04.13.09

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How Microsoft (and Apple) Wants to Own GNU/Linux, in the ‘Intellectual’ Sense

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 5:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Microsoft pollutes data and programs using proprietary formats and software patents; Apple pollutes the Internet with software patents

Microsoft recently published its plan to fight GNU/Linux using software patents. It even wrote a book about it [1, 2, 3, 4]. Now comes ZDNet with the following remark which is true.

[I]n Phelps view, all this folderol about Microsoft “owning Linux” is really just a ploy to participate fully in the Linux ecosystem, through cross-licenses.

Glyn Moody addressed the OSI regarding patents just the other day, so it seems likely that this new OSI post is a response to Moody. It argues against patents as tools of innovation. Too bad the OSI let Microsoft get closer to it, eh? Microsoft is one of the biggest proponents of software patents right now.

Yesterday, wrote Pamela Jones in response to a post from Chris Kenyon of Canonical: “Nothing changes in Redmond, which is why it is unwise, in my view, to include Windows Media Player codecs, or FAT, or anything Microsoft.” Groklaw also opposes Mono, especially after the FAT debacle.

Over here in Ryan’s blog, it is made very clear that while Microsoft supports many codecs, it intentionally avoids supporting the free ones because these would advance fair competition.

Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 is all pay-for-play:

Playing around with Windows 7 I noticed a new “feature”…Windows Media Player 12 will no longer allow the user to use any audio or video format that Microsoft and the various partners don’t allow.

What does this mean for competing formats and free formats like Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora, and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)?

The European Commission should step in and force Microsoft to support these. Microsoft knows very well why it avoids supporting these formats; it wants to remain anti-competitive.

Microsoft is not alone in this by the way. It has many people outside its direct control who nonetheless promote its agenda. Groklaw has just published this article which challenges Alex Brown and the cronies-filled ISO. It is rather clear what happened there after Microsoft had dethroned opposition and overthrew objectivity.

Alex Brown recently tweeted to Microsoft’s Doug Mahugh the following about OOXML:

OOXML=tought [sic] fights; revealed JTC 1 procedures were rubbish.

The OOXML approval was marred by procedures that were rubbish, eh? How about the result, then? Wasn’t that exactly what the four appeals against adoption of OOXML stated as one basis, that the process was essentially rubbish? Were they right? One year later, it seems there are indeed some problems. Brown tells us on his blog that at the BRM “a number of existing Ecma-376 documents were unintentionally made invalid against the IS29500 transitional schema”.

Oops.

The UK, he writes, now is suggesting a retroactive fix to undo the changes made at the BRM. Say, what? Rubbish though they be, is there any JTC1 procedure that makes *that* an appropriate way forward? If so, why bother to even meet? Just let Microsoft or its little elves slip in anything they want and call it good.

That’s not all. According to Jomar Silva of Brazil, who attended the BRM and just received the secret report on progress on OOXML, several items that were supposed to be fixed are still not incorporated into the published text of the standard one year later, despite the fact that he says some voted a conditional Yes, contingent on those changes being made.

If you are considering whether or not to adopt IS29500, what should that tell you? That maybe you should wait until they get the kinks out?

[...]

[W]hy were the appeals denied? I know the JTC1 folks don’t care, but if you are thinking about adoption of ODF and/or OOXML, and you care about truly open standards, shouldn’t you?

The way to hold establishments accountable for their actions is to identify those who run them. Establishments like ISO are — after all — just people. The same goes for WIPO [1, 2, 3, 4], the BSA [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], and even the Department of Justice [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. They are all helping Microsoft poison the waters for Free(dom) software, ensuring not only that access to data is prohibited or stifled; it’s about putting a ‘Microsoft tax’ on personal data. It’s people like Alex Brown and Miguel de Icaza who actively promote this [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21].

To be fair, Microsoft is not the only culprit. Some argue that Apple is an evil sleeping giant which seeds the Web with software that it refuses to give free of charge (i.e. without software patents). Digital Majority has gathered many good links on the subject. Here is an Opera blog complaining:

Apple patent claim threatens to block or delay W3C specification

Early last month, it became clear that Apple might be causing trouble for the W3C Widgets specification. They are unwilling to make patent 5,764,992 (W3C information), which covers automatic software upates, royalty-free if the Widgets Update specification is found to use anything covered by the patent. This basically means a lot of additional work for the Working Group at the W3C, and might slow down the process of finalizing the widgets specification.

From the W3C:

This PAG is triggered by Section 7.1 (PAG Formation) of the Patent Policy, which states that a PAG is triggered in the event “a patent has been disclosed that may be essential, but is not available under W3C Royalty-Free licensing requirements”. The specific patent is 5,764,992 (U.S.), held by Apple, Inc. Apple Inc. has excluded all claims of patent 5,764,992 (U.S.)

A Mac-oriented Web site claims that “Apple threatens to block W3C widget standard” and one of the most avid Apple fans, who regularly writes for CNET, argues that “Apple [is] refusing royalty-free license to widget patent.”

It’s a little hard to tell at the moment exactly what claims overlap between Apple’s patent and the proposed standard, and why Apple is choosing to exert its right to contest the royalty-free licensing terms for those claims. An Apple representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

This means that Apple refuses to even take into consideration the public outcry. Its precious software patents seem to come before its obligation to the freedom of the World Wide Web and that’s just sad. The New York Times published background information about the Internet last week. There was this little portion about patents:

So there was plenty of natural pressure to avoid such hassles. It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement.

Both Microsoft and Apple are jeopardising this doctrine of sharing. First and foremost, they are motivated by greed of their shareholders and this denies the entry of GNU/Linux (as a Free platform) into parts of the network.

Rotten apple
Thanks, Apple

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3 Comments

  1. aeshna23 said,

    April 13, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Gravatar

    “First and foremost, they are motivated by greed of their shareholders and this denies the entry of GNU/Linux (as a Free platform) into parts of the network.”

    The way large companies actually work is that the management makes decisions. The shareholders have almost nothing to do with it. Like a large percentage of Americans, I’m a shareholder in both Apple and Microsoft, because I hold stock in index mutual funds. I certainly don’t agree with what Apple and Microsoft are doing, and probably a huge majority of the individual holders have no clue at all about this battle over IP. In fact, a large majority of the individuals shareholders would benefit from Apple and Microsoft losing value, since the value of the other stocks in their mutual fund would increase.

  2. Needs Sunlight said,

    April 13, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Gravatar

    Agreed, “the shareholders” are used as a vague scapegoat for unethical, unsound and unscrupulous management initiatives. Most shareholder meetings have low attendance and even then the agenda items are set long in advance by management and the decisions are largely rubberstamps.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    April 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

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    When I write “shareholders” I generally refer to the goal of meeting or exceeding expectations in each quarterly report (thus pleasing investors).

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