TLWIR 7: Patent Trolls, Superheroes and More

by Rex Djere on July 5, 2011 · 1 comment

in TLWIR

This week, the fundamental threads that runs through all of the stories are freedom, protecting GNU/Linux from attack, and providing viable alternatives to proprietary software. A few brave organizations such as the Open Invention Network and Hewlett-Packard are leading the way to a computing future that will be far different from the monopoly-dominated world that we see today. I picked four wonderful stories for this week’s edition of TLWIR :

  • Defending Linux From Patent Trolls: the Open Invention Network
  • Modern Day Superheroes Do Exist: the Linux Defenders
  • Windows Fanboy Uses GNU/Linux for 30 Days and Loves It!
  • HP Brings WebOS To Its Great New Tablet: the TouchPad

These stories prove that people can use GNU/Linux without fear of patent lawsuits, or that support for their device will disappear. The wall of support behind GNU/Linux has already grown far too large for anyone to tear down.

Defending Linux From Patent Trolls: the Open Invention Network

Patents trolls are the finest example of corporate welfare: companies that do not actually do any real work themselves, that do not inspire or innovate. Instead, patent trolls make a living (and often a VERY good living), on the backs of others. Patent trolls look for other companies to innovate, and then they quickly swoop in to take credit. Many times, they coerce their victims into settling out of court. Occasionally, they win huge settlements. Not often enough, they lose big in their stochastic endeavor. Fortunately for Linux and free software, honorable companies have taken notice of the elaborate scam, and they are taking measures to protect themselves. One powerful means of protection is the Open Invention Network.
The Open Invention Network was formed in 2005 to protect Linux from the growing threat of patent lawsuits. Microsoft’s claim that Linux infringed on over 200 of its patents was one of the motivating forces behind creating the protection organization. In the years since, OIN has grown to be one of Linux’s most ardent defenders. The OIN membership includes some of the most powerful companies in the modern computing space: Facebook, IBM, Red Hat, NEC, Novell, Sony, and many more. The concept of the Open Invention Network has given birth to a much more important concept, the concept of the Linux Defender.

Modern Day Superheroes Do Exist: the Linux Defenders

I believe very deeply in the essential duality of human nature. The forces of good and evil are constantly battling within each of us. I believe that the concepts of Linux and free software are modern manifestations of the best that humanity has to offer: unselfishness, collaboration, caring about one’s neighbor, sacrifice, and incremental improvement. Linux and the broader free software movement are great human achievements in the young twenty-first century. As a child, I used to enjoy the fantasy and escape provided by superheroes such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Thor. However, the modern day superheroes fight for justice against foes who hide their real intentions. They present a forward face that says that they care about us, the consumer. But a close analysis of their actions reveal dubious motivations. They count on the fact that the mind-numbing busyness of modern-day life will obscure the WHY behind much of what they do from people’s vision. Greed is one possible explanation of why a company would be formed with no intention of ever producing a single product. It seems that patent trolling has become an art form.

The Linux Defender digs down deep and fights to defend Linux because it is the right thing to do. Linux and free software are a small part of the growing realization of the true definition of good: that which is good seeks to benefit as many as people possible while doing harm to as few as possible. Think about this carefully in the context of modern day society. People are often being trained to essentially put their needs ahead of everyone else’s. However, as I stated at the beginning of this article, the essential goodness embedded in the core of all humanity fights this influence because it is part of who we are. Defending concepts that come from a place of purity like Linux and free software FEELS right. Though this is hard to quantify, it is something that people innately understand at a very deep level. This brings me to the Linux Defenders. The OIN started the Linux Defenders program several years ago to thwart those who would try to use patents as a weapon to atttack Linux. One of its first actions was to preemptively purchase as set of 22 patents that used to be owned by Microsoft. The fear was that if these patents changed hands to a non-practicing entity, the entity would then use the patents to extort money from people who used Linux and sold Linux-based services and products. The OIN members are modern day superheroes in my book.

Windows Fanboy Uses GNU/Linux for 30 Days and Loves It!

I love it when people are liberated (if only temporarily) by the discovery of free software. Tom Bradley of PC World Magazine is an unabashed fan of the Windows operating system. However, he decided to do an experiment, and run Ubuntu for 30 days. He wrote an article for each day of the experience. I read several of his articles, and I applaud his efforts. Bradley’s final conclusion was that Ubuntu is very easy to use, and that it is suitable for most computer users. How long with it be before OEMs begin to realize that they could load Ubuntu on their systems, and donate $5 to Canonical for each copy? They would then have full access to the source code, and make the OS REALLY perform on their device. I know that this will not happen overnight, but I think that Bradley’s article series might encourager a lot of people, and get them thinking in this direction. Tablet makers already seem to have an eye on Android and GNU/Linux.

HP Brings WebOS To Its Great New Tablet: the TouchPad

HP loves Linux so much that they created their own custom spin on Linux called WebOS. HP is “betting the company” on WebOS, the same way Microsoft routinely bets the company on Windows and Office. My recent travels have proven to me that tablet computing has arrived. I see them everywhere: on airline flights, at the grocery store, and out and about. People love tablets, and they are definitely here to stay. Unfortunately for Microsoft, none of the tablets that I have seen people using are running a version of Windows; most of them are Apple Ipads or Ipad2s. However, I have seen a few Android tablets out there, and I look forward to seeing a true GNU/Linux tablet soon. In my mind, seeing a WebOS tablet would be pretty close.
Katherine Noyes of PC World Magazine is as strong of a Linux advocate as anyone could hope for. When she recommends some new Linux-based device, people tend to listen. This being the case, it is great to see Ms. Noyes bringing attention to HP’s new WebOS tablet, as she did in a recent article.
Philosophically, I cannot buy an Apple device for myself, no matter how good they are. I simply refuse to buy a computing device where I do not have access to the source code for the software running on the device. However, when I see people with Ipads, I completely understand why they use them: they are great devices with a wonderful user interface and great ergonomics. I have a lot of computing devices as it is, so I don’t really need a tablet computer at the moment, but in the future, when I am looking for a tablet, it WILL run GNU/Linux. HP showed a lot of courage by buying Palm, and adapting Palm’s WebOS for its Touchpad. I wish them success in a very competitive marketplace. The reviews of the Touchpad have been mostly positive, so I think that HP has a good shot at carving out some market share.

Conclusions

Free software is everywhere; FOSS has truly become a mainstream software development model. To me, it seems kind of stupid to kept one’s code locked up in a little box with only a small group of people allowed to access it. Time and time again, the free software model has proven that it can produce better code, discover and fix problems faster, and provide greater stability and scalability. I recently read a story that hackers have now created trojans and botnets that are almost impossible to combat. Free source code may become vital to ensuring computer security. The damage that can be done in the interim time between Microsoft’s security update releases may soon become no longer acceptable. The free software model may soon become the ONLY acceptable model for software from a software security standpoint. Which is smarter: to have a programmer in house who has access to all of your company’s source code and can access and fix any problem instantaneously, or to have to wait for some company like Microsoft or Apple to have to release the security update for you? Better yet, might it not be better to be part of a large community where you all help to protect each other?
Whether businesses like it or not, freedom seems to be the direction in which everything is moving because it is simply a much more efficient way to operate. Having everyone invent their own version of the wheel, and to then have each of those versions of the wheel compete against each other is not only wasteful; it actually stifles innovation. The reason for this is that the time spent by multiple entities building essentially the same thing could have been used in advancing other areas. For example, Google has built a fantastic search engine. Instead of Microsoft effectively mirroring Google’s work by developing Bing, what if Microsoft had put that time and energy into finding an effective way to centrally fight spam, spyware, and other maladies? The future of human advancement lies in working smarter, not harder.

References
Bradley, T. (2011, July 1). Ubuntu linux, day 30: what i learned from 30 days with ubuntu linux. PC World Magazine. Retrieved July 2, 2011, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/234885/ubuntu_linux_day_30_what_i_learned_from_30_days_with_ubuntu_linux.html
Brown, E. (2009, September 8). Linux defenders buy patents to ward off trolls. Linux Devices. Retrieved June 30, 2011, from http://www.linuxfordevices.com/c/a/News/OIN-Linux-Defenders-AST-patent-deal/
Noyes, K. (2011, June 30). The hp touchpad’s best feature is linux. PC World Magazine. Retrieved July 2, 2011, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/234847/the_hp_touchpads_best_feature_is_linux.html
Open Invention Network. (2011, June 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:30, June 29, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Open_Invention_Network&oldid=434708101

{ 1 comment }

ChrisD July 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Count me as the converted. I had been toying with the idea for a while but only recently decided to leave the false sense of comfortability my accustomization to Windows allowed me. Network controls have been more intuitive, file control has been solid and system security is curvy in all the right places.

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