[lpi-discuss] Re: BS' final comments on 'spam filters' -- Sun, not Novell

Anselm Lingnau anselm.lingnau at linupfront.de
Wed Dec 13 18:48:52 EST 2006


Bryan J. Smith wrote:

> BS!  Sun can do what the hell they want with [the LGPL].  If Sun wants to
> omit a term or grant an exception, they sure the hell can.  ;-)

Yes, but they couldn't pass the result off as the GNU LGPL. It would have to 
be »the GNU LGPL with the following additional terms: ...«

Anyway, this is neither here nor there. It turns out that the document which 
purports to be the OO.o distribution license *is* the plain vanilla GNU LGPL 
as promulgated by the FSF. There are no omissions or exceptions in evidence, 
so any speculation as to whether and under what circumstances it is or isn't 
allowed to change the license is moot.

> You can read all you want into Novell-MS. But any "evil-doer speculation"
> you slap on to Novell _also_ applies _directly_ to Sun.

I don't claim that Novell is »evil«. They do what they think is best for (a) 
themselves and (b) their customers. In fact, the way this particular case has 
been treated by those who you like to call »rabid Linux McCarthyists« is 
probably a textbook example of Hanlon's Razor. Basically, IMHO, Microsoft has 
pulled a fast one on Novell. Sun seems to have had better luck so far.

> And under the same logic - everything from the Linux kernel to Qt to 
> countless other GPL/LGPL projects - have the same issues.  The fact of the
> matter is that _no_one_ protects *YOU* from possible IP infringement.

Right. What else is new?

> They are "tolerated" because companies aren't purposely sacking these
> projects with IP. And that includes the very likely case that OpenXML
> support is standard in OpenOffice.org, because Microsoft (with counsel from
> Red Hat) has declared them free from public royalties. So if Red Hat
> includes the support, I'd say that's a good sign.

And so it is. However we need to consider that any OpenXML support in OO.o so 
far is pure vapourware. The code does not exist yet, hence cannot infringe on 
Microsoft IP or be licensed this way or that. You've been talking about 
existing support for »Microsoft formats« in OO.o that require a patent 
license from Microsoft, so presumably you mean .DOC and friends, for which 
Microsoft has made no such announcement.

Of course Microsoft needs to push OpenXML for OpenOffice.org -- they're 
running scared in front of OpenDocument! They desperately need to convince 
the world that good old .DOC can (and should) stay now that it is XML-based, 
rather than be forced to implement OpenDocument, a format that they do not 
control, in Microsoft Office. So they want to make it easy for people to 
commit to OpenXML while they're not as forward about their existing 
formats -- they put up a »patent covenant« covering the Office 2003 XML 
schemas (which are different from OpenXML), promised to do the same for 
OpenXML, but so far have declined to do it for the non-XML document formats. 
From Microsoft's perspective, the worst-case result would be for everybody to 
standardise on ODF as an XML-based document format and support .DOC only for 
legacy reasons. This is what they need to avoid at all costs.

> > but so far Microsoft has not got around to pointing out
> > to us that that patent exists.
>
> Huh?  Where you been?!
>
> The OpenXML is the _first_ time Microsoft has publicly declared their IP as
> usable without royalty, explicitly allowing even GPL usage.

We're not talking OpenXML here. There *is* no OpenXML code in OO.o as of now, 
so OO.o cannot infringe on any Microsoft IP on these grounds.

So far Microsoft has not come out and said »Listen up, everyone: The .DOC 
support code in OO.o violates our US patents nos. such-and-such and 
this-and-so, so please pay us $x per distributed copy if you want to go on 
distributing it and do not have another agreement with us.« Once they do 
this, OO.o can no longer be distributed under the LGPL.

> How can you continue to deny this. If there is one, single, "safe" MS
> format from an IP standpoint, it's OpenXML _more_ than any other.

I don't deny this at all. As I said, Microsoft has a considerable interest in 
getting OpenXML out and accepted, so it is hardly surprising that they're 
making a big effort here to push it. It has been said that Microsoft's worst 
enemy isn't Linux but whatever previous version of Microsoft's own software 
is in the field. AFAIK, OpenXML is only supported by Office 2007, so by 
declaring OpenXML the One True Office Format Microsoft exerts pressure for 
everybody to upgrade -- which is a game that they have been playing for the 
last 20 years or so, and which is more important than ever given that, 
according to what I read, the advantages of Office 2007 compared to its 
predecessors otherwise appear rather less than compelling.

The other thing is that, as file format specifications go, OpenXML at 6000 
pages is rather on the hefty side. Bob Sutor (I think) has called OpenXML a 
denial-of-service attack on non-MS office packages, due to the sheer effort 
involved in actually implementing the specification. If Microsoft manages to 
convince everyone that this is the way to go, much effort will be spent that 
could otherwise go towards improving the actual software (such as OO.o) 
itself. Which from Microsoft's POV is a good thing, given that, e.g., the 
OO.o scene isn't exactly teeming with developers.

> > Once they do, Sun's right to distribute OO.o under
> > the LGPL goes straight out the window,
>
> Sun's right to distribute OOo is _absolute_, _period_!  Sun does _not_ need
> a "license" from the FSF on anything.

Sigh. First off, the FSF does not license Sun to do anything, nor indeed needs 
to. They merely came up with a legal document, the LGPL, that Sun has decided 
they will apply to OO.o distribution. That was Sun's own decision as the 
copyright holder. (If the FSF had had any say in it they would surely have 
gone for the GPL :^))

Secondly, you're absolutely right again. Sun can distribute OO.o any way they 
want. However, the point of the LGPL is that the *receivers* of the code from 
Sun can *again* distribute the same code, identically or in modified form, 
under the LGPL. If it turns out that Microsoft (or anyone) requires a patent 
license before OO.o can legally be distributed, then by section 11 of the 
LGPL this is no longer possible. Sun can of course still give OO.o to people 
directly, or they could give it to Novell (who presumably has a similar 
license from Microsoft to use and sub-license the patent) under some 
arrangement that would let Novell distribute it to Novell's customers, but 
this would no longer be distribution under the LGPL. Which is what *I* said.

> > In any case, as I said I happen to believe that it is better
> > to say »come out and fight if you have an issue«
> > than to pay Danegeld the way Novell did.
>
> And HP and IBM and Sun and just about everybody but Red Hat.
> So why is Novell now different?

Unlike Novell, HP and IBM and Sun are not Linux vendors. They would arrange 
(and have arranged) cross-licensing with Microsoft as a matter of principle, 
whether or not they had anything to do with Linux at all. 

Therefore it is appropriate to compare Novell against other Linux vendors 
rather than hardware manufacturers like HP, IBM and Sun, for which Linux is a 
welcome windfall but not in any way part of their core business (if Linux had 
never happened they would just as happily be selling machines running 
Windows, Unix, VM, or whatever, but take away Linux from Novell and, given 
the state Netware is in, not much will remain -- same with Red Hat). This 
means, in the first instance, Red Hat, and I've discussed the difference 
between the two and the reasons why I think Novell entered into the Microsoft 
deal in an earlier message. Of course one should also check how other Linux 
vendors measure up. One might, for example, take a look at Canonical, and 
like you I think Mark Shuttleworth took rather a cheap shot at Novell -- for 
all he's done he isn't exactly an open-source paragon, either. However, so 
far Novell is the only Linux vendor to try and curry favour with Microsoft 
the way they did. The others' stance is, mostly, much closer to the »come out 
and fight if you want« that I alluded to in an earlier message, and given 
Microsoft's history of stabbing their partners in the back when they aren't 
looking I personally happen to think that this is wiser in the long run.

Coming back to the original bone of contention -- our esteemed Jim Lacey's 
declaration that »the two organizations [Novell and LPI] share similar 
strategies in promoting the adoption and growth of Open Source«. I can agree 
with that as far as seeking strong local partners is nothing but good 
business sense for organisations like LPI and Novell, which act globally. 
However, personally I would rather see LPI promoting Linux in its own right 
rather than as something that requires Microsoft's help in patent licenses, 
code, or money in order to be acceptable in the real world -- the way Novell 
appears to think. Countless people have laboured for more than a decade to 
put Linux where it is now, and Linux does not *need* Microsoft, period. Jim 
L. might have said »share *some* strategies« just to avoid this ambiguity, 
which, as close as it occurs to Novell's announcement of its Microsoft deal, 
gives an impression that the LPI could arguably have done without. After all, 
as a nominally vendor-neutral organisation LPI should not even remotely 
appear to endorse a single Linux company's strategies or actions. (For 
example, I would just *love* to be able to repeat in public what Glenn 
(McKnight) said to me about our LPIC-1 training materials. Unfortunately I 
don't get to do this, for obvious reasons.) One might almost be forgiven for 
thinking that, PR-wise, Novell got suckered by Microsoft and LPI got suckered 
by Novell :^)

Finally, just so we have something to discuss that has nothing to do with 
Microsoft: How come Novell is coming on so strong in favour of LPIC-3 rather 
than create their own guru-level certification on top of Novell CLE? Red Hat 
does it, and surely Novell could if they wanted to? After all, they've been 
telling us all along that LPIC-1 and LPIC-2 are nice to have, but that the 
Novell CLP/CLE tests really separate the men from the boys (so to speak) :^)

Anselm

(This is my personal opinion and not that of Linup Front GmbH.)
-- 
Anselm Lingnau ... Linup Front GmbH ... Linux-, Open-Source- & Netz-Schulungen
Linup Front GmbH, Postfach 100121, 64201 Darmstadt, Germany
anselm.lingnau at linupfront.de, +49(0)6151-9067-103, Fax -299, www.linupfront.de


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