Freedom and Microsoft patents May 17, 2007Posted by rjdohnert in Uncategorized.
When people say the word free what comes to mind? Free as in no cost or free as in freedome to do what you want to do. Well it depends on what industry you are speaking of. In the software industry what is free. It all depends on who you ask. Ask any IT director or CIO why they use Open Source software 8 out of 10 times freedom for the sake of doing what they want to do is not the first thing that comes out of their mouth, licensing costs is what the most common answer is. In most cases freedom to alter and refine the code is somewhere at the end. Freedom from viruses, freedom from instability, Freedom from Redmond. Do you see the trend here? The most common word and descriptive terminology is free. Freedom in any industry means one thing. You are making tradeoffs. For example, the entertainment industry. i subscribe to XM radio and to Cable TV. Why? I hate commercials. I want to listen to my music without having stupid commercials on Hardees uses 100% angus beef, I dont want to hear about Sprint/Nextels newest deals. i want to listen to music. So I make that tradeoff, willingly. I buy my services so I dont have to hear sales pitches. Same thing with Cable. I would rather watch “Gone in 60 Seconds” on HBO than on USA Network because I watch the movie, I hear the cussing, I see the violence and its commercial free. I dont see Angelina Jolie grabbing the shift stick one second and watch the Geico caveman complaining the next on HBO. Sure the Linux guys will pipe up in my comments section and say “Get DVD’s and CD’s” but I will have to buy the products, they arent given to me for free. Go figure.
Now fast forward to the software industry and the fight between Linux and any and all proprietary products. You have commercial Linux and you have free Linux. When you choose free Linux you are making tradeoffs. You are trading off the luxury of having a central support infrastructure. Its basically doing it yourself to get hardware working, to get software compiled and running properly and to find technical support through browsing and sifting through mailing lists and forums. I have yet to find a free Linux distribution that I get the same support as with Windows, Mac OS X, Oracle Linux, RHEL and even SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. When you choose a commercial Linux distribution you are making the some of the same tradeoffs but your support infrastructure and “one throat to choke” is restored. But the minute you think you are free to do as you will such as compile your own latest and greatest kernel and try to put it on your commercially supported Linux box and you have a problem you can almost see the support technicians wagging their finger and saying ” You cant do that”. When you go to a commercial Linux distribution you pay, its not free as in beer or as in speech you are bound to the terms and conditions of that distributor, just like in any proprietary offering. Its impossible for any Linux distributor to support every modified Linux kernel in the open.
Eben Moglen, the lawyer for the FSF, proclaimed software should be as free as mathematics and accessible to everyone. Well, it is as free as mathematics. You can go to any book store and buy books and learn how to program. Thats how I learned. Bought a book, read it 3 or 4 times and coded my first program. It wasnt hard and I didnt have to pay Microsoft a dime. It wasnt even a Microsoft Press publication. When you put the mathematics industry in prospective, yes there is an industry there, its still not free. i dont know of any accountants that agree to do books for free. When you do your own taxes and pay a preparer do you not pay them? The same goes for the computer industry. Most normal everyday people do not know how to code so they hire people to write it for them just as everyday people dont know how to do advanced mathematics and hire people to fulfill the roles that they need.
So what do Microsofts patents have to do with anything. Microsoft makes no bones about the fact that they are a for profit software company. They are not an open source company. Unlike SCO who declared itself an Open Source company and decided to leverage their patent portfolio against the open source community. If Open Source software does indeed violate Microsoft patents should they not then pay royalties to the owner of the patents? Linus Torvalds calls the actions by Microsoft spreading FUD. Its not FUD if its legitimate.