Hopefully my last Novell Microsoft Agreement Post; or Nobody reads this stuff

I wasn't going to post any more about the Novell Microsoft Agreement. I don't have anything else to add and really what else can be said. Don has posted on this issue after Novell contacted him as a result of him comparing the deal to “eating a bug for money”. A couple items in the post are too good not to share:
From Novell's point of view, the deal is supposed to be about giving customers some peace of mind over being sued for patent infringement. But the document that is supposed to explain this to customers is missing some information, and the documents that are actually supposed to contain the missing information are secret.
I don't think this is some big conspiracy, just the result of rushing something through without reading it very carefully. Novell and Microsoft are too big to pull off a conspiracy, but they're both bureaucratic enough to do paperwork that ends up being full enough of dumb mistakes to be pretty much meaningless.
Simple things first. If you still believe people read this stuff, try reading it. Covenant to Customers has two obvious mistakes: Novell spelled “Novel” and the awkward “on account of a such Customers' use of specific copies”, which looks like the result of someone starting a singular-to-plural edit and not finishing. The page has been up since November 2 of last year. Not a big deal, but like I said, nobody reads this stuff.
Now go back and read “Covenant to Customers” again. You get a bunch of Capitalized Words, some of which show up in the definitions section, and some of which don't. One of the terms is “Clone Product”. You don't get sued for running a Covered Product, but Covered Product doesn't include Clone Product, and Clone Product isn't defined. So which of the products included in the SUSE distribution are Clone Products? I asked, but that list is not available.

Not too encouraging when the company name is spelled wrong in the document. I can appreciate that novel is a word, so will pass a spell checker, but it would certainly seem to validate the nobody reads this stuff claim. He then goes into specifically what the Patent portion of the agreement protects you from:
You have a Covenant, so you're all squared away, right? But the Covenant says it covers Covered Products, and Covered Products doesn't include Clone Products, and you don't get a copy of the definition of Clone Products. Covered or not? You're just as mystified about the answer to “Will Microsoft sue me?” as you were before.
Another good one: “Microsoft reserves the right to update (including discontinue) the foregoing covenant pursuant to the terms of the Patent Cooperation Agreement…” Yes, the Patent Cooperation Agreement that you don't get to see.
Put it all together, and you get, “We promise not to sue you for running some but not necessarily all of the software you get from Novell, unless we stop promising not to sue you, and we won't tell you which software you get from Novell we might sue you for now, or under what circumstances we'll stop promising not to sue you for the rest.”

In others words, not much. His conclusion is right in line with what myself and almost all others have been saying:
That sense of wanting to win by product, not by litigation, is what protects you in the short term. What protects you long term is that the IT industry is just a series of recruiting contests. A company wins recruiting contests by serving good fajitas and letting an employee get a $70 laptop power supply without spending $200 in time on getting approval to buy it. A company loses recruiting contests when it's seen as succeeding through legal attack, not great product. Who wants to work on a product that customers have to be sued to buy? If a company's litigiousness makes it miss a round of recruiting, it misses the round of product that those recruits would have built, and game over.
Anyway, the check is cashed, the bug is eaten, Microsoft seems equally likely to sue you for running Linux no matter where you get it — not very — and if all goes well, a lot of that money will go to the many helpful, hard-working developers at Novell who are doing useful work. I guess what I learned here is that the patent deal doesn't really give Novell customers any special assurances.

Microsoft almost certainly wasn't going to sue you before. This agreement makes them no less likely to sue you. In reality, it probably did give Ballmer more fodder, which will have some impact. If you do see Microsoft start to sue, to me it means they think they are worse off internally than we think they are from an outside perspective. That's not saying a while lot. Companies with viable business plans and sustainable products don't depend on litigation for future growth. Just ask SCO.

Show Us The Code

Just stumbled across the Show Us Your Code site. I think it's well intentioned, but misses a few things. First and foremost (and take this as constructive feedback please), if you are going to publish an open letter that you want to get taken seriously, you really need to grammar check it. My grammar on this blog isn't always great, but that's because I write it in kind of a conversational style – ie. this is how I talk. When I hand in articles that will be published, you may notice the style and tone is quite different.
On to the content of the site. First, it's not really the code we need from the angle I see it. It's specifically the patents that they feel we have violated. That's a small but fairly important distinction. Also, looking at It lacks logic, especially when you consider that there are developers around the world who would be more than happy to work with Microsoft to resolve this issue. From the view point of Ballmer, it doesn't lack logic (although it may be lacking from an ethical standpoint). You see, he can bluster on about this topic without showing any actual code or naming any patents and in the Enterprise just that slight chance of being sued in the end makes a difference. In the past, it made a huge difference. The reality is that people are wising up to this and the impact now is substantially decreasing. In the near future, it should be negligible. Look at the SCO case. It didn't stop many people from adopting Linux (although I'm sure it did stop some). It did however stop many companies from talking about their Linux adoption. That should not be underestimated.
Now, I've said before that I doubt Microsoft will move forward seriously with any patent cases. It simply leaves them too open to a MAD-like patent war situation and they don't want that. I've always found it odd how Microsoft has been positioning themselves around IP and patents in the Open Source world anyway. Looking at past litigation, I'm not aware of any Open Source company that has been found guilty of infringing other peoples IP anywhere near as much as Microsoft. I'd like to be corrected on this if I am wrong, but the recent $1.5B (yes BILLION) judgment is just one of many against Microsoft. You think they'd realize just how broken the system is. You think they'd want to fix it. But the reality is, they have the money to lose. The long term threat of losing their advantageous monopoly like position is surely much more worrisome.

Who writes the Linux kernel?

An informative post over at LWN (via Matt Asay) about the code contributed to the 2.6.20 kernel, followed by the last year of kernel changes. The result? As far as companies go, Red Hat is by far in the lead as far as both number of changesets and number of lines go. Other top names are what you would expect: Novell, IBM, Linux Foundation, Intel, Oracle, etc. It's good to see that Red Hat can now back up the claim that they are doing a significant amount of work in the kernel space. It's interesting to note that “Unknown” is in first and “None” in third. The definitions are: “the line marked “(Unknown)” is exactly that: patches for which existence of a supporting employer could not be determined. The line marked “(None)”, instead, indicates the patches from developers known to be working on their own time.” That does give credence to the often mentioned statement that some real percentage of kernel work is done by volunteers. The article also looks at individual contributions. If kernel hacking is something you're interested in, the full article is something you'll want to read. LWN continues its tradition of putting out quality in-depth articles like this and is worthy of your support.

Ballmer repeats threats against Linux

Novell execs must cringe when they see things like this:
Steve Ballmer has reissued Microsoft's patent threat against Linux, warning open-source vendors that they must respect his company's intellectual property.
In a no-nonsense presentation to New York financial analysts last week, Microsoft's chief executive said the company's partnership with Novell, which it signed in November 2006, “demonstrated clearly the value of intellectual property, even in the open-source world.”
The cross-selling partnership means that Microsoft will recommend Suse Linux for customers who want a mixed Microsoft/open-source environment. It also involves a “patent co-operation agreement”, under which Microsoft and Novell agreed not to sue each other's customers for patent infringement.
In a clear threat against open-source users, Ballmer repeated his earlier assertions that open source “is not free”, referring to the possibility that Microsoft may sue Linux vendors. Microsoft has suggested that Linux software infringes some of its intellectual property, but has never named the patents in question.
Ballmer said: “I would not anticipate that we make a huge additional revenue stream from our Novell deal, but I do think it clearly establishes that open source is not free, and open source will have to respect the intellectual property rights of others just as any other competitor will.”

He almost makes it sound like the real value to Microsoft, and the real intention of the agreement, was simply to posture for further protection money from others. I wonder how Novell feels about that in retrospect. Matt Asay asks: “Steve Ballmer: Was this the friend Novell wanted?” I think the answer to that is now clear.
I still wonder if Microsoft realistically thinks they can sue. The amount of potential litigation that could get thrown back is substantial. Red Hat seems to be one of the more likely Microsoft targets, but don't forget that the likes of IBM depend on Linux sales for large chunks of consulting money. It's even more interesting now that Oracle is selling what is in essence a RHEL clone. At this point in the game, I wonder how effective this kind of FUD slinging really is anyway. A few of years ago, many people were fooled. These days, that's certainly changing. Ballmer, it would seem, is not changing with the times. It's unfortunate, as some parts of Microsoft seem to be be attempting to.

The Dell Idea Storm

Dell recently released Idea Storm, “Where Your Ideas Reign”. Basically, it's a Digg like site where you can submit ideas and feedback and other Dell community members can vote on them. I'm not sure Dell know what was in store for them. The top ideas, in order, as of now:
Pre-Installed Linux | Ubuntu | Fedora | OpenSUSE | Multi-Boot
Pre-Installed OpenOffice | alternative to MS Works & MS Office
linux laptop
No OS Preloaded
Have Firefox pre-installed as default browser
Build computers not loaded with extra software

So five of the top seven suggestions have to do with Open Source and the other two (which are really the same suggestion worded differently) has to do with the amount of pre-load junk that people don't want. The thing is, Dell has always said that there was no real demand for Linux (or even no OS) options. While the demographic of a person who would use Idea Strom certainly skews things a bit toward the more technical, the “no demand” issue is clearly no longer much of an issue. Additionally, I've seen it claimed that Windows ended up being cheaper than Linux for OEM's like Dell as a result of all the money they get from companies wanting to pre-load their software on Windows. This is stuff like AOL, Earthlink, free trials, etc. However, it's clear that consumers don't want this stuff. The question now becomes, will Dell listen… and if they do what repercussions will that have on the current OEM stranglehold than Microsoft has. If Dell starts to offer Linux as checkbox option on all of its models, it's only a matter of time until other vendors follow suit. The good news here as that some of the very latest crop of Linux releases are actually ready for prime time desktop use. Things like Compiz/Beryl, XGL and that bit of polish that have been missing are here. We still need to get through the codec issues, but some distributions even have that sorted. This should get interesting.

Quick OpenID Update

A quick follow-up to this post. OpenID has really been on fire the last month or so. Support from the likes of AOL and Microsoft have been announced, a future version of Firefox will likely support it and Yahoo! has a sort of unofficial support for it. As my previous post announced, the LQ Wiki will be the first LQ site to support logging in via OpenID. This should be implemented by next month. After chatting with Evan on the topic at LinuxWorld, I am also considering the possibility of LQ becoming an OpenID server. This would allow you to use your LQ credentials to login to any site that consumes OpenID. One question I have is – is this something people would be interested in? There are plenty of free OpenID services available, so I want to think carefully before proceeding unnecessarily. If you're unfamiliar with OpenID and are interested, you can visit the official site and this simplified explanation. The one main issue I see with OpenID is the potential for phishing exploits, which is well explained here. Hopefully the next revision of the spec will address this issue.

2006 LinuxQuestions.org Members Choice Award Winners Announced

The polls are closed, the data has been audited and the results are in. Here are the official results for the 2006 LinuxQuestions.org Members Choice Awards:
Distribution of the Year – Ubuntu (26.44%)
Live Distribution of the Year – Knoppix (26.22%)
Browser of the Year – Firefox (74.61%)
Database of the Year – MySQL (61.68%)
Office Suite of the Year – OpenOffice.org (89.79%)
Desktop Environment of the Year – KDE (56.58%)
Video Media Player Application of the Year – mplayer (41.93%)
Video Authoring Application of the Year – Kino (27.81%)
Audio Media Player Application of the Year – amaroK (57.07%)
Audio Authoring Application of the Year – Audacity (67.07%)
Multimedia Utility of the Year – K3b (69.51%)
Messaging Application of the Year – Gaim (51.52%)
Window Manager of the Year – Fluxbox (21.44%)
IDE of the Year – Eclipse (34.47%)
Mail Client of the Year – Thunderbird (52.74%)
Text Editor of the Year – vi/vim (38.42%)
Graphics Application of the Year – GIMP (65.60%)
Security Application of the Year – nmap (20.94%)
Windows on Linux App of the Year – Wine (50.10%)
Web Development Editor of the Year – Quanta (36.34%)
Shell of the Year – bash (89.45%)

A big congratulations to all the projects that were nominated this year. We once again had a record turnout, so a thank you is in order for the LQ members who make initiatives like this such a success. For winners, a certificate and site badge will be available soon. As always, the full results will be available at http://www.linuxquestions.org/awards until the nominees for next year are announced. As with most polls, a number of winners were fairly easy to guess ahead of time. Many polls were closer than in past years, which I think is indicative of the increasing number of quality projects OSS is putting out. The number of quality projects out there is truly impressive. The biggest surprise for me was probably how close Beryl came to beating Fluxbox, but looking at this chart maybe I shouldn't be surprised. As always, if you have any questions or feedback please do let me know.

Linux on Delta

I ran into the exact same screen during my Delta flight to LAX last week. The reboot occurred for me when the power seemed to blip for a second. I too was surprised that there was no customized boothsplash. From what I could tell during boot it's a 5-6 year old Red Hat variant that was doing a PXE-like boot and then remote mounting /usr/apps2 before going into a custom GUI. It still amazes me where and how consistently you see Linux pop up these days. I admit I was hoping it would reboot again so I could get more details, but no such luck.

The Nokia N800

After a long series of delays I am still in the airport waiting to fly home. They hope I'll be able to make it home tonight by about 2:30AM, but there are no guarantees. JFK is a huge mess. On to more interesting news, at the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit Nokia was kind enough to lend an N800 to any speaker or media person who was interested in one. I gladly took advantage of the opportunity. For those of you who have seen the 770, this is an updated model. The end result of the demo? I walked to the Nokia Flagship Store on 57th and bought my own ;) The device is extremely slick and is 100% Linux based. In talking with a Nokia rep, over 90% of the stack is fully Open Sourced. That's the kind of products you just have to support. The network support in the device is quite good and it supports both WIFI and Bluetooth DUN via my Treo. This will allow me to leave my laptop home for short trips (I hope). The device has a ton of polish too. Touch a text input field with the stylist and a small touchscreen keyboard pops up. Touch it with your finger and a much larger touchscreen keyboard pops up. Those small niceties are all over the device. I'll likely post more as I really get into using it, but so far I am very impressed.

LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit Wrap-up

The Summit is now officially over. All and all a good show. The 'Ask the Experts' panel was the first unconference like event held at a LinuxWorld and based on this one they will likely move forward with future ones, which I was glad to hear. We tried a more conversational approach today and I think it worked much better. There is even some talk of remote video questions being an option in the future. I once again meet a bunch of great people and of course got to catch up with some people I haven't seen in a while. Chatted with Evan Prodromou about OpenID and MediaWiki for a while and I'm happy to announce we'll be rolling that out in the very near future. While not on the Ask the Experts panel I was able to attend a couple sessions. While some were not quite as technical as an expo like SCALE, the content was still very good. Microsoft threw a reception last night at the top of the hotel which was fairly well attended. The 49th floor rotates and has an amazing view of the city. Afterward I grabbed some dinner with a group that contained only one non-Jeremy (what are the odds on that ;) I think Jeremy White was kind enough to offer Don Marti temporary honorary Jeremy status. I definitely look forward to participating in this unconference style event anywhere they plan on offering it in the future. Thanks for having me Don.