Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

GPL V3 – Its True Purpose

May 30, 2007

Recently, I read some interesting commentary on the Microsoft-Novell pact in an Linux Insider article entitled GPLv3 Could Be Risky Business which concluded with the following statement.

“Regardless of the GPLv3 outcome, it should be noted that Microsoft and Novell are two large companies with plenty of attorneys — if they want to do business together over Linux and Microsoft products, it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll be able to find a way.”

This statement didn’t seem to ring true for me – it seemed to be wrong way to view what the Free Software Foundation is doing with GPL V3. Here’s why.

Nobody wants to ‘stop’ Microsoft and Novell, or any other Open Source distributor, from doing business together. In fact, it would be desirable to see Microsoft produce more Open Source software – as they have with the projects such as the Web Service Software Factory – and collaborate with other players in the Open Source software field.

Rather the point of GPL V3 is to defend the rights of Free Software developers to produce software without the fear of litigation hanging over their head – by extending the patent covenant to all of the Free Software community – not just Novell customers. This fear of potential litigation has been raised more strongly than ever by recent Microsoft comments in Fortune magazine. However, it appears that by not having an expiry date on the Linux coupons that Microsoft is distributing, Microsoft itself will become a GPL V3 Linux distributor, and finally their patent covenant will extend to every corner of the Free Software communities. This will be genuinely good for software development, for the Open Source community and most of all for Microsoft – who has a lot to offer in the field of Open Source software.

They have a lot of bright developers and engineers and it is in everyone’s interests to see these people contribute greatly to the I.T. sector over the coming years. But it is important that the playing field is level and that instead of ‘innovative lock-ins’ and restrictive file formats we see a truly great Microsoft emerge that is founded on on true innovation, engineering excellence and co-operation. The first step on this path is to build a true bridge to the Free Software community and not seemingly pretend that this intellectual property bridge is any more than an attempt to scare companies into paying a high premium for ‘Microsoft-approved’ Linux of Novell – using patents instead of file formats as the lock-in.

In summary, it is important to note that the purpose of the latest version of the GNU Public Licence is not on preventing co-operation between Microsoft and Novell with their pact, rather it is to defend everyone else who is threatened by the it. To this end, GPL V3 looks like it will do it’s job very well – winning over many of those who doubted its necessity early on in its GPL 3 draft process. And the Software Freedom Law Centre and it’s ‘plenty of attorneys’ has another feather in its cap as it shows an interesting hand in the poker game of software licensing. And if this hand is not enough for now, ‘it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll be able to find a way’ to continue to keep software development a free and democratic process. If you weren’t sure why you needed GPL V3 yesterday, you probably know why today.

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Microsoft Not So Sure on Taking on World…

May 15, 2007

Under pressure arising from comments made by Microsoft’s Horacio Gutierrez and Brad Smith in an Fortune magazine article earlier this week saying that Open Source software contains 235 Micrsoft patents, the company has released a statement that it does not intend to resort to litigation in an effort to halt the growth of Open Source software. So why would they highlight an issue and then when asked to state specifically which are the patents in question they respond, “We’re not going to have a discussion publicly with that level of detail.”

The answer is simple. If they publish them it is likely that most of them will be thrown out by the U.S. courts as invalid. This became much easier recently, when the U.S. Supreme court made it easier to legally challenge individual patents and get them invalidated. This is because most software patents have been granted without due consideration and aren’t actually valid for many reasons. Patents have been grantly for things that are patently unpatenable.

Once this weeds out the likely majority of patents – Open Source developers will endevour to work around what patents, if any, remain.

So, back to the question, why would Microsoft highlight a meaningless question? Well, to bring up the issue in this manner creates a degree of uncertainty in the minds of certain business owners – however misplaced. Such people must weigh up risk every day and anything that they perceive adding risk to their business they will avoid. This will take two forms, one is to avoid Open Source software and stick with closed solutions. But this is becoming increasingly difficult as it is making more and more business sense to deploy Open Source solutions every day. The other is pay royalties to Microsoft for these (vaguely) alledged infringing patents. This is a sad situation because paying ‘money for nothing’ is money that you could otherwise use to grow your business.

Microsoft Vs The World

May 14, 2007

Microsoft is allegedly preparing it’s army of lawyers (more than 800 strong according to one commentator) to issue an almighty patent onslaught on Open Source software. It lists 235 patents which it says are being violated by Open Source software projects. Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer says that it is in the “name of honour” that he must fight the Open Source community. The battle lines are being drawn in what could prove to be the ultimate shakeup of the U.S. software patent system. As Microsoft comes under increased pressure from Open Source software it is making lawyers, not software developers, the front-line soldiers in the fight to maintain the apparent monopoly. It looks like we’re entering interesting times.

On a lighter note, here’s a clip of Steve Balmer trying to rally the Redmond programmers in better days before lawyers led software development. I wonder does he exhibit the same passion today when he stands in front of his devs or does he prefer to go into the TV lounge and flick on an episode of Boston Legal…

Linux Community Must Help Dell Sell Linux

May 1, 2007

The announcement that many people wanted to hear is imminent. Early rumours abound on various sites but possibly by the time you are reading this, Dell will have already made the official announcement that they are to ship Dell PC’s with the Linux operating system – Ubuntu. This is the major breakthrough that Linux as a desktop OS has been waiting for. Now all Linux communities -be it Open Source, Free Software, Linux for home or business that is your cup of tea – must help Dell sell this dream.

The most obvious way to help is for bloggers or people with websites to display a prominent ad for Dell Linux boxes. Let’s show Dell that by listening and embracing the Linux community that we can help them out. Each and everyone can be a partner to Dell and it is in everyone’s interest that Linux market share grows. A bigger pie means that more hardware vendors will support Linux and having the Open Source desktop OS in the limelight will mean more development work for Open Source programmers. For consumers, it brings choice like they’ve never had before – the modern day Linux OS thoroughly outshines it competitors. I do not make this comment lightly. But this week I got my first glimpse at the 3D accelerated desktop for Linux – it is incredible! It leaves Vista for dead. And comparing the two side-by-side there is only one winner.

So let’s help Dell sell Linux. I’m going to be emailing them after the official announcement to get my Dell Linux ad. Never has marketing been such a pleasure! And never has the Linux Desktop looked so good!

Blair Government Throws UK Programmer to the Dogs of US Justice

April 3, 2007

Gary McKinnon is a computer programmer who likes UFOs and rainy Sundays. Curiousity got the better of him so he went searching online for UFO conspiracy theorys and photos believing that the evidence to date suggests that US was hiding something Roswell style et al. Not exactly a profile of a notorious threat to national US security yet. His curiosity brought him to various US military networks which he then found were remarkably easy to access given that apparently the username and password were the same in several cases and security was incredibly lax. He managed to find some folders containing pictures of nice shiny UFO-like things and got excited as his dream of seeing became a reality. Heart pumping he clicking on one of the files. As them image began to slowly come up on his screen his dream was cut short – one of the administrators had noticed him in the system and promptly cut him out…

Needless to say, the US authorities were pretty pissed about the whole episode. The UFO equivalent of a trainspotter had managed to waltz around their systems like a kid in a candy store because aledgedly their administrators couldn’t do their job properly. You would think that given the background to the case Gary would have been handed down a punishment apportionate to the crime – after all no one got hurt, no one was killed or maimed in the incident. It is alledged that some damage was done but Gary maintains that such allegations are false and in an article on .NET magazine outlines how the figures don’t add up. Given the facts of the case to date and what Gary’s motivations, it is unlikely that someone who wants to keep a low profile in a system to look around for information is going to go deleting files for the sake of damaging a system.

So instead being given a big slap on the wrists, some UK jail time or 400 hours community service cleaning viruses of peoples computers Gary is being threatened with – get this – extradition to the US, a 45 year prison sentence to be served on US soil only and, worst of all, a possible handover to the US military trails. This latter point wouldn’t be good, not only against the backdrop of Guantanamo bay and big orange jump suits, but because of ‘alledged threats by the US authorities in New Jersey to see Gary “fry”, which could be a reference to the electric chair’. ‘Currently, the US civil legal authorities are not calling for the death penalty (which would stop the extradition to the USA under United Kingdom and European Union law), but such a penalty is possible if the case gets hijacked by a US Military Tribunal, once Gary is physically in the power of the US authorities.’ [http://freegary.org.uk/]

So our UFO trainspotter is in a bit of bother. It’s sad then to hear yesterday that John Reid, UK home secretary, has given the green light to ship Gary McKinnon off to the US. He’s already lost his job, girlfriend and has been in poor health in recent hearings as the stress of the case takes it’s toll. He has never denied his actions and has taken responsibility for what he has done. He has already suffered enough. Will it really do any more good for the US to show how big and mighty it is by beating the soul out of this guy in order to show who’s boss. It might be better to spend that energy on employing a few new system administrators who know how to put passwords on a system instead.

This opinion piece was based in part on the following BBC News item.