Patents and the GPL

freesoftware, General, work 16 Comments

I was talking to someone yesterday (who will remain unnamed) about perhaps providing a modified version of some GPL software for them. Unfortunately, he told me that his hands were tied on the issue since a directive came from the head legal guys that the company was not to distribute any GPL software which might, eventually, be infringing on the company’s patents. Why? Because to do so is to make a promise, on behalf of the company, to provide a royaly-free worldwide irrevocable patent licence grant to users of the software. Once the Pandora’s box is opened, the patents are worthless.

At least one person has told me that the guy was probably just politely telling me that he didn’t want to pay for what I was offering, and that the whole patent thing was just an excuse. That’s certainly possible, but in this case, I don’t believe it to be so. I’ve heard “no thanks, we’re not interested” often enough that I know how to recognise it.

If this is true, I am sure that these guys are not alone – there are companies out there who are consciously not participating in free software projects for fear of losing the opportunity to monetise their patent portfolio.

Am I the only one who finds this state of affairs perverse?

“X is the future, Y is the past”

General 4 Comments

It’s a little disappointing to see commentators like Matt Asay resort to overly simplistic headline grabbing about “X is the future, Y is the past”. It reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld talking about France and Germany being “old Europe”. There are lots of things that could be the future – smart phones (Linux has 30% market share on smartphones in China), ultra-mobile computing (Linux are market leaders on this), or perhaps something we haven’t thought of yet.

Given the difficulties that you still have getting online over wireless, and the exorbitant cost of monopolist network providers in all the places you might want to connect to the internet when mobile (hotels, airports, planes, trains, …), and the lack of computer penetration (never mind network penetration) outside of the rich, well educated world, allow me to be slightly more pessimistic about Google as the future master of the world.

Master of search, yes. Master of a hell of a lot of personal data (enough to make me nervous), check. Master of online advertising, sure.

But I don’t believe that Android will have a long-term impact on mobile platforms, beyond helping break the wills of telephone operators and giving some more control to handset manufacturers and content creators. I don’t think that Google’s pure online app play will have any lasting success in displacing rich local applications while there is not ubiquitous, worldwide, cheap wireless networking, and much higher worldwide broadband penetration rates than what we currently have in the US and Europe. People like having their data locally, and available when not connected to the internet.

I think that it’s inaccurate to say “X is the future” at this stage of any online company, and when you’ve got a behemoth like Microsoft which controls the rich local apps market, it is neither today nor tomorrow that we can call them “the past”.

BBB

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I’ve been a long-time fan of Ton Rosendaal, the man behind Blender. The Blender Foundation has innovated in finding ways to improve and support their software, and this year launched the second Open Movie project project Peach (after project Orange two years ago).

Elephant’s Dream, the film which came out of Project Orange, was a little weird, and clearly aimed at being more arty than cartoony – exploring the concepts of control and imagination in a pretty abstract short. This time, Ton promised that the result would be much more accessible, cute and fun, and the result Big Buck Bunny, will be screening its world premier on the 10th of April in Amsterdam. I hope that there will also be a showing during the Libre Graphics Meeting in May.

As well as making films to improve and publicise the software, Ton has also innovated in fundraising, putting DVDs (which include a high-res rendering of the film and the source Blender files) on pre-order, to help pay for the film! People who order early enough also get their name in the end credits.

This week, the first trailer for the film was released, and indeed, it’s got promise on the cuteness factor!


Big Buck Bunny – Official Trailer from Andy Goralczyk on Vimeo.

links for 2008-03-18

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links for 2008-03-17

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Grouping GNOME release articles

gnome, marketing 1 Comment

Lucas wrote a comment on one of my “Links of the day” posts which had several GNOME 2.22 links.

I love those links about 2.22 you post in your blog! They save me a lot of time on searching for user feedback.  :-)

For those of you who are del.icio.us users, if you tag articles related to the release “gnome222” then we’ll be able to find them all in the one place at http://del.icio.us/tag/gnome222 – I’ve been doing this for several releases, have a look at the gnome220, gnome218 and gnome216 tags too.

So join in – I don’t see any articles in languages other than English and French, it’d be nice to have a collection of articles from around the world tagged gnome222 so that we can see how far the release is reaching. As Lucas says, this also gives us a valuable source of user feedback after a release.

links for 2008-03-16

General, gnome 2 Comments

links for 2008-03-15

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  • iTWire – From Windows to Linux – and back again“when all staff got laptops at the end of 2007, it spelt the end of Linux desktops at the school. The laptops came with Windows and Office installed – this was not negotiable. And then came the direction that the school PCs, those used in the classroom, were to be identical to the set-up of the laptops.”
  • (tags: linux windows migration)

Way to go on the short-sightedness – “we saved so much money using free software we can afford to pay for Windows again!”

(PS: anyone know how to stop del.icio.us chopping my summaries?)

links for 2008-03-14

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Business idea of the day

General 12 Comments

Nespresso are cleaning up, with huge profit margins on their €0.31 per capsule coffee, not to mention the revenues from the coffee machines and stores.

Every other type of coffee has an alternative to the monopolist – you can buy relatively cheap pre-ground expresso coffee in the supermarket for  traditional coffee machines, or you can get coffee capsules cheap for Senseo. But in spite of a wide search, I have not yet found anyone selling capsules compatible with Nespresso for €0.15 or €0.20 a capsule (a price at which, I think, you could make a fine profit margin).

There’s a bit of R&D, you’d need to get someone to do the foil & plastic covers for you, and you’d need to get the thickness & strength just right for the nespresso machines, but I figure that it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone with the competency in plastics already. Then all you need to do is come up with a decent coffee blend that’s not too expensive, set up the production line, and package & sell on the internet. You could even do just some prototypes, and commission some company with existing production lines to generate the volumes you need of capsules to handle orders JIT.

Nothing to do with free software, and all to do with my desire not to become the endentured servant of a monopolist. Please, someone, take advantage of this opportunity and give me cheaper coffee!

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