My What Strange Bedfellows Doth Politics Make

4 February, 2007

My what strange bedfellows does politics make. I came across this article from the UK green party while reading Groklaw. What amazes me most is that there isn’t one word in there I don’t agree with.

My favourite quote comes from Si├ón Berry “Future archaeologists will be able to identify a ‘Vista Upgrade Layer’ when they go through our landfill sites.” I just love that.

Now I voted Green in the last EU elections because they were the closest party to my views on software patents, and this looks like they should get it in other elections too. It isn’t as if I agree with them on other issues, I’m sure they are going to make car ownership more expensive, but
here they are accurately representing my views on an issue I do take a very strong political view on.


The Value of Linux is That You Can Throw It Away!

26 January, 2007

The title of this blog entry may seam counter intuitive, but I really believe that to be the case.

A few days ago I was called by a distressed client. The network in his office had been getting poorer and poorer for a while and the cause finally become clear when his firewall gave up the ghost. It was a proprietary system, and therefore we were not able to ascertain what subcomponent had failed, we just shipped the whole box back for replacement.

I’m not going to name the company. For a start they make a good product, and any product will suffer failures from time to time. Also it doesn’t matter which vendor built it, what matters that it was proprietary, and therefore unserviceable. It’s like buying a car and having to return the whole vehicle because it gets a flat tyre. If we don’t don’t accept that kind of built in obsolescence from cars why do we accept it for computers?

When IBM designed the PC they designed an open system. Since then just about anybody can (and many have) built add-ons for it. Network card, video capture cards, graphics cards, sound cards, hard disks, DVD drives, the list of add-ons is almost endless. If any one of these components fails we can just pop out to our local Frys or PC World and buy a replacement. And it isn’t just the add-ons, the internals of the system are just as replaceable: power supplies, motherboards, CPUs, memory cards, cases, they are all just as replaceable. If you want to replace a component (because of failure of just to upgrade) there are few limits, you don’t even have to go to the same manufacturer.

Now I got my client out of his particular hold by just grabbing same spare PC components and building him a firewall. I happened to use a Soekris net4801 and lan1641 to provide the hardware, and Linux and Shorewall for the software, but that doesn’t matter. Any one of these components is replaceable.

Soekris are not the only manufactures of small, lower power x86 computers. I could just have easily used any x86 based system, a spare Dell with one on-board network port and four PCI slots each with their own network card would have done just as well. What I needed was a computer with five network ports to provide a functional replacement for his failed firewall.

While I was building it it occurred to me that the software I was using was just as replaceable. There must be half a dozen systems that run on Linux to configure it as a firewall.

If Linux fails it can be replaced. If Daryl McBride sells his soul to Beelzebub to get a win in SCO v. IBM and that results in Linux becoming illegal to use then so what? It will not take Debian, Gentoo, RedHat, SuSE, or any of the other Linux distros that long (months at most) to replace the Linux kernel with one of the BSDs.

If Linus Torvalds was to sell his soul, and tomorrow every copy of the Windows kernel was to vanish from every computer in the world, and the source code vanish too, what would you replace it with? I can’t think of anything that runs the same range of software that Windows does. Sure I can think of replacements for each of the software components, but not something that allows you to keep most of your Windows software intact.

So the real value of Linux and all the free, libre and open source software that you use is that, while it may be vital to you, you do not depend upon it.

Saving Face: More thoughts on the Novell/Microsoft deal

19 November, 2006

For years now Microsoft has been saying how “evil” the GPL is. But in the the same time frame Linux has won it’s place in the server rooms of Microsoft’s biggest customers. If those customers want interoperability Microsoft had better listen.

Microsoft is only dominant on the desktop and there is a move these days to thin client computing. As more and more applications move back into the server room, so the reliance on a Windows desktop becomes less and less. This has to be a worry of the bosses in Redmond.

We also need to take the release of Vista into account. Five years ago Microsoft was able to force XP onto the business world. Can it do the same with Vista? I think the answer to that question, right now, is yes? Right now I don’t think the business world is ready to switch away from Windows on mass. But in three or so years time when VistaPlusOne comes along – that is a different story.

The Linux desktop has come a long way in the last five years. How much better is it going to be in three years time? The other challenger is OSX. While I can’t see Apple making OSX run on the same array of PC hardware that Windows and Linux can, I can see Apple doing deals with Dell and the other big PC manifactures to allow OSX to run on a limited set of their hardware. So if the rollout of Vista goes badly and costs business a lot of money IT departments may start looking around for a replacement to the Windows desktop.

Five and more years ago the IT world was divided into “the heterogenous server room”, the “Microsoft desktop” and a few other “also rans”. Since then we’ve had the anti-trust cases against Microsoft, MA and the ODF, and an acceptance of Linux as a enterprise capable OS. So today the picture is much more like a split into the camps of “Microsoft Windows” and “everything else”.

Microsoft needs to join the rest of us, and it needs to do it for good business reasons. If the IT world is moving towards open solutions, which they are slowly, then Microsoft needs to be part of the place they are moving too.

They can’t just turn round and embrance the GPL. But maybe the first step is to find some lackey to change GPL code to work better with Microsoft’s own technologies. That way they can claim that Windows is interoperable with everyone else. That way they can claim that using their products does not deprivate you of sovereignty over your own data.

Can Microsoft sue Linux users any more?

18 November, 2006

As has been pointed out elsewhere Steve Ballmer has stated that “only a customer who has SuSE Linux actually has paid properly for the use of intellectual property from Microsoft.” So can’t we take that as one of our starting points.

My other starting point is that Novell, like the rest of us, get the Linux kernel from the FLOSS community. A community that Novell is a part of too. Novell has contributed to OpenOffice, it has contributed Xgl and God only knows how many kernel patches were developed and tested on SuSE Linux. In other words Debian, RedHat, Gentoo and the rest are derivatives of SuSE, just like SuSE is a derivative of Debian, RedHat, Gentoo and the rest.

With Unix and Windows there is a clear lineage, the family trees of these systems can, and have, been drawn. But you can’t draw such a tree for the Linux distros. Sure you can say Ubuntu is a based upon Debian. But isn’t it also true that Debian is a derivative of Ubuntu?

The power of FLOSS is that users have access to the code and can fix bugs and develop enhancements. Many of those bugs and enhancements made by Ubuntu will have been accepted by the appropriate projects resulting in new versions. Versions which Debian have then packaged. So Debian has to be a derivative of Ubuntu (and every other distro which has committed code back to the community).

Now section 2 of the GPL deals with modification and derivatives, and part b) states:

You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.

So doesn’t that make us all, indirectly, customers of Novell? My dictionary defines a customers are “one who buys goods or services from a shop or business”. Does that purchase have to be direct? I don’t think so. If one buys a computer with Windows installed aren’t you a customer of Microsoft once you accept the EULA? Even if you bought that computer from Dell, or PC World, or your local corner shop and not directly from Microsoft?

So I am a legal license of a derivate of SuSE Linux, just as we all are. It must be true. The best legal minds at Novell (and maybe Microsoft too) have made sure of this. Novell have stated publicly that their “patent cooperation agreement is compliant with GPLv2.”

So lets hope those lawyers did good work and got it right. Because if they did then it must follow that Microsoft can not sue any Linux users any more.

Of course, IANAL, so I’d be very iterested if someone with a bit of legal reasoning could double check if they would hold up in a court of law.

Five Reasons Why Microsoft Will Not Sue

5 November, 2006

Microsoft and Novell did a deal to provide better intergration to their customers. I’ve some say that Novell is selling out. I’ve seen others that say that Microsoft is getting ready to sue a member of the Linux community. Me I have my own thoughts.

1). Sueing your customers is bad.
We’ve see this in SCO v IBM, we’ve seen this with the RIAA. Any large users of Linux are likely to also be a large user of Windows too. So Microsoft can’t sue a very large portion of the Linux community because they also happen to be customers of Microsoft.
2). Too many eye balls looking for prior art.
If Microsoft was to sue some one in the Linux community then they would expose their patients to the scrutiny of millions of eyeballs looking for prior art. How long do you think Microsoft’s patients would stand up to that? We have a benchmark: three days! That’s how long it took the community to debunk SCO’s infringing code.
3). Patient trolls would be circling.
Anyone, not just the trolls, would be be checking their own portfolios to see if any of their patents would trump any of Microsoft’s. IANAL, but as I understand it, if you don’t defend your patient you run the risk of losing it in the future.
4). Counter patient claims could be crippling.
Because of the way software patients are written Microsoft does hold patients that Linux infringes, but the reverse is also true.
Microsoft’s Windows infringes patients held by Sun for Solaria, IBM for AIX/Dynix, WindRiver for VxWorks.If Microsoft lost a significant number of these claims then it could find itself paying out more in license fees to third parties then it made on each Window’s sale, and the settlement over past Windows sales would probably stay in the Guinness Book of World Records for all time.I kinda like the idea of Microsoft having to pay for that copy of Windows that came “free” with my laptop and I never used.
5). A Microsoft win would adversely effect the US economy.
If using Linux in the USA incurs a new tax then this will only make US companies less competitive to their international counterparts. So ask yourself these questions:

  1. How many of the web servers on the Internet that run Linux are located in the USA?
  2. How many of these could be re-located off-short (to the EU or
  3. How many of the Fortune 500 companies would find it cheaper to lobby Congress to repeal the current US Software Patient laws and replaces them with something more suitable to their business?

This deal between Novell and Microsoft, has not increased the risk of Microsoft suing Linux one bit. It’s a business move nothing more nothing less. If it shows anything it is that Microsoft now reallies that Linux is here to stay and that they need to interoperate with it because that is what their customers are demaning.