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05.02.10

Apple’s and Microsoft’s New Motto: Do More Evil, Together

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 4:01 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Steve Ballmer

Steve Jobs
Original photo by Matthew Yohe, modified by Techrights for humour

Summary: Apple and Microsoft share tactical moves in their fight against common enemies, notably Linux and disablers of software patents

Increasing amounts of analysis and interpretation, not just anecdotal evidence, may suggest a correlation between Apple’s action against HTC/Android and Microsoft’s action against HTC/Android. At the very least, Apple and Microsoft fight against the freedom of software and the low cost which hits proprietary software’s business paradigms at their very core (no software acquisition costs, as opposed to costs associated with services and no revenue from patents on codecs for example).

Yesterday we wrote about Apple shutting down Lala shortly after acquiring it. We explained that it could have something to do with Apple's relationships inside the copyright cartel. Apple is also promoting software patents and working against Ogg Theora. Hugo Roy’s open letter, which shows this rather clearly, has just received a lot of attention, starting with his blog post that reached Slashdot.

May I remind you that H.264 is not an open standard? This video codec is covered by patents, and “vendors and commercial users of products which make use of H.264/AVC are expected to pay patent licensing royalties for the patented technology” (ref). This is why Mozilla Firefox and Opera have not adopted this video codec for their HTML5 implementation, and decided to chose Theora as a sustainable and open alternative.

[...]

From: Steve Jobs
To: Hugo Roy
Subject: Re:Open letter to Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash
Date 30/04/2010 15:21:17

All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.

Sent from my iPad

Since it was an open letter, I think I have the right to publish his answer.

Xiph already has a response about Apple: “It would only strengthen the pushback against software patents and add to Apple’s increasing PR mess.”

To quote more fully:

Here is Montgomery’s response:

Thomson Multimedia made their first veiled patent threats against Vorbis almost ten years ago. MPEG-LA has been rumbling for the past few years. Maybe this time it will actually come to something, but it hasn’t yet. I’ll get worried when the lawyers advise me to; i.e., not yet.

The MPEG-LA has insinuated for some time that it is impossible to build any video codec without infringing on at least some of their patents. That is, they assert they have a monopoly on all digital video compression technology, period, and it is illegal to even attempt to compete with them. Of course, they’ve been careful not to say quite exactly that.

If Jobs’s email is genuine, this is a powerful public gaffe (‘All video codecs are covered by patents.’) He’d be confirming MPEG’s assertion in plain language anyone can understand. It would only strengthen the pushback against software patents and add to Apple’s increasing PR mess. Macbooks and iPads may be pretty sweet, but creative individuals don’t really like to give their business to jackbooted thugs.

The FFII’s president says that “MPEGLA will go after Theora, Apple and Microsoft, along with a host of tech companies, are also members of MPEGLA” (MPEG-LA's CEO Larry Horn is a patent troll who extorts 'on the side').

Here is some of the press coverage about the implicit threat from Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs: mystery patent pool to attack Ogg Theora

Patent Pool to Thwart Open Source Codecs

Apple May Be Gunning for Open Source Codecs

Patent challenge looming for open-source codecs?

If authentic, a new e-mail from Steve Jobs indicates that Apple and Microsoft–of all bedfellows–could be preparing to challenge the validity of open-source video codecs.

Jobs’ e-mail to Hugo Roy of the Free Software Foundation Europe, coupled with a similarly worded announcement from Microsoft on Friday, is a shot across the bow of backers of the open-source Ogg Theora video codec, used by Mozilla to bring HTML5 video technology to Firefox. Both Apple and Microsoft plan to use the h.264 codec in their HTML5 strategy, which is governed by a licensing body called MPEG LA. Apple and Microsoft, along with a host of tech companies, are also members of that group.

On a separate note, Apple’s (or Steve Jobs’) hypocrisy which we mentioned the other day is being exposed and criticised in Ars Technica which writes:

Pot, meet kettle: a response to Steve Jobs’ letter on Flash

[...]

Part of the reason why Flash and iPhone OS are proprietary is that Adobe and Apple agreed to the terms of the H.264 patent license. H.264, despite Jobs’s claim, is not a free standard—patents necessary to implement it are held by a group that requires all users to agree to a license with restrictive terms. Those terms have previously even been unavailable for examination online. We are publishing them on fsf.org today in order to comment on their unethical restrictions. The fact that H.264 is a commonly used standard does not make it a free standard—the terms of its use are what matter, and they require all licensed software to include the following notice:

THIS PRODUCT IS LICENSED UNDER THE AVC PATENT PORTFOLIO LICENSE FOR THE PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL USE OF A CONSUMER TO (I) ENCODE VIDEO IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE AVC STANDARD (“AVC VIDEO”) AND/OR (II) DECODE AVC VIDEO THAT WAS ENCODED BY A CONSUMER ENGAGED IN A PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY AND/OR WAS OBTAINED FROM A VIDEO PROVIDER LICENSED TO PROVIDE AVC VIDEO. NO LICENSE IS GRANTED OR SHALL BE IMPLIED FOR ANY OTHER USE. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM MPEG LA, L.L.C. SEE HTTP://WWW.MPEGLA.COM

You’ll find similar language in the license agreements of Final Cut Studio, Google Chrome, Mac OS X, and Windows 7.

A Red Hat-run Web site covered this conundrum and so did another which went with the headline: “Meet the Hypocrites: Steve Jobs”

That led to the following paragraph:

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

Notice anything curious about that paragraph? It’s a perfect description of Apple’s own business practices! Just replace “Adobe” and “Flash” with “Apple” and “iPhone”, “iPad”, “iPod/iTunes”, or “Mac” and you get a nicely worded four sentence critique of Jobs’ own company. Seriously… How can Jobs talk about openness when his notoriously secretive company is not only hypocritically on the warpath against Adobe, but recently goaded police into initiating a criminal investigation over the disappearance of Apple’s fourth generation iPhone prototype, which was lost by one of Jobs’ own employees!?

For some background about this, see [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. Apple has spin on the sin.

Adobe is already drifting towards Linux by “giving employees Android phones with Flash,” according to Apple Insider.

Following Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ public attack on Flash this week, Adobe is now reportedly planning to give its employees Android phones running Flash.

Three sources familiar with Adobe’s plans told CNet that Adobe plans to give its employees mobile phones powered by Google’s Android mobile operating system, and running a new mobile version of Flash created for the platform. Adobe reportedly has not yet decided which Android phone it will give its employees, though “various HTC phones and the Nexus One” were specifically mentioned.

A reader of ours wrote just to say that “Adobe responds to Apple on Flash” and that it “Just goes to show what happens when you do business with a closed source company.” From the BBC he quotes a report which says that “Adobe confirms plans to move away from Apple” and in it Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen is quoted as saying that “when you resort to licensing language” to restrict development, it has “nothing to do with technology”.

“Our view of the world is multi-platform.”
      –Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen
Further it says: “He said it was now “cumbersome” for developers who were forced to have “two workflows”.

“Mr Narayen said the problems highlighted by Mr Jobs were “a smokescreen”.

“He added that if Flash crashed Apple products it was something “to do with the Apple operating system”.

“He said he found it “amusing” that Mr Jobs thought that Flash was a closed platform.

“”We have different views of the world,” Mr Narayan told the Wall Street Journal. “Our view of the world is multi-platform.””

Our reader also made us aware that “Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 shuns open video”, which shows quite clearly that Microsoft’s ‘embrace’ of HTML5 was an embrace, extend, and extinguish move (who didn’t see that coming?). Microsoft may have embraced <video> only to ensure that Theora is not supported in it. For shame, Microsoft. Apple does the same thing and it's not surprising. Here is Microsoft’s spin in Slashdot and the original post that says:

H.264 is an industry standard, with broad and strong hardware support.

Define “industry standard”. What about software patents?

Our reader has insisted that Microsoft merely embraces “open ‘standards’ [with scare quote]” and that “Microsoft [is] yet again playing the ‘open standards’ shuffle.” He argues that Microsoft is more or less saying: “You can use our open codecs but only on our closed proprietary system, and as long as you pay us our royalties.”

“Microsoft [is] yet again playing the ‘open standards’ shuffle.”
      –Anonymous reader
Apple and Microsoft are very much together in this. To them, Free software is a common enemy which is very strong and at the very least forces Microsoft and Apple to keep their prices down.

Here is a new article titled “In Mobile Video Standards Fight, Consumers Are Poised to Lose” and signs that Korea finally learns its lessons from ActiveX [1, 2] and moves further away from Internet Explorer, which does not support Theora, either. From Mozilla we learn:

For those of you who have followed my blog, you know that it has been 3 years since I first reported on the fact that Korea does not use SSL for secure transactions over the Interent but instead a PKI mechanism that limits users to the Windows OS and Internet Explorer as a browser. Nothing fundamentally has changed but there are new pressures on the status quo that may break open South Korean for competition in the browser market in the future.

[...]

Dr. Keechang Kim of Korea University has been working tirelessly for many years to try to change the status quo in Korea around browsers and the reliance on a PKI mechanism that is tied to one platform. With concern being raised by different parts of the Korean government, including the Korean Communications Commission as well as the Office of the President of Korea, Keechang has gathered a very interesting panel of presentations for April 29th in Seoul. The panelists will be addressing the (Korean) Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) which is the regulatory body in Korea that is currently mandating the PKI mechanism that is in place today (which requires Active-X, etc.) Unless the FSS relaxes or changes their regulations, Korean banks cannot offer other mechanisms for Korean users to bank online, etc. In short, unless the FSS changes their stance, nothing will change in Korea.

[...]

Thank you to Keechang and everyone in the OpenWeb.or.kr community for your tireless efforts to try to break open the Korean market. Thank you also to Channy Yun who has put aside his own schedule in order to participate and guide Lucas in Seoul. There is still a long road to walk to an open, competitive market in S. Korea for browsers, but I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking of security, Netcraft writes about security issues and points out that “Windows users are vulnerable to flaw in Java Web Start”. Korea ought to change its preferred platform too.

One might argue that Apple’s big sin here is that it’s greedy and that the same applies to Microsoft. But in fact, both companies misbehave in ways that go beyond this. “Boycott Apple,” says a new headline from LinuxToday’s editor, stating the case against Apple for its abuse of bloggers.

This is an abuse of police powers, an exercise in intimidation. The message is clear: annoy Apple, and Apple will crush you like a bug. A more appropriate response would have been dueling lawyers firing subpoenas at each other and racking up the appropriate number of billable hours. The most appropriate response would have been “Oops, we goofed, we let one of our trade secrets out, we need to be more careful.”

Trade secrets are exposed all the time. Execs lose things. Employees blab. Some journalists feel it is beneath their dignity to take advantage of such lapses. But it is not our job to protect their trade secrets, and especially not in this era of intellectual property madness where the balance of power is tipped heavily into the hands of big business, and every last little thing that displeases the corporate overlords is criminalized.

[...]

At best, in my un-legal but common-sense opinion, this is a minor civil matter, and surely not a criminal case that warrants a door-busting raid and possible felony charges. Both Mr. Hogan and Mr. Chen face possible felony charges, which is utterly insane.

Attacking messengers seems to be Apple’s unofficial way out of it after it bullied Gizmodo and received bad press (context below).

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