01.24.11

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Keeping Unity Mono Free

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents, Ubuntu at 2:12 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Desktop 3.2.14

Summary: Proposal of replacement for Unity that is dependent on the Mono-based Docky; reminder of Microsoft’s ‘API tax’

The codebase of Unity was being shifted from Vala to C, which puts it further away from C# and the likes of .NET clones such as Mono. We give Canonical credit for making this foundation of Ubuntu Mono-free, but yesterday, by contrast, we found this new suggestion of using Docky (Mono based) to replace Unity. Docky and Unity happen to be developed by the same person actually. The bigger problem would be an underlying platform being based on Mono, in addition to Mono-based applications like Banshee and Tomboy (highlighted above).

The Mono-based programs are a danger to Ubuntu because Microsoft looks forward to using Mono as an excuse not just to promote .NET but also to charge rivals like Canonical for using clones. Right about now in Europe, EIFv2 is showing the ill effects of Microsoft lobbying for software patents in formats/APIs/protocols [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Brian Kahin, a senior fellow of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), defends what Microsoft and its front groups (e.g. BSA) have been pushing for. He writes:

This seems to say that RF is no more open than (F)RAND, although RF is in fact an especially open subset of (F)RAND. Unless there are unusual special requirements, anything licensed royalty-free is commonly considered to be available under “free, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory” terms.

And what does “in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software” mean? Does it only apply to “royalty-free basis” (since the test distinguishes between “terms” and “basis”)? In any case, (F)RAND terms conflict with some open source models and not others. They are not a problem for permissive “BSD-style” licenses, but are for the more common General Public License (GPL). The GPL imposes constrains on distribution if a royalty must be paid. Is possible of implementation under a permissive license sufficient (at least if there is a distributor willing to pay for a patent license on the side)?

There is enough uncertainty here to give lawyers a field day. In fact, this is a fundamental problem with the (F)RAND itself, because it is difficult to define what is “fair,” “reasonable,” or even “nondiscriminatory.”

This helps show that given the conditions of Mono usage, Microsoft may ask for some “fair” and “reasonable” royalty payments from all Mono distributors and users. It would therefore be wise to abolish it as soon as possible.

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2 Comments

  1. saulgoode said,

    January 25, 2011 at 3:42 am

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    I don’t really see that Brian Kahin’s article is defending one side or the other. It seems to me a fairly objective conspectus of the ambiguities in terminology and other problems posed by RAND licensing.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I think it’s partly a semantic issue. I hoped that Kahin would point out the fallacies in BSA/Microsoft arguments.

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