Daily Archives: December 6, 2006

The Patent Jungle

I’m in Atlanta this week to attend the Sixth Sakai Conference.

In a previous post I reported on a discussion of the “Blackboard patent.” This post is based on a session later that day.

The topic was “Patent Defense Mechanisms for Open Source Communities” with the announced speakers as Eben Mogen and Joseph Hardin.

Moglen is the well-known law professor featured in the previous post. Hardin, from the University of Michigan, is one of the key figures in the Sakai community.

I must confess that while I am an ardent fan of open-source, and find licensing issues fascinating, patents leave me cold. I never thought of trying to get one during my many years at IBM Research, even though I knew management desired patents and rewarded those who got them. I recall once a colleague mentioning that he had spent most of 1996 preparing what proved to be an unsuccessful patent filing, and saying to myself, “What a waste. Get a life.”

I was about to abandon the session when I noticed that only a few people were present. I then realized I had an opportunity to hear Moglen expound on patent issues for well over an hour, and so decided to sit in and take copious notes, as this seemed a great opportunity to observe his thinking and report on it to a wider audience.

The session was very informal. There was no formal presentation. Audience members just posed questions or made a statement to start a mini-discussion. Hardin spoke as a member of the audience, not as moderator or panelist. Eben was accompanied by his colleague, Richard Fontana, counsel to the Software Freedom Law Center.

I won’t try to distinguish them in my notes. I’ll just report the audience questions as “Q” and their replies as “A,” though Moglen did most of the talking.

It was an educational and inspiring session, taking almost 90 minutes.

Here, then, my notes.

Q: I find patents a distraction. They are getting in my way. There is much FUD, but I understand we have a responsibility to provide leadership in this area, so we must deal with patents.

Q: What are the kinds of things our community might do?

A: I divide patent holders into two classes.

First are the “trolls.” They use patents solely for revenue. They cannot be deterred by cross-licensing. Their interests are calculable but not deterrable.

Second are those who use patents to cross-license, or for leverage. They may be deterrable.

We need to distinguish trolls and “business.” Universities might be targets of trolls. While trolls usually go after large businesses, universtity pockets may be deep enough to attract their attention.

Stepping back, in terms of open-source what would a lawyer advise?

Trolls not deterrable. Patent re-examinations have emerged as a way to discourage trolls.

For deterrable parties, corporations try to build up their own patent portfolio.

This not a useful option for open-source communities. The way the patent system is set up doesn’t favor collaboration. Collaboration and sharing, the exchange of information, is publication.

The current patent system reflects a 19th century view of the “isolated genius” who comes up with an invention in the laboratory, working on their own.

Any invention “on sale” is not patentable.

Any open-source is “finished” when it is first distributed. It is considered “on sale” even though no monetary payment is required. Thus open-source is not patentable.

It is not practical, for example, for Sakai to see patents. It would be difficult.

It is also the case that coporations that develop patents have an attorney working hand-in-hand with the inventor to prepare the patent filing. But the current reality is that the legal representation available to the open-source community is too limited to provide the talent needed to write patent claims. It is the drafting of claims that is crucial to a successful patent application.

Q: So, as we go forward, we don’t know what claims are out there. But the FUD factor is a real concern.

A:You could detach an “army” to re-examine every patent that is filed. But this would take a large group of people.

In the trade there is a beliefe that you shouldn’t study the patent filings of others, since you might learn you are infringing. So it is risky to know, safer to not know.

However, the free and open-source community believes it is better to know. For example, the Free Software Foundation has looked into Samba, knowing that it is based on Microsoft file formats and conventions.

Moglen had discussions with Sakai and Mellon. He guesses they will figure out a way to study these issues and keep information “safe.”

The part of the open-source world that includes the largest corporations acts as a “tooth fairy.” Their provide contributions that add great value. They make these contributions to work around issues, but do so in silence and never advertise just what they are doing, but they want to make contributions that will make open-source safer so their customers won’t have to worry.

The big companies can do this. It is harder for open-source communities. Big companies will continue to contribute to ensure safety.

Moglen gave an example. Someone called him early one morning and gave him a seven-digit phone number. He realized it wasn’t a phone number but a patent number. It was their way of providing a gentle hint that he should investigate this patent, that in doing so he might learn something of value to his work.

Companies will help if they can.

Q: I’m responsible for architecture. Do I have to worry?

A: Linux once said he didn’t want to know. This was a mistake, may even have helped give SCO some ammunitIt is better if we do know.

It is a waste of time for individual developers to learn patents. You can’t sue individual developers; they have no money. If order to attack you have to sue projects or distributors.

Q: (from me) How about suing end users? For example, if you buy a Ford, then if there is a problem you expect that GM might sue Ford, but you don’t expect GM will sue you. But the situation seems to be different in the open-source world. Is this unique to open-source, or a concern shared by others?

I gave the example of a suit a few years ago about intermittent windshield wipers.

A: Software is easy to duplicate, hence vulnerable to attack, as to copy is to infringe. This is not the case for industrial items such as windshield wipers.

Suing your own customers is poison. For Microsoft to sue free software stack is to sue its customers.

There are ecological forces. But threats of patent enforcement are much more effective in the world of software. It is much easier to scare people, so for example, people may buy your company’s code just to reduce the threat of you suing them.

Patents on autos are very precise, but in software the situation is much more ambiguous. Software patents are based on vague claims.

Moglen: I’ve spent 37 years as a computer program (This is true. Moglen started his career as a systems programmer at IBM, then went on to law school. He knows what it is to code.) I expect that almost all software infringes one or more patents.

The real problem is threats, not lawsuits.

Threats more harmful than patent enforcement. Threats chill the environment.

Q: Blackboard always speaks with ambiguity. “Defanging the FUD” is the hardest part.

A: The current system has obscure boundaries. If you think in terms of real estate, it’s as if no one knows where one property ends and another begins.

The process of patent re-examination forces the holder to give its interpretation of its claims. The patent office (PO) will re-examine the claim. The first step is to reject all the claims. But the US PO is now very pro-applicant. The applicant gets a hard time at first, so the applicant files very broad claims, which are then narrowed at times.

Blackboard will have to make the argument explaining its claims. If Small (Blackboard’s counsel) wants to limit the patents to “role-based” then he will have to explain.

Those who file for a patent re-examination get to choose the time and the place.

Re-examination works as follows. We get to file, to make the first statement to the patent examiner. He then talks with the claimant. Though in theory the examiner is supposed to keep a record of all discussions with the claimant, in practice the record keeping is minimal, along the lines of “spoke with claimant.”

We have filed for re-examination of the Blackboard patent (recall that Moglen’s group is representing Sakai in this challenge). The PO has 90 days. BB could respond. If they do, we are entitled to respond.

We believe there will be a re-examination, since there is a prima facie case. The claims are vague, Blackboard will have to justify them.

The Blackboard patent has two independent claims.

D2L (Desire To Learn, the defendant in the suit filed by Blackboard) has also applied to the PO, under a new process, “inter partes.” This is more expensive, costing $8000.

Re-examination is one-time only. But in this new process D2L will have options to respond.

PO will have two different re-examination requests going on at the same time.

Q: Even if they (Blackboard) loose, they will have won, due to FUD factor.

A: I plan to leave BB in a bad condition. There is a price that must be paid, and we will require they pay a price. We can’t afford to leave BB in an unharmed state.

(This clarifies the forcefulness I noted in Moglen’s comments during the lunchtime debate. This is more than a debate to him — much more.)

Here began a new thread, with Moglen’s initial comment that “As a law professor, I find university counsels quite crappy. The are timid, frightened, and easily intimidated. Academic lawyers tend to defer. Universities are risk averse.”

He went on to give an example based on Columbia’s experience with Peoplesoft. He said that Columbia had tried to engage with Peoplesoft while the Oracle acquisition was in progress, and that he had argued that this made no sense. Harvard had spent several millions on Peoplesoft and then had to spend several millions more just to get out. He feared Columbia would do no better, and events proved him right.

(While I was in Indianapolis several weeks back another senior university person said his school had engaged with Peoplesoft, and just the look in his eye made me realize he thought this had been a very wrong move — it was probably one of the reasons his university had been drawn into open-source.)

Q: What is the time frame for re-examination. What happens if we lose?

A: PO has no interest in dragging its feet. So PO will move quickly.

You can have multiple re-examinations. So you hold your aces in your sleeve. You don’t use your best ammunition first. The claimant has to fire all its ammunition first. But if you lose, you will know their strategy, and you can then ask for another re-examination so long as it raises a new issue.

Moglen gave an example of the Microsoft patent on the FAT filesystem. In fact there were six patents. Microsoft went after the manufacturers of flash memory, the kind of memory used in digital cameras for example, asking 25 cents per device, up to $250,000 per manufacturer.

The Public Patent Founcation (Dan Ravicher’s group, which often works together with Moglen’s group) filed for a re-examination. All the claims were thrown out, but Microsoft, exercising its skills at lobbying and influence in Washington, managed to get the patent reinstated, but has yet to seek royalties.

Moglen has waited 18 months, and does plan to go back for re-examination if necessary.

So if Blackboard gets qualified success, Moglen will go back and file for new re-examination.

Blackboard can’t get injunction while the patent is under dispute.

Patent has to be de-monetized. Blackboard has one patent, but it is “locked in jail.”

Non-profits have been sued. To be a university is not to be safe from a suit.

I then posed the following question.

Q: I’ve been taking notes, and I plan to plan to publish them, as I think that others who were unable to attend this meeting would like to know what you said, but I undersand you are representing Sakai in this effort, and I wonder if anything you have said here today falls under attorney/client privilege, in which case, at your discretion, I won’t publish these notes.

Eben then spent several minutes in an animated — and to me very inspiring — discussion. It was worth the trip to Atlanta just to hear this part.

He said that this was a public forum, and nothing said in it was privileged. When he had to do so, he informed all parties in a meeting or on a call that the discussion was privileged. He also said that he always tried to protect his work product.

However, he and Fontana were here as “lawyers on behalf of the community.” This was Public Interest Law.

He worked many years ago for Thurgood Marshall. He learned from Marshall, by example, that one person could indeed make a difference. It was Marshall who, almost single-handedly, created the notion of Public Interest Law as we know it today. For example, when Marshall went into a town seeking redress for his black clients, all the work he did was in full public view. He had nothing to hide. All knew what he was there for.

Eben has written about Marshall; see A Vigil For Thurgood Marshall.

Returning to the Blackboard discussion, Moglen said that the patent examiners were aware of free software in that it constitutes “prior art” that is “on sale.”

He then said that it was in the best interest of the community to keep records, including design documents, manuals and “tar balls” (the informal name for the format in which free software is commonly distributed). It was especially important to record dates.

He said we developers should be building libraries of free software artifacts, but that he understood that careful documentation of the development process is not rewarded in the open-source community.

As he put it, “Hackers don’t like to preserve dates.”

He said we need to preserve the history of our projects, the best we can, keeping documents and preserving dates.

As the talk was drawing to a close, I did not record all the comments for the next few minutes. They were mostly about details that were consistent with the prior views, and I was getting a bit tired.

Moglen said in conclusion that this was “a moment to celebrate, not mourn. If we stand together we will beat this thing.”

The Blackboard Jungle

I’m in Atlanta this week to attend the Sixth Sakai Conference. It’s the first time I’ve been to a Sakai conference and it has been a fun and educational experience so far. That’s one of the joys with working with education in the open-source arena. You can both have fun and get some education.

Sakai is a collaborative effort by several uiversities to create some software that meets their unique needs. There are about 400+ people at the conference, so it’s safe to say Sakai is clearly getting traction.

The educational community has been quite concerned of late about a patent awared to a company called BlackBoard (hereafter BB). It is known as the “Blackboard patent,” and hence comes the name of this post.

You can find some background information at Blackboard Patent
and Blackboard E-Learning Patent, and About Blackboard Patents. I attach no particular weight to these articles; they are among the first that show up when you search for “Blackboard patent.”

The Sakai foundation has engaged the services of the Software Freedom LawCenter (SFLC) to fight the patent. SFLC is led by Eben Mogen, a professor of law at Columbia University. He is probably best known for his work for well over a decade as the counsel to the Free Software Foundation, creators of the widely-used GPL and LGPL software licenses.

Today’s luncheon session featured a debate about the patent between Mr. Matthew Small, VP and general counsel of Blackboard, and Mr. Moglen. It was moderated by Joseph Hardin of the Sakai Foundation.

I took notes and they comprise most of the rest of this post. I just tried to capture the discussion. I have no particular brief favoring one side or the other.

I do have some personal observations that I will leave to a later post.

However, I should say at the start that I had been told the Eben is a very good speaker, and I can confirm this by having watched him in action. He has been thinking about these issues for years. Moreover, as a professor and teacher he is exceptionally eloquent. He also speaks quite fast, so I found it hard to accurately capture all his thoughts. This is also true of Mr. Small, though to a lesser extent.

Chuck Severance (CS hereafter) began by asking several questions, saying he would give Moglen (EM hereafter) the first chance to respond, followed by Matthew Small (MS hereafter):

  • What is the scope of the patent?
  • Discuss the re-examination undertaken by the SFLC.
  • Your opinion on the role of proprietary software in delivery of higher education.
  • Your thoughts on the future of educational software.
  • How does this affect Europe? That is, please look beyond just the U.S. patent system.

EM:

On scope, I’ll pass. The patent as written is invalid in each of its claims.

On the role of proprietary software, such software will slowly disappear, along with ownership of other intellectual property such as textbooks.

When information is contained in industrial artifacts, there is the need for a structure to capture the costs of production.

But the cost in software (other information too?) is going to zero — so all will be shared.

On the role of software in education:

The most important aspect of humanity is the ability to learn. Face-to-face teaching is the most effective.

The role of educational software is to be deployed where face-to-face not possible.

The goal is to extend the cultural and geographic reach.

The current examination of the BB patent is a defensive response to an aggressive action.

The free software world is reasonable, but it is not powerless.

Re European law, the patent law there is believed to be against patents. But the United Kingdom (UK) has a system similar to that in the U.S. This has distorging effects on European market due to impact of UK. The European patent office (EPO) has converged on a definition of patents that is at odds with the desires of others, so there is a political stalemate.

The EPO bureaucrats are caught in the middle, trying to satisfy both sides. The Japanese Patent Office is much more aligned with the wishes of the industrial players.

MS: There is an absence of dialogue. BB invests in innovation, and avails itself of the available law to protect its intellectual property.

People of BB committed to improving education worldwide. Many of them were educators before coming to work for BB.

BB is a commercial software company, but it aims to be open. BB has contributed open-source software and has sponsored open-source events. BB has supported Sakai, believes BB and Sakai can work together.

On scope, BB is in midst of litigation with a for-profit commercial competitor. BB is seeking royalty payments from them.

The court will determine the scope.

He then made a general statement along the lines that if one had a course management system (CMS) in which single users could have multiple roles across courses, then the patent could apply. For example, a teaching assistant who taught one course but was a student in another.

By way of history, in the middle to late 1990’s CMS’s were websites, and were not scalabale.

BB hired a number of recent graduates of Cornell. They addressed the issue of roles in that there were different roles in differnt courses, something they had become aware of while at Cornell.

The patent was filed in 1999, approved in 2006.

BB is just seeking reasonable royalties.

On the role of software in education, BB’s products have impact on the technology of learning. Commercial software plays a valuable role in this space.

On Europe, he is not a patent lawyer and so defers to Moglen’s response.

BB will respect European law.

BB has a duty to its clients and shareholders to protect its intellectual property.

There followed a question-and-answer discussion with the audience.

Q: How can “roles” be patented?
A (EM): Question is whether there should be business-method patents. For example, spreadsheets have been around for centuries, yet Microsoft has patents on Excel.

EM: There are 44 claims in the BB patent. The “role” part is very minor (as he put it, “it is found in parentheses inside parentheses”) yet it was this part that convinced the patent examiner that the patent should be awarded.

A patent isn’t less dangerous if it is narrow. The problem is that a collection of narrow patents can have the same force as a single broad patent.

EM then said, “This the price of arrogance. They have threatened people. This is the wage of sin.”

(EM was very forceful in his remarks. I was sitting right at the front of the hall and so I could see his body language. It was clear from his frequently raised eyebrows that he was sceptical, if not derisive, of Mr. Small’s comments. While at the time I thought this was in part inappropriate, I came to appreciate the strength of his feelings — and also the reasons he was so forceful — in a later session that day that will be the subject of my next post.)

Q to BB: What is your view of the open-source community? BB has never said it would “hold harmless” universities. Can you please clarify?

MS: BB is considering a non-assert statement. (He made mention that such non-assert statements had been made, for example by IBM.) BB was considering such a statement.

It is difficult to “sue open-source.” Also, educators are customers.

Q: This is another non-issue. We need something more definite, as all still fear threat of suit by BB.

MS: If you wish to use Sakai, you are free to bundle BB’s product in your product.

Q: BB has bought its competitors in the past and then “smashed” them.

MS: BB has made several acquisitions, including “Prometheus.” Prometheus could not have survived, that is why they sold the company.

BB is not hoping to put its competitors out of business.

Q: What was the basis for the lawsuit? Was it due to similarity of code, functionality, or architecture?

MS: We make no statement that code was taken. BB determined that our patent applied and so sought royalty payments.

Q: I’ve been using BB for 6.5 years. I’m concerned about the intellectual property of students and faculty. I am especially concerned about the exporting of archives. Does BB has a right to any of these packages.

MS: BB has no ownership. Intellectual property (IP) is owned by schools. They provide the content.

Q: I don’t understand your answer. Is it ok to reverse-engineer the BB archive format.

MS: I don’t have technical background. Our contracts do say that schools can’t reverse-engineer.

(As best I could tell, the issue was whether Sakai could figure out the BB format for storing content, in order to then import it into Sakai. This is a reminder that open-ness is not just about code, but also data. For example, consider all the discussion of the proprietary format used by Microsoft for Office documents. If you write such a document then it is your words, yet the reader has to get a copy of Office to read them. Go figure. That’s also why I prefer HTML to Office.)

EM: “There is no role for trade secrets in education.”

Q: BB says it supports Sakai. How has BB in practice supported Sakai to date?

MS: BB has applied for membership to Sakai twice but was declined both times. Some Sakai code is based on BB’s API’s.

Q: Membership is not the only way to contribute. BB can get involved without being a member.

Q: Why did you sue “D2L” (D2L stands for “Desire To Learn,” the defendant in the BB suit.) Why in Texas?

MS: We only did an analysis of once company, D2L. We decided they should pay royalties.

EM: Almost all patent suits are filed in a particular jurisdiction in Texas as the judge there supports patent holders.

Here end my notes.

I learned later the session was recorded and that the recording will be posted to the web, so those with serious interest in this issue can play it back word-for-word.

However, having taken the notes, I thought it worth the effort to share them with you.

Keep it simple – live a default life

One of the great advantages of open-source is that the code is open to all. Moreover, open-source developers just love to cater to your every need, allowing you to customize their software in ways that aren’t usually possible with commercial software.

Even though I love open-source through and through, I have chosen a different path. I live a default life.

For at least the last decade or so I have made it my practice to never customize a piece of software unless I find it so execrable that I must bend it to my will to get work done. Or I find an alternative, such as using Firefox instead of Internet Explorer.

I live a default life. Plain, yes. Ordinary, yes. But also simple. When I move to a new machine I don’t have to bring over oodles of customization files — I just go with the flow, holding my nose where others would leap at the opportunity to make the software just so.

I also prefer to let others do the work whenever possible. For example, that’s why I run my blog using the WordPress software not on a special site, but on wordpress.com. Let them do the heavy lifting, I have enough on my hands writing the blog. I don’t want to be the sysadmin too.

I was reminded of this just a few minutes ago, when I took a peek at Bob Sutor’s blog, and noticed his post, More site tweaking. Read it and I trust you will get my point.

I’m in a bit of a pickle here. I spent some time last week with the good folks from redmonk while they were in Stamford, CT, for an IBM analyst’s conference. I told them about a post I planned to write, one that might even subject them to ridicule, but they understood my point and said, “Bring it on.”

Here’s my problem. Bob and the monker’s both use WordPress, as do I. But they are each running it from their own servers. Bob is tweaking, while Steve O’Grady and the gang are changing their themes about every ten minutes.

I used to play with themes myself. It is an addiction. I was only saved from hours of playing with themes by stumbling into a theme that happened to have a great personal appeal, one so strong that I am locked into that theme for the forseeable future. See my post On Ferrara Cafe (who said software couldn’t be romantic?). By the way, James Governor of Redmonk said this was his favorite post of this blog. He even called it “Proustian,” high praise indeed.

While I would prefer to make Steve the butt of my humor, I found the response time so slow when I tried to review some of his posts from last summer that I was thrown into a state of melancholy, thinking I might have make Bob the subject of my post. Yet now I learn Bob is tweaking away.

I just labor away. I know I labor in obscurity, but I also do that labor with confidence that the good folks at WordPress know more than I want to ever know about running a site that can support tens of thousands of bloggers. Let them do the heavy lifting, I have a hard-enough time just writing posts.

I’m going to put that post on hold, and will wait until I have a suitable subject for my post.

Here’s a hint for those those who have followed this blog.

It’s about the notion of “The Future is Now” as it applies to a road trip. You should be able to write it yourself. Indeed, I’m hoping you do, so I can be spared the effort.

We shall see.

Patrick Mueller – IBM’s first open-source contributor?

I got an interesting post yesterday from Patrick Mueller:


Hey David; just started reading your blog. Interesting reading, please keep writing 🙂

I work at IBM (Patrick_Mueller@us.ibm.com). I like to pretend I was the first open source guy at IBM.

If you follow the trail at: http://sourceforge.net/projects/cpost all the way to download the current release of cPost (cpost-1.6-win32.zip) you’ll find a file doc/legal.txt, with the following contents:

=====
You are hereby granted a royalty-free license to use, modify,
distribute, copy and create derivative works of cPost, subject to the
following terms and conditions. cPost is provided AS IS with no warranty
of any kind. No support of any kind will be provided by the author or
IBM Corporation. The use of this code is at your own risk and the risk
of your licensees. You are not granted any right to use any trademark
or trade name of IBM in connection with the use or distribution of cPost
or any version or modification thereof. The author and IBM do not
warrant that this code does not infringe the intellectual property
rights of any third party.
=====

This was drafted by Mr. X, my area’s IPL rep at the time, on or before Feb 7, 1994 (according to the help text, this ‘license’ was added in a version I released on that date). cPost was a program I wrote for the OS2EWS program (Employee Written Software), where IBM allowed OS/2 hackers to distribute programs we had written on our own time to customers. cPost was distributed internally with the source (in C), and ran on OS/2, AIX, and CMS (later, Windows 95 and beyond). Some IBMers who had used cPost on AIX wanted it for HP-UX (from dim memory) for a customer, and I told them “sorry”; no problem to get it to run, but I didn’t have any way to give them the source. But decided to press it a bit further with my IPL rep.

That poor guy. Around the same time I was asking him for permission to download binaries for OS/2 gnu utilities, so I’d have a common set of tools (well, relatively common) across OS/2 and AIX. GNU. GPL. Already the lawyers had stories about Stallman, that continue to this day. Amazing.

Anyway, I pressed, and he delivered. Pretty cool. Of course, should be obvious since I was asking about GNU stuff from then that I’ve been an open source commie all along. Although cPost was in no way significant to anything, I like to think I managed to take a little chink out of the wall.

Patrick Mueller
http://www.muellerware.org/


Patrick gave the name of an IBM attorney. I have modified his post only to refer to the attorney as “Mr. X.” This has been my policy since the Jikes days, in that I try to avoid naming any IBMer unless I am confident they would have no objection to my doing so.

As it happens I know Mr. X quite well. He once mentioned he spent some time back in 1998 vetting the Apache code when IBM first engaged with Apache. (I spend a lot of time in my IBM job talking with IBM attorneys, and can recognize many of them just by the sound of their voice.)

In any event, let’s give credit where credit is due. Patrick’s post suggests he is the first IBMer to release code in open-source form.

Well-done, Patrick! Keep up the good work, especially on your blog.

Some comments on commenting

I have tried in the past to periodically summarize the comments that readers have so kindly taken their valuable time to contribute.

However, although the volume of comments remains low enough that I could continue to do this, I have decided to discontinue this practice.

I have also decided that I should refrain from posting my own comments to user’s comments, unless I can make a good case that I should do so. After all, it’s my blog. I get first crack when I write a post. If a user then makes a comment, I think I should just let it stand, for all to read and assess on its merits.

It seems to me that the best way I can honor a comment is not to address it here, but to see if the commentor has their own blog, in which case I should take some time to read it, and then try to make a comment to their work on their turf, in their blog.

I have also started posting some comments to blogs and sites I find of interest. When I do so, I make mention of my blog, so others can see where I’m coming from.

I’ve done this several times lately, mainly in posts to lwn.net on stories of interest to me.

It’s been an educational experience. The main lesson I have learned is that the “free” versus “open” schism is larger than I had appreciated.

The “free” folks are *very* serious about any perceived slight to their work. They are bulldogs.

That is of course their right. But I must say, as someone who has often said that “if you aren’t having fun doing open-source then something is wrong,” that I wonder if they are having the fun that should be their due. Witness the relentless insistence on “GNU/Linux,” “FOSS,” or — my personal favorite — “FLOSS,” which was I thought something you used to clean your teeth. Do they find this fun? I wonder.

I had a surprising encounter earlier today. Indeed, it was that encounter that prompted me in part to write this post.

Steve O’Grady posted a link to a post by Manuel de Icaza, a well-known open-source programmer, who happens at this time to work for Novell. Steve’s comment on the post was “Miguel responds – aggressively – to PJ’s piece on the ‘fork’ of OO.o”. All this was in reference to a recent Groklaw post on the Microsoft / Novell alliance.

You can find Miguel’s post at OpenOffice Forks?.

You can read it for yourself and make your own call, though I do happen to agree with Miguel’s sentiments, as I have written similar thoughts in prior posts. PJ seems to have a real bee in her bonnet on this topic. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I recently wrote several posts on forking, the “Yogi Yarns.”

However, what I found most interesting about Miguel’s blog was the software he had chosen to power it. When I went to post a comment, I was unable to do so.

I’m hoping I missed something. I find it odd that an open-source developer would run a blog that does not allow comments. It’s a surprising omission.

Your comments? Welcome as always, at least in this blog.

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