I have no idea what pressures Negroponte is under. I have no idea what failures of leadership, vision, or courage have occurred, are occurring, or are at risk of occurring at the OLPC project today. It would be irresponsible to jump to too many conclusions based on a single article. But if OLPC abandons its open source roots, then I do not see the project accomplishing any of its goals. And while I can afford to throw away the three XO laptops I bought, the world cannot afford to throw away the goal of ending poverty in favor of preserving monopoly control of technology.
April 23, 2008 (Computerworld) One day after the resignation of the One Laptop Per Child’s president was publicly revealed, the educational project’s founder and chairman said the group’s XO laptop may evolve to use only Windows XP as the operating system, with open-source educational apps such as its home-built Sugar running on top.
OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte also told The Associated Press on Tuesday that an insistence upon using only free, open-source software had hampered the XO’s usability and scared away potential adopters.
For instance, the Sugar graphical user interface aimed at children “grew amorphously” and “didn’t have a software architect who did it in a crisp way,” he said. Also, the laptops do not support the latest versions of Flash animation, which is widely used on children’s and educational Web sites.
“There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,” he said. “One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.”
Erm…uh…well.. maybe it is a little bit.
However, SpaceDaily has now learned that a plan to salvage AMC-14 was abandoned a week ago when SES gave up in the face of patent issues relating to the lunar flyby process used to bring wayward GEO birds back to GEO Earth orbit.
Sources have told SpaceDaily that it was possible to bring AMC-14 back via the moon to a stable GEO orbit where the high powered satellite would have been able to operate for at four years and probably longer.
In the face of unrelated legal battles between the current patent owner Boeing and the satellite’s owner SES Americom – any efforts to salvage AMC-14 have been cast aside.
Primarily this is because SES is currently suing Boeing for an unrelated New Skies matter in the order of $50 million dollars – and Boeing told SES that the patent was only available if SES Americom dropped the lawsuit.
So there is quite a lot at stake, and the tide appears to be turning away from the profligate issuing of patents in such categories. At least the right questions are being asked. But to what extent will they reach a decision to modify or pull back? This case will help to decide. Of course, the Supreme Court is higher than this court, but having already given some direction, the Bilski case gives the appeals court the opportunity to undo what many view as damage by some decisions that opened the floodgates to all kinds of crazy patents. And that is why suddenly a large crowd of interested parties are submitting amicus briefs. The list at the court is impressive. Unfortunately, the court does not make the briefs digitally available, but Red Hat’s announcement says it will be on that page soon. And thankfully, Patently-O provides some descriptions of positions taken and explains the process.
In re Bilski is an appellate court case that provides an opportunity to eliminate business method patents and curtail efforts to claim monopolies on basic human skills, behaviors, and interactions. Bilski is challenging the rejection of his application for a patent on a method of managing the risk of bad weather through commodities trading. EFF submitted an amicus brief (in conjunction with The Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law, Public Knowledge, and Consumers Union) supporting the rejection of Bilski’s patent application and setting forth a framework for determining patentable subject matter that focuses on the use of technology in the claimed invention.
“The court must ensure that any test it uses in determining whether to award a patent is in line with the Constitution,” said Christopher Hansen, senior staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, who filed the brief. “If the government had the authority to grant exclusive rights to an idea, the fundamental purpose of the First Amendment – to protect an individual’s right to thought and expression – would be rendered meaningless.”
Today, Red Hat took a public stand challenging the standards for patenting software. In the Biliski case that is now before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, this patent issue is ripe for consideration. In a friend of the court brief submitted to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in the Bilski case today, Red Hat describes the special problems that patents pose for open source and seeks modification of the standards for patentable subject matter that take open source into account. Here is a quick summary of our brief.
Open source software is one of the most dynamic, innovative sectors of the U.S. economy, but the U.S. patent system is a costly hindrance to open source innovation. We believe that although the patent system was created to foster innovation, it’s simply not an engine for innovation for open source. Software patents were barely recognized when open source began, and so the hope of obtaining a patent did not motivate the first developers. Those pioneers were generally opposed to software patents. The open, collaborative activity at the heart of open source is at odds with the patent system, which excludes the public from making, using or selling a patented invention. Open source developers seek to contribute code to the community – not to exclude others from using the code.
Red Hat was disappointed but hardly surprised that the single-vendor, monopolist-promulgated standard, Office Open XML, made it though an unfortunately flawed fast-track ISO approval process. We also note that there remains an ongoing investigation by the European competition authorities into the practices employed in the process.
So, if you define interoperability as single vendor’s format to promote operation with that same vendor’s dominant product, you can declare victory. But Red Hat thinks governments and enterprises are not so easily confused. The Open Document Format, which has long been a multiparty-supported ISO standard, will continue to be a force in procurement decisions to be reckoned with. Government and Enterprises are tired of the lack of choice, lack of innovation, and premium rents from vendor lock-in. We doubt anyone will be confused by this outcome.
http://www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref1123 (ISO press release)
ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML file formats, has received the necessary number of votes for approval as an ISO/IEC International Standard.
But the challenges are probably on their way.
Microsoft’s director of corporate standards, Jason Matusow, wrote in a blog on Tuesday that challenges to the overall process will likely come. The source? IBM.
Now there’s a two-month period for the national bodies to lodge their complaints. Scroll to the bottom of The Australian’s article for the vote breakdown by country.
The ISO has yet to put out an official announcement, but that article leaks the “news” that OOXML has “passed” and Microsoft, which yesterday said it wouldn’t saying anything until OSI did “out of respect for the standards process” today put out a confirmation statement (“there is overwhelming support for OOXML”) anyway. I wouldn’t say overwhelming support, exactly. Some would call it overwhelmingly appalling. Michael Leenaars of OpenDoc Society says “This must be one of the worst results ever for a standard to pass within ISO/JTC1 in years.”
Oh, and the man who more than anyone seems to have made it happen would prefer that we not hate him for it. Or I think that’s what his list is saying. Here’s the question I’d like to ask Patrick Durusau: did Microsoft make any threats that unless you supported OOXML they’d fight against the next version of ODF but that if you’d scratch their back, they’d scratch yours? If so, you should tell someone. Like the EU Commission, for instance.