Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Get Real, it's in Patent Pledge Small Print

This story has been bubbling most of this month and the moral outrage at IBM's alleged breaking of its FOSS patent pledge has to stop. For one thing, it makes us look like a bunch of emotionally retarded children, for another, a bunch of legal and commercial simpletons...

Here's the orignal patent pledge press release:
IBM Pledges Free Access to Patents Involved in Implementing 150+ Software Standards Orignal release.

Here's the orignal patent pledge document:
http://www.ibm.com/ibm/licensing/patents/pledgedpatents.pdf

Here's Jim Zemlin's blog-post on the whole IBM vs. Turbo-Hercules spat or alternative source, which includes the denial of pledge-breaking by Dan Frye, VP, Open Systems Development.

Now here's just one burst of outrage by the FOSS commentators, from Florian Mueller's blog, from which we quote:

"IBM is using patent warfare in order to protect its highly lucrative mainframe monopoly against Free and Open Source Software...
The Hercules project is anything but anti-IBM. Hercules just wants to provide customers with an interesting and much-needed choice. In order to do so, Hercules is simply seeking a way that its customers will be allowed to run IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system on Hercules. IBM generally does not allow its customers to run z/OS (hence also the application software those customers internally developed on top of it for trilions of dollars) on non-IBM hardware...

This proves that IBM's love for free and open source software ends where its business interests begin. In market segments where IBM has nothing to lose, open source comes in handy and the developer community is courted and cherished. In an area in which IBM generates massive revenues (the mainframe software alone has an estimated size of $25 billion -- twice as big as the Linux software market --, around $10billion for IBM, and IBM has a monopoly on mainframe hardware), any weapon will be brought into position against open source."
I've worked for IBM in the past, I think I get their business model.  You don't buy an IBM mainframe or software. You rent it.

IBM hung back on the initial product by Turbo Hercules when it was proposed as a disaster recovery/failover solution.  Then various users had a lightbulb moment and wanted to run their z/OS production systems on non-IBM kit; x64 or Itanium  instead of System z hardware. Clearly Big Blue was never going to allow that to happen. 

z/OS is not sold as M$-Windows. You rent it with the hardware; you have per-processor licences, support licences and user licences, which are all chargeable, with the hardware. It's a platform, not a pick-and-mix counter.

No sane individual - and no court - will judge that this was ever within IBM's intention of the patent pledge; maybe they screwed up by including 2 (of 150!!) patents in the infringement letter, but IBM will maintain this  wasn't the use-case IBM had in mind when they pledged those patents.

Verdict: will the outraged commentators and old-guard FOSS revolutionaries climb down off the barricades, stop wasting their indignation and stop making that nasty whining noise. The Turbo-Hercules product represents an  attack on IBM's core business model. Not going to happen. Wasting your energy with school-yard accusations is counter-productive and makes you look like a bunch of kids living in fantasy land. What did you expect IBM was going to do?  Play turkey and vote for Christmas? No. Thank you and good night.  RC

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