[OpenBIOS] Opensource Microsoft

Ross rossi at hoeftd.reno.nv.us
Wed Aug 29 06:38:42 CEST 2001

 Remeber the award bios a couple of days ago look what Microsoft is about to
do to you.

/// Ross

Microsoft patents a threat to open source

Members of the open-source community are becoming increasingly concerned by
ongoing moves from Microsoft Corp. to acquire a range of software patents
that the company can potentially use down the line to attack and try to
restrict the development and distribution of open-source software.

And much of that concern is being directed toward open-source desktop
company Ximian Inc.'s Mono Project, an open-source initiative to replace
part of Microsoft's .Net product line, including a way to run C# programs
and the .Net Common Language Infrastructure on Linux.

Leading the charge is Bruce Perens, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s open-source and
Linux strategist who helped to craft the Debian Social Contract, which later
became the Open Source Definition.

Perens told eWEEK in an interview on Monday in San Francisco ahead of the
LinuxWorld conference that an increasing number of people in the open-source
community are very concerned about the Mono Project and by Microsoft's
initiative to buy software patents and to patent as much of its own
technology as it can.

"If I were in Microsoft's position, I would be looking through all the
patents I had been buying that are potentially being infringed by
open-source software," Perens said. "They are going to hold onto these
patents until they see what happens with the antitrust case against them.
Once that is resolved, they will then use them against the open-source

But Doug Miller, the director of competitive strategy for Microsoft's
Windows division, told eWEEK he was unaware of any intended move by
Microsoft to acquire software patents. "Not to say it isn't happening, but
I'm not aware of any such planned attack," Miller said.

"With that being said, we strive to protect our intellectual property, and
holding patents is one of the ways we do that. But nothing has changed,
we're certainly no more aggressive now about filing patents or other
copyright protections than we have been over the past couple of decades," he

But Perens isn't buying this, saying that with regard to the Mono Project,
Ximian needs to draw up an advance agreement with Microsoft that states the
Redmond, Wash., company does not intend to assert its patents on this

"If we don't get that agreement, I'll be happy to see Ximian implement this
stuff, but I'm not sure I'll touch it," Perens said. "I'm also not sure I
want to let it touch the rest of GNOME [GNU Network Object Model
Environment] very much because if GNOME becomes dependent on it, it would
have a potential weakness there."

Ximian is an active contributor to the GNOME Project, which has built a
desktop environment for the user and a powerful application framework for
the software developer. Ximian in fact this week launched two versions of
the boxed Ximian Desktop, which includes the GNOME desktop interface.

No Linux app is safe

But Miguel de Icaza, the chief technical officer at Ximian, disagreed with
Perens, saying that any application that runs on Linux could be infringing
on some hidden and unknown patent owned by Microsoft.

"Microsoft has not historically used its patents in an aggressive way," he
said. "They've previously used it to defend themselves. While I suppose they
might use it for attack purposes going forward, I don't think they'll go
after Mono as we are only in the early stages and are sticking to developing
technology from existing concepts. There's nothing new in .Net; it's just a
combination of existing technologies."

Nat Friedman, Ximian's vice president of product development, also stressed
that Ximian is not co-operating with Microsoft on the Mono Project. "They
are not assisting us in any way," he said. "We have talked to them twice -
that's the extent of it.

"We believe this technology and infrastructure is too important to be
controlled and wholly owned by Microsoft. We believe there has to be a free
implementation of it out there," he said.

But while Perens acknowledged that Microsoft has largely not invoked its
patent rights to date, he said, "Past performance is not predictive of
future behavior. Microsoft's [senior vice president] Craig Mundie has
previously said the company intends to enforce all its patents."

An example of a patent held by Microsoft that could be detrimental to
open-source initiatives going forward was clearly demonstrated in the
password change protocol found in Samba, he said. Microsoft had modified the
password change technology and then patented the new protocol of the
password change.

"This means you cannot make a compatible implementation without potentially
infringing on a Microsoft patent," Perens said. "We went ahead and did it
anyway, and Microsoft hasn't enforced that patent, but it doesn't mean they
never will. This is a telling case as they've taken what was an open
protocol and deliberately put in a patent to close it and then introduced
the patented feature in all new systems."

Samba, which develops open-source software that lets a Linux machine share
files or manage print jobs like a Windows file server or print server, has
included this patented technology. "In the climate of antitrust it would be
nice to force them to overplay their hand, and Microsoft overplays their
hand consistently," Perens said.

But while Jeremy Allison, a lead developer for Samba, confirmed that
Microsoft holds the patent for the password change protocol, he believed
this "was done with no malicious intent at all. All big companies patent
software for protection. I also think this is probably a defective patent
anyway," he said.

Microsoft's Mundie said he wasn't familiar with the Samba example, "but in
any case where someone reverse-engineers technology -- and there's certainly
lots of this in the Linux world -- there's always the risk they'll infringe
on someone's patent. We highly value intellectual property and the laws
created to protect this," he said.

But Samba's Allison said the Mono Project is "a very bad idea -- in fact,
it's a terrible idea. By doing this they are helping .Net become a
standard. . .Net will become important if a majority of the clients use it,
but it will not be mandatory if only, say, 50 percent use it, as Web sites
will then still have to do Java stuff," Allison said. "By implementing an
open-source version of this, they are making it easier for Microsoft to get
to that magic monopoly figure.

"And when they've got that on the client, all the servers are in trouble.
Look at the way they leveraged their client base to take over services like
authentication, e-mail with Exchange, and DNS services by tying Active
Directory to DNS. It's a continual case of taking their monopoly on a client
system and tying servers to it," he said.

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