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To read comments to this article, go here
On Mono, Miguel, Stallman and Fusion with Microsoft
Tuesday, September 29 2009 @ 04:18 PM EDT

Jason Perlow has written an article about Richard Stallman, Watch Out for That Meteor, Stallman. There are some factual errors in the article, so let me step up to the plate and fix them.

Here's Perlow's theme in a nutshell, as published in an extended caption under a disrespectful cartoon of Stallman:
Richard M. Stallman (RMS) the founder of the Free Software Foundation, has labeled prominent Open Source software developer Miguel De Icaza a “Traitor” for joining the Board of Directors of Microsoft’s CodePlex Foundation as well as for his creation of the Microsoft .NET-compatible Mono software development framework. While RMS’s hatred of all things proprietary has fueled the FSF’s and GNU’s mission to create Free software alternatives for what seems like eons, the overwhelming desire for interoperability between open and proprietary systems makes this narrow-minded Cretaceous world view ripe for extinction.
I have some news for you. The GPL ensures that Free Software will never be extinct. Thank you, Mr. Stallman, for inventing it. For that alone, he will go down in history. Perlow will not. And Miguel will not. You and I will not. But Stallman will. Do you know why? Because with just his brain, he changed the world for the better.

How many people can say that?

For that reason alone, even if you don't agree with his goals, he has earned respectful treatment. Anything less is boorish. But if you simply can't restrain yourself from ad hominem attacks on Stallman, you should at least get your facts right.

Perlow based his article on a blog post by Martin Owens, but Owens, after reading Perlow's article, wrote that Perlow got the facts wrong. First, here's what he wrote that Stallman said:

Miguel de Icaza “is basically a traitor to the Free Software community” This was in response to my question about Richard’s thoughts on the new Microsoft “Open Source” CodePlex lab. He went on to say that Miguel’s involvement in the project doesn’t give much confidence as he is a Microsoft apologist. The project looks to be concerned with permitting “Open Source” programs to work on the Windows platform and thus divert valuable developer time away from free platforms such as Gnu/Linux. He also went into an interesting story about Miguel and the FSF (as Miguel used to sit on the FSF board), but I’m hoping there is a good transcript of the event thing somewhere online, although this had nothing to do with Mono (unlike some people have reported).
He wrote that last part to help any who might have been misled by Perlow's account, after he read it. How do I know? Look at this comment thread:
Martin Owens Says:
2009-09-22 at 05:02

Is that what’s happening here? He’s not being criticised here for mono, Richard seemed to be saying that he was acti[ng] in bad faith towards the Free Software community by attempting to undermine its core values of a completely free software platform. The mono comments actually were separate in the discussion and the two were never linked....

William Croft Says:
2009-09-23 at 11:41

“Watch Out for That Meteor, Stallman” by Jason Perlow, front page headlines on their “ZDNet Tech Update Today” daily tech email newsletter.

http://blogs.zdnet.com/perlow/?p=11167&tag=nl.e539

*
Martin Owens Says:
2009-09-23 at 11:48

Yes I know, how totally incorrect can a reporter get.

So I put the Mono part somewhere else in the stack so it can’t be confused with the Miguel part.

So, the very blogger Perlow based his rant on says he got it garbled. Stallman never said Miguel was a traitor for doing Mono, not according to the blogger and others who heard the Q & A. There is no transcript, though, which is why it seems odd to base a rant on something that ephemeral.

However, we don't have to guess about Stallman's views on Mono, because recently he published his views, so it's puzzling how the garbling of the message could take root. Here's what he said in a nutshell: use it if you like it, but don't depend on C#, because Microsoft may set its patent lawyers on you someday. Does that strike you as radical? To tell people to watch out for patents? Your lawyer would tell you no different.

Stallman didn't talk against Mono, in short. So Perlow's long diatribe on that theme is out of his own mind.

Apparently the 'traitor' remark -- and again, this was reported, but there is no transcript, so it may not even be the precise word used -- was in connection with Microsoft's new Codeplex Foundation, for joining the board. And what he apparently said was that he was a traitor to FSF core values, namely a completely free software platform. Is that a goal of the Codeplex Foundation? Of Mono? Of Miguel? So, all rms was saying is that Miguel now pushes patent encumbered stuff, in partnership with Microsoft. That is diametrically opposed to the FSF ideals. And it is. You can choose Miguel's path if you prefer it, but it is contrary to what he once said he believed in. So that is true, as Sam Varghese points out in this iTWire article. Is that not exactly evidence of a total change of heart? From the FSF standpoint, what word would you suggest to capture that? Are people not allowed to criticize Miguel without being smeared?

In short, Perlow attacked the man for something he didn't say. He never said not to use Mono. Nor is Mono even necessary for interoperability with Microsoft. I note Microsoft is letting Intel port Silverlight instead of Mono to Moblin. Surprise, Miguel. Ah, the joys and surprises of partnering with Microsoft. He will drink that cup to the full, no doubt, before this saga is done. Why would *you* want Silverlight on Moblin? I can't imagine one good reason, personally, but the fact that Intel and Microsoft want it to happen may even be part of what's behind the new push to tell us we must use both Windows and Linux and stop being so prissy about it. I note that in Perlow's article on how he can't live without Windows on the desktop, Why I Can Never Be Exclusive to Linux and Open Source on the Desktop, after detailing why he is bound to Windows in the workplace, he talks about at home:

At home, I can’t be a Linux-exclusive either. I run a bunch of multimedia stuff that I know will not run on Linux, such as the Slingbox player, Google Picasa and Adobe Photoshop. Yeah, I know you can run Google Picasa and Photoshop with some degree of success in WINE, and you can even use Photoshop extensions in GIMP, but I’d much rather run Photoshop and Picasa natively. There’s also any number of other browser plugins and other apps that I use on Windows which have no true Linux equivalents. So to get around this issue I run a Windows 7 desktop as my primary home system, and I use Synergy2 to pan my mouse and keyboard input back and forth with a secondary Linux workstation.
OK. Do as you please, but speaking for myself, I like being prissy about these things. It encourages progress, in my view, toward a very worthwhile goal, namely a completely Free operating system. And when things don't work perfectly, I investigate, and generally I find it's because Microsoft won't let it happen. I am never going to be interested in proprietary, binary-only applications on any Linux distro, just because Microsoft is so overbearing. I think it's important to send them a message, namely some of us will do without rather than use their software, even if the software works fairly well, because we don't approve of their business methods and we don't trust our privacy in their hands.

But rather than tell you what I think, let's let Miguel speak for himself. You can then judge for yourself how accurate, or not, Stallman was, if he said what has been reported. For the exercise, we'll assume he did. I thought it would be best to pick a subject where we actually know what is true, now that some time has passed. We here at Groklaw were deeply interested in following the push to get OOXML accepted as a "standard", in competition with ODF, which was already available and in use.

Miguel spoke about OOXML back in September of 2007. What was happening that month? We have a month by month, day by day, chronology, so we can focus in on that exact time period. That very month, the national bodies were voting on OOXML, and right on time, as the voting was getting started, Miguel chose to say that in his opinion, OOXML was "a superb standard".

Yes, he did. Here it is, on Slashdot, September 10, 2007 at 8:08 PM:

de lcaza calls OOXML a "Superb Standard"
Posted by kdawson on Mon Sep 10, 2007 08:08 PM
from the say-it-ain't-so-miguel dept.

you-bet-it's-not-out-of-context writes "A blogger on KDE Developer's Journal has found an interesting post by Miguel de Icaza, the founder of GNOME and Mono, in a Google group dedicated to the discussion of his blog entries. Six days ago Miguel stated that 'OOXML is a superb standard and yet, it has been FUDed so badly by its competitors that serious people believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with it.' In the same post he says that to avoid patent problems over Silverlight, when using or developing Mono's implementation (known as Moonlight), it's best to 'get/download Moonlight from Novell which will include patent coverage.'"

Considering, with the benefit of time, that no one is actually using it, including Microsoft, and the current thrust, last I looked, was to edit it to make it match what Microsoft actually does and because it was internally inconsistent, would you say he was correct in his assessment? Or were there, in fact, some things wrong with it?

I think it's obvious. As a standard, it's a joke or a warning parable, depending on your point of view. Why would he say that, then? Who knows?

[ Update: In December of 2010, a work agreement between Novell and Microsoft surfaced in a Novell SEC filing, and part of the agreement was that Novell was to be paid to show up at standards bodies' meetings and at events related to Open XML.]

But might it be viewed as a piece of evidence providing foundational support for a Stallman opinion that he is a Microsoft apologist? Let's see.

If you go to the link, you can form your own opinion. I prefer to let you do that yourself. Let's start with a question posed to Miguel:

From: edu...@gmail.com
Date: Wed, 05 Sep 2007 10:36:24 -0700
Local: Wed, Sep 5 2007 1:36 pm
Subject: I tell you how does this look

Hola Miguel!

This is what I think about the Silverlight collaboration:

* If I were you, I would be just happy that Microsoft officially works towards supporting Silverlight in Linux, the banned word in Xbox live.

* This move actually makes Silverlight a more open approach to multimedia in the web than Flash because AFAIK Adobe doesn't collaborate with gnash or other open source implementations.

But:

* I think we'll all agree that this collaboration can be seen as part of an strategy to gain acceptance in a flash dominated world. I've got no problem with that if this kind of competition benefits the users.. but why didn't Microsoft standarize Silverlight like they did with CLR and C#? This make me think that all this collaboration is temporal. They could drop it after getting a fair share of market. Of course, if anything this collaboration is better than nothing so even if people critizise it (and they will!), I don't feel you did a bad thing.

* Will you continue to develop a parallel batery of open source test suite (like you have already) that are available not only to you but also to other independent open source developers?

* What about microsoft patents? If I create my own linux distro or I use a distro that is not mainstream or just doesn't have a deal with the daemon.. err Microsoft.. like Novell has.. Will I have to suffer the shadow of Microsoft patents over Silverlight when using or developing Moonlight?

Thanks in advance,
Eduardo Robles Elvira (Edulix).

Miguel's response:
From: "Miguel de Icaza"
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2007 01:37:44 -0400
Local: Thurs, Sep 6 2007 1:37 am
Subject: Re: I tell you how does this look

Hello,

* I think we'll all agree that this collaboration can be seen as part
> of an strategy to gain acceptance in a flash dominated world. I've got
> no problem with that if this kind of competition benefits the users..
> but why didn't Microsoft standarize Silverlight like they did with CLR
> and C#? This make me think that all this collaboration is temporal.

I do not blame them. OOXML is a superb standard and yet, it has been FUDed so badly by its competitors that serious people believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. This is at a time when OOXML as a spec is in much better shape than any other spec on that space.

Besides, it is always better to have two implementations and then standardize than trying to standardize a single implementation.

* Will you continue to develop a parallel batery of open source test
> suite (like you have already) that are available not only to you but
> also to other independent open source developers?

Yes, those are some of the practices that we believe are core to Mono.

* What about microsoft patents? If I create my own linux distro or I
> use a distro that is not mainstream or just doesn't have a deal with
> the daemon.. err Microsoft.. like Novell has.. Will I have to suffer
> the shadow of Microsoft patents over Silverlight when using or
> developing Moonlight?

Not as long as you get/download Moonlight from Novell which will include patent coverage.

Miguel

Naturally, this evoked a number of comments from startled readers, and Miguel posted the following comment:
OOXML. (Score:4, Informative)
by miguel (7116) on Monday September 10 2007, @09:00PM (#20547277) Homepage

Folks,

I made that comment on my blog because that reflects my personal opinion. You really need to obsess over something else.

And before someone brings up the Microsoft connection, you should know that Novell official policy is to actively endorse ODF and that Novell's position on OOXML is neutral. My employer does not engage in any advocacy for or against OOXML (but folks in engineering work on OOXML support for OO.org).

My opinions are my own, they do not represents the views of my employer.

Now, speaking purely personally.

I consider OOXML to be a pretty good standard all things considered, as I said back in January or February I did not agree with a lot of the criticism that was aimed at OOXML. The quality of the critique was not very high, and it so far has consisted of throwing as much mud as possible and waiting to see what sticks, and what sticks repeat it a thousand times.

If these critiques were aimed at Linux or open source, we would be justly up in arms about the criticism being sloppy and having very little to stand on. I went into some detail back in January:

http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2007/Jan-30.html [tirania.org]

Some of my opinions are based on the work that I did in Gnumeric many years ago.

Before there was any agreements between Microsoft and Novell, I was part of ECMA and when Microsoft initiated the OOXML specification process, it was me that got Novell's OpenOffice.org hackers to attend the meetings. At the time my goal was to extract as much information as possible from Microsoft because of the history we had with Gnumeric.

Michael Meeks and Jody Goldberg were some of the guys that went and attended the ECMA meetings. From all the issues that were presented to ECMA, Novell was the second issue raiser (behind Microsoft's own QA of the spec), and it was all largely thanks to Jody's diligent review of the spec. From all the issues raised to date, on the latest status report only one issue had not been addressed (118 or 180, I can not recall anymore). Am personally proud that Jody and Michael made Microsoft add ~650 pages or so to the spec that documented the formulas (one of the things we struggled a lot with in the Gnumeric days). And all of this happened before the Novell/Microsoft agreement. Our interest at the time was: lets get the most information we can get out of this spec to be able to interop.

So from that standpoint, I think that the folks at ECMA have done a pretty good job of addressing the issues raised by those that were implementing it.

The specification can be criticized on various levels, from critical issues, to mild issues, and in a way the distributed effort to stop OOXML helped debug the spec and raise the issues that need to be clarified.

There is certainly a number of critical issues that must be addressed, and it seems from every comment that Brian makes on his blog, that ECMA and Microsoft are committed to resolving those issues. I would not have noticed them, so in that regard the anti-OOXML camp has done a great job in terms of finding problems in the spec.

But the majority of the criticism falls in other categories:

mild, but conflated by a pedantic outrage over it ranging from OH MY GOD THEY USE A BITFIELD THAT IS JUST SO-NOT-XML (am using caps to encapsulate the outrage in an actual discussion when an acquaintance of mine lost it) misinformed (Stephane Rodriguez shotting himself in the foot and asking "why does it bleed?", his document is making the rounds, and I have debunked it here: http://developers.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=279895&cid=20363627 [slashdot.org] and someone else on CodeProject or in Slashdot had to explain to him with sticks and balls his mistakes).

misrepresentation, like people claim that you must obtain a license from Microsoft to implement OOXML, that is simply not true, the OOXML specs are under the Microsoft OSP and some other very liberal patent grant license (which am sure you can google up).

FUD. The very thing that we accuse the big corporations of doing is now effectively used by our community (well, am not sure if Rob Weir is part of "our" community or part of the FUDosphere). Like that time when he said "OH MY GOD THE SKY IS GOING TO FALL: DOES THE SIN FUNCTION TAKE DEGREES OR RADIANS? OMG AIRPLANES WILL CRASH TOMORROW, WILL SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE PONIES?". As it turns out, all of the issues that Rob raised could have been answered very easily (which Brian Jones did on his blog, hence preventing the London-burns catastrophe from happening and saving the ponies. Thanks Rob!).

(Rob's panic attack can be seen here http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/07/formula-for-failure.html [robweir.com] and Brian Jones response http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/Default.aspx?p=2 [msdn.com])

OOXML has been so politicized that it is dangerous to even bring the topic up. I have decided not to blog in a number of occasions replies to Rob Weir's FUD because I just do not have the energy or the time to compete with a guy whose full time job is to make sure OOXML is blocked. Needless to say at the center of the debate there is a very juicy cauldron with money and there are a lot of economic interests tied to the outcome on all sides.

People claimed that 6,000 pages for 4 office applications was to big, but it comes down to 1,500 pages per application. And someone mentioned that removing the examples and changing the font size to use the same font size that the ODF spec uses the spreadsheet (or word processor, I cant remember) spec goes down to 700 pages.

And 700 pages (or even the 1,500) does not seem like a lot to me. If I were an anti-trust prosecutor in the EU, I would have complained if the spec had any less than that.

Jody left Novell some time ago, and today coincidentally he blogged about his opinion on OOXML and ODF, his blog post is very interesting, as he is an independent developer working now only on gnumeric and not in OOo nor being paid by Microsoft (as I know that many of you consider my opinion completely invalid and tainted):

http://blogs.gnome.org/jody/2007/09/10/odf-vs-oox-asking-the-wrong-questions/ [gnome.org]

It is an interesting read, regardless of your position on the subject.

So there you have it, a mouthful of personal opinions. I bet you wanted to spend your time doing something else, like making out with your girlfriend (haha, just kidding, if you actually reading my opinion on OOXML you have no girlfriend to make out with).

Miguel

Ooph. A mouthful indeed. But was he right? Was it a better standard than any in existence? [cough... wheeze... sputter... pass out laughing]

Jeremy Allison of SAMBA noticed what Miguel was putting down, and he responded:

Re:OOXML. (Score:3, Informative)
by Jeremy Allison - Sam (8157) on Tuesday September 11 2007, @12:36PM (#20555799) Homepage

No Miguel, it might be ok for a Microsoft standards doc (similar to the CIFS one in that respect, I've had to read both).

But it's a *terribly* written standard if you compare it to things like the IETF standards. Have you ever read other standards work than the ECMA stuff (not trying to be nasty here, just curious) ?

Jeremy.

Miguel never answered him. What could he say to someone who actually knows something about standards? He answered another commenter, though, who noticed how he was cherry picking what to respond to:
Re:OOXML. (Score:2)
by miguel (7116) on Monday September 10 2007, @10:13PM

You seem to have answered a lot of questions that nobody thinks are the main questions, while not answering the important ones. The main issue is that the spec says implementations have to document the behavior of particular versions of MS products, but it doesn't spell out what that behavior is.

Am aware of those, they are minor issues. I feel they are worthless, but whatever.

The issue has been raised with ISO, it has reached ECMA and they are going to get you the docs.

If I were triaging this as a bug report, I would say its irrelevant, but it seems that through ISO it became a big deal, so you going to get this documented. Happier now?

Minor issue? A standard that tells you to "do it like Microsoft" but doesn't tell you precisely how? And you tell me. Do we have all the docs? And since OOXML allows for proprietary extensions, could we ever implement OOXML the way Microsoft can? Is that minor?

He was then asked a series of questions, including this fundamental one:

Not to mention the obvious "why do we need a second standard in the first place?", since ODF is already an ISO standard (too many standards is like no standard at all).
And Miguel responded to that question like this:
...Well, that is a strategic discussion, not really something related to the quality of the standard.

ODF is a standard because it was rushed through and its missing fundamental pieces like a formula specification (yes, I know, they are working on one, no need to give me the link again). But as it stands today ODF is missing those bits.

Had the same level of scrutiny and criticism been applied to ODF than is being applied to OOXML there would be no ISO standard today (google for ODF criticism on the formula issue, you will find the who-is-who of XML criticizing the decision to ship formula less at the time).

I will agree with you that having two is suboptimal, but we have to support them both *anyways*, so its not like its a big deal.

Miguel.

His nonchalance evoked this comment:
Re:OOXML. (Score:5, Insightful)
by stilborne (85590) on Monday September 10 2007, @10:41PM (#20548069) Homepage

> but we have to support them both *anyways*, so its not like its a big deal.

Holy mackerel.

First: I really don't care to get into a pissing match about the deficiencies of OOXML as a possible standard (they are legion and often fundamental; and whether or not you understand that and/or choose to minimize the severity of these things changes nothing). I will say that I'm very happy to finally see at least *some* open documentation for the new Microsoft Office format; that has to make things easier for the people implementing filters. As such I am completely unsurprised that those people are happier than they were a couple years ago. In fact, I'd be surprised if they weren't. That part is probably something you and I agree on =)

However the quote above is utterly shocking. Let me explain what I mean:

You are right that we have to support both OOXML and ODF out of practicality. But you know what? That sucks. It would be best for everyone if there was only one format to support. Nobody would lose in that scenario, except perhaps the owners of companies with business models that depend on format variance to sell their product.

In the case of document format storage, a standard is truly important because formats (poor or not) that eventually lose implementations over time carve out blank spaces in our history once we can't read them properly. These same formats are also the source of certain information inequalities in society (e.g. those who can't obtain an implementation for financial, social or political reasons). This may not matter so much for Acme Inc's quarterly reports but it sure does for government, health and other socially vital information. Remember when some hurricane Katrina victims couldn't use the FEMA website because they had slightly older computers? This isn't a made up boogyman, this is stuff that bites us as a society fairly regularly. Now imagine a hundred years from now when we can still read the constitutions of our countries, research papers, poetry and other examples of human kind's great literary works that are hundreds or even thousands of years old ... but can't read the documents we're creating at the start of the 21st century. How will we learn from our history if we can't study it fully?

Getting proprietary formats out of the way as soon as possible so that we do not extend this mess any further than necessary is absolutely the responsible thing to do in light of our (hopeful) future.

By allowing OOXML to pass from "specification" to "international standard" would be doing exactly that: extending the problem as it will give years if not decades more life to the format. If OOXML was rationally implementable and properly documented, it wouldn't be as big of an issue. It would be, as you put it, simply suboptimal. The fact of the matter is that OOXML is not rationally implementable and not properly documented. That's why it lost the recent vote; it wasn't because of lobbying (and trying to imply that when Microsoft got its hand caught in the cookie jar is pretty ballsy, by the way). Are some interests acting out of concerns for their business models or pet projects when they rally for ODF and against OOXML? I'm sure they are; but that alone isn't reason to dismiss the fact that OOXML is problematic and that we don't need two standards (any more than it is to dismiss OOXML just because it comes from Microsoft).

So please, admire OOXML for what it is: a step forward in documenting what historically has been one of the more pernicious sets of file formats we've had to deal with; but don't mistake that for being a reason to make it an international standard which will only prolong the issues that are part and parcel of the Microsoft Office formats, even in this current version of the specification.

I know that having a bunch of people shit on you in public sucks major donkey nuts and certainly would put most rational people into a rather ungracious mood, but please think above that noise and consider with your intelligent mind exactly what you are promoting here by saying "it'd be fine as an ISO standard".

ODF is currently incomplete (formulas, blah blah blah) but has exactly the right foundations, the right momentum for support across the industry, and the missing parts are being filled in very nicely. Properly, I might add. Those are the attributes that people who care about Freedom should appreciate, respect and support. In this case, that support means being willing to reject a competing specification that is not well suited for such international ratification. And that, in a nutshell, is why this is precisely a "big deal".

Excuse the language, but this is for historians, too, so it has to be accurate. Believe it or not, this was Miguel's reply:
Re:Try #2 (Score:3, Insightful)
by miguel (7116) on Monday September 10 2007, @10:20PM (#20547921) Homepage OH MY GOD THEY USE A BITFIELD THAT IS JUST SO-NOT-XML

Oh my God, they used a bitfield to encapsulate Microsoft-proprietary extensions like VBA rather than standardizing them as well. (Proper capitalization used to represent more somber tone of retort.)

Got a reference for that? This is the first time I hear that the bit field was for encapsulating VBA and I do not see that referenced.

Miguel

AKAImBatman immediately provided the reference, with a strong hint that Miguel might not be that familiar with this "superb standard":
Re:Try #2 (Score:2)
by AKAImBatman (238306) on Tuesday September 11 2007, @12:33PM (#20555705) Homepage Journal

Oh look. I did about 2 seconds of googling and came across a wonderful article describing all kinds of BIN files that Microsoft is embedding in 2007 "OOXML" documents:

http://www.codeproject.com/cs/library/office2007bin.asp [codeproject.com]

BIN parts are of particular interest for the file format consumer or updater since the underlying file formats are undocumented (at the time of writing, August 10 2006) and are several additional file formats to deal with.

Short of Microsoft providing the exact specs for the BIN serializers of every involved part, consumers and implementers of the file format will have to stick to replicating structures that cannot be understood because of a discrepancy between serializers. It goes all the way up to guessing default values of the objects you work with, that's why it's such a big deal. One of those well-known file format loopholes, the ones that can give a vendor a say in the format's future as well as any interoperability scenario, across Windows and non-Windows platforms.

What good is a "standard" that is still impossible to implement in a method compatible with the leading office suite on the market?

That's certainly the right question. But another commenter couldn't get past the "superb" word and what was that about downloading from Novell?:
From: martin.schlan...@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2007 02:39:21 -0700
Local: Mon, Sep 10 2007 5:39 am
Subject: Re: I tell you how does this look
On 6 Sep., 07:37, "Miguel de Icaza" wrote:

> OOXML is a superb standard and yet, it has been
> FUDed so badly by its competitors that serious people believe that
> there is something fundamentally wrong with it. This is at a time when
> OOXML as a spec is in much better shape than any other spec on that
> space.

Michael Meeks didn't seem to think so at FOSDEM 2007.

> >Will I have to suffer
> > the shadow of Microsoft patents over Silverlight when using or
> > developing Moonlight?

> Not as long as you get/download Moonlight from Novell which will include
> patent
> coverage.

You're saying two things here that really shock me. Please tell me I misunderstood.

1) You're saying that people _will_ have patent problems - i.e. Moonlight "infringes" MS patents and doesn't work around them. Even though Novell promised never to ship code that infringes MS patents - but always avoid them one way or another.

2) You're saying other distributors can't ship Moonlight legally (in the US) because of patent issues. Making Moonlight effectively non- free (as in freedom).

I hope it's just a matter of you being too fast on the trigger and your answer missing some elaboration - if this is the case you should really choose your words more carefully when talking about patents in the future - unless you want to hurt Novell.

If you're actually saying what it sounds like you're saying (see item #1 and #2) I can only say OMFG...

Non free as in freedom, or in other words exactly the opposite of what Free Software is all about. Is that not what rms just reportedly said? Was he wrong? Miguel responded to the question about downloading:
First of all, am not aware of such Novell promise to "never ship code that infringes MS patents". You can not make such statement because for one, the patent system is broken. Novell statements are wildly different, they are of the form "we do not believe that we infringe" and am sure they say something along the lines of "we dont plan on infringing, and we plan on removing infringing code". But I am not aware of all the promises Novell has made, and I can not comment on other parts of the organization. If you want an official answer, my personal blog on politics and poor attempts at humor is not the place to get an official answer. Contact Novell public relations for that.

But you might be referring to the policy that we use for Mono, and I will be happy to discuss those with you. The policies are on our FAQ, so you might want to read that before you post in panic again.

Moonlight does not have the same policy that Mono does in terms of us working around to remove infringing code. For one, we do not know what it could be (that is how the patent system works) and two we have agreed and have obtained permission from any patents that might exist in Moonlight to implement it. So our policy with Moonlight is different from Mono because of the requirements of this task (see mpegla.com for your own amusement).

That being said, in neither case are we aware of infringements. But like with any software piece, every 100 lines of code infringe someone's broken patent, there is just no way around that.

>2) You're saying other distributors can't ship Moonlight legally (in
> the US) because of patent issues. Making Moonlight effectively non-
> free (as in freedom).

Am not sure where you get the idea that the "US" is the only place where software patents exist. Free software people are under the mistaken impression that software patents are only a US thing, while many of the stake holders are European companies. The only difference is that in Europe your "software patent" is written to describe a machine. Law firms will offer you a set of checkboxes to "port" your patent from the US-wording to any other nation wording. And the patents are enforceable in most countries in the EU. Not surprising, as the EU owns many of patents on the media space.

We are obtaining covenants (from Microsoft) and patent licenses (from MPEGLA, the consortium of American, European and Asian companies that own the "media space") to be allowed to redistribute Moonlight with a minimal risk to the end user.

I say "minimal risk" and not "risk free", because that is the nature of software patents, we could be infringing a patent from some guy in Latvia for walking a linked list.

So that is the approach that we are taking to distribute for commercial use Moonlight, a plugin that operates in the media space: a patent rich and incredibly profitable space for the patent holders. The rights negotiated will give anyone patent coverage, as long as it is downloaded from Novell. Although I would like to fix the patent system, am not the one going to do so. It feels like boiling the ocean, and I have already done my share of ocean boiling, feel free to pick the good fight.

>I hope it's just a matter of you being too fast on the trigger and
> your answer missing some elaboration - if this is the case you should
> really choose your words more carefully when talking about patents in
> the future - unless you want to hurt Novell.

Well, it certainly merits an extended explanation. I have tried to summarize some of the issues above media patents but the space is incredibly complicated and no amount of one-liners can precisely describe the problems, the limitations and all the special conditions attached to them.

The problem is that people think that the problem is as simple as "patents bad" and everyone wrapping his virtual kafia around his head and running to the streets yelling "death to patents" has no idea how complex the system is and how little effect yelling has on actually changing anything. If you want to engage on a serious patent discussion, I would love to do so, but you are going to need some legal training and get a lot more depth before we can have a productive discussion.

>If you're actually saying what it sounds like you're saying (see item
> #1 and #2) I can only say OMFG...

Well, I did not say that. So you can put the Ventolin down and breathe.

Miguel.

So, there you are. Miguel in his own words.

Now, Perlow made fun of Stallman for worrying about patents:

All of this tin-foil-hattering by Stallman and his devout FSF followers is pure speculation and paranoia, particularly given the Microsoft Community Promise that the company has now effectively written in the Google Cache equivalent of blood. Microsoft has committed to this on pain of permanent pariah status, risking loss of customers that require cross-platform interoperability if it decides to use litigation to attack developers of Open Source interoperability software which uses their patented standards and protocols.

Could Microsoft suddenly change its mind and revert to some purist evil, litigious Open Source-hating form instead of the Kinder and Gentler Microsoft that it is trying to create now? Sure, it could. But I seriously doubt it. The genie is out of the bottle.

I hate to burst people's bubbles, but it was just last week that Microsoft sold, or tried to sell, to patent trolls some 22 patents that could be used against Linux. Caught with its pants down when OIN ended up with them instead and told the world all about it, Microsoft quickly announced the Codeplex Foundation, which Perlow calls an open source nonprofit but which actually could more accurately be called Microsoft's Push-Mono-Down-Your-Throat foundation, now that Sam Ramji has announced that giving Mono more "credibility" is the goal. This is the star to guide you if you wish to be "pragmatic" and "compromise" also. I suggest you read Andy Updegrove's understated but -- to me, hilarious -- analysis of the legal structure of the Codeplex Foundation. I know. But paralegals find humor in legal overreaching, and Andy reads the foundation's bylaws as Microsoft's Big Thumb on a foundation it is only pretending to be a community project. If you wanted to set up a board that can do whatever it pleases, you couldn't even as a joke come up with anything more extreme than the Codeplex bylaws and legal structure, I don't think. Seriously, if I was given a joke assignment at a firm to come up with bylaws for the worst, most controlling, most overreaching one-entity controlled foundation, this is what I'd offer my boss, and we would be both rolling on the floor laughing at my creative outrageousness.

By the way, Jason got something else wrong. Mono isn't totally covered by Microsoft's promise not to sue, only the ECMA standards part, and that's not everything by any stretch:

Note: as Miguel says in his post, mono implements a whole bunch of .Net technology above and beyond ECMA C# and CLI and those parts (ASP.Net ADO.Net etc) aren't currently covered by this promise.
According to Miguel, they're working on "splitting the jumbo Mono source code that includes ECMA + A lot more into two separate source code distributions." One will be the unencumbered ECMA parts, and the other will "contain our implementation of ASP.NET, ADO.NET, Winforms and others", which are not covered by Microsoft's Community Promise. Good luck with interoperating with Microsoft with just the covered parts.

As for "interoperability", since when is that Microsoft's ultimate dream, anyway? They want your apps, they want you developers, but they want it all on Windows. Ballmer said so. Let the 22 patents inform you as to how much Microsoft actually plans on staying in an interoperability embrace with Open Source. Don't you remember what happens after the Embrace? It ends with Extinguish.

I don't know why when people compromise, they always insist that you must too. What good is ideology, they ask? It's all about good code, that's all. You know what ideology is good for? I'll tell you. It gave birth to GNU/Linux, the very code that some now wish to pragmatically compromise. Fusion with Microsoft isn't a FOSS goal. If that were the goal, what is left to compromise?

Ideology gave birth to the GPL, the license that ensures that vendors can't force the code to go proprietary. The idea is this: how wonderful it is to have an operating system and all the applications you can dream of that you yourself can control, can modify any way you want and share freely with your family and friends, and not have to worry about paying any proprietary tolls for anybody's alleged "intellectual property". What a phrase.

It's code that you know isn't spying on you or reporting home to any marketers or worse. You don't have to worry the way you do with Microsoft's code that you will be infected with a virus or get 0wned by some Eastern European criminal group and put into some botnet for their purposes. It's code that you can change to suit your own needs, instead of being locked into whatever a vendor thinks you should be allowed to do with its software.

How could proprietary software ever be better than that? If that personal dominion and freedom is what you value, using proprietary code is going backwards.

Let's think about those 22 patents for a minute. They are symbolic of something that matters in this discussion. They tell me that Microsoft doesn't care how open the code is, so long as it has patents plastered all over it. That's what the game is now. Ask yourself this: does Open Source protect you from that?

No. Not in any way. Does anything? Yes. The GPL prevents vendors from using the code and then suing over patents. They have to choose. And they want the code. Even more, they want the developers. And the GPL makes certain they can't just rape and pillage the community.

See what ideology is good for? It makes you think deeply about how to accomplish a goal. And when it works, and the GPL does work, it changes the world. I guess you saw the GPL was just upheld in France?

Richard Stallman is going down in history for what he accomplished. He deserves to just for inventing the GPL, in my book. None of the people now piling on criticism of him will go down in history the way he will. None of them. Maybe in a footnote, as examples of the venality that he has had to deal with.

And I have a question for those who tell us we have to compromise and use both proprietary Microsoft software and FOSS. If the purpose of Open Source was nothing more than making money as a Microsoft partner, you tell me -- what was it all for? Why not just use Microsoft software, then, and call it good? No. Really. What was FOSS developed for, if that is the end result, a Microsoft-FOSS fusion? Why even bother? The idea was to provide something better, an alternative, one that was totally free of proprietary restrictions, so that it would be you who control your own computer. And that is exactly what Microsoft can't ever offer you.

Update: Jason Perlow has responded to this article in an audio discussion with Ken Hess. They agree that I do not understand that Miguel has to feed his family and pay his mortgage. I believe that is called the Yuppie Nuremberg Defense. I will quote from Wikipedia:

In the Christopher Buckley novel Thank You for Smoking and its film adaptation, the main character Nick Naylor justifies his career to a reporter by telling her that "Everybody has a mortgage to pay," and referring to his response as the "Yuppie Nuremberg Defense".

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