Bonum Certa Men Certa

On Mixed Source, Mono, and Other Forms of 'Piracy'

Code contamination possibilities further explored, confusion
and obfuscation in the details


A few days ago we summarised key points about Microsoft's latest "mixed source" chorus and its threats against Red Hat. Glyn Moody, whose writing topics frequently intersect with ours, has just published a detailed analysis in Linux Journal.

What was noteworthy was that at this period Microsoft couldn't even bring itself to utter the words “free software” or “open source”. Instead, throughout the hour-long chat I had with him, the Microsoftie insisted on referring to something he called “non-commercial software”. The intent was plain: only Microsoft and its proprietary chums sold “commercial” software, while the other, unnameable stuff – aka free software – wasn't “real” or “commercial” stuff, but some kind of toy version that no sane IT manager would touch.

[...]

So there we have it: “open source” is no longer a useful term, everything is “mixed source”. Microsoft has obviously woken up to the fact that the “free” and “open” memes are increasingly powerful, as people realise the advantages of sharing and collaborative development. Microsoft has been trying to co-opt that feel-good factor for a while, first with its “Shared Source” label – free software without the freedom – and more recently by getting a couple of its licences approved by the Open Source Initiative.

[....]

Microsoft's Mafia-like obsession with enforcing “control” and demanding “respect” is reflected in a later statement from Gutierrez in the same interview – well, more of a threat, actually:

"If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected," he said.

Software patents - what he is referring to here - are intellectual monopolies specifically framed to stop the kind of frictionless sharing of programming ideas that lies at the heart of free software, and that powers its unique ability to build on the work of others. In many ways, such monopolies go to the heart of the difference between the worlds of open and closed software: any company unwilling to licence freely software patents it may have acquired (for defensive reasons, say, against patent trolls – the ultimate symptom of a diseased system) is by definition not a company that truly supports free software. There is no “middle” ground – sorry, Horacio.


Over at LinuxToday, Orwell is quoted as saying: "If thought can corrupt language, then language can also corrupt thought." We touched on that before [1, 2, 3] (Microsoft's control of perception using verbiage).

Further down in the discussion thread, this issue is being kicked around a little further and Mono comes up. An anonymous reader, posting under the heading "Beware an enemy bearing gifts," writes:

I wonder if by "mixed source" and releasing some of their old stuff to the open source community, they mean to somehow taint the open source community with their code in hopes that it will make it into some release and strengthen their claims of IP ownership? Maybe not even actual code, but structures, concepts, ideas that were developed at some Microsoft sponsored event,conference, ex-employee, etc etc. Will they try to muddy the lines between what they own and what is GNU licensed enough to drag smaller open source companies into court long enough to bankrupt them and scare other companies into signing Novell type agreements? They've already proven that they can drag out flimsy cases for years (the SCO conspiracy anyone?), so imagine what their lawyers could do after a few years of this. Excuse me if I'm a little skeptical when they stop whining and suing and decide to be friends. Cuz when the drums stop beating, the enemy attacks. An army of lawyers vs a community of coders.

If you can't beat them, give them a present, point at them and yell THIEF!


Glyn Moody's prompt reply to this is that "It's already happening." He gives an example:

Look at Mono, which is based on .NET's structures.


Moody previously shed some more light on Mono (why it's "patently different" from Samba) and in response to the comment above, says El Perro Loco:

I have always seen Mono as a *very bad thing*. In my opinion, it is as close to treason as it can be. I try to keep my machines Mono-free. And, by the way, since de Icaza is involved both in Mono and Gnome, I stay away from Gnome, too.

Just for the record.


It has been known for years that .NET is 'protected' by software patents. And yet, this never seems to bother those who bother with Mono (some of whom are Novell employees).

.Net patent could stifle standards effort



Microsoft is in the process of applying for a wide-ranging patent that covers a variety of functions related to its .Net initiative.

[...]

Patents have become an increasingly common way for software makers to exert control over their intellectual property. One of the concerns about the proliferation of technology patents is the impact it could have on standards development. Some developers fear the trend will let a few patent holders dictate the direction of standards.

It's unclear what effect the Microsoft .Net patents would have on the standards process. Microsoft already has submitted many of the fundamentals of .Net to a standards body known as ECMA, formerly called the European Computer Manufacturers Association.

[...]

People like Free Software Foundation guru Richard Stallman have urged boycotts of companies that aggressively enforce patents.

Meanwhile, Bruce Perens, a consultant and leader of the open-source movement, worries that Microsoft's patents could shut out alternative software development. "Microsoft is being careful to patent every aspect of APIs related to .Net," he said. "It's preventing the open-source community from being involved in this area."

Open-source developers are already hard at work trying to build open-source implementations of .Net. One of them, the Mono Project, provides many of the same APIs as .Net. When the Mono Project is completed next year, developers will be able to build .Net applications that run on Linux and Unix.


Earlier on we also mentioned the "pirate" propaganda from Microsoft, which follows a systematic push for brainwash, just as Microsoft promised its investors and openly states in its SEC filings. One person believes that Microsoft's latest threats under the guise and in the name of "intellectual property" are all related to this. They were in fact discussed in the very same article from Paul Krill, who interviewed a Microsoft legal representative, the man behind the litigious fight against Free software (he consistently plays the role of "bad cop" in this game).

A few years ago, the patent wars saber rattling was going on a lot more than now. microsofts home made 'talk-like-a-pirate' day was yesterday, and this line no doubt reflects that.


Those who look carefully at the interview with Paul Krlll will easily find that IDG weaves in the 'fight on piracy' with the issues of software patents and GNU/Linux. This proximity impacts perception -- a perception that even the FSF has just published an article to complain about.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced something they called "Global Anti-Piracy Day".

Software companies like Microsoft often refer to copying they don't approve of as "piracy." They suggest that such copying is ethically equivalent to murder and robbery. Even these far-fetched analogies are not enough for Microsoft, who in their press release yesterday updated the comparison to draw a connection between such copying and organized crime: "There is growing evidence that highly organized, transnational criminal organizations and networks are involved in the counterfeiting of software..."

Even the US Senate, while recently considering legislation addressing unauthorized copying, had the sense to strike the term "piracy" from its text. You know the term is over-the-top when people receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry still feel shy about using it.


Watch this space as we shall follow up on that shortly.

“There is a substantive effort in open source to bring such an implementation of .Net to market, known as Mono and being driven by Novell, and one of the attributes of the agreement we made with Novell is that the intellectual property associated with that is available to Novell customers.“

--Bob Muglia, Microsoft

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