Wednesday, July 21, 2010

OpenForum Europe: hypocrites lobby the EU but don't get their own houses in order

The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is to be used as a pretext by blatant hypocrites. The adoption of Free and Open Source Software by governments is definitely a good cause. So is interoperability. But OpenForum Europe and its members -- IBM, Google, Oracle and Red Hat -- should get their own houses in order rather than pressure European politicians and spread dishonest propaganda.

Monday's edition of the New York Times just reported on the tireless efforts of that gang to lobby the EU over a set of guidelines called the European Interoperability Framework (EIF).

They claim that it's all about open source and interoperability. In reality, OpenForum Europe and its members simply pursue their commercial interests. They call themselves "open", but actually they aren't. They demand interoperability when others should open up. They deny it when their own interests are at stake.

Let's go over that bunch of hypocrites one by one.

OpenForum Europe

A notorious fake representative of open source for many years. Its chief executive lobbied European politicians for software patents, falsely claiming to speak on behalf of the open source community while actually just serving his master: IBM. Bruce Perens, the author of the Open Source Definition, wrote an op-ed for The Register to protest against such conduct.

IBM: International Bullying Machines

The biggest patent bully preaches interoperability but practices the exact opposite in its core business.

The mainframe business still generates about half of IBM's profits because customers are locked in and squeezed out. Innovative solutions that provide interoperability, such as the open-source Hercules mainframe emulator, could loosen IBM's stranglehold on the market. So IBM goes for their throat, particularly by using patent warfare.

IBM's aggression against TurboHercules, a French open-source company started by the founder of the Hercules project, is an attack on the very concept of interoperability.

The debate on which the New York Times reported is largely about whether patents related to interoperability should be licensed on a royalty-free or a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory ("FRAND") basis.

IBM and its OpenForum Europe allies claim that FRAND, which ensures that overcharging can't occur, isn't good enough. They say it has to be royalty-free. But on the mainframe side, IBM doesn't even offer FRAND. Let alone royalty-free. They don't offer anything. They want to shut out competition altogether, which is the most harmful way to use patents.

That discrepancy between using patents as a weapon of total destruction and saying other companies' patents should be made available on a royalty-free basis is inexplicable. If they preach royalty-free, they should offer it. Or they should preach and practice FRAND. Either way they'd be consistent. But demanding one extreme and pursuing the other is hypocrisy at its worst.

When asked about this contradiction, IBM executives refuse to answer.


Last time I checked, all of Oracle's money-making products were closed-source. Until that changes, I can't see how such a company can credibly advocate open source interests in Brussels, or elsewhere.

Oracle acquired several open source technologies as part of Sun Microsystems. The deal was closed in late January, and the open source community is upset about Oracle's stewardship of several of those projects. ZDNet's open source blog summarized the situation concerning Java, OpenSolaris and OpenOffice, concluding that "if open source is all about ending vendor lock-in, Larry Ellison is its worst nightmare. And since acquiring its crown jewels, I would argue, that nightmare has slowly come true."

Just last week, the OpenSolaris board launched what CNET calls an "OpenRevolt against Oracle."

The most appalling example of Oracle's hypocrisy about interoperability is this: Sun used to provide a free-of-charge tool to open ODF (Open Document Format) files with Microsoft Office. Oracle decided that this kind of interoperability tool should be monetized. It now costs $90. It wasn't open source before, but it was available for free, and if Oracle is serious about promoting royalty-free standards such as the ODF, then it should encourage the widespread use of such a tool.

They claim interoperability must be royalty-free. But they put it behind a paywall.


Google isn't a software vendor, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. To the extent they make software available to the general public, they do so on open source terms.

But how open is Google where it generates the bulk of its revenues -- meaning its search engine? Not so much, it seems. Open source blogger Dana Blankenhorn made an interesting proposal on ZDNet: an open standard for search engines. He considered this a compromise proposal in light of Google's fight to keep search a secret.

Google should address the "open standards" issue in connection with Internet search before lobbying the EU. And while at it, Google might as well ask itself if its fight against Scroogle, an independent not-for-profit website that delivers Google search results while protecting the privacy of users, fits in with its lobbying for open standards and open interfaces.

Red Hat

Red Hat is much smaller than its OpenForum Europe allies. IBM is the key driving force, and Oracle and Google are much more powerful. Compared to them, Red Hat is just another "hanger-on" that will follow IBM anywhere.

Red Hat supports all of IBM's patent initiatives, including the Open Invention Network, which is the opposite of "open". And a Red Hat manager who spends a large part of his time on EU lobbying defended (on Twitter) IBM's aggression against TurboHercules and interoperability.

OpenForum Europe and its members should support the EU's more important interoperability initiative

If OpenForum Europe and its members really cared about interoperability, there would actually be a much bigger opportunity to make headway for the cause. The European Commission is preparing an initiative to ensure that all "significant market players" will open up their products and services. So why don't OpenForum Europe, IBM, Oracle, Google and Red Hat come out loud in support of that plan? Why do they waste their time and that of many other people on a set of public procurement guidelines when there's actually an opportunity for something with really wide-ranging and highly positive effects?

The answer is simple: they aren't sincere about interoperability. That's a fact they prove every day.

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