Archived entries for Microsoft

Enemy action?

Auric Goldfinger said:

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.

There appears to be a move afoot to re-position Microsoft as an “open source” company. Once was at the City of Edmonton; twice is the British Library. Is there a third time?

This is why Open Source misses the point of Free Software. In other words, Free as in Free Market — a competitive landscape offering real choice of systems and suppliers, not locked into a single vendor’s proprietary software stack.

If somebody finds a third example, add a link in the comments, so readers can draw their own conclusions from the evidence.

Health Dollars

In my last post on the Ministry of Health’s new three year deal with Microsoft I wondered whether “health dollars” were the same as real ones. Turns out they are not, more likely the inverse of real money.

According to this stuff.co.nz article “the health sector is paying slightly more for software licences under the new three-year agreement”.  But in their press release they claimed to be saving money.

So the savings from Microsoft are mythical. The only silver lining is that Microsoft is “allowing” the Ministry to transfer licences should they restructure. Welcome to the world of proprietary licensing. If someone working at a PC is transferred, with PC to a newly named organisation the licences don’t get transferred. Unless you get a special deal.

It sounds nuts because it is. We hear so much about “intellectual property” these days but what could be a starker example of how the concept fails than the idea that a software cannot be transfered with the employee or machine…or if you sell or give away a second hand machine.

“The commission [SSC] has encouraged government agencies to investigate alternatives to Microsoft products, including open-source software, but this was not an option for the sector as Microsoft is heavily embedded in its infrastructure, says Mr Hesketh.”

Really?

John Rankin writes eloquently about the Public Sector Remix project the NZOSS is running with 14 government agencies, including New Zealand Post. Whilst I am not able to name all these agencies I am able to say that the MoH did turn down an invitation to join in July last year. This is a shame as they may have gained some useful insights to their dependency as well has being able to help the other participating agencies.

That said, it is not too late to join. A few pilots are about to begin and he project will continue for as long as there is interest from its participants.

New Year and Ministry of Health

First of all, happy New Year and apologies from all PTS bloggers for lack of activity. I know on my part it is not because I don’t have things to write about it is because there is so much to write about. We had some interesting stuff happening on the FOSS front on 2009 and I think 2010 is going to be quite year. In fact, I don’t think I have felt so positive about the understanding and interest in FOSS for a very long time.

But that is for other posts.

Labour’s ITC spokesperson, Clare Curran, pointed to a pre-Christmas press release by the Ministry of Health claiming “health dollars” (whatever they are) have been saved in their shiny new three year deal with Microsoft. The following comments should be taken in some context. It is obvious that following the unexpected failure of central Government to negotiate a deal with MS (and at the same time to properly explore alternatives) it is inevitable that individual agencies arrive at their own arrangements. They also have had very little time to do this, so late in the day was it that the central Government negotiations collapsed. This is not a great negotiating position for taxpayer representatives to be in and my sympathies are definitely with that agency. That said…

The issues with this deal are:

  1. As Clare points out, the MoH needs to produce some facts and figures before making any claims of savings;
  2. Did this procurement go to tender (note, this is *not* a case of SSC negotiating a price that agencies may choose to take up but an actual procurement);
  3. Has the MoH learned the lessons of the past?

Point 3 needs some expansion. As a result of a Windows Virus infection last year we learned that the MoH was tied to IE5 due to legacy applications. Presumably they are also tied to Windows and other software that relates to IE5. The lesson is this, make sure that as applications are replaced and procured they have no proprietary tie ins. Make sure that they are not hooked into closed standards or environments that reduce future choices, increase vendor lock-in and end up wasting millions in “health dollars” in the future.

This policy and strategy needs to be given a public airing so that taxpayers and recipients of health services can be confident that our future investments in health IT return value to stakeholders rather than monopolistic multi-nationals.

Hoisted By Their Own Patented Petard

Microsoft is used to battling with software patents, both as the prosecution and defence, but now find themselves on the receiving end of an injunction that stops them selling XML-capable Microsoft Word in the US. They have 60 days to comply and/or appeal, and owe i4i a cool US$250 million for the infringement. Some are happy to view this as karma, I view it as yet another example of why software patents are a bad idea.

If New Zealand is foolish enough to allow them, any software development in NZ will be restricted by the activities of large patent trolls and the owners of foreign patent portfolios. Unless you have the backing of a major international company, you won’t be able to develop software without fear of prosecution or straightforward legal terrorism. The damage caused to NZ’s IT industry will be unimaginable.

Now, would someone like to remind me what patents are supposed to do for us? Right, encourage innovation. Clearly they do not do so in the field of computer software, and so equally clearly they should not be granted in New Zealand. You might mention that to your MP, you know, just to preserve your job and everything.

Vik :v)

“Donating” Code

I am a bit pressed for time but just need to address a particular topic that is hitting the headlines right now, and for good reasons.

Microsoft has released some code; that is not news. What is news is that the licence used is GPLv2 and that this code is for drivers intended to run with the Linux kernel. So has the sky fallen in? Has Bill Gates’ company decided that “Communism” and “anti-Americanism” are the true path to lightness of being after all?

Well, no. It appears to be a bit grubbier than that. Whilst all parties involved in this deal are falling over themselves to be nice to each other there are a few clues emerging as to the truth behind this particular release.

Greg Kroah-Hartman who works for Novell put together the deal. His blog entry links to another Linux hacker’s blog which has some far more interesting titbits.  Read the blog and you see he says things like:

“a lot of work was done behind the scenes to get the offending company into compliance.”

and

“A little googling found the necessary drivers, but on closer examination there was a problem. The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license”

and

“Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman.”

So, if my reasoning is correct, and I am very happy to be corrected, this is what seems to be the order of events:

  1. MS wants Linux to run on its Hyper-V platform.
  2. They develop and release drivers that use some GPL code and link to static GPL binaries. I don’t know where that original GPL code came from but it sure would be interesting to find out.
  3. These drivers are in breach of the GPL and a third party notices.
  4. MS are forced, nicely, to comply with the GPL, just like every other organisation whose GPL breaches have been seriously challenged.

So, whilst this is all good and marvellous, especially if you want to run Linux on Windows (keep this other factlet in mind), Microsoft has shaken money out of at least 500 organisations including Linux distributors, claiming IP rights over code they have not written because of patents they refuse to identify in public.

This is an interesting story, but not in the way it is being told.  Celebrate because we can chalk it up as a success… to the GPL.



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