Eben Moglen on the threat of patent agreements

Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Centre is a great public speaker and he demonstrates this skill exceptionally well in his ability to answer what the risk to the Free Software community is when deals such as last years Novell - Microsoft agreement take place.

If you like his response to this quesiton then I believe you will find his interview on FLOSS Weekly about Free Software and the GPL not only good to listen to but educational at the same time.

Mount Microsoft makes more patent rumblings

Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith placed the number of patent violations by Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) at 235 in an interview with Fortune magazine this week. Considering these suposed violoations cover everything from the kernel through to office applications I am somewhat surprised that the theoretical total is not more considering the huge number of patents Microsoft has recently aquired. Tim Bray of Sun's response in his blog was short but to the point, 'litigate or shut up'.

Unfortunately the chances of Microsoft actually litigating are slim to none considering the damage it would do to their image and the potential problems it would cause from counter-suits from the likes of IBM. Instead the threat of legal action looks like it will continue to remain just that in the vain belief that by simply placing a cloud over Free software's head it will deter existing Microsoft customers from jumping ship. Whether or not such a strategy will be successful only time will tell, but forcing potential customers to buy your product through fear of what would happen if they did not does not seem like the kind of image one would want to portray.

A funny little video from Novell

With Novell's Brainshare well underway they have released a very unique 'will it blend?' video onto YouTube. Ted Haeger's been talking about this for a while now and I can see why, it does a very good job of simulatanoeously being funny whilst remaining stuffy enough to be instantly identified as a Novell video. Sure it is no Apple advert but it is good to see even if you are just interested what would happen if you put a Windows CD, a Mighty Mouse and a helping of Red Bull into an industrial strength blender...

'The Code Linux' documentary

If you are new to the ideas of open source and Linux then this documentary is well worth watching:

The Code Linux - (available on Google Video)

Even if you are fairly versed in the subject matter it is good to see some prominent open source personalities such as Linus Torvalds, Jon "Maddog" Hall and Eric S Raymond. Well worth watching online or downloading for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

A great example of Windows' evolutionary drawbacks

If you have ever tried working through an NSA guide on securing Microsoft IIS you will appreciate how many internal systems exists under the hood of Windows and their many deficiencies. For those that have been fortunate to not go through the experience Richard Stiennon uses some compelling visuals by Sana Security to explain why Windows is less secure than Linux because of its long evolutionary history. This history has seen one set of functionality bolted in place over another with little or no thought to the clarity of the overarching system architecture. Consequently whilst Windows works what goes on under the hood is not pretty and very difficult to secure.

Fixing slow IDE drives in XenExpress


A few days ago I wrote about how XenExpress was an exciting Xen distribution that was hindered by a few little bugs. In my case my IDE drives performed very slowly because DMA flags were not being set correctly. This was caused by the fact the generic-ide kernel module had been compiled directly into the Linux kernel (rather than being left as a module).

Thanks to a tip from Partha Ramachandran on the XenSource user forum I added ide0=0 ide1=0 to /boot/grub/grub.conf which stopped generic-ide from grabbing the two IDE channels. This allowed the amd74xx module to correctly connect to and configure the drives.

XenExpress - the fast lane of Xen virtualisation

The open source Xen virtualisation suite has caused a bit of a stir within the Linux world because it combines the power of VMWare without the proprietary code and cost hassles. Unfortunately Xen is not the most user friendly thing in the world to setup or configure. For a large organisation this is not so much of a problem because they can afford to hire expensive consultants or train their in-house staff. For smaller players or individuals interested in the concept but unwilling to invest hours into training XenSource have released XenExpress.

XenExpress fits on a single CD and can be downloaded without charge from the XenSource website (they do however ask for a few contact details). To setup your very own Xen host you just boot the computer from the CD, answer a few configuration questions like time and network setup and then just sit back and watch as XenExpress turns your computer into a fully functional Xen platform (for further instructions checkout this howto). After installation is complete configuration of the Xen host occurs remotely via a Java desktop application that runs on Windows, Linux or after a little hacking OSX. Most of the basic Xen tasks like virtual instance management and system maintenance can be accomplished through the interface without much effort or reference to the user guide. If you are an advanced user you can also bring up a terminal on the Xen host and run your normal Linux commands as at its heart XenExpress appears to be a slimmed down Red Hat distribution.

Jeremy Allison leaves Novell in protest

Lead Samba developer and vocal open source figure Jeremy Allison has left his position at Novell in protest of their recent patent-protection agreement with Microsoft. It is a great move from Jeremy who has made it clear in the past that his principles (and tongue lashings) will not be bent by corporate pressure.

In a parting shot Jeremy made public a letter he had sent to Novell management. Within it he made a brilliant point regarding the patent agreement and the often misunderstood reaction to it by the Free Software community:

"Do you think that if we'd have found what we legally considered a clever way around the Microsoft EULA so we didn't have to pay for Microsoft licenses and had decided to ship, oh let's say, "Exchange Server" under this "legal hack" that Microsoft would be silent about it - or we should act aggr[i]eved when they change the EULA to stop us doing this?"

It is an excellent point that brings into question people's willingness to accept theft and wrong doing as something that can only occur to an object with a defined monetary value. The components that form GNU Linux have a value, they are Free in all senses of the word. Yet when Novell and Microsoft found a way around the GPL2 license to 'sell' their patent-protection alongside GNU Linux many in the industry viewed it as completely honest and worthwhile. This even though the agreement broke in spirit, but not in practice, the licensing terms of the GPL2.

UPDATE: CNET News.com is reporting that Jeremy Allison will be joining Google in the new year. 

Richard Stallman on GPL version 3

On November 21st 2006 Richard Stallman addressed the 5th International GPLv3 Conference in Tokyo Japan. A full transcript of his presentation is available online on the Free Software Europe website. To help those who do not have time to read it all I have extracted a few interesting quotes (displayed in italics below) that clarify the issues surrounding GPL version 3.

During the presentation Stallman alluded to the greater social issues Free Software is addressing and the fact that open source is a by-product of the underlying principles and definitely not an objective in itself.

"The basic idea of the GNU GPL is to establish the four freedoms as inalienable rights, that is, rights that nobody can lose, except through wrong doing. You can't sell them."

The wording of his statement indicates that Free Software, like free speech, has more to do with universal social freedoms than technical issues. Stallman was also very clear on why a new version of the GPL is required.

"GPL version two was developed in 1991. The community was very different then. It was much smaller. There were probably hundreds of Free Software packages instead of tens of thousands. And there was no free operating system."

What is often overlooked in mainstream media discussion about GPL version 3 is the things it is trying to do better than the current license. Contrary to the perception of some it is not just filling legal holes that have been discovered over time.

A wrap up of the weeks Novell/Microsoft action

This week the Free Software Foundation (FSF) announced that it would not be taking Novell to court over their patent deal with Microsoft and its potential infringement of the GPL version 2. Instead the FSF's general counsel, Eben Moglen, announced that they would be pushing through with the finalisation of GPL version 3 which resolves many of the ambiguities present in GPL version 2. This strategy effectively takes the high road in the altercation, a costly and dirty lawsuit brought by the FSF against Novell right now would only harm both camps and potentially leave Novell without a viable operating system if they were to loose. By taking the less confrontational GPL version 3 approach the FSF does not condone Novell's actions but they do give everyone involved some breathing room in order to resolve the issue more constructively.

Once the GPL version 3 is finalised and the majority of GNU Linux codebase (including the kernel) has adopted it Novell will once again be left in a difficult situation. The onus will be on their engineers to back-port all new functionality and security fixes to their existing GPL version 2 compliant code bases rather than incorporating patches from the community which the current process. This is a complex and expensive proposition which could potentially leave them in the dust when it comes to GNU Linux operating system development. Fortunately for Novell given the GPL version 3 time line the effects of the problem will not be experienced for at least a year (if not more), so this is really an issue for the Suse Linux Enterprise Server/Desktop 11 team to ponder and will not seriously impede Novell's current crop of products.