Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Roundup of coverage of yesterday's post

Many web media, and especially some very important ones, reported on yesterday's post to this blog (on IBM using patents against Free and Open Source Software).

Knowing that many will now want to find out what others are writing, I'd like to round up yesterday's coverage. I'll try to focus on just summarizing what those articles say rather than arguing the case again in this particular post.

Let me start with two sites contaning very useful additional material:

A file format conversion was provided by Benjamin Henrion (the president of the FFII): all pages of IBM's letter are available as PNG images on Benjamin Henrion's personal blog.

Roger Bowler, the founder of Hercules and TurboHercules, posted a new statement on IBM's patent attack to his blog. His statement doesn't contain any reference to my post. It's recommended reading because it explains TurboHercules' constructive, solution-focused approach to this matter. They want to serve users/customers. They're disappointed that IBM doesn't allow that, so far.

A positive surprise early in the day: An activist website named BoycottNovell, which was previously skeptical of TurboHercules' antitrust complaint, now says "SHAME on IBM" and expresses concerns over the theoretical possibility of IBM acquiring Novell and its patent portfolio. The title: "Big Blue Patent Monster"

Glyn Moody's blog (on the ComputerworldUK site) makes a number of good points in this article. Glyn points out that "IBM loves [patents] - for years it has obtained more of them than anyone else - whereas open source hates them." He also points to "larger issues", starting with this one: "One is that IBM is either a friend of open source, or it's simply an opportunist, supporting some projects when it suits, and attacking others when it doesn't."

TheRegister was also pretty quick to report: "Turbo-charged accusations fly", says "ElReg".

H-Online wrote that "IBM uses pledged patents against open source mainframe emulator"

ars technica provided a very comprehensive, insightful article (relatively early in the day). For those of you who are looking for some basic information on what the Hercules project is about and on the characteristics of the mainframe business, this is particularly recommended reading.

Slashdot also linked from its news item to the aforementioned ars technica article.

Dana Blankenhorn, a ZDNet blogger/lyricist, holds this effort up to mockery. He's entitled to that. And I'm entitled to fight for legal certainty for the Hercules project and its users, and for an overall outcome that will hopefully be a good one for Free and Open Source Software.

Commercial Open Source, Roberto Galoppini's blog, reports and links to TheRegister and Dana Blankenhorn's blog.

Maureen O'Gara looks into this issue in great depth in her article entitled "IBM Reneges on its Open Source Patent Pledge". If you read this article (and I can recommend it), make sure you also see the part below the table-of-contents box in the middle. That's where you can read about some aspects of IBM's approach to patents in general -- aspects that the other articles didn't address to the same extent. Maureen had insisted on knowing me from me why I didn't trust IBM back in 2005 when the original pledge was made. In a current context (European Interoperability Strategy/European Interoperability Framework), I'm also quoted on IBM's hypocrisy concerning open standards. has an article entitled "IBM accused of mainframe monopoly" and describes how "the situation came to head" in recent weeks.

The IDG News Service has a story that is centered around me ("Open-source advocate enter IBM antitrust fray") rather than the issue, citing "[p]eople close to [IBM]". None of that actually changes a thing about the fact that IBM, which it doesn't deny, wrote the letter to TurboHercules that I published.

Matt Asay is a professional open source optimist and writes that IBM's "patent claims show open source has arrived", portraying it as just a normal thing in general. But he does agree with me on some aspects of this. He concurs that "using patents to defend old monopolies is ugly" and also wants to know from IBM why two of the patents it once pledged to the FOSS community were listed in the letter to TurboHercules.

OSnews understands very well that the mainframe monopoly is "lucrative" for IBM and concludes: "So, there you have it. It would indeed seem that IBM only caters to the open source crowd when it has nothing to lose - when push comes to shove, and money's to be had, IBM doesn't appear to be too keen on open source at all."

NetworkWorld blogger Alan Shimel asks whether IBM speaks open source "with a forked tongue". He arrives at the conclusion that "they are consistent and will always do what is best for IBM. Expecting them to do anything more or less is silly." While I want this to be mostly a roundup, I would like to stress here that I fully understand the obligation every company has to its shareholders. But whatever IBM says about open source and open standards has to be seen against the backdrop of what IBM is doing to Hercules. Right now the only thing that is really consistently open about IBM is its open hypocrisy. believes the IBM/TurboHercules issue is just a "proprietary software squabble" (because TurboHercules' initial request to IBM was all about allowing IBM's customers to run their rightfully purchased copies of z/OS on non-IBM computers). However, there can be no doubt when reading IBM's letter and looking at the patents that IBM listed that those patents are not z/OS-specific. If Hercules, as IBM suggests, infringes those patents, then it will do so even in a 100% FOSS / 0% proprietary software configuration, such as running z/Linux (the mainframe version of Linux) on top of Hercules, which in turn (because it also needs an underlying operating system) would run on top of Linux for Intel x86/x64. Those patents are about the CPU instruction set, address management, virtualization/emulation - not about z/OS functions. In a follow-up article, is not quite enthusiastic about IBM's approach to its patent pledge, distinguishing between "qualified" companies and others.

techdirt uses a very explicit language and concludes that the threat letter "calls into question IBM's real commitment towards moving away from supporting patents as a bullying tool."

Australia's iTWire writes that IBM has broken its 2005 promise. In the discussion part below the article, a reader (Richard Chapman) gives a vivid description of the situation: "Having IBM at your side in the land of Open Source is sort of like having a large carnivore as a pet. They may play and cuddle with you but you never know if or when they will revert to their natural ways and have you for lunch."

eWeek was the first website to report on IBM's official response.

The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal analyzed IBM's reply and independently (they're fierce competitors) discovered an inconsistency between what IBM says now about possible patent litigation even against open source versus what the language of the actual 2005 pledge said. IBM now (unlike back then) says that the pledge is only meant to benefit "qualified" companies. The Wall Street Journal is right to ask: "If TurboHercules doesn’t qualify, who does?" And the Financial Times finds that "[e]ven under a very generous reading of the case, IBM is stretching the definition considerably to defend its turf. There’s a clear message there for any other open source company rash enough to try to take on Big Blue with its own weapons."

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