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Sun Apr 15 18:14:54 PDT 2007

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---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
From:    "Tribble Phillip J SrA 374 LRS/LGRTT"
<Phillip.Tribble at>
Date:    Mon, May 14, 2007 4:05 pm
To:      "Tokyo Linux Users Group" <tlug at>

Will 235 Microsoft Patents Hobble Linux?

by Kevin Carmony

May 14th, 2007

This week, Microsoft laid out the next chapter in their plans regarding
patents and open source Linux software, by going public with the claim
that Linux infringes on some 235 of their software patents
3867/index.htm> . The first chapter in this story began back in November
of last year, when Microsoft entered into a agreement with Novell. The
agreement included technical collaboration between Microsoft and Novell,
in an effort to bring better interoperability between MS Windows and
Linux. However, as I pointed out at the time
<> , the main
thrust of this agreement was really about patents and was Microsoft's
way of trying to monetize any success Linux might have. Since this time,
Dell too has entered the playing field
<> , by announcing its
plans to begin offering Novell's Linux products which include a promise
from Microsoft not to sue users over any infrigements of Microsoft's
alleged IP.

These events, in my opinion, form the most important dynamic today as to
the future success of Linux. How will all of this affect open source
software and Linux? What should the open source community do? And...what
will Linspire do?


I believe there are three options those involved in distributing Linux
can take in light of these events:

Option #1 - Fight or ignore the issue. Most people in the open source
world believe that software patents are wrong, and many would say
unenforceable (particularly in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling
regarding "obvious" patents
wsj> ). So, one option would be to continue with business as usual, and
take on the fight in both the court of public opinion, as well as
through the legal court system. I'm sympathetic of this option, but it
comes with a serious downside for Linspire and our customers, in that it
could take years before the issue is decided. The vast majority of Linux
providers would not have the resources to endure a protracted legal
battle, nor be able to forgo potential revenue from would-be customers.
Enterprises aren't in the business of taking on unnecessary legal risks.
Many of you reading this will endorse ignoring Microsoft's claims, which
might work for you, but will likely not work for most large,
publicly-traded companies. These companies have an obligation to their
shareholders to operate within the law, and if Linux is to be embraced
by mainstream enterprises, it needs to come with clean IP. Large
companies such as Citigroup, General Electric, Bank of America, Exxon
Mobile, Ford Motor Co., and so on, are not in the business of putting
their IT operations at risk to take on IP battles. They have businesses
to run, and most will sit on the sidelines until the issue is decided.
Even those who want to support the open source movement, will feel it's
not in their shareholder's best interest to lead out in an IP battle.
Microsoft will not need to file a single lawsuit, and enterprise
customers will still avoid Linux, just knowing the claim has been made.

Option #2 - Program around the patents. Many will feel that the open
source community should set about programming around these 235 patents.
That may work for some of the patents, but probably not all,
particularly in areas of Linux interoperability with legacy
technologies. If it was easy to achieve the same result by working
around patents, then no one would ever license patents. For example, if
you were to remove all the patented technology from your car, cell phone
and television, you'd lose a tremendous amount of functionality with
these products. This is exactly why I hope the authors of the GPLv3
don't come up with something that makes it impossible for Linux to
interoperate with patented technology, which will in effect relegate
Linux to a place of inferiority to Microsoft Windows and Apple's OS X,
operating systems which DO make allowances for patented technology.


Option #3 - Provide choice and let the user decide. As you know,
Linspire has always been about choice. Those who have followed this
company for the past six years, know that we do not try to limit a
user's choice when it comes to the software THEY CHOOSE to install on
their computer. We are staunch supporters of open source software, and
focus on producing open source. We have invested millions into open
source projects <> , and we look
forward to that day when more of the world's software is open and patent
free, however, until that day, we do not feel it is our job to limit a
user's choice, forcing them to only use open source software. Those who
would limit my choice to use only open source software are behaving in
exactly the same way as those they decry and accuse of limiting choice
because of monopolistic practices. While the cause and their motivations
may be different, the effect is the same - my choices are limited by
those who feel they know what's best for me. Monopolies are certainly
bad for choice, but so too is open source demagoguery which forces one's
viewpoint upon others by limiting their choices.

Just as Linspire has always let THE USER decide in regards to
proprietary software, codecs and drivers, it should come as no surprise
that I feel it should also be THE USER'S choice in regards to patents.
Many Linux users, particularly the enthusiasts and hobbyists, will
choose options 1 and 2 above, and Linspire will be happy to join and
participate in those options as well. However, we're realistic enough to
understand that other customers will want the best software available,
regardless of whether it's purely open source or "mixed source,"
combining open source along with patented technology when necessary, at
a fair and reasonable price, and without any uncertainty as to the
software's legality.

I believe this is why Dell is working with not just Ubuntu, but also
Microsoft and Novell, because they too realize choice is a good thing.
Dell certainly understands the dynamic of their corporate and enterprise
customers. As I mentioned last week
<> , it's a
brilliant move on Dell's part to offer options for all levels of Linux
users, both the enthusiasts and the mainstream user. I believe Dell is
doing the right thing by providing a Linux product line that will work
for the open source enthusiast and enterprise user alike, so as to give
Linux the broadest appeal possible.

Yes, it would be ideal if Linux could do everything without ever needing
to operate with patents and proprietary software, drivers and codecs,
but as I have consistently said, that is simply not realistic
technically or least not today. Linspire has always been
about choice, and I feel no differently about patents. As long as no one
is pointing a gun to my head to use, or not use, any particular software
or alleged software patent, then I believe having the freedom to choose
what you want to install on your computer is a very good thing.

Linspire will certainly keep a close eye on these developments, and we
will definitely participate in options 1 and 2, but we will also be open
minded to option 3 as well. This may not be a popular position for some
in the open source community, but it's a pragmantic one. I want to see
Linux continue to flourish and not hobbled, which means while options 1
and 2 are being pursued, users may need to be given a choice.

- Kevin

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