Ah, To Be in Paris & a Mr. Merkey Shows Up Again

Tuesday, October 12 2004 @ 01:05 AM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

The International Herald Tribune is reporting that Paris is considering switching to Linux. The report says that they will announce a decision this month. The switch, if it happens, would affect 15,000 government PCs and servers:

"Unilog, a French consulting company, was expected to submit a feasibility study on open-source deployment in Paris to the government on Tuesday, with the administration to make a decision soon after, people familiar with the study said. A Unilog spokeswoman said the company could not make any public comment about its work for the city of Paris.

"On the strength of an earlier Unilog study, Munich agreed in May to migrate its 14,000 workstations to Linux systems put together by Suse Linux, a German company that is now a subsidiary of Novell, the U.S. software company.

"In France, some government agencies have already started doling out contracts to a Paris-based vendor of Linux hardware and software, MandrakeSoft."

Microsoft is reportedly offering a 57% reduction in price to keep the French government as a customer, but offering lower prices might not work in this case, according to Philip Carnelley, software research director in the London office of Ovum, a technology consultancy, because in Europe, with regards especially to public-sector contracts, "ultimately, it is not an economic decision, it is a political one, and there is not much Microsoft can do about that other than try to be charming."

What are the odds of that?

Sadly for Microsoft, its reputation precedes it. Bill Gates gave a speech at the University of California recently, and while the interviewer, the Dean of the College of Engineering, fawned over him like a courtier before Louis the XIV, a student asked the following question:

"QUESTION: You mentioned earlier, Mr. Gates, that universities are a really important source of great innovators, and so I expect that you consider being able to recruit from that source of great innovators pretty important to you. (Laughter.) So I'd like to find out if I could have a show of hands in the audience, I'd like to find out how many people in this audience might have concerns about working for a company that's been found guilty of illegal business practices, that limits the choice that its customers have to choose a product they want to use and the type of media they want to watch, and that has also been found guilty by the Federal Trade Commission of misleading the public? . . . Do you think you might do better at recruiting students from universities if you improve the business practices of your company?"

Mr. Gates' answer was, "Sure." I got the impression from a remark by the Dean that the University apparently gets support from Microsoft for research projects, and then Microsoft gets the benefit of the research in some way, which may account for the deference. Money talks.

Except with Linux kernel guys, being asked to destroy the GPL. Really. Follow this thread, where Jeff V. Merkey or someone saying he is Jeff V. Merkey first bad mouths the GPL and then offers them $50,000 for a snapshot of the kernel, with permission to dump the GPL and slap a BSD license on it instead, and you'll see what I so love about Linux guys. One, Ingo Molnar, does some quick calculations and figures out how much Linux is actually worth:

"all the politics aside, the Linux 2.6 kernel, if developed from scratch as commercial software, takes at least this much effort under the default COCOMO model:

Total Physical Source Lines of Code (SLOC) = 4,287,449

Development Effort Estimate, Person-Years (Person-Months) = 1,302.68 (15,632.20) (Basic COCOMO model, Person-Months = 2.4 * (KSLOC**1.05))

Schedule Estimate, Years (Months) = 8.17 (98.10) (Basic COCOMO model, Months = 2.5 * (person-months**0.38))

Estimated Average Number of Developers (Effort/Schedule) = 159.35

Total Estimated Cost to Develop = $ 175,974,824

(average salary = $56,286/year, overhead = 2.40).

SLOCCount is Open Source Software/Free Software, licensed under the FSF GPL.

"Please credit this data as 'generated using David A. Wheeler's "SLOCCount".'
"and you want an unlimited license for $0.05m? What is this, the latest variant of the Nigerian/419 scam?"

And another puts it best: "I'd argue that the kernel is entirely priceless." Nobody was the least bit interested.

There is a Jeff Merkey listed on a new Canopy Group patent:

"US 6,795,895 B2
Jeffrey Vernon Merkey, Lindon, Utah (US); and Robert Timothy Wilcox, Albuquerque, N. Mex. (US)
Assigned to Canopy Group, Lindon, Utah (US)
Filed on Mar. 07, 2002, as Appl. No. 10/93,359.
Claims priority of provisional application 60/273601, filed on Mar. 07, 2001.

"A dual-axis RAID system includes a plurality of X-axis ordinal series of disks, configured to store parity data and a tape drive, and a Y-axis ordinal series of parity disks. The Y-axis series is smaller than the X-axis series, because the X-axis series contains an extra disk configured as a segment journal disk. The RAID system communicates with clients on a network a network via an SCI network interface."

I'm sure they have lovely plans for that. There is a little bit of water under the Merkey bridge, which you can read about here and here.

The Microsoft reputational issue is very much a factor in Europe, according to the Tribune, and particularly now, with the antitrust decision that recently went against the company. Sooner or later, you really do reap what you sow. Here's an interview with Larry Ellison of Oracle on Microsoft and innovation:

"One of the great disappointments in Microsoft is that they have all this money, and they've had this tremendous success selling Windows, selling Office...but just try to list the innovations from Microsoft.

"I'll take IBM over Microsoft. Although I think Microsoft does some things brilliantly. The way they destroyed Netscape was illegal but brilliant.

"Microsoft's policy has been the destruction of innovation. Netscape was the most innovative software company around, certainly during the 1990s. These were the people who really popularized the internet, through the outgrowth of the Mosaic browser. And Microsoft said the reward for innovation should be oblivion. . . .

"I call it the death of innovation. It's actually the theft  of innovation. But that's too strong a word; it's too strong a word. It's more like 'Well, we'll just copy that.' [laughter]"

See what I mean? No respect.

Gates either totally misunderstands the GPL or he pretends to. Here is part of his answer to a question from the Dean of Engineering about open source and the GPL:

"Clearly Berkeley UNIX, the BSD distribution was a fantastic thing. It let a lot of computer science students understand operating systems, tinker around. It was an element that allowed Sun to get going and build its products, that had been a huge contribution.

"So a lot of software will have the source code available. There will be these different licensing models and I think this is one thing where researchers, universities, people have to think carefully. We tend to favor the distribution license that was used for BSD, which is a very non-coercive open license that allows you to modify it and make your modifications available, or you can actually modify it and create a version that you build a company around, hire people, pay taxes and there's this virtuous cycle that there's lots of free software that often comes out of the universities, sometimes that just generates more free software, sometimes it generates companies and jobs that then pay taxes and that money goes back to the university to keep this ecosystem going, and that ecosystem that the U.S. has is the envy of the world.

The GPL in our view should be used, which is the license that says you can't enhance it and create a commercial product. Our view is that it should be used very narrowly, and we think people should think twice. So if you have government funded research, it's ironic that then if it goes into that GPL you can't create a company that creates jobs that pays taxes. And so most of the countries outside the U.S. have stayed away from that because they want to get the ecosystem that we have.

"So over time in software we'll have free software and commercial software and the equilibrium between them will always shift as people see the support, the indemnification, the certain types of innovation."

The GPL is the license that "says you can't enhance it and create a commercial product"? Someone needs to tell Red Hat then, and Novell, and Mandrake, because that is exactly what they are doing -- making money on GPL'd software. Come on. It's the twenty-first century, the digital age, for heaven's sake. The internet makes FUD really, really hard to keep floating in the air. People may not know every detail of the GPL, but this much everybody knows by now: the GPL doesn't prevent commercial development of a product. I believe Red Hat pays taxes and pays employees, just like Microsoft does.

Oh, and Vienna is thinking about switching to Linux too, according to the International Herald Tribune, which also reports on Linux gains in Germany, Norway, and Denmark. And here's news of a deal between France and China involving Linux. Notice a trend? More details in this press release.

Finally, speaking of innovation, some iPod owners are using their iPods to broadcast their music from their cars over FM radio for a distance of about 4 car lengths, with a bumper sticker letting other motorists know the frequency so they can enjoy the music with them. No doubt someone will pass a law forbidding it shortly, with fines and jail time, but for now, does it not sound like fun? Here are some more innovative uses for the iPod that Duke University came up with. They gave all their freshmen an iPod this year and will be trying various educational projects with them. I love human creativity. I can't figure out why some keep trying to stamp it out whenever they see it pop up over the horizon. I know. I know. Money talks.