Thursday, February 22, 2007

Microsoft + Novell - good for the wrong reasons

There have been several reasons people have given as to why the Microsoft / Novell deal is good, the following are not good reasons:
  • will get a lot of MS-specific code and support Office formats better
  • Microsoft codecs can now be included legally to play all WMA and WMV content
  • Linux will benefit from DirectX code so it can play Windows games in Wine better
  • IE7 for Linux
  • Supporting Microsoft and it's proprietary IP inside of Linux will make Linux more compatible with Windows and will bring more money to the Linux community (somehow)
I disagree with every one of those reasons because they're basically saying Linux will be pulling in Microsoft's proprietary code and thereby make it more and more unlikely that people (and content producers) will move away from Windows and Microsoft to a better, more open alternative. We've already seen this happen with OS/2 which went out of its way to be Windows-compatible. The result was that no developer in their right mind would want to develop for OS/2 when they could just develop for Windows and have it work in OS/2.

Do people really think IE7 is that much better than Firefox?
Is WMA and its Digital Rights Management superior to the latest OGG or Mp3 codecs? (I know Mp3 is tied up in patents, but it doesn't have any DRM)
I also don't want to encourage game manufacturers to continue to lock themselves into DirectX when OpenGL is cross-platform and open by its design.

Yes, could probably benefit by some look and feel improvements that are probably patented by Microsoft since people are familiar with the layout and feel of Word and Excel, but the DOC format is not something to be encouraged either - Open Document Format (ODF) or something else with an open and portable design is more desirable so it can be read on different platforms and with various readers. Even PDF is a better alternative than DOC despite being wholly owned by Adobe since practically everything (except Windows) can create as well as read PDFs.

The biggest benefit of this merger is simply the exposure Linux and SuSE in particular are getting in the mainstream media. I guarantee you that "sharing" technologies will come back and bite Novell and Linux in general in the butt if MS proprietary technologies are incorporated in major Linux projects such as Just wait until the 5 year agreements runs out. After that MS will be free to sue Novell and anyone else they want who uses the software (and distributions) that use their patents. This time however they'll have proof of infringement because they were the ones who helped add it. There may be some wiggle room for argument about them releasing it under the GPL, but I'm sure Microsoft would play the "we were just cross-licensing our patents" card.

What Novell needs is a bulletproof non-revokeable and perpetual license to access the MS APIs for stuff like CIFS and SMB so that Linux and Windows can inter-operate better than reverse-engineering can achieve alone. Novell should get access to the network and interconnectivity interfaces that are currently closed and make sure that anything they incorporate into Linux to make it inter-operable cannot be used the shoot themselves in the foot later on.

Incorporating DOC or WMA or DirectX does nothing to improve Linux, it only secures Windows' dominance in those areas (document storage, audio codecs, and graphics) two of which are key to Linux' and open source's ability to gain some ground or no amount of compatibility will wrest control of the market from Microsoft.

Lastly Novell needs to get Microsoft to include a plug-in to Word and the other Office products by default that will allow reading and writing ODF documents. This would ensure that Windows users could read and write documents that are natively supported by and Linux/Mac users. It would also allow Windows users to continue to use Word without restricting users of other operating system to conform to the DOC format. At the very least Word and the rest of the Office suite should be able to read ODF while should be able to read DOC, XLS, and the other Office suite formats. The ability to write in other native formats is not strictly necessary but very convenient and useful to cross-platform inter-operability which is the goal in all this.

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