04.21.10

Promoting GNU/Linux for Recycling Reasons (Video)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Videos at 8:12 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: New “We’re Linux” video for the Linux Foundation


Direct link

Patents Roundup: Nintendo Sued, Apple Sues, Patents as Weapon for Sale

Posted in Apple, Patents at 5:07 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Gameboy

Summary: Top stories about patents (found this week), ranging from patents as a business strategy to patents as ammunition for one to acquire and then attack with

Nintendo Sued By Interactive Exercise Company [we wrote about Nintendo beating a patent troll just the other day]

A Potomac, Maryland-based company is the latest to file suit against Nintendo for patent infringement.

IA Labs, also known as Powergrid Fitness, sued Nintendo’s Japan headquarters and Nintendo of America on April 2, according to a filing obtained by Gamasutra.

The company’s Web site (http://www.ia-labs.com), a Windows site which is down at the moment, seems not to offer real products, but it does have “Licensing” and “Partners” in the menu. It’s almost like a patent troll but not quite. The company was “founded by Greg Merril and Phil Feldman in March, 2002.” It fails to show any concrete products.

Apple countersues Kodak in patent case

Three months after Eastman Kodak sued Apple for patent infringement, Apple has filed a countersuit that accuses the film and imaging company of violating two of its own digital photography patents.

Tippr Buys Up Patents to Take on Groupon [via]

Could a broad set of patents around collective buying be the ammo Tippr needs to chase Groupon? That’s what CEO Martin Tobias is betting, having bought up the intellectual property generated by bubble-era Mercata from its investor Paul Allen.

Groupon — which is in the process of raising $130 million on a $1.35 billion valuation for offering online deals redeemed at local businesses, according to TechCrunch — is a runaway hit. And a hundred or so other companies in the collective buying space are duking it out to grab a share of that market. But Tippr, which just launched in February, has a special weapon up its sleeve: intellectual property.

Abundance Based Intellectual Property System [from November 3rd, 2009, via]

The intended purpose of intellectual property laws is to promote discovery and encourage sharing of ideas. A system that rewards great discoveries and also makes the realization of the ideas available to as many people as cheaply as possible is the ideal system. Using the concepts of Abundance that system can be achieved.

The patent and copyright system creates artificial scarcity. Its stated goal is to promote the sharing of ideas but it does not work. Its not just broken, it was wrong from the start. It assumes that good ideas are scarce and the only way to get people to share their ideas is to give them a monopoly, creating a temporary scarcity.

The Legal ‘Industry’ of Software Patents

Posted in Law, Patents at 4:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

New Auckland montage
Picture by Taifarious1, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Summary: Support for software patents in New Zealand mostly comes from outsiders of the software industry — those to whom software is just something to tax with legal expenses

THIS post is likely to rub some lawyers (solicitors, attorneys, whatever) the wrong way, but it does not suggest that all lawyers are counter-productive; it does strive to show that segments of legal occupations are more concerned with taxing regular activities. They neither prevent crime nor promote science/trade.

One such example that we mentioned earlier this month involves software patents in New Zealand. Law firms in New Zealand are among the most vocal supporters of software patents in this nation, despite the fact that the New Zealand Computer Society, for example, opposes software patents (New Zealand’s largest application vendor also rejects software patents). In many ways, these patent lawyers are like the Military Industrial Complex; the only currency they grok is patent applications and patent lawsuits; they monetise friction and disputes. Is that the best which the software patents lobby can offer? One law firm after another in the New Zealand press? We have documented many examples so far and it’s a true pattern.

“Is that the best which the software patents lobby can offer? One law firm after another in the New Zealand press?”The following new story/press release (it is presented as a story but it’s ghostwritten) is an example of more lawyers from New Zealand lobbying for patentability of software. The messenger describes itself as “New Zealand’s pre-eminent law firm delivers the highest levels of legal and business performance.”

Is this the type of ‘industry’ which ought to decide ‘on behalf’ of computer scientists what type of ‘protection’ they need or don’t need? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. It’s like letting Blackwater make the decision on whether to fight Iraq or not. It’s almost inconceivable and it’s rather irresponsible for the New Zealand press to have published those self-promotional, greed-motivated pieces favouring software patents.

Software developers decided a long time ago that copyrights fulfill their needs. They don’t want to risk thousands of lawsuits or at least threats from patent holders they were not even aware of. They want to write code, not to study patent applications all day. Justice John Paul Stevens understood this and he seemingly opposed software patents, even in his own country which is one among very few that allow software patents. Stevens is leaving though (patent lawyers are openly excited about it) and Law.com looks at his legacy. [via]

We’ve been doing a little thinking about outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens and what his legacy will be when it comes to intellectual property. Patent lawyers will surely remember Stevens as one of the justices who, along with justices Breyer and Souter, signed a strongly-worded dissent in the LabCorp v. Metabolite case. Because it was dismissed due to a technicality in the lower courts, LabCorp had no impact on the law, but the dissent showed that Stevens was one of at least three justices keen to rein in the extent of patentable subject matter. If, as many expect, the forthcoming Bilski decision places even greater limits on the patent system, it’s likely that Stevens will have a hand in that.

Here is our main page about In Re Bilski. Even the United States is beginning to see that software patents make no sense, but Microsoft will fight for them, even in New Zealand.

Xandros Shows Death by Microsoft

Posted in Corel, Deals, Debian, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Scalix, Xandros at 4:09 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Agent of death

Summary: “It should be widely known by now. No matter why, when and where, join MS and you will be dead.” –Abe

Richard Hillesley has just published “The lost world of the Xandros desktop,” which is an article that looks at Xandros’ past and present. To quote some bits from this long article:

The latest release of the Xandros Linux desktop edition was in June 2006, which is several lifetimes in the history of Linux. Is this the end of the line for the Xandros desktop?

[...]

The ‘patent covenant’ with Microsoft has had a detrimental effect on Xandros’ ongoing relationships with the Linux user and developer communities. Ostensibly the purpose of the deal with Microsoft was to license protocols to enable Xandros’ BridgeWays and Scalix products to work with Microsoft networks.

Actually, Scalix came later. Xandros bought Scalix in July 2007 (July 9th to be precise), whereas Xandros sold out to Microsoft on June 4th.

We have found some new comments on the subject, including one in Tux Machines:

Xandros propaganda for smartphones ? giving up on netbooks ?

Netbooks were born for children. But had a future for enterprise applications because of HDTV(broadcasting news or training film) 16:9 video format(DVD player format). So, Asus sold more XP(sp3). But for individuals, dual boot with Ubuntu maybe a choice, until Firefox shot itself in the foot(not flash9 compatible).

In the comment titled “Join MS”, Abe from Linux Today writes:

Those who forget history are bound to repeat it.

It should be widely known by now. No matter why, when and where, join MS and you will be dead.

Those who ignore the warnings can’t blame but themselves.

We have a detailed list of companies that lost their GNU/Linux focus after signing Microsoft deals. Xandros of one of those companies. It’s "Microsoft's touch of death".

“I once preached peaceful coexistence with Windows. You may laugh at my expense — I deserve it.”

Be’s CEO Jean-Louis Gassée

OpenDocument Format (ODF) Shows That It Would Have Been Better If IBM Bought Sun

Posted in Free/Libre Software, IBM, ISO, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Oracle, Patents, SUN at 3:52 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Bay port sunset

Summary: Oracle’s attitude toward (or dedication to) ODF compares badly to that of Sun, IBM, and probably even Red Hat

LAST year was a fascinating year for Sun Microsystems. It was almost acquired by IBM, but the negotiations fell through at some stage. IBM’s hardware business, office suite, and many other software products (Eclipse comes to mind) nicely complement Sun’s portfolio and even IBM’s commitment to MySQL would have been better and more natural than Oracle’s.

“OpenOffice.org and many other office suites support ODF free of charge.”IBM is not perfect. Heck, IBM is far from perfect and the word “perfect” is rather silly to bring up. As the TurboHercules vs IBM case reminds us, IBM is not a friend when it comes to software patents* (malice from TurboHercules withstanding), but IBM is a big proponent of ODF, for example. It’s one of those areas where an IBM-Sun merger would be suitable. The FSF is strongly in favour of ODF as it probably should be.

Oracle has rightly come under some fire for putting a price tag on an important enabler of ODF. This is bad move in general (not prioritising ODF), but maybe it would give reasons to just abandon Microsoft Office altogether. OpenOffice.org and many other office suites support ODF free of charge. Microsoft does not support real ODF [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] or even OOXML, it only pretends.

Oracle start charging for Sun’s Office ODF plug-in

[...]

According to Oracle, the support cost is in line with Oracle’s support policy of approximately 22% of the license fee and is not mandatory. But the $90 per user license fee is required. As the plug-in was never open source, Oracle has not gone back on any open source assurances it gave. Oracle would not comment on the fact that the plug-in is almost as expensive as the cheapest edition of Microsoft’s MS Office suite.

Maybe if Oracle bought Novell (which is up for sale), then it would also charge $90 to download Mono. That would be nice.

Walt Hucks says: “I saw that coming back when Sun itself started requiring an account and mktg info to download the plugin.”

In better news regarding ODF, IBM’s Rob Weir points to ODF Fuzzer, which seems like a new tool that’s all about ODF.

ODF Fuzzer is a file format fuzzer developed to test star writer of Open Office.org. This will attempt to find security vulnerabilities, bugs and code flaw errors of the star writer. It uses byte mutation and insertion methods to create fuzzed files. ODF Fuzzer have a simple built in module to execute the star writer with the fuzzed files and monitor it’s behaviour.

There are also signs that Documents To Go will implement ODF support. The Product Manager says: [via Rob Weir]

Rest assured that many of the features you’ve mentioned (PDF, Google Docs integration, swirl zoom, localization, ODF support, etc) are being evaluated by our developers as we speak.

Here is what IBM’s Arnaud Le Hors wrote about Alex Brown’s [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21] attempt to pretend that he did not expect Microsoft to disobey ISO [1, 2, 3, 4].

Well, let me give you a link to a prediction I made! In my post What Microsoft’s track record tells us about OOXML’s future of March 25, 2008 I wrote:

They can, and I predict will, ignore all these additions which are optional and stick to what they have. The only reason they were added was to remove reasons for National Bodies to vote against OOXML.

So, here we are. Two years later, Microsoft has done exactly that and Alex Brown is finally seeing the light.

One can only hope that the standards community will have at least learned a lesson from this sad story: you simply cannot take control away from a vendor who has a monopoly and isn’t willing to give it up through a mere standardization process.

One area where IBM has been helpful is ODF. It’s a shame that Oracle is not so serious about it, not based on its actions anyway. OpenSolaris comes to mind in relation to this strategy.
_____
* Here is another new analysis of the TurboHercules vs IBM case and more lobbying from Florian Müller, who criticises multimedia codecs with patents in them (he does not seem fond even of Ogg) and has harsh words for the film “Patent Absurdity” [1, 2]. From Müller’s new blog (for which he has just created a Twitter account):

I regret having had to say all of the above and I can only hope that someone else will do something better at some time, maybe with a more realistic goal, maybe with a bigger budget. But realistically, software patents won’t go away until the call for abolition is supported by some of the major players in the industry. Theoretically it could also work with small and medium-sized businesses but in my experience that just doesn’t work because those SMEs who oppose software patents don’t want to spend any significant amount of time and money on it. As long as it looks to politicians like mostly a cause for the FOSS community without major economic interests behind it, it’s hard to see how change could be brought about. Watching “Patent Absurdity” just reaffirms that view. Unfortunately.

Microsoft’s Browser Ballot is Broken Again and Internet Explorer 8 is Critically Flawed

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 2:56 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Voter
Poor man’s ballot?

Summary: Microsoft makes it difficult to install a Web browser other than its already-installed and already-flawed Internet Explorer 8

THE BROWSER BALLOT has already been through many changes since it was first introduced. Microsoft kept cheating or simply left some self-serving bugs in tact. We wrote about the subject in:

  1. Browser Ballot Critique
  2. Microsoft’s Fake “Choice” Campaign is Back
  3. Microsoft Claimed to be Cheating in Web Browsers Ballot
  4. Microsoft Loses Impact in the Web Despite Unfair Ballot Placements
  5. Given Choice, Customers Reject Microsoft
  6. Microsoft is Still Cheating in Browser Ballot — Claim

Rob Weir from IBM shows that Microsoft’s ballot, which it was forced to implement in order to avoid fines (a lot of the press still gets it wrong by characterising it as Microsoft fairness), is simply broken. See the screenshots in Weir’s blog as they are self explanatory.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Microsoft’s “browser choice” ballot page in Europe, which in its debut used a flawed algorithm when attempting to perform a “random shuffle” of the browser choices, a feature specifically called for in their agreement with the EU. This bug was fixed soon after it was reported. But I recently received an email from a correspondent going by the name “Skoon” who reported a more serious bug, but one that is seen only in the Polish-language translation of the ballot choice screen.

In other news, there is a major new flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8. [via]

The cross-site scripting filter that ships with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 browser can be abused by attackers to launch cross-site scripting attacks on websites and web pages that would otherwise be immune to this threat.

According to a presentation at this year’s Black Hat Europe conference, the issue introduces security problems at several high-profile websites, including Microsoft’s own Bing.com (screenshot), Google.com, Wikipedia.org, Twitter.com (screenshot) and just about any site that lets IE 8 users create profiles.

Yes, Microsoft’s browser is still lagging when it comes to security due to negligence and incompetence [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. But it’s not entirely surprising that while 4 governments encouraged their citizens to abandon Internet Explorer this year, the MSBBC continues to produce Microsoft adverts, including the many Internet Explorer endorsements that we find in the MSBBC [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] on a regular basis (and occasionally report those for scrutiny). Our reader ThistleWeb has more to say about the MSBBC’s latest Infomercial:

I saw this promo piece in the BBC about the launch of Microsoft’s new Fix-it service and a few things spring to mind. The first is that Microsoft have a long track record of causing more problems than they fix when applying updates. They set Windows to download and apply all critical updates without user intervention. So when a user goes to shut down their PC they have no idea if they have to hang around for 15 mins so that Windows can apply it’s updates or not. Similarly they have no idea if those updates will cause a problem when they next start up their PC.

The second is that Microsoft have a history of abusing the term “critical” and slipping in programs like the Orwellian titled WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage). This was apparently a feature a large number of their customers were screaming out for and Microsoft being a listening, concerned company felt they had no choice but to provide; if you believe Micorosoft’s PR about it. WGA checks regularly if the copy of Windows it’s running on is licensed or unlicensed. If it deems that install of Windows to be unlicensed it causes no end of hassle for the user by disabling services, rebooting, nagware messages about “please contact Microsoft to buy a Windows product key”. It’s no advantage to customers, only to Microsoft. Yet this has been defined by Microsoft as a “critical” update. To me “critical” means “your PC is at immediate risk without this update”.

We have written about this before; in fact, Microsoft marks as “critical” anything that’s critical to Microsoft, not to the user. This is probably why one in two Windows PCs is still estimated to be a zombie.

Why Apple and Microsoft Operating Systems Are Unethical: New Examples

Posted in America, Apple, Asia, GNU/Linux, Microsoft at 2:29 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Chained love

Summary: How proprietary software disables freedom and discourages solidarity, based on the actions of Apple and Microsoft

LAST WEEK we highlighted a case where Apple was censoring applications based on their content and this week Apple is still receiving flak for blocking any application not written/developed with tools that Apple does endorse (because they’re Apple’s). “Steve Jobs bans all apps from iPhone (or thereabouts),” says this headline from The Register:

You could argue that the new Jobsian SDK bars developers from writing any application for the iPhone – unless they possess some sort of savant-like ability to think solely in Objective C.

The much-discussed software development kit for the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 says that native applications must be “originally written” in Objective C, C, or C++, forbidding developers from using any sort of “translation or compatibility layer.” If you take this legalese to its logical extreme, it rules out just about anything you can think of.

With or without these compatibility layers, Apple has security problems, so the only apparent justification Apple may have here is one of control. Adobe will receive none and the same goes for Novell and Microsoft, whose MonoTouch toolset is being blocked [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] (and yet, Miguel de Icaza and his team continue to ‘help’ Apple with Microsoft APIs).

We regularly stress that Free software is about one’s freedom, independence, and control. It’s not about price, although price is also a selling point, especially in particular areas of the world. Proprietary software, which Apple and Microsoft are championing, is the very opposite of all that. GNU/Linux or BSD cannot be assessed at the same level as OS X and Windows on a purely technical basis as that would be comparing apples and oranges or comparing commercials for a toothpaste to an advisory from Greenpeace.

“Brazil used unauthorized copies of software as an excuse in the 90s to arrest activists of the landless rural workers’ movement. [...] To protect themselves, they moved to GNU/Linux. Everyone else should do that too.”
      –Richard Stallman
On we move to Microsoft. Last week we wrote about Microsoft agents (whom Microsoft used to work with) shutting down free speech in Kyrgyzstan [1, 2]. Carlo from TechDirt wrote about it, but he hadn’t gotten the update about Microsoft actually being indirectly involved. Richard Stallman wrote about this too, under the heading “Microsoft lends helping hand to global authoritarianism“; he explains that “Police in Kyrgyzstan used “unauthorized copies of software” as an excuse to shut down a TV station which was broadcasting news about protestors.

“I was disappointed that the article uses the propaganda terms “pirated” and “Intellectual Property”. The latter term is so misleading that even quoting a name in which it appears spreads confusion if you don’t deconstruct the term. See here for more information.

“Also, to say that “software piracy” is a “legitimate problem” whitewashes the real problem: proprietary software which forbid redistribution.

“Brazil used unauthorized copies of software as an excuse in the 90s to arrest activists of the landless rural workers’ movement. In that case, the copies really were unauthorized, but that didn’t alter the effect. To protect themselves, they moved to GNU/Linux. Everyone else should do that too.”

As we explained last week, the same thing happened to brave journalists in Russia. Proprietary software limits people’s expression and creativity. Nobody deserves this type of treatment. It is often being said the people come to realise what “freedom” really means only when they lose it; otherwise it’s taken for granted.

“‘Free software’ is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ not as in ‘free beer’.”

Richard Stallman

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