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09.24.10

IRC Proceedings: September 24th, 2010

Posted in IRC Logs at 6:46 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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#techrights log

#boycottnovell log

#boycottnovell-social log

Enter the IRC channels now

FSF and EFF Challenge Software Patents at the USPTO, Nature (Journal) Wants EPO to be Like USPTO, and Patent Trolls Roam Free in Land of the Free

Posted in EFF, FSF, Law, Patents at 6:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Old Nature cover
First title page of the scientific journal Nature, November 4th, 1869.

Summary: News about patents, ranging from action against software patents in the United States to patent trolls and their use of software patents to terrify US-based businesses

Brett Smith from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has just issued a call for mail to be sent to the USPTO, urging it “to stop issuing software patents”:

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Bilski v. Kappos, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plans to release new guidance as to which patent applications will be accepted, and which will not. As part of this process, they are seeking input from the public about how that guidance should be structured.

Normally when the USPTO solicits feedback like this, they hear almost exclusively from patent attorneys who have a vested interest in making sure that patents are granted as broadly as possible. And this process will be overseen by David Kappos, the current director of the USPTO and formerly an attorney at IBM in charge of their heavy-handed patent strategy. The company obtained large numbers of software patents with his oversight (and has continued to do so after his departure).

In Identi.ca, the FSF says that the “USPTO is preparing post-Bilski guidance for issuing patents—tell them to leave software out of it! Due Monday.”

The EFF has taken a different approach to the problem. It busts bad patents one by one, which has a symbolic significance but not much of an impressive track record of being effective (there are far too many software patents). The EFF’s latest triumph got some coverage from IDG and Slashdot.

Continued good news in the fight to bust bad software patents: the Patent Office has issued an encouraging office action in the reexamination of the C2 patent, one of EFF’s “Most Wanted” patents. The C2 patent claims to cover a “Method and Apparatus for Implementing a Computer Network/Internet Telephone System,” broad enough to essentially wholesale claim using the Internet to call someone’s phone.

The Patent Office has agreed with many of the arguments EFF put forth in its petition for reexamination, and preliminarily found the C2 patent invalid as obvious. This first office action is non-final, which means that C2 still has the chance to respond and make its own argument in support of its patent. While this office action is not a final victory, it’s an important first step in busting a patent that stifles innovation and the use of VoIP as a free speech tool, and further cripples the progress of VoIP developers who seek to ease online communications.

An even better solution would be to ban software patents altogether. Realistically, for the time being it’s important to ensure that software patents cannot spread any further. Nature Publishing Group, which is based in London, New York, and Tokyo (it is a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited) is not doing a favour to science right now.

“No word about the cost of patenting for society, the bias of the patent system towards big corporations, the toll of bogus patents on innovation, and the very shaky empirical foundation on which the whole “patents foster innovation” argument rests.”
      –Geza
Somebody from the FFII’s mailing list, Geza, has found this article which he called “a pretty one-sided article about the European patent system an the way to reform it appeared in the current issue of Nature” (high-impact journal/magazine).

“It essentially argues that a more streamlined, US-like system is all we need to foster innovation,” he wrote. “No word about the cost of patenting for society, the bias of the patent system towards big corporations, the toll of bogus patents on innovation, and the very shaky empirical foundation on which the whole “patents foster innovation” argument rests.”

“Professors without patents” is an article Glyn Moody has just drawn attention to. In it, the case is made for entrepreneurship to be achieved without patent monopolies and rather by collaboration. Nature magazine turns out to have published part of this work in July, so maybe there is balance in coverage:

The results of a recent study challenge the standard notion that most businesses started by academics are based on patents (“Start-up model patently flawed”) in Nature magazine, July 2010).

The study found that the majority of companies started by US academics are started without patents. This is contrary to the generally accepted wisdom about how entrepreneurship occurs in a university, which usually goes something like this: academics disclose their invention to universities, get it patented and then spin-out their company from the university. This is actually only part of the entrepreneurial picture in universities — and a smaller part of the picture at that.

Looking at the impact of patents right now, Newegg is still being trolled by software patents in the Eastern District of Texas [1, 2]. Now comes an appeal:

Newegg.com will appeal a recent court decision that awarded an e-commerce application development company damages for Newegg’s alleged violation of several software patents, including a shopping cart.

The following new post uses the term “NPE” for patent trolls and claims that a study shows “Heavily Litigated NPE Patents Overwhelmingly Los[ing] at Trial”. Here are some of the numbers:

- Just 16.7% of the assertions of the most-litigated patents were made by product-producing companies.

- Software patents constituted 20.8% of the once-litigated patents but 74.1% of the most-litigated patents.

- Owners of non-software patents are far more likely to win their cases than are software patent owners (37.1% versus 12.9% overall)

- The number of defendants per case is a negative predictor of settlement – the more defendants there are per case, the less likely the case is to settle. Also, the more defendants there are per case the more likely those defendants are to win.

If “[o]wners of non-software patents are far more likely to win their cases”, does that not mean that a lot of software patents were never supposed to be granted in the first place? Prior art search in the field of software is extremely complicated and by far outweighs design and ‘production’ costs (production is just copying). Software patents just make no economic sense. Some people go further and suggest that they are not constitutional, either.

Apple, Oracle, and Software Patents of Convenience

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Hardware, Java, Microsoft, Oracle, Patents, Rumour, SUN at 5:30 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Jobs image licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (version 1.2 or any later versions); Ellison patch By Thomas Hawk

Summary: Rumours and speculations that Oracle might prepare to buy ARM Holdings may arouse the suspicion that Android is Ellison’s target

OIN has added Mozilla as a licensee and pro-GNU/Linux bloggers keep talking about it. One person remarked:

I hope OIN is good for Mozilla, but what about Oracle? #swpats

The troubling thing is that despite Oracle and Google both being inside the OIN shield zone, Oracle decided to sue Google using software patents [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and interestingly enough, as Groklaw points out, they are assigned the same judge as in the Apple vs. Psystar case.

Google has appeared in the Oracle v. Google litigation and they have extra time to file an answer to Oracle’s complaint. Meanwhile, they’ve added some more lawyers to the team and informed the court they decline to have the case handled by a magistrate judge, so it’s been assigned to the Hon. William Alsup. What are the odds? That’s the same judge who presided over the Apple v. Psystar case.

Previously we found rumours that Apple would buy ARM (reported less than a year ago in many news outlets) and also learned that Steve Jobs’ friendship with Larry Ellison might have something to do with the legal attack on Android [1, 2, 3] (Apple is also suing Android using software patents). Right now there is news suggesting that Oracle — not Apple — might buy ARM Holdings, which recently signed a deal with Microsoft.

ARM Holdings Plc, the U.K. designer of chips that power Apple Inc.’s iPhone, rose the most in two weeks in London trading after Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison said his company may buy a chipmaker.

ARM rose as much as 6.8 percent to 417.5 pence, and traded up 6 percent to 414.4 pence as of 12:19 p.m., valuing the company at about 5.47 billion pounds ($8.6 billion).

“We primarily think this is about Ellison,” said Lee Simpson, an analyst at Jefferies Intl Ltd. in London, adding that the “Oracle speculation is unwarranted” and that the company would more likely target an enterprise-focused chipmaker such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Has Oracle not gotten enough from Sun’s SPARC? Back when it was rumoured that Apple would buy ARM people said that it can be seen as an attack on Android. Could the strong friendship between Ellison and Jobs play a role here? As pointed out some hours ago, collusion of this kind if a lot more common than people dare to imagine.

Who Put Vista 7 Back in HP’s Slate Strategy?

Posted in GNU/Linux, HP, Microsoft, Vista 7 at 4:55 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

HP Slate - Steve Balmer holds GNU/Linux

Original photo here (“HP Slate officially alive, ditching Windows 7 for Palm WebOS”), fair use for humour purposes

Summary: Former Microsoft staff seems like a possible reason for HP Slate running Vista 7 (even just in a prototype phase, assuming the new video is authentic)

Y

ESTERDAY we wrote about Ballnux tablets, which are still a threat (but also somewhat complementary) to GNU/Linux tablets (which Microsoft makes no money from). A new survey shows that one in four Americans would want an Android/Linux tablet (sub-notebooks are another growth area for GNU/Linux and not for Apple); sadly, only the Ballnux-based Galaxy Tab is named at the start:

With the coming of the Galaxy Tab and possible releases of a number of Android tablets at the end of the year, the question still remains: do most consumers really want or need a tablet device? We have seen the success of the iPad but have yet to see anything really go up against it, Android or otherwise. It’s a bit hard to judge sometimes what “real consumers” in the market place want as opposed to us Android fanboys, but a recent Zogby pole may clear some of this up.

Then there is the tablet-class device called “Slate”. Watch the following new video of Vista 7 choking on it:


Direct link

Assuming that it’s not fake or just experimental, how come it doesn’t run Linux as promised? HP deemed Vista 7 unsuitable at one point. A Microsoft booster — not just GNU/Linux advocates — says that the “HP Slate video shows all that’s wrong with Windows 7 on tablets”. He also writes:

But then HP bought Palm, and with it webOS. webOS may be a phone operating system, but ever since news of the purchase came out, there has been widespread conjecture about a webOS-powered tablet. The appeal of webOS on such a device is that webOS is designed around a touch-screen, and built for low-power hardware—ideal for battery life.

As we pointed out throughout the HP-Hurd scandal [1, 2, 3, 4], Microsoft has apparently increased its level of influence inside HP thanks to high-level staff that went there. Might this explain a return to Vista 7 (see the Windows elements hard-coded on the device)?

Escaping Microsoft Lock-in, Ditching .NET

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice at 4:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Door locks

Summary: Lessons in document formats and also a lesson to be learned about programming, especially the associated lock-in costs

A couple of years ago Bristol was moving to ODF, but just like in Switzerland [1, 2] Microsoft lock-in is standing in the way and Mark Ballard reports on it:

Bristol blazed a trail for the coalition government’s IT strategy by replacing Microsoft Office five years ago with office software that used open standards on 5,500 machines. But its staff found their work became prohibitively unproductive, said the Council Cabinet document, because so much of the UK’s public sector carried on using Microsoft standards. Sixty per cent of its employees installed Microsoft Office software piecemeal to get round the problem.

Bristol had also been forced to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Its 5,500 desktops had been running Windows XP. Microsoft is phasing out support for XP, and will cease in 2014.

Bristol ICT director Paul Arrigani said in the IT proposal that Bristol was being forced to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft software because, since its old software was no longer supported, access to other key computer systems such as the Government Secure Intranet could be invalidated.

“The planned approach does not change the council’s commitment to open standards and open source, but reflects the reality of the environment in which we have to operate,” said Arrigani in the report.

The council might find a way out when its new Microsoft licences run out in three years, he said, “should the move to a fully open source environment be feasible at this point”.

Beckett also said in the report that Bristol’s Microsoft strategy was not a “retreat” from open source. The council would still install the open source Open Office alongside every machine with Microsoft Office. It would encourage users not to form habits that would lock them into using Microsoft in the future.

The key point here is that Microsoft creates software which deviates from standards and thus makes it abundantly difficult to escape exiting proprietary software contracts (plus renewals). The next wave of lock-in is called OOXML and it’s worse in terms of lock-in than Microsoft’s binary formats (which some office suites were adapted to cope with to some extent). The man who told us that OOXML is a “superb standard” is currently trying to get people — developers in particular — off Java and on Mono. Well, as Mono only lures people into .NET, it does not help them escape lock-in, it only increases lock-in. And in any case, Mono and .NET lose to server-side champions like Ruby in this new case:

Leaving .net

[...]

This repository is being watched by 30 people and 5 commits have been made to it. 5 commits! Why is this number so horrendously low? Because Microsoft don’t take patches. They’ll release a new version of MVC without anyone’s commits. Worse than that, everyone will start using their new version and the github repo will just start again.

[...]

Tomorrow I start a new project in Ruby. I will have access to a massive and diverse array of talented passionate people who are genuinely interested in collaboration and advancing the craft for everyone. Every part of my stack including the operating system, database, framework, web server and even the language is fully open source and represents a consensus of a large number of people

Mono is to GNU/Linux what spreading .docx files is to Office 2003. It’s a solution only to Microsoft (urged/forced upgrades); to the rest, it’s the solution in search of a problem.

Who Needs Windows Back Doors When It’s So Insecure?

Posted in Asia, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 3:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Mohammad Mosaddeq

Summary: Stuxnet is allegedly part of a plan to infect computer systems in Iran for political reasons, according to an increasing body of evidence

SO, it’s starting to look like Stuxnet [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] was part of a plot to derail Iran’s nuclear programme [1, 2]. Stuxnet makes use of zero-day Windows vulnerabilities rather than back doors. Will governments finally realise that foreign governments can use Windows against them? Software freedom is essential to one’s autonomy.

The debate about Stuxnet and Iran is only starting. So far we’ve come across the following reports (there are many more):

i. Advanced Computer Worm Was Specifically Designed to Attack Iranian Nuclear Reactor, Experts Say

The sophisticated computer worm called Stuxnet, which has been targeting industrial operations around the world, was likely designed to take out Iran’s new Bushehr nuclear reactor, cybersecurity experts say. It’s the first known cyber-super-weapon designed to destroy a real-world target, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Researchers studying the worm say it was built by an advanced attacker with plentiful resources — possibly a nation-state. Initially, experts thought it was designed for industrial espionage, but upon examining its code, they now think it was built for sabotage.

ii. Synchronize Your OpenOffice Documents With Google Docs, Zoho And WebDAV Servers Using Ooo2gd

iii. Microsoft confirms it missed Stuxnet print spooler ‘zero-day’

Contrary to reports, a bug that Microsoft patched last week had been publicly discussed a year and a half ago, security researchers said this week.

Microsoft confirmed Wednesday that it overlooked the vulnerability when it was revealed last year.

The vulnerability in Windows Print Spooler service was one of four exploited by Stuxnet, a worm that some have suggested was crafted to sabotage an Iranian nuclear reactor.

iv. Stuxnet virus may be aimed at Iran nuclear reactor

A highly sophisticated computer worm that has spread through Iran, Indonesia and India was built to destroy operations at one target: possibly Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor.

That’s the emerging consensus of security experts who have examined the Stuxnet worm. In recent weeks, they’ve broken the cryptographic code behind the software and taken a look at how the worm operates in test environments. Researchers studying the worm all agree that Stuxnet was built by a very sophisticated and capable attacker, possibly a nation state, and it was designed to destroy something big.

[...]

One of the things that Langner discovered is that when Stuxnet finally identifies its target, it makes changes to a piece of Siemens code called Organisational Block 35. This Siemens component monitors critical factory operations, things that need a response within 100 milliseconds. By messing with Operational Block 35, Stuxnet could easily cause a refinery’s centrifuge to malfunction, but it could be used to hit other targets too, Byres said. “The only thing I can say is that it is something designed to go bang,” he said.

Whoever created Stuxnet developed four previously unknown zero-day attacks and a peer-to-peer communications system, compromised digital certificates belonging to Realtek Semiconductor and JMicron Technology, and displayed extensive knowledge of industrial systems. This is not something that your run-of-the-mill hacker can pull off. Many security researchers think that it would take the resources of a nation state to accomplish.

[...]

Now that the Stuxnet attack is public, the industrial control systems industry has come of age in an uncomfortable way. And clearly it will have more things to worry about. “The problem is not Stuxnet. Stuxnet is history,” said Langner. “The problem is the next generation of malware that will follow.”

Any politically-motived Windows worm shows that technology and politics cannot be separated and they come at a high cost to the public (a side effect). Some people point fingers at Israeli hackers.

Malware believed to be targeting Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant may have been created by Israeli hackers

[...]

However Graham Cluley, senior consultant with the online security company Sophos, warned against jumping to conclusions about the target of the attack, saying “sensationalist” headlines were “a worry”. Clulely is wary of reports linking Stuxnet with Israel: “It’s very hard to prove 100% who created a piece of malware, unless you are able to gather evidence from the computer they created it on – or if someone admits it, of course.”

But he said that its characteristics did not suggest a lone group. “I think we need to be careful about pointing fingers without proof, and I think it’s more appropriate – if true – to call this a state-sponsored cyber attack rather than cyber terrorism.”

Stuxnet works by exploiting previously unknown security holes in Microsoft’s Windows operating system. It then seeks out a component called Simatic WinCC, manufactured by Siemens, which controls critical factory operations. The malware even uses a stolen cryptographic key belonging to the Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer RealTek to validate itself in high-security factory systems.

Should the whole world be flooded with Windows worms just because of political altercations of few nations? Should a better operating system like GNU/Linux be used to mitigate international threats. When does the cyber threat become greater than nuclear threats in an age when everything from food production to energy extraction [1, 2] and travel depends on connected computers? Without energy and transportation, food cannot be grown, cultivated, and delivered; that is where the most fundamental needs can or cannot be met, especially at times of natural disaster or war, so leaving one’s critical systems (that’s almost any system) under Microsoft’s reign is a strategic blunder. Proprietary software is subjected to the sovereignty of its sole maker.

Microsoft Wants to Cut off Air Supply of Anti-virus Business

Posted in Microsoft, Security, Windows at 2:18 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Factory

“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 (not VM_Bware CEO)

Summary: Another risky step from Microsoft helps alienate the people who helped protect Windows from its own failings

“Microsoft [is] sticking the knife deeper into the anti-virus businesses,” Oiaohm told us this morning while pointing to this article.

In its “Partner SMB Community” blog, Microsoft has announced that, in early October, the Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) anti-virus suite will become available to small businesses with up to 10 Windows PCs free-of-charge. As MSE has so far been intended for non-commercial use only, the main choice for Microsoft corporate customers has been Forefront Security.

Pogson points to The Register and says that “Microsoft Knee-caps “Partners””:

Small business is a huge market for the anti-malware business. That’s where all kinds of operations cannot afford to hire their own IT and depend on third parties to keep their IT running. If M$ is giving it away for $0 how will Symantec etc. stay alive? M$ was already giving it away for $0 to consumers.

After the Symantec buyout rumour this is interesting. Why should security be sold separately from an insecure product in the first place?

Microsoft Bribes and Tax Avoidance

Posted in Bill Gates, Finance, Microsoft, Steve Ballmer at 1:56 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Enron Microsoft

Summary: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are bribing for laws that exempt themselves from tax, bribing to promote their products (while labelling that “charity”), and bribing publications to cover important matters in a way that suits them (portraying investments as “philanthropy”)

MICROSOFT, the company which quietly raises debt, has certainly produced some rich people. But it’s clear based on history that it’s not unusual for a company to be left bankrupt whilst its founders become filthy rich. The two sides — people and business — are most certainly correlated, but they need not move in harmony. There are stories of companies that collapse while paying the management obscenely high wages (SCO is one example).

As Microsoft said a couple of years ago, “Human Greed Has No Bounds” (it was also the title of an article). Steve Ballmer’s lobbying regarding tax (lobbying is just corruption under a nicer name) has just gotten some attention from PubliCola, which calls Ballmer “biggest hypocrite” of the day:

After yesterday’s news that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has given $100,000 to the Defeat I-1098 campaign, Seattle news site PubliCola declared him “biggest hypocrite” of the day. Why? Because Ballmer has spoken time and time again about the need for more education funding in Washington state.

Initiative 1098 would establish an income tax on individuals who make more than $200,000 a year (and couples who make $400,000 a year) and use most of the money to fund … wait for it … education. Washington is one of just seven states without a tax on income.

In this post from Microsoft Nick he adds the following:

One of the richest men in the world, Gates Jr. has so far been silent on the income-tax issue. But odds are he’d side with his father, don’t you think?

What Nick and the rest of the Seattle bloggers neglect to point out is that he is exempted from tax [1, 2, 3, 4] because of the Gates Foundation. So of course he wants everyone but himself to pay a lot more tax to make up for his absence from duty. The biggest mistake people in Washington make is assume that Gates Jr. and Gates Sr. are pushing for themselves to be taxed more heavily.

“The biggest mistake people in Washington make is assume that Gates Jr. and Gates Sr. are pushing for themselves to be taxed more heavily.”All that “lobbying” is essentially a form of bribery. These people spend millions which percolate through the system and find their way in one form or another into the pockets of decision makers (or those whose full-time job is to brainwash/charm and thus effectively replace them, sometimes by offering future favours). Let’s face it, it’s corruption and to pretend otherwise it to be a victim of euphemisms. Bluntly enough, Chips B. Malroy told us last night that “[i]t would see[m] that the only way MS can increase marginally the share of Bing in the USA, is to bribe users or pay OEM’s to make it the default search.” Microsoft already does that with Verizon for example [1, 2, 3, 4].

There is a new and familiar scheme right now. Yes, “Microsoft has another go at Bing bribes,” says the new headline from The Inquirer (“bribe” is the correct, straight term, which was used by some other publications like CNET [1, 2, 3, 4]).

SOFTWARE GIANT Microsoft is having another crack at bribing people to use its Bing search engine.

As we pointed out before (back in July), they are trying to PR-wash it as “charity” so that people won’t slam it for being a bribe. They dress it up as a charity perk.

It’s a credit card or airline-style loyalty program that offers users credits that can be redeemed for products, gift cards or charitable donations.

This is another case of sentimental blackmail, which Microsoft used some months ago in order to convince people to ditch its rivals' Web browsers. It’s utterly shameful what goes on here, namely painting Bing/Internet Explorer as a good cause, just like Gates’ business as an investor, global monopolist, and patents pusher (labelled “philanthropy” owing to intense PR effort).

“The Gates Foundation has funded many news organizations to cover its work…”
      –Richard Stallman
RMS (Richard Stallman) has just caught up with the news that one of his favourite newspapers, The Guardian, sold out to Bill Gates. Yes, the Gates Foundation/Fund is already controlling coverage of itself by paying this publication (and there was evidence to show it just days after the announcement). “The Gates Foundation has funded many news organizations to cover its work,” Richard Stallman wrote in his blog earlier today (after I had mailed him many pointers about it).

Techrights will continue to cautiously cite The Guardian. Whenever it advertises for the Gates Foundation in the designated new site, we will certainly point this out and pressure the The Guardian to report straight news and abolish a PR function (which it carries out in exchange for undisclosed payments from Gates).

Incidentally, speaking of companies misbehaving and then covering their tracks, check out this new article from Michael Arrington.

Collusion and price fixing, that’s what. It is absolutely unlawful for competitors to act together to keep other competitors out of the market, or to discuss ways to keep prices under control. And that appears to be exactly what this group is doing.

This isn’t minor league stuff. We’re talking about federal crimes and civil prosecutions if in fact that’s what they’re doing. I had a quick call with an attorney this morning, and he confirmed that these types of meetings are exactly what these laws were designed to prevent.

I’m not going to say who was at the meeting since at least a couple of the attendees are saying they were extremely uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going. But like I said, it included just about every major angel investor in Silicon Valley.

On a side note, this is a difficult post to write, because I call nearly every person in that room a friend. But these actions are so completely inappropriate it has to be called out.

Oracle and Apple too are a noteworthy pair. We’ll write about them later.

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