You may have noted Cringeley's column about Microsoft and its DRM plans. If even half of what he writes is true, then it represents a clear picture of the real reason why people and businesses and governments are switching to GNU/Linux.
By the way, just today the San Antonio Business Journal reports another big switch:
"The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has awarded Fairfax, Va.-based PEC Solutions Inc. (Nasdaq: NM: PECS) a $9 million contract to provide technology support to the government.
"Specifically, PEC Solutions will help the federal courts migrate its national information technologyinfrastructure to a Linux/Intel platform.
"Professional services will be provided at the Administrative Office in the U.S. Court's Washington D.C. offices, its national technology, training and support facility in San Antonio and the government's independent test facility in Phoenix."
In case you were the least bit influenced by the nonsensical reports of SCO needing bodyguards, you might be glad to know what this Linux company specializes in:
"PEC Solutions specializes in providing secure, interoperable technology solutions for clients in law enforcement, intelligence, defense and civilian agencies at the local, state and federal government levels."
Because the issue of DRM and customer lock-in is facing everyone thinking of upgrading to Microsoft's newest announced offerings, we thought it would be useful to explain exactly how it all works. Paul Rouleau has produced exactly such an analysis for Groklaw. As you will see, if you are ever thinking of switching to Linux, now is probably a good time.
For those interested in a study done on interoperability between Word, Excel and Powerpoint and open source office applications, there is one here, in addition to the study Paul mentions in his article.
You can read more on Microsoft's plans for Longhorn and for DRM here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. I believe after you take a look at all the links and then read the article, you will not need anyone to tell you what advantages open source provides to its users. Here, then, is Paul's article, "Microsoft Customer Lock-in, Lock-out Analysis."
Microsoft Customer Lock-in, Lock-out Analysis
--- by Paul Rouleau
Why would Microsoft tacitly support SCO? Does the SCO case fit into a
grander scheme of things at Microsoft? Let's take a look at some
publicly available information on customer lock-in and competition
lock-out. A picture will emerge and SCO's role will explain itself.
For starters, let's look at how effective Microsoft customer lock-in currently is. A good source of reference material is the European Union migration guidelines. They have conducted extensive research on how European administrations could migrate to a Free/Open Source software environment and there is no reason why their research could not be applied to other organizations.
File Format Lock-in
Customers are sometimes said to be "locked into" the Microsoft Office suite by the format of their document. Is that so? Not really. See the European Union migration guidelines, referenced above, Section 11.1 Page 35:
"OpenOffice is quite good at reading and writing Microsoft Office documents and can be used with confidence. Most incoming or archived documents are intended only to be read and not edited, which reduces compatibility problems further. The few documents that are not compatible with OpenOffice can be converted to PDF format; a server running a single copy of Microsoft Office can be set to perform this function."
The European Union migration guidelines, page 19, indicates that migration plans whereby all users change to open source software on the same day are to be avoided for all but the smallest organisations. This so-called "Big Bang" migration requires too much in the way of resources in the changeover and there is too great a risk of bringing havoc to the entreprise. A much preferable strategy is to transition users in smaller and more manageable groups.
This kind of migration requires some form of coexistence of Microsoft products with the open source software during the time period where both systems are in simulatenous use. This need is further emphasised by the number of Windows applications that are not migratable to Linux and that may require some users to stay on Windows until a migration strategy becomes available. Coexistence implies a need for interoperability between Microsoft products and open source software.
A recurring theme in customer lock-in attempts is to place obstacles to developers of interoperability products, or at least to put some form of burden that increase the costs and risks of implementing interoperability solutions. If there is no reasonable mean to implement interoperability, then Microsoft customers have no practical migration path to alternative solutions, even if such alternatives exist in the marketplace.
Proprietary and confidential file formats and APIs are examples of obstacles impairing interoperability. Developers need to perform reverse engineering to overcome these obstacles. Anything that delays or impose a burden on developers performing reverse engineering contributes to increased Microsoft customer lock-in. One must pay particular attention to various forms of burdens specifically applicable to FOSS development. This type of burden escapes the attention of regulators and business analysts because practices that are intolerable to FOSS are often acceptable in the commercial world. However the current weakness of Microsoft customer lock-in is primarily attributable to the vitality of the FOSS alternatives. This kind of selective burden impacts Microsoft's primary competition while retaining a varnish of legitimacy.
Without discussing the legalities, the question here is simply whether Microsoft customers have or do not have a usable migration path and if developers can or cannot develop interoperable software.
File format lock-in : Office 2003
After a period of relative stability in the Office file formats, Microsoft again began playing the incompatible file format game. Although the file formats were based on the XML standard, they used an undisclosed and proprietary schema (as opposed to, for example, the OpenOffice.org format which is a published schema.) Files using this format could only be manipulated using the Microsoft Office API. The EULA for this API contains interesting clauses:
you must not permit further redistribution of the Redistributable Components by your end-user customers; ...
4. LIMITATIONS ON REVERSE ENGINEERING, DECOMPILATION, AND DISASSEMBLY. You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation.
The restriction on redistribution effectively prevents distributing any software that uses this API under any form of FOSS license. The limitations on reverse engineering need not be discussed again. Together, the two clauses help enforce a file format lock-in.
Its appears that Microsoft have now changed their mind. They seem to no longer want to keep the schema secret. On Monday November 17th 2003, Microsoft has allowed the publication of their schema, thereby effectively opening the Office file formats. However, this publication has strings attached. For instance, the schema may be patented:
"Microsoft may have patents and/or patent applications that are necessary for you to license in order to make, sell, or distribute software programs that read or write files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas."
Does Microsoft own patents on the schemas or not? Are schemas patentable? A schema is a data format, not an algorithm or process, so the question deserves to be raised. There is more. If a developer makes use of the schema, Microsoft requires the resulting software to be licensed from them:
"If you distribute, license or sell a Licensed Implementation, this license is conditioned upon you requiring that the following notice be prominently displayed in all copies and derivative works of your source code and in copies of the documentation and licenses associated with your Licensed Implementation:"This product may incorporate intellectual property owned by Microsoft Corporation. The terms and conditions upon which Microsoft is licensing such intellectual property may be found at http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/odcXMLRef/html/odcXMLRefLegalNotice.asp?frame=true.
"By including the above notice in a Licensed Implementation, you will be deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions of this license. You are not licensed to distribute a Licensed Implementation under license terms and conditions that prohibit the terms and conditions of this license. You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights."
The BSD-style advertising clause is well-known to be incompatible with the GPL but that is the least of the problems.
• The developer is required to acknowledge some undisclosed "intellectual property" that may or may not be present in his own code.
• The developer is not licensed to transfer or sublicense his rights. The recipient of the software must obtain a license directly from Microsoft under terms and conditions that may be found though an hyperlink. Microsoft has complete control on the page referred to by the link. Might they change it? Can they stop offering the license, thereby halting the licensees from further distributing their products? What guarantees are there?
• Note also that the developer is not licensed to distribute software that prohibits Microsoft's own terms and conditions. Would Microsoft choose license terms and conditions to invalidate any distribution license they dislike? Combined with the hyperlink, does that mean Microsoft has some kind of after-the-fact veto power on the developer's preferred license?
• Now that the specifications are public, how could developers code applications without requiring Microsoft's license? Does this publication impose on developers some burden to prove clean-room reverse engineering? Is Microsoft positioning itself for future litigation?
A patent available under a royalty-free license is better than a patent that requires a royalty. But there is more than a patent involved in this license. Under the guise of promoting openness, they seem to have created a legal quagmire that may put in jeopardy any software using the schema. The file format may no longer be secret, but using it will scare your lawyer. These terms are most damaging to FOSS developers. I don't see a way to write open source code under these conditions.The Open Source Definition clause 3 states:
"The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software."
How could that be, if Microsoft can change the terms and conditions at will? Read also clauses Clause 7:
"The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties."
This is clear. Microsoft is attempting to force the execution of an additional license on top of the base, open source license. A true open source license can't allow that. For those of you that prefer the concept of Free Software, the FSF puts it this way:
"In order for these freedoms to be real, they must be irrevocable as long as you do nothing wrong; if the developer of the software has the power to revoke the license, without your doing anything to give cause, the software is not free."
Microsoft is facing antitrust hearings from the EU for the bundling of Windows Media Player with the Windows operatiing system. See the reports here and here. Does this not seem to be the same technique that was used to establish IE dominance in the browser market and that was found to be illegal in the US antri-trust trial?
If Windows Media Player becomes the dominant player, there is a real possibility that the file format will become the dominant format for video content, resulting into further customer lock-in based on file format. At least this is what the EU research suggests.
Relying on its own corporate survey, the commission argued that once Microsoft Media Player is on every desktop, companies will no longer spend the extra money to offer data that can also run on rival media players, in particular RealPlayer and Apple Computer Inc.'s QuickTime.
The file format is proprietary and includes DRM features. The format specifications have been published, at least partially, here. The specifications are copyrighted and can only be used if the developer accepts a EULA that includes the following clauses:
"(a) Specification. Provided you comply with all terms and conditions of this Agreement, including without limitation Section 2 below, Microsoft grants you the following limited, non-exclusive, world-wide, royalty-free, non-assignable, nontransferable, non-sublicenseable license during the Term (defined below), under any copyrights owned or licensable by Microsoft without payment of consideration to unaffiliated third parties, to: (i) reproduce and internally use a reasonable number of copies of the Specification in its entirety as a reference for the sole purpose of implementing ASF in your hardware, application, or utilities (your “Solutions”); (ii) reproduce and internally use your implementations of ASF made pursuant to the terms of this Agreement (your “Implementations”) in source code form solely for internal development and testing of your Solutions, and (iii) reproduce and have reproduced in object code form only, your Implementations and distribute, directly and indirectly, your Implementations (only in object code form) solely as part of and for use with your Solutions.... [emphasis added]
"2. DESCRIPTION OF ADDITIONAL LIMITATIONS. Without limiting the conditions set forth in Section 1 above, your rights under Section 1 are expressly conditioned upon your compliance with each of the following limitations: (a) You may not use, nor authorize any third party to use, the Specification to build Solutions whose primary purpose is to distribute content (including without limitation a cache, proxy, gateway or streaming server)." [emphasis added]
The Windows Media format is not exactly an open, no-strings-attached specification. The requirement for binary-only distributions and the provision forbidding sublicensing specifically rule out open source implementations. It appears that open source developers would be have to reverse engineer the format to bypass the EULA that comes with the official specifications, and of course, this approach would run into the following provision of the EULA of the player software:
"* You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the OS Components, including any codecs or protocols associated with the OS Components, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation."
This illustrates again how EULAs can be used to turn the development of interoperable solutions into a legal mine field that imposes obstacles and limitations on the developers.
Application lock-in: Longhorn
Gartner Group sums it all up here (also available here as PDF):
"Many of the features Microsoft is adding in Longhorn will result in increased lock-in to Windows. Microsoft has reached its dominant position in the OS and productivity software markets by controlling application programming interfaces (APIs) and file formats...
"Microsoft wants enterprises to write browser applications that take advantage of Longhorn APIs, which means they won't work on non-Longhorn browsers. Microsoft also wants more types of data stored directly in the file system. It envisions address books, calendar events and e-mail as data replicated directly into the file system. While some vendors may appreciate this, others may not, as it means moving data out of their own proprietary store and into one controlled by Microsoft." [emphasis added]
"The nexus is a new Windows-based component that will be introduced as part of NGSCB. The nexus is essentially the kernel of an isolated software stack that runs alongside the existing OS software stack. The nexus provides a limited set of APIs and services for applications, including sealed storage and attestation functions....
"From a technology perspective, it will be possible to develop a nexus that interoperates with other operating systems on the hardware of a nexus-aware PC. Much of the NGSCB architecture design is covered by patents, and there will be intellectual property issues to be resolved. It is too early to speculate on how those issues might be addressed."
"Both Microsoft and Phoenix are currently arguing for closer integration of Windows with PC hardware, and DRM integrated throughout. Microsoft is planning to tie Windows DRM features to the hardware platform via its controversial Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB) project, formerly known as Palladium."
"To make NGSCB possible, both the software and the hardware will evolve. On the hardware side, the CPU, chipset, USB I/O and GPU hardware components will be redesigned, and a new component will be added, called the Security Support Component (SSC). On the software side, a new operating system component will be added, called the nexus, along with some associated code to enable the NGSCB environment. Collectively, this software comprises the trusted computing base (TCB) for NGSCB."
"Microsoft said integration should mean simpler and more reliable computers. 'This is a pivotal change for the industry, and it will rapidly advance serviceability, deployment, and management for servers, mobile devices, and desktops,' said Microsoft general manager of Windows hardware Tom Phillips, in a statement. 'Effectively, Phoenix is creating an entirely new category of system software.'"