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Reader's Post: The Windows Software Development Minefield, and Mono

A bad penguin -- Novell



Many people just yell at critics of Mono. But if it's a non-issue, then not so many people would be concerned about it. Slated.org has contributed the following informative analysis, so without further ado, here it is.






What's the worst thing a software developer has to worry about?

Schedules?

Budgets?

If you're a FOSS developer then generally it's none of the above, but there is one concern that both Windows and FOSS developers have in common ... Intellectual "Property":

In a new lawsuit, Microsoft asks a San Francisco court to declare invalid several patents assigned to an online transactions company in hopes of defending customers who have been sued by the patent holder, WebXchange.

WebXchange earlier this year filed lawsuits against Dell, Allstate and FedEx in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, charging patent infringement. The suits, filed on the same day in March, say that the companies violate WebXchange patents in some of their online services. In the FedEx suit, for example, WebXchange alleges that FedEx violates three of its patents in an online system that lets people send print jobs to Kinko's stores.

Microsoft is not mentioned in any of the three complaints. However, in the suit that Microsoft filed against WebXchange, it says that the charges relate to the companies' use of Microsoft's Visual Studio software.


How nice of Microsoft to help out their customers, eh? However, they haven't always been quite so benevolent towards Visual Studio users and developers ... but we'll get to that in a minute.

“However, they haven't always been quite so benevolent towards Visual Studio users and developers”Of course, FOSS developers can easily circumvent the whole "software patents" issue, by hosting outside the jurisdiction of countries corrupted by Intellectual Monopolists, however that doesn't help the commercial users/distributors of that software, who then set themselves up as targets for litigation, or even (incredibly) raids by customs officials, as happened in Germany recently:

Quite what C&E has to do with patents, I'm not sure, since this has absolutely nothing to do with either tax or dangerous goods (unless one counts patents as "dangerous", which now that I think about it, makes sense), but apparently Customs officers are now responsible for "policing" alleged patent violations ... by shooting first and asking questions later. Furthermore, it's not exactly clear why a branch of the government would be engaged in pursuing some private company's civil claim, but that's the modern world for you ... as corrupted by the Intellectual Monopolists. The dastardly "crime" of Intellectual Monopoly violation is now given the same status as drugs trafficking.

Commercial FOSS users/distributors may not have a free pass to "violate" these Intellectual Monopolies (which is why distros are all rushing to provide the "Fluendo codecs"), but the ordinary users certainly do, and since most of the developers are also non-profit enthusiasts in the software patent "DMZ", there's plenty of choice for Free Software users (e.g. MPlayer and ffmpeg). This is helped in no small part by the fact that the whole infrastructure around FOSS development is also Free.

But what if it weren't?

What if the compiler toolchain itself was encumbered up to the hilt with patents and licence restrictions, like say - Visual Studio.

Microsoft threatens its Most Valuable Professional

Who said you could improve our software? By Will Watts Posted in Software, 5th June 2007 10:25 GMT

What's the best way to attract a pile of threatening lawyers' letters from Microsoft? Sell pirate copies of Windows? Write a DRM-busting program?

Londoner Jamie Cansdale has just discovered a new approach. He had the temerity to make Redmond's software better.

As a hobby, Cansdale developed an add-on for Microsoft Visual Studio. TestDriven.NET allows unit test suites to be run directly from within the Microsoft IDE. Cansdale gave away this gadget on his website, and initially received the praises of Microsoft.

In fact, Microsoft was so pleased with him, it gave him a Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) award, which it says it gives to "exceptional technical community leaders from around the world who voluntarily share their high quality, real world expertise with others".

[...]

At one point, in a splendid example of the right hand being unaware of who is getting the left hand's index finger, Cansdale got a letter presaging another MVP award only to have it hastily withdrawn the next day (find this incident the bottom of the second page of emails.)

Finally, Microsoft lost patience, and in the last few days has hit Cansdale with a flurry of lawyers' letters, also available on his website [see here and here]. Cansdale now has until 4pm Wednesday 6 June to disable the Visual Studio Express features of his product.

We await the deadline with bated breath.

Meanwhile, a quiet word in the ear of any earnest young programmer who is considering downloading a copy of Visual Studio Express and slaving deep into the night, striving hard in the Microsofty ways, in the hope one day of earning the glorious rank of MVP.

Do ya feel lucky, punk? €®


Read the actual Emails too, they're most illuminating:

http://www.mutantdesign.co.uk/downloads/ExpressEmails1.html http://www.mutantdesign.co.uk/downloads/ExpressEmails2.html

Weber repeatedly refers to Cansdale's work as a "hack", even though Cansdale proves conclusively that it only uses API's published by Microsoft, and available for free on their Website.

“It's only Novell customers who are "indemnified" against whatever threats they may encounter WRT Microsoft's alleged "IP".”This set me thinking about Mono, and how this Microsoft-encumbered Intellectual Monopoly was a specific threat to FOSS, not merely because of the patents (RAND or otherwise), but primarily because of the patentor. If Microsoft would pursue one of their own MVPs so viciously and tenaciously, over nothing more than a damned plugin, what do you suppose they'll start doing once their "IP" has well and truly infested Free Software?

I wonder if Microsoft will be as "benevolent" to the Free Software community as they've apparently been to Dell and friends, if some patent troll sues a FOSS developer for patent "infringements" relating to .NET?

But then, that's where Novell comes in, isn't it? It's only Novell customers who are "indemnified" against whatever threats they may encounter WRT Microsoft's alleged "IP".

From that perspective alone, it's sheer insanity for any distro other than SUSE to ship Mono or any of it's related technologies and dependants, but there's still the question of the infamous "patentor" and it's motives.

It's not exactly news, and it doesn't take a genius to work out what Microsoft is up to, in fact it's transparently obvious. The plan goes something like this:

  1. Find some Microsoft-friendly FOSS developers (e.g. Miguel de Icaza. Heck, judging by Torvald's latest rant, he may well be next).
  2. Buy a commercial Linux vendor (they've essentially bought Novell).
  3. Start infecting FOSS with Microsoft "IP", right down in the foundations of the compiler toolchain (e.g. Mono), so the infection spreads upwards to everything built using that toolchain.
  4. Provide "indemnity" only for customers of that single (sellout) Linux vendor.
  5. Wait for the infection to spread, until this "IP" becomes ubiquitous and virtually unavoidable.
  6. Meanwhile, start making a lot of noise about "undisclosed balance sheet liabilities", and certain Linux vendors' customers having an "obligation to compensate us".
  7. Keep the pressure on certain Linux vendors, with shell companies acting as patent trolls, such as IP Innovation LLC, and it's parent shell company Acacia.
  8. Light the patent-fuse; sit back and enjoy the show, as every commercial Linux vendor finds themselves forced to choose between either paying Microsoft or dropping a large chunk of their repos, thus making their distros unusable (or at least considerably less functional than SUSE).


And as they say on South Park:

9. ??? 10. Profit!!!

Or more importantly from Microsoft's perspective ... monopoly!!! Again.

Now you know why de Icaza named it "Mono€®".

So is this just the ravings of a paranoid Linux loony?

Really; really think about who Microsoft are; what they do; how they do it; and what their motives and principles are. What right-minded Free Software advocate; user or developer would continue to support Mono?

Well ... Fedora, for one.

Yes, this community distro that vigilantly strives to purge all that is patent-encumbered or otherwise questionable from its distro, ships one of the most dangerous pieces of software ever to taint the Free Software community ... Mono.

And to think that Tom "Spot" Callaway (Fedora Engineering Manager) once vehemently proclaimed:

We will never include Mono, or anything that is obviously patented without a patent grant in writing that permits unrestricted use and redistribution, as per the terms of the GPL.


Today it's an entirely different story:

1. The decision to allow Mono to enter the tree seems to have been made arbitrarily by Red Hat, with no community consultation, and in spite of protests (including some by high profile Red Hat personnel - mostly expressed as a rejection of Mono before the announcement).

2. There has only ever been one public announcement on the subject, and that was made (with some dismay, it seems) by Tom Callaway:

https://www.redhat.com/archives/fedora-extras-list/2006-January/msg00588.html

3. There has only ever been one, extremely reserved, explanation given for this decision, in a blog post by Greg DeKoenigsberg:

"Business considerations that prevented certain Mono components from being included in Fedora previously have now been resolved."

http://gregdek.livejournal.com/3597.html

The specific nature of this resolution is not given.

4. There is precious little concrete information about precisely who made these arbitrary decisions that also affected the Fedora community distro, but as best as I can deduce, the key players seem to be Greg DeKoenigsberg (as above) and Christopher Blizzard, although it may be that these were simply the only people discussing it publicly:

http://www.0xdeadbeef.com/weblog/?p=188

5. The nearest thing to an actual justification for this acceptance of Mono, is that the OIN offers a kind of Mexican Stand-Off protection to those who implement it:

http://gregdek.livejournal.com/4008.html

My final conclusion is that Fedora includes encumbered, non-Free software, that is covered by patents owned by Microsoft, and assured by a patent covenant that is not worth the (metaphorical) paper it's written on, since Moonlight, which is also covered by this same type of covenant by the same company, has recently been exposed by Groklaw as undistributable (I'm advised that PJ is currently investigating Mono as well). The announcement and justification for this inclusion is extremely sparse, and there has been almost no community consultation on the subject, either before or after the fact.


Why the secrecy?

More here:

"Red Hat not shipping Mono is currently a can't rather than a won't. Making it worse, we are not able to spell out all the facts on why we can't." ~ Havoc Pennington, ex-Red Hat Desktop manager/engineer.


Again, what is the big secret?

And why do these commercial Linux vendors seem to be going to so much trouble to infect Free Software with Microsoft's Intellectual Monopoly?

Windows software development is an absolute minefield of legal pitfalls, and now thanks to some mysterious conspiracy (or at least grossly misguided decisions) that same minefield is slowly infesting Free Software too, via Mono.

Then to cap it all, we have the creator of the Linux kernel complaining about people who see things in "black and white" terms.

Maybe we should all just give up any hope of autonomy and Freedom, switch to Windows, and pledge 10% of our income to the Cult of RedmondGangsters for life. That's what certain people within our community seem to want. I'm sure it's the "pragmatic" thing to do, after all.

"Beware the enemy within."

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