In the next post we will show that Microsoft uses other companies to launch lawsuits against GNU/Linux. It’s very much apparent at this stage and it takes extreme discipline to sincerely deny this. █