Monday, October 27, 2003

Indemnification Nazis' At It Again

CNET News: IBM Should Indemnify Open-Source Customers by Forester shill Julie Giera Sheesh! Makes me sick. The indemnification Nazis are at it again. All part of a days work i suppose. Work no doubt done on behalf of their sponsors in Redmond. This Cnet article is just the latest attempt to smear open source with the slime of unfounded fear, uncertainty and doubt. That the enemies of open source try to cloak their deceit in the smarmy posturing of supposedly “independent” technology experts fools no one. We know who's footing the bill here. We know where the money's coming from. We know these shameless shills are all competing for an even bigger pay day. What price does one sell their professional credibility for you ask? Without so much as a blink, these shills go charging up the hill of open source, yelling obscene half truths and unfounded accusations. Waving their sabers. Beating their chests. Defending the status quo with false bravado as their palms are quietly greased behind closed doors. And to the one who slays the GPL dragon go the keys to the monopolist kingdom. Here's the thing. Microsoft can't compete against GPL protected open source efforts unless they can add a “cost” factor. Indemnification “corporatizes” GPL'd code, adding significant “big corporations only” costs while greatly diminishing the core value of the GPL. The truth is that the GPL provides all the protection anyone using community created open source code would ever need. But when would the truth ever be allowed to stand in the way of a great business plan? The indemnification Nazis' are of course going to try to say the GPL isn't enough. If Microsoft can bring a legal “cost” to GPL'd efforts, they could then leverage their enormous advantages in distribution, marketing, and court room rodeo shows. Competing against zero cost solutions that can then be wrapped in many high end service oriented packages is more than a challenge. It's end game if Chairman Bill can't put some kind of cost on highly effective GPL'd OSS. What happens when users start focusing more on the “services”, and less on the underlying infrastructure code? Corporations like HP and Sun go along with the indemnification ruse because it enables them to wrap GPL'd code in a corporate layer that significantly narrows competition, while protecting the high cost proprietary solutions that have long served to fill their corporate coffers. Red Hat and IBM have chosen to stand up for the GPL. But the phony indemnification ruse is just the first shot across the bow. Armies of boot licking lackies and shameless shills are lining up everywhere to take their shot at the open source community organization model. For sure there are big pay days ahead for any boot licker who can make their argument stick. To me, the fundamental issue comes down to whether GPL protected open source community efforts will be embraced by corporations, or crushed. Those corporations who have embraced GPL OSC efforts are under attack from those corporations who see the threat. And not without reason. Open standards groups have replaced the traditional dictates of corporate consortium's where a small group of collaborators could use patents and royalty sharing agreements to crush opposition, and carve up markets at price levels they controlled. The GPL is so effective at protecting the IP of open source community efforts that it near guarantees that any effort gaining traction in the marketplace is likely to become an “open standard” in and of itself. Open interfaces, open standards, and open connectivity protocols are surging forward, more often than not within the protective wrappers of GPL packaging. If they can't stop the GPL with the costly indemnification ruse, with costly patent based legal assaults, with costly royalty extracting “access” licenses, or with phony copyright and contractual claims, then perhaps the final bell for the halcyon days of corporate racketeering and extortion has been rung. Oh how enronic! With many companies rushing to embrace GPL'd efforts as a means of harnessing massive resources at little cost, and achieving critical mass without having to live in fear of some gilded privileged consortium plot to loot the marketplace, the advantages of being a recidivist monopolist are diminished in value. Imagine that your Chairman Bill, and you've spent your entire life scheming, plotting, conniving, and deceiving to put the entire information systems industry under your boot heel. Imagine you even survived a federal court finding that you used illegal means to crush your competitors to attain and maintain your monopoly. Imagine having survived the conviction in a Federal court of the most reprehensible business practices known, including your secret exclusionary contract provisions, extortion efforts, and conspiratorial market splitting agreements. Imagine having survived all this and being in position to finally grind everyone into the dirt, extorting user and developer taxes as far into the future as anyone can see. Imagine, and the only thing that stands in your way is that insidiously pesky GPL. With a court order sanctioning the decree that Microsoft owns the Windows platform, and any and all opportunities within reach of that platform, things look good for the recidivist reprobate. Having decimated any semblance of corporate competition, for sure Chairman Bill can almost taste final triumph. Time to send in the armies of boot licking lackies and shameless shills. Whatever the cost. This is war on the GPL. ~ge~

Friday, October 24, 2003

Key Microsoft Agreement Clause Criticized
The Judge, the DOJ, and the States Attorney Generals are all surprised that so few companies have signed on and forked over the $50,000 (plus 1-5% royalties) for a Microsoft license permitting them the privilege of competing against Microsoft.
The licensing requirement was considered central since it would prevent Microsoft from locking out rival companies developing products that compete with Microsoft's own. Under the court-approved agreement, which expires in November 2007, Microsoft must offer such licenses under "reasonable and non-discriminatory terms."
What are these clowns thinking? They seem to think they can "level the playing field" by leaving Microsoft in total control of the messaging and integration API's needed by independent developers to connect and develop on the Windows XP STack. They seem to think that the "risk" of challenging Microsoft on a platform where Redmond controls everything is simply a matter of licensing costs!
They've left Microsoft in control of the API's. They've left Microsoft in control of the licensing process, able to set permissions and favored access privileges wherever they see fit. And, they've left Microsoft able to tie, bind, and bolt anything they want to the operating system infrastructure.
Then they wonder why no one wants to invest their time, money and efforts competing against Microsoft!
I have a solution. Let Microsoft do whatever the hell they want with the entire Windows XP platform of XP OS's, XP Applications, XP Developer Tools, XP Middleware, and the XP .NET Framework.
But give users and independent developers a choice.
What kind of choice is that you ask?
The hold Microsoft has on both the user base and the developer community is that of legacy applications locked into the Win32 API, an entanglement of Win32 interdependecies, and Microsoft proprietary file formats that lock up near 70% of mankind's digitally unstructured content.
There are over 400 million Win9x users, affectionately called "The Great Herd". This is the Microsoft monopoly. And Microsoft is now asking them to spend billions migrating everything to the XP Stack.
The truth is that Microsoft is challenging the great herd to either migrate everything at great cost, or be left behind without support, security patches, and without the ability to run next generation collaborative applications or participate in the fourth wave.
The only way the DOJ and States can provide the great herd with a "choice" is to first focus in on the most basic level of choice, the omega point where the decision to migrate to the XP Stack, or hold has to be made. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discover that the key issues facing the great herd are those of having critical legacy application investments locked into the Win32 API, and the bulk of their information assets locked into a cascading entanglement of proprietary interfaces, protocols, components and file formats.
I say give Microsoft a Hobbsian choice. Either continue support, upgrades, fixes and collaborative computing components to the Win9x installations, or, open up the Win32 API, interfaces. protocols, components and file formats of the abandoned Win9x platform so that users and developers can continue to leverage their heavily vested interests in ways that make economical sense.
If that means finally being able to port things to Linux, so be it. If that means providing the open documentation J2EE frameworks need to integrate with Win9x desktop applications, so be it.
It's insane that a free market DOJ and laissez-faire Judge would think that anyone in their right mind would risk investing in an effort to compete against Microsoft on a platform the courts have said Redmond owns with unrestricted entirety. Companies and independent developers should invest in this "competition" thinking the DOJ and Judge can control Microsoft and guarantee fairness? The very fact that Microsoft is required to "license" access to critical API's and components rather than fully disclose the interfaces speaks volumes! Competing Microsoft applications and services have privileged access to the system level that may or may not be disclosed in a licensed API. And then there's the cost of the license itself which gives Microsoft further competitive advantages. Not to mention that Microsoft continues to own the distribution channel and can shove their "competing applications" through the pipe, at will.
If the DOJ and Judge really want a level playing field, where competitors win or lose based on providing the faster, better, cheaper solutions to users, then they need to concentrate on providing users with unfettered choice. Either unlock the Win32 API and file formats, or, go back to the drawing board and split up Microsoft.
It's that simple.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

[News: Microsoft: Back to its old ways? ]

Microsoft: Back to its old ways?

By Martin LaMonica , CNET

A fair and balanced article if ever there was one, and put out by Cnet no less. The article discusses the recent Longhorn and Office System 2003 announcements from Microsoft, asking the question if this is just another round of Microsoft's quest to ruthlessly crush any and all chance of competition while ratcheting up user and developer dependence, strapping them for years to come to the highly profitable upgrade treadmill.

I had two posts in the talkback section of the article. The first post (see “Fair and Balanced” below) points out that we don't have to wait for Longhorn. The effort to lock in future generations of users has begun with Office System 2003. The second post focuses on comments made by a Microsoft shill known as “no_ax_to_grind”.

“no_ax_to_grind” is said to be a key Microsoft engineer working on the Longhorn development team. He's taken the company line of defending everything by saying, “let the consumers decide”. It's his answer to everything.

The problem is that in most cases the consumer doesn't have a clear, unencumbered choice. So i challenge Axe to first level the playing field. Let the competition have an equal shot at providing for the consumers needs. Then we'll see how much they truly do appreciate paying Microsoft for the privilege of long term serfdom.

Axe, you're grinding again:

<Axe> “Bottom line, let the market place sort out the winner instead of a committee in a smoke filled back room somewhere. Let me put that differently, the consumer WILL be the one to establish the acceptable and most favored "standard" and anyone that doesn't understand that is fooling themselves. <..../Axe>

Axe, your grinding again. Open Source Communities, OASIS, and the W3C hardly qualify as smoke filled back rooms where the future of mankind is secretly plotted. What they do plot is highly transparent, royalty free, patent free, openly accessible standards proposals designed for global levels of participation. I think you may have confused your smoked filled back rooms Axe with what goes on in Redmond.

I have a challenge for you Axe. You sound as though you're willing to put your faith in the choice of consumers. If the marketplace of operating systems and applications were truly open, offering a level playing field for all competitors, i would agree with you. But that's not the case. Microsoft stands convicted of having used illegal means to both attain their monopoly, and maintain their monopoly.

The anti trust trial revealed a corporate culture based on some of the most reprehensible business practices known. In 1989, as the hype for the Windows 3.0 release began to gather steam, no one knew what the eventual cost of buying into the Windows platform would be. We saw an open hardware reference platform that would solve some truly knarly developer problems. Hardware vendors saw a level playing field where the faster, better, cheaper products would prevail. With the promise of an open Windows API, developers saw a level GUI application playing field being built upon a commoditized but vibrantly competitive hardware platform. Users, developers and hardware vendors alike bought into the critical mass promise of Windows.

What we didn't buy into the outright lies, deceits, deceptions, and reprehensible business practices that resulted in a monopoly where both our information and our information processes are under the thumb of a singe vendor.

Be that as it may, there is still a rather simple way to level the playing the field without resorting to the courts. Open the Win32 API.

In the past few weeks Microsoft has held the world's attention in rapture as they demonstrated the wondrous virtues of Office System and Longhorn. Clearly they are telling developers that the Win 32 API has reached the end of the line, to be replaced by a new programming model, the .NET API. Of course, to maintain backward compatibility, XP will run Win32 applications. But all support, security patches, and licensing for both the Win9x platform and the store of legacy Win32 applications bound to that platform, will cease.

It's been estimated (USAToday) that there are over 400 million Win9x users. It's also been estimated that there is less than 50 million XP installs. It's also clear that Microsoft has discontinued all support for the Win9x platform except to assist in the acceleration of migrating the great Win9x herd to XP.

Upwards of 95% of all desktop users are at a critical moment of choice. Do they cross that XP line? Or, do they make the leap to an alternative platform such as Linux or OSX?

My contention is that if the legacy of business critical Win32 applications, (and the legacy investments in Win32 applications in general), could easily be ported to other platforms, then the great herd of Win9x users would have a clear, unimpeded choice. A choice based on the appreciation of competitive platform features. A choice based on appreciation for the organizations, methods and business practices of those who stand behind each platform. A choice based on the future vision of each platform provider.

In short Axe, a choice based on a level playing field.

Open up the Win32 API, including the secret system calls Microsoft so ruthlessly used to crush their competition, and i don't care what kind of lock in you do with the current XP integrated stack, and on into the Longhorn end game. I'm fully confident that if the WiNE project ever got their hands on a complete disclosure of the Win32 API, consumers would have an unencumbered choice. And we would see a free market competition for the future of computing. One where we could honestly say, let the consumers decide. Let the best platform win.

And i make this challenge knowing full well that the XP Stack is a massive lock in scheme where the os, applications, tools, developer framework, and server suites are bolted together by a cascading entanglement of interdependencies that will never ever be unwound. Open up the Win32 API and you can do whatever the hell you want with the XP Stack and Longhorn. Just give consumers a fair chance to get out from under the heavily vested legacy trap brought on by an illegal monopoly.

And i say this knowing full well that monopolies, in and of themselves, are not illegal. It's how Microsoft attained their monopoly, and how they maintained that monopoly, that was ruled “illegal”. Nevertheless, i'm willing to concede that Microsoft owns the XP platform, and all the opportunities related to that platform, from the bottom of the software stack on up through the servers, the developers framework, the connectivity and communications protocols, and beyond.

Just set the great herd of Win9x users free to chose whether they really want to go the XP integrated stack route, or opt out for an alternative. Open the Win32 API, and i'll believe your holier than thou squawk about letting consumers choose.


Fair & Balanced:

Excellent article Martin! I really appreciate the way you framed the core issues of Microsoft's latest end game strategy. However, i would argue that the effort to lock-in users and developers has already started. Longhorn is just the completion of an integrated stack model Microsoft launched with the XP generation of OS, Applications, Developer Tools, Server Suites, and the .NET framework.

In the week prior to the Longhorn PDC push, Microsoft's released the long anticipated XP Office 2003. They released the office suite as “Office System 2003”, directly targeting developers. The interesting thing about Office System is that it only runs on XP (or on W2K with service pack 3, which activates DRM and IRM), and all the new features require integrated actions with products outside the normal office productivity suite.

If users and developers want to activate all those wonderful collaborative computing features, they need to also have access to at least the core suite of XP Servers (Exchange, SharePoint, Server 2003).

There are over 400 million Win9x users. XP users number about 50 million. The push to migrate the entire herd of Win9x users has started. It will cost those Win9x users a fortune to join that next generation of collaborative computing Microsoft has reserved exclusively for the XP Stack. Where the os, applications, tools, framework, and server suites are bolted together with a cascading entanglement of interdependencies that neither developers, competitors, or the Department of Justice will never be able to unwind.

But what other choice does the great herd have?

They are trapped by critical legacy business applications and information system investments, that are in turn tied to hidden API's and proprietary file formats. Linux is ready as an OS replacement. and are leading the charge of alternative cross platform productivity applications and developer tools. But the WiNE Project is not quite ready to crack the single greatest issue keeping the great herd of 400 million Win9x users tied to the Redmond mothership.

If the DOJ was to do one thing to restore competition, it would be to open up the Win 32 API so that legacy of heavily vested and critically important Win32 API applications could be ported to WiNE.

So while it's great that you point out in such a fair and balanced article the pitfalls and benefits of Longhorn, let's not lose sight of the fact that Batan march has already begun.