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By Michael Conry
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On the 1st of September 2003, the European Parliament will hold a vote which may have very far reaching and long lasting effects on the software industry and community within the European Union. The central issue being addressed in this vote is the patentability of software. In the past, there has been some vagueness in the attitude of the European Patent Office towards the patenting of software. Although official regulations appeared to make software, mathematics, algorithms and business methods essentially unpatentable, working practise in the EPO has been to bypass the legal framework intended to constrain it and to allow such innovations to be patented. The new directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions is supposed to be a measure aimed at resolving this confusion by regularising the rules regarding patentability. However, what the EU blurb glosses over is that the provisions in the new directive significantly alter the legislation currently governing software patentability. Rather than vindicating the existing legal situation, the legislation is being recast in the image of the current operations of the EPO. This is strikingly borne out by some research performed by the FFII. The FFII intended to show that the infamous "one click" Amazon.com patent would be acceptable under the proposed new regulations. During the course of these investigations, it emerged that Amazon.com had already been granted a closely related patent covering computerised methods of gift delivery.
Of course, when considering these changes we must ask ourselves whether perhaps these changes may be desirable. Though there are naturally those who support the initiative, there is a very broad constituency that strongly opposes this move towards European software patents. An unscientific measure of the opposition to the software patent proposals can be obtained by doing a search on Google News for the terms "european software patents". The vast majority of headlines are hostile or gloomy regarding the proposal. There is a striking absence of outright support, all the more striking given that this is a search of news outlets rather than personal or lobby-group websites. This scepticism is shared by many economists who fear that the legal changes will lead to a reduction in innovation and cutbacks in R&D expenditure. These fears are felt very acutely among small and medium size software companies who have perhaps the most to lose. Equally, open source developers may be left in a vulnerable position by these proposed changes. As has been seen in the operation of software patents in the United States, the patent system tends to work best for parties with large financial resources, such as multinational corporations. Such deep pockets allow an organisation to acquire a stock of patents, and then to defend the patents through the courts. A well resourced holder of even a very spurious patent can thus intimidate would-be competitors out of the market simply by virtue of the differences in scale. The only group which will benefit to a greater degree than large corporations is the legal fraternity.
It remains to be seen whether the protests and lobbying organised by anti-patent groups will prove to be effective. Though actions such as closing down websites make an impact online, the real world effect can be quite small. As was pointed out by the Register, even though open source produces great code, it does not necessarily produce great lobbying. The key for open-source groups elsewhere and in the future is to share information about what works and does not work in the political sphere, and to apply this information in future struggles.
Writing an article on the SCO lawsuit(s) is getting steadily more difficult as the volume of material on the subject mounts up. Much of it is simply noise and it will not be until the case is dropped or reaches court that we will have a chance to properly judge the true nature of SCO's plans. This is especially true given SCO's reluctance to release any of the source code they claim is infringing their "intellectual" property (the words "SCO" and "intellectual" seem more mutually exclusive to me each day). Perhaps to impress investors, SCO did deign to display a couple of samples at their annual reseller show. This was very nice of them and illustrates why they should perhaps release more of the "disputed" code. Analysis done by Linux Weekly News and by Bruce Perens indicated that the origination of the code was entirely legal and did not infringe on SCO's property. SCO spokesman Blake Stowell's rather pointless response was to show a typically SCO-like disdain for facts and to assert that "at this point it's going to be his [Perens'] word against ours". Unfortunately for Blake, Perens' word is backed up by verifiable documentation and historical record not to mention the fact that people who worked on and remember the code are still alive. Meanwhile, SCO's assertions are, at least at this stage, no more than random bleatings.
Reaction to the SCO case has been mostly muted, though it is likely that some more-cautious corporate types are somewhat reluctant to engage further with Open Source and Free Software under the shadow of the court case. Few though are likely to be so nervous as to stump up the licence fees requested by SCO. The advice of Australian lawyer John Collins sounds about right:
"If you don't know whether or not you have a valid license because there is uncertainty as to the providence of the software and who actually owns the copyright, then to walk up and drop your pants to the person who is likely to sue you sounds a little counter-intuitive and a bit uncommercial,"
Some have speculated that the true purpose of SCO's actions may be connected to the (mostly positive) effect on its share price these developments have had. An example of these arguments can be found in the writings of Tim Rushing, though ultimately everybody is still speculating. Further analyses can be found at GrokLaw and at sco.iwethey.org, though keeping up with the twists and turns, not to mention the irrational behaviour of SCO execs, is rather taxing on the grey matter.
ActiveState has made freely available the ActiveState Field Guide to Spam. This is a living compilation of advanced tricks used by spammers to hide their messages from spam filters.
Some links from Newsforge
Some interesting links from the O'Reilly stable of websites:
Ernie Ball guitar string company dumps Microsoft for Linux after BPA audit.
Linus says SCO is smoking crack.
The Register reported on the launch of Open Groupware.org, an application which claims to complete the OpenOffice productivity software set.
Some links of interest from Linux Today:
Bruce Perens analyzes SCO's code samples in detail.
Debian Weekly News highlighted an article by Ian Murdock arguing that Linux is a process, not a product.
Listings courtesy Linux Journal. See LJ's Events page for the latest goings-on.
|September 3-4, 2003
Birmingham, United Kingdom
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|September 13-20, 2003
Alaska's Inside Passage
Software Development Conference & Expo
|September 15-18, 2003
|September 16-18, 2003
New York, NY
|September 16-18, 2003
IDUG 2003 - Europe
|October 7-10, 2003
Linux Clusters Institute Workshops
|October 13-18, 2003
Coast Open Source Software Technology (COSST) Symposium
|October 18, 2003
Newport Beach, CA
LISA (17th USENIX Systems Administration Conference)
|October 26-30, 2003
San Diego, CA
|November 6-7, 2003
|November 17-21, 2003
Las Vegas, NV
Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE)
|November 22, 2003
Los Angeles, CA
Linux Clusters Institute Workshops
|December 8-12, 2003
Storage Expo 2003, co-located with Infosecurity 2003
|December 9-11, 2003
New York, NY
It emerged over the past month that the main file servers of the GNU project were compromised by a malicious cracker in mid-march. Although the breach was only noticed in July, it appears that no source code was tampered with. Nonetheless, it is important that individuals and organisation who may have downloaded from the compromised server verify for themselves that the code they received was intact and untainted. This incident should also bring home to users the importance of keeping up to date with patches and software updates, and also the necessity to have established security procedures and backups in place.
Original reporting on this story can be found here:
Kerneltrap reported that Alan Cox is to take a one year sabbatical. He plans to spend his year studying for an MBA and learning Welsh.
Slashdot recently highlighted the story that IBM has succeeded in getting Linux certified under the Common Criteria specification. This has implications for government bodies considering Linux when making purchasing decisions. The Inquirer reports that this has been a bit of a black-eye for Red Hat, whose certification effort is stalled, held up indefinitely by the UK-based testing laboratory Red Hat selected to do the work.
Tux Reports have taken a look at Ark Linux. This RPM based distribution particularly aims to provide a comprehensive and useful desktop environment.
Debian Weekly News linked to Jan Ivar Pladsen's document which describes how to install Debian GNU/Linux on Indy.
On August 16th, the Debian Project celebrated its 10th birthday. Linux Planet published a Debian 10-year retrospective to mark the occasion.
Klaus Knopper describes the Philosophy behind Knoppix.
Linuxiran has reviewed Libranet GNU/Linux 2.8. Evidently they were impressed: "Only one word can describe Libranet's installer: 'awesome...'" (Courtesy Linux Today).
As higlighted by DWN, Mepis Linux is a LiveCD derived from Debian GNU/Linux. LinuxOnline has some articles on this distribution, including this LiveCD. The first is an overview, a full review and an interview with Mepis creator Warren Woodford.
SGI and SuSE Linux today announced plans to extend the Linux OS to new levels of scalability and performance by offering a fully supported 64-processor system running a fully supported, enterprise-grade Linux operating system. Expected to be available in October, SGI will bundle SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 on SGI Altix 3000 servers and superclusters.
Siemens Business Servicess has decided to use SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 to underpin its mySAP HR management system, processing payrolls for more than 170,000 employees worldwide. The open source operating system and the platform independence of the SAP R/3 software enable an easy migration to an open, powerful, and efficient Intel architecture. Linux-based application servers can be operated independently alongside existing Unix-based servers. Thus, the RM systems can continue to run until they were amortized and gradually replaced by Linux servers.
Biscom, a provider of enterprise fax management solutions, has announced the market release of its Linux FAXCOM Server. The new product integrates the reliability and efficiency of the Windows FAXCOM Server with the stability and security of the Linux operating system. Linux FAXCOM Server has been thoroughly tested is currently available for market release. Linux FAXCOM Server features support for multiple diverse document attachments via on-the-fly document conversion, and up to 96 ports on one fax server. Expanded fax routing destination options for inbound faxes include: fax port, dialed digits, sender's Transmitting Station Identifier (TSID) and Caller ID. Furthermore, if appropriate, the same fax may be routed to multiple destinations, including one or more printers.
Version 1.4 of the GNU Scientific Library is now available at:
ftp://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/gsl/gsl-1.4.tar.gzand from mirrors worldwide (see http://www.gnu.org/order/ftp.html).
The GNU Scientific Library (GSL) is a collection of routines for numerical computing in C. This release is backwards compatible with previous 1.x releases. GSL now includes support for cumulative distribution functions (CDFs) contributed by Jason H. Stover. The full NEWS file entry is appended below.
The Apache Software Foundation and The Apache HTTP Server Project have announced the 3.1.0 ALPHA release of mod_python.
Some feature highlights:
Mod_python 3.1.0a is available for download from: http://httpd.apache.org/modules/python-download.cgi
Linux Today has carried the news that Samba-3.0.0 RC2 is now available for download
Mick is LG's News Bytes Editor.
Born some time ago in Ireland, Michael is currently working on
a PhD thesis in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University
College Dublin. The topic of this work is the use of Lamb waves in
nondestructive testing. GNU/Linux has been very useful in this work, and
Michael has a strong interest in applying free software solutions to
other problems in engineering. When his thesis is completed, Michael
plans to take a long walk.