In a recent court ruling Microsoft has been forced to pay $1.52 billion for patent infringements relating to MP3 technologies. This is one of those rare occasions when we get to see the dangers of software patents in a real world situation; as well as this we can also find vindication of the stance taken by many distributors of Free Software.
Microsoft have published an open letter entitled "Interoperability,Choice and Open XML". I often like to think that I am neversurprised by the exaggerations, obfuscations and general untruths thatcome out of Microsoft: this letter shows their capacity of doing justthat.
So Microsoft's Vista is being launched out now to overtake the world.
The massive marketing machine is finding its way into reports, blogs and interesting TV commercials. I've had a look at its fancy smancy interface with its transparent window bars and 3d windows navigation and quite frankly I've been yawning. I've seen all this six months before with the Edgy release of Ubuntu. Again the FOSS movement is ahead of the curve.
The more exciting release right now has nothing to do with Microsoft.
While amidst yet another frustrating exercise in Windows XP I thought; What if Microsoft got a clue?
"Thus, this [Supreme] Court's precedent repeatedly sets out that software, which is nothing more than a set of instructions – an algorithm – to be performed by a computer in order to solve some mathematical problem, is subject matter that is not patentable..."
I believe, by now, everyone has heard of Microsoft's attempt to bribe bloggers by giving them free laptops running Vista. More amusing is that, in response to the publicity they received when they were caught out, they have now asked for these machines to be returned, thereby making Microsoft look all the more stupid as well as foolish. But out of this comedy of errors, it is worth briefly considering the history of computing from the perspective of free computers.
Rudyard Kipling retained the services of six honest serving men who taught him all he knew (What and Why, When and How and Where and Who). By contrast the Bobsey twins at Microsoft, Steve and Bill, were so clever that they managed to downsize these faithful old retainers—and renamed them while they were at it. Now they are just two: ignorance and inertia. With these, they mused, we will conqueror the world. A depressingly near monopolistic market share seems to prove them right; and why not? After all, to paraphrase Hillare Belloc: they have the Microsoft Tax and we do not.
We need to talk.
Here’s the thing... I have to admit I was pretty upset the other day when I found out that in the spirit of festive cheer, a selection of bloggers got given an Acer Ferrari 5000... and I wasn’t one of them.
I was talking to Russel Ossendryver recently, WorldLabel's owner. After exchanging a few words, and being a little shocked by what I heard, I told him "Russel,would you like me to actually interview you formally?" He was a little hesitant at first. However, in the end we decided that current events needed as much exposure as possible. So, this is a friendly private conversation that turned into an interview.
Here it is!
TM: What is Worldlabel?
Any serious, committed user of GNU/Linux who hasn’t heard about the Microsoft/Novell deal has either been slightly dead or at the bottom of an Albanian tin mine shaft wearing a particularly sturdy pair of ear muffs.
Seriously though, the digital wires have been humming back and forth with the original story and the chain-reaction stemming from it. Is it all a storm in a teacup, an over-action? And, does it really matter to the mere, humble end-user like me? I think that it does matter.
I received an interesting note today from the school my children attend. In order to save precious dollars, last school year, I suggested that they begin using OpenOffice and only install Microsoft Office where there are licenses. The note I received today listed computer needs, and one of the needs listed as "Because Open Office is a lesser program compared to the Microsoft office programs, it wouldbe helpful to have either tutorials or at least manuals for these programs." Now, I agree that I should have provided books or pointed them to online manuals.
You know how when people win awards, like an Oscar for example, they get up there and gush things like “I’d just like to thank my parents, and the academy, and my fifth grade drama teacher, and God for this award, omigod!!!”? Well, if I was put in a position today where I was going to have to gush on stage about, say, my computer use, then I know what I would say. There I would be, staring into the sea of admiring faces, and I would gush: “I would just like to thank my PC, the internet, and Microsoft... because as a Linux user I have naturally been complicit in intellectual property infringement and therefore owe Microsoft a good deal of money. Thanks baby, couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, and the cheque’s in the mail.”
Or that’s what Steve Ballmer reckons I should say, anyway.
I’ve seen many comments on the Microsoft-Novell affair, like Tony’s very good one. Some more will appear in the next few days, I suppose. I’ll take a little space to say a few words about it.
I’ve read about an alliance in the interest of customers... wow! THAT would be a scoop by itself, and a completely new thing for Microsoft. Or can you think of something they did that wasn’t in only their interest? It’s business? Ok, but let’s play it fair then: I know that marketing rules don’t allow anyone to say straight “I am just trying to get more money, you know?”, but you are not compelled to tell lies; if you can’t tell the truth just shut your mouth and don’t try to make fun of us.
While trawling through this week’s normal helter-skelter barrage of free software and open source news items, opinion pieces and analyzing ponderings a couple of pieces caught my eye. These are the BBC’s article entitled “Charity shuns open source code” and Silicon.com’s one called “CIO Jury: The Linux desktop is dead”. When first seeing these pessimistic pieces of free software doom and gloom, I confess my immediate reaction, as an advocate and developer, was one of misery, depression and fed-upness. Was it all worth it? What is the point? Where is the bright side? Should I simply go outside and step under a bus?
After a nice strong cup of coffee and pulling myself together a bit, I examined the articles a little more closely. I discovered that the authors, or originators, of each had, in fact, made a very common mistake while performing free and closed software comparisons that reminded me of the old adage regarding apples and bananas...
It's entirely possible that Novell is about to get fleeced, and that GNU/Linux will take a hit in the process, and Microsoft has a history of playing the Big Bad. But are we really being smart to always assume that Microsoft will win every battle it enters?
Novell lawyers pulled some fairly smooth legal judo against SCO only a few months ago. I think it might be a little early to call a winner. Eben Moglen and some other observers have noted the peculiar and difficult to predict consequences of the kind of deal that is being reported.
Novell recently signed an agreement with Microsoft. From the press release:
Under the patent agreement, both companies will make up-front payments in exchange for a release from any potential liability for use of each others patented intellectual property, with a net balancing payment from Microsoft to Novell reflecting the larger applicable volume of Microsoft’s product shipments. Novell will also make running royalty payments based on a percentage of its revenues from open source products.
Microsoft has always had excellent timing. They know when to announce a product; they know when to begin grass-roots movements to build hype for a product; they know when to create an alliance; they know when to break an alliance. They have missed some marks, that's true. They almost missed the internet boat, but were able to quickly recover with the licensing of Spyglass, Inc's browser. Microsoft's best timing, though, has always been when and where to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
And that brings us to Novell.
While gNewSense enjoys its initial introduction as a fully free as in freedom distribution, it seems at the same time an existing GNU/Linux distribution has turned to slavery. Excuse me a moment, while I remove the metaphorical knife from my back before continuing. Never before has the contrast between software freedom and intellectual slavery been more clear thanks to the proud efforts of gNewSense, and the craven ones of Novell.
Here in the UK, there is a saying that was a quote from Virgil that was often quoted in the original Latin, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis”, which is usually mistranslated into the phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. It refers to the incident where the Greek troops hid inside a large wooden horse and gave it to the Trojans as a gift who promptly accepted it, then in the night the Greeks broke out of their hiding place, went to the city gates, and... Well, you probably know the rest. However, it is that phrase, or both of them in fact, that pass through my mind on seeing recent Microsoft and other corporate closed software companies’ press releases recently.
There are three that come to mind that have occurred recently...
This week, after reading Scott Carpenter’s fun (yet a bit scary) satire 5 ways to save on your monthly software rental bill in the year 2056..., I felt like a fairytale ending. I was after something sort of cool and utopian, where we’re all free and enjoying ourselves. But, when I was speculating about what this fairytale would entail, it brought me around to wondering...
What will happen AFTER the year of Linux on the desktop?