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FSFE Newsletter - June 2011

The 899 Million question: Microsoft, European Commission, and Free Software

What would you do with a monopolist, who uses his dominant position in one area to create monopolies in other areas as well? The European Commission has decided in 2004 that Microsoft has to provide competitors with information how to connect a workgroup server with computers running Microsoft Windows. Since the main competitor to Microsoft’s workgroup server is the Free Software Samba project, the Commission made it clear that Microsoft had to release interoperability information in a way that is compatible with Free Software licenses like the GNU GPL. The Commission's 2004 decision did not require Microsoft to publish innovative information, it asked for simple information how Microsoft computers talk to each other.

But Microsoft played for time, even when the Commission imposed a fine of two million Euro for every day that Microsoft did not make the required interoperability information and documentation available in a way that the Samba team could make use of it. That gave Microsoft three more years to gain profit from its monopoly position.

After losing an appeal in October 2007, Microsoft finally made the required interoperability information available for a one-time fee of EUR 10,000. This gives Free Software groups access to Microsoft’s protocol specifications, but does not give them a license to the patents that Microsoft holds in this area. Microsoft only offers patent licenses under conditions that are fundamentally incompatible with the GNU GPL. So the Samba team has a license to use Microsoft’s protocol specifications, but not its patented technologies. At least those patents are identified, and the Samba team can work around them with considerable effort until we fix the problem of software patents as a whole.

Microsoft appealed the fine. On the 24th of May another hearing took place. Like in the rest of the process, FSFE was again present, together with the Samba team, giving crucial input to ensure that Free Software can compete on market. Karsten Gerloff wrote about the hearing in his blog article "Samba case hearing: How Microsoft’s gamble backfired", and you can also read Groklaw interview with Karsten Gerloff and Carlo Piana. A ruling on the Microsoft’s appeal is expected in the second half of the year.

Antifeatures + DRM

How many times have you been forced to watch those copyright notices at the beginning of a DVD, without the chance to fast-forward? Or would you miss it, if no mobile phone would have a SIM lock?

On the 4th of May our American sister organisation organised the "Day Against DRM". There were several articles, events, and radio shows about this topic. Your editor was interviewed by Dradio Wissen on the subject of Antifeatures, which also includes digitial restriction management (DRM).

An antifeature is a feature, which is implemented by the developer on purpose, but which user does not want. So, it is not about bugs or missing functionality, but about functions which the vendor added intentionally to restrict the user.

Your editor's interview and corresponding article explain some examples, like how printer vendors prevent others from producing printers' cartridges, the sim lock in mobile phones, the option to get rid of additional software commercials on laptops, or the copyright notices and the region code for DVDs.

With Free Software adding antifeatures simply isn't lucrative. Every user has the freedom to change the software and to share those changes with others. So when one person removes an antifeature, all other users will benefit from this work. In Free Software new features are implemented either if someone pays for them, or if someone is convinced that this is an important feature and s/he has spent spare time on it. Therewith Free Software is more honest and more transparent towards users.

Benjamin Mako Hill wrote more about antifeatures and also gave several talks about it, e.g. at Linux Conf Australia 2010 (Ogg-Theora), or FrosCon (Ogg-Theora).

Something completely different

Get active: Translate our Ask your Candidates page

In the coming month we will do more in our "Ask Your Candidates" activity. You can already help us by translating this page into your native language. Like on all pages click on the source code link at the buttom of the page. Translate the page and then send it to translators@lists.fsfe.org. If you are interested to help us more regularly with translations, please take a look at our translator page.

Matthias Kirschner - FSFE

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