Europeans, like citizens of much of the "free world," have a certain
tendency toward smugness when software patents are discussed. Software
patents, after all, are an American problem. Unfortunately, the U.S. is
quite good at exporting its problems. Software patents in Europe took
another step toward reality this week when the Legal Affairs Committee of
the European Parliament voted in favor of an EU-wide software patent
scheme. The 20-8 committee vote adopted the proposed directive, as
written by the European Commission, almost without changes.
The proposal is said to be more restrictive than the American version of
software patents. Patentable technologies would have to be useful in a
particular setting and application; simply having a program is not enough.
And business models still would not be subject to patents. But the
proposed directive is still enough to raise widespread concern throughout
Europe. The Greens were quite
clear on what they think:
The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament today
adopted a report that allows for the unlimited patenting of
software which will, in one swoop, entrench the market dominance of
multinational companies, force small software firms out of business
and bring to an end the European free software movement.
There is also this
release from the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure,
which contains quotes from a number of European business figures.
The sad truth is that software patents have done great harm in the U.S.,
and they are unlikely to be more beneficial in Europe. This is one import
the EU could do without.
Comments (none posted)
One of these days we'll manage to keep SCO off the front page. Not this
week. The next two articles cover a couple of important issues in this
whole mess - the breathtaking scope of SCO's claims and a look inside the
company as revealed in its latest 10Q filing. Both articles, we think,
give some insight into just what the Linux community is up against.
During the last week the read-copy-update (RCU) technology has been singled
out as one of IBM's contributions that SCO objects to. We ran an article looking into the
origins of RCU and concluding that SCO had nothing to do with the creation
of RCU. The article is a
bit dated (already) but it still gives an overview of the RCU situation; a
number of the reader comments are well worth reading too. In the end,
however, origins matter little; SCO believes it owns everything that was
ever part of a Unix system.
The company has filed a new version of its complaint against IBM,
upping the damages demanded and changing many points. See this LWN article for a brief summary, a pointer
to the document, and numerous comments.
Finally, should all this not be enough on SCO, the SCOvsIBM
Wiki maintained by Karsten Self is exhaustive and exhausting.
Comments (1 posted)
According to some opponents of free software, users of that software are
taking grave risks. The GPL, it is said, is "viral" and can cause the loss
of a company's intellectual property. And free software users are exposed
to the possibility that somebody, somewhere, may have incorporated tainted
code, exposing users and distributors to unexpected liabilities. The
solution to these problems, of course, is to simply stick with safe,
licensed, proprietary software. It costs, and you sign away a lot of
rights, but the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from signing that license
agreement is worth it.
Except it's increasingly clear that things are not that way. We all owe
SCO a debt of gratitude for showing us how unsafe proprietary software can
be. That company is using proprietary licensing to press a truly
staggering set of claims over the work of others and power to disrupt
Consider first the issue of intellectual property. SCO CEO Darl McBride
recently gave an
interview which provided a clear picture of how he sees the ownership
of proprietary Unix systems:
Where people get a little confused is when they think of SCO Unix
as just the Unix that runs the cash register at McDonalds. We think
of this as a tree. We have the tree trunk, with Unix System 5
running right down the middle of the trunk. That is our core
ownership position on Unix.
Off the tree trunk, you have a number of branches, and these are
the various flavors of Unix. HP-UX, IBM's AIX, Sun Solaris,
Fujitsu, NEC--there are a number of flavors out there. SCO has a
couple of flavors, too, called OpenServer and UnixWare. But don't
confuse the branches with the trunk. The System 5 source code, that
is really the area that gives us incredible rights, because it
includes the control rights on the derivative works that branch off
from that trunk.
These "control rights" are at the core of the IBM lawsuit. SCO is claiming
that any work any vendor has ever put into a Unix system is subject to
SCO's control. Chris Sontag, the head of SCOsource, is
even more direct:
We believe that UNIX System V provided the basic building blocks
for all subsequent computer operating systems, and that they all
tend to be derived from UNIX System V (and therefore are claimed as
SCO's intellectual property).
SCO, it would seem, owns everything.
Compared to that claim, the allegedly "viral" nature of the GPL
(if you distribute something derived from a GPL-licensed product, the
derived product must also be licensed under the GPL) seems weak indeed.
SCO is laying claim to decades of work done by dozens of proprietary Unix
vendors, and that's just the starting point.
Does this claim have any basis in reality? SCO has posted the relevant
agreements on its IBM lawsuit
page, so this sort of thing can be checked - at least, for the IBM
case. The basic software
agreement ("Exhibit A") states (in section 2.01):
Such right to use includes the right to modify such SOFTWARE
PRODUCT and to prepare derivative works based on such SOFTWARE
PRODUCT, provided the resulting materials are treated hereunder as
part of the original SOFTWARE PRODUCT.
Since the agreement on the original "SOFTWARE PRODUCT" includes
prohibitions on disclosure, this language would seem to back up SCO's
claim. Thus, technologies like read-copy-update, which were never part of
any SCO product, could be said to come under this agreement and be
prohibited from disclosure. In fact, the language could even be read to
transfer ownership of any modifications to SCO, except that IBM caught that
and forced a change ("Exhibit C"):
Regarding section 2.01, we agree that modifications and derivative
works prepared by or for you are owned by you. However, ownership
of any portion or portions of SOFTWARE PRODUCTS included in any
such modification or derivative work remains with us.
So IBM owns its changes. But the company might have signed away its
right to disclose its changes to others or deploy them in other contexts.
Other vendors with less-aware lawyers may well have signed away all
ownership to their Unix work.
So much for the safety of intellectual property in the proprietary
Of course, all this is IBM's problem. As SCO and others have stated,
customers are better off with licensed, proprietary software, since it is
warranted against intellectual property problems. Sun Microsystems plans to press
this point to its advantage. The only problem is that, once again,
SCO has shown us that this statement is not true.
SCO is attempting to revoke IBM's license to distribute AIX. This move
does not just affect IBM; consider this quote from Chris
Sontag, the head of SCOsource:
SCO said that the termination of the AIX license means that all IBM
Unix customers also have no license to use the software. "This
termination not only applies to new business by IBM, but also
existing copies of AIX that are installed at all customer
sites. All of it has to be destroyed," Sontag said.
All of those AIX customers did exactly what they are supposed to do: they
signed a proprietary license, paid their fees, and went off with the idea
that they had bought the right to use the system on their machines. Now it
appears that Unix users, at SCO's whim, can be deprived of the software
upon which they have built their businesses. Proprietary Unix, it would
seem, is a foundation built upon sand. Given that Microsoft felt the need
to buy a Unix license from SCO, it is not clear that Windows users are in
any better shape. One might assume that SCO would not try to pull the plug
on Windows, but the possibility exists regardless. We look forward to the
forthcoming warning from the Gartner Group.
SCO's actions have pointed out the very real possibility for trouble
resulting from the incorporation of proprietary code into a free product.
This is an issue that should probably be taken more seriously throughout
the free software community in the future. But SCO has also made it
painfully clear that the proprietary world, too, has its traps, and those
traps are at least as frightening as any faced by free software users.
Taken to their extreme, the proprietary rights claimed by SCO give that
company ownership and control over most computing systems on the planet.
It is a frightening thing to contemplate.
Comments (17 posted)
, summarizing the company's operations for the quarter
ending April 30, is now available. These reports always have some
interesting tidbits for those who are patient enough to wade through them,
and SCO's is no exception.
SCO claims a profit of $4.5 million for the quarter - the first in the
company's history. (Bear in mind that "the company" is the one formerly
known as Caldera). Based on that figure, SCO management has made much
noise about how strong SCO is. A look at the figures tells a different
Products revenue was $11 million - down 12% from one year ago. Services
revenue was $2 million, down 30% from one year ago. SCO would have
racked up a significant loss in this quarter if it weren't for SCOsource,
which brought in $8.3 million. Even after they spent over
$2 million in legal expenses and such, that money was enough to put
SCO into a position of profit for the quarter. That makes for a nice
one-time bottom line, but, as SCO says, "SCOsource licensing revenue
is unlikely to produce stable, predictable revenue for the foreseeable
SCOsource, so far, has exactly two customers. They won't tell us who the
first is, saying only:
The first of these licenses was with a long-time licensee of the
UNIX source code which is a major participant in the UNIX industry
and was a 'clean-up' license to cover items that were outside the
scope of the initial license.
The second licensee, of course, is Microsoft. We don't know how much each
one spent, only that the two add up to $8.3 million.
There are hints of some interesting stuff going on with regard to the
sale of these licenses. Consider:
During the quarter ended April 30, 2003, the Company issued a
warrant to a SCOsource licensee. The warrant allows the licensee
to acquire 210,000 shares of the Company's common stock at
an exercise price of $1.83 per share for a term of five years from
the date of grant. Because the warrant was issued for no
consideration to the SCOsource licensee, the Company has recorded
the fair value of the warrant of $500,000, as determined using the
Black-Scholes option-pricing model, as a warrant outstanding during
the quarter ended April 30, 2003 and reduced license revenue
Of course, at today's price for SCO stock, that warrant can be exercised
(if the holder moves quickly) for a $1.8 million overnight profit.
That, one might suppose, will
take a bit of the sting out of paying for a license from SCO. The filing
does not say which licensee got this little added gift ("for no
consideration") or why, but the wording
suggests the lucky recipient was the "long-time licensee," not Microsoft.
The story with Vista.com (covered in the June 12
Weekly Edition) gets more interesting as well. There, Vista founder got
800,000 shares (now going on the market) in exchange for a $1 million
note payable by Vista. Vista, however, is in default on some of its other
loans from SCO - but was given more money in April anyway. There is no
real explanation of why SCO is supporting Vista (and its founder) in this
SCO claims to have $10 million in the bank, and another $15 million in various
assets. $1 million of that is the dubious note from Vista. In the
absence of new investments or SCOsource deals, the company may well burn
through that cash pile in two years or less. Participants in the recent
rally in SCO's stock price may yet find a reason to wish they had missed
Comments (10 posted)
[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
The JavaOne conference was held last week in San Francisco, and as usual
there was a barrage of announcements from Sun about new Java-related
initiatives and technologies, some of them actually of interest to the
Linux and Open Source communities.
One of the big announcements was the launch of Java.net, a cooperative effort with
O'Reilly and CollabNet. Java.net
seems to be Sun's answer to SourceForge, an Open Source development site
but with a specialization in Java and Java-related technologies.
The site will include hosting of projects, mailing lists, forums, wikis
and blogs (presumably about Java or related technologies). Right now
Java.net only boasts a few projects: JXTA, NetBeans, the Javapedia, JAIN
and so on.
The NetBeans team announced the NetBeans 3.5 release, including the
NetBeans IDE, last week as well. The NetBeans IDE is written, not
surprisingly, in Java, so you should be able to run it on Linux or any
other platform with decent Java support. However, the NetBeans IDE is
not limited to Java development -- it supports C, C++, XML and HTML as
well as Java. NetBeans has been available under an Open Source license,
the Sun Public License, for three years now.
Sun also announced the Sun ONE Studio 5
IDE, which is based on the NetBeans Platform. This one isn't Open
Source, but it does run on Linux and may be of interest to J2SE (Java 2
Standard Edition) and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) developers.
Another interesting tidbit announced during the JavaOne timeframe is the
Specification Request (JSR), a plan to help scripting languages like
PHP and Java interact. Specifically, it's aimed at writing Java classes
that can be invoked by a page using PHP, ECMAScript or other scripting
languages that are in wide usage. The Scripting JSR seems to be in a
formative stage at the moment, but it should be interesting to see what
the group comes up with in the long term. The initial members of the
group are Sun, Macromedia, Zend and Oracle.
Open Source gamers might be pleased to learn that Sun has diverted work
on some gaming APIs from the Java Community Process to Java.net as well. However,
this probably has more to do with the fact that Sun doesn't see much
profitability in gaming APIs for Java than any major commitment to the
Open Source philosophy.
Sun also touted a "simplified" Java Research License (JRL). The
JRL is supposed to "simplify and relax" the research section of Sun's Sun
Community Source License (SCSL). This allows some limited
development for research and development, but anyone hoping to
distribute a project will have to go to Sun for a commercial agreement
and meet Java compatibility requirements. In other words, it still is not
a free license.
What are the prospects of Sun making Java itself Open Source? It's
probably not going to happen anytime soon, but there are folks at Sun
who'd are in favor of making Java, or parts of it, Open Source. James
Gosling, the guy responsible for Java, is in favor of releasing Java
according to this Computerworld article:
Oh, yeah. I've always felt that sort of in the abstract, open-source is
the right thing to do for a lot of the kinds of things that we do. There
are a variety of issues that make it a very complex discussion as to
whether it actually works as a business.
Slowly but surely, Sun seems to be moving towards a more open stance
with Java, but the company is still retaining very tight control on the
core Java technologies.
Comments (6 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Goodies from Openwall; new vulnerabilities in bitchx, ethereal, man, mikmod, webmin, etc.
- Kernel: Fixing device enumeration; avoiding sysfs surprises; ext3 and JBD changes.
- Distributions: Midori Linux Expands into Asia, New mailing list for maintainers of university Linux, New: Alcolix, CERN Linux, free-EOS, Linux4Geeks
- Development: The Q Equational Programming Language,
New versions of: JACK, Fle3, PyKota, JOTWeb, mnoGoSearch, Silva,
Epoz, ZODB, Hylafax, PCGen, Mozilla, Gnome-themes-extras, Civil,
GIMP, Gmsh, wxWindows, PHPSurveyor, OProfile.
- Press: SCO sues IBM, HP gets into Linux, MS acquires Linux AntiVirus company,
Brazil moves to Linux, Emulating legacy OSes with Linux.
- Announcements: IBM responds to SCO, Linux heading to Mars, Spain deploys 80K GNOME desktops,
Linus Torvalds joins OSDL, GU4DEC Live, Linux.Conf.Au 2004 cfp, AskIgor.org.
- Letters: Linux and Windows security updates