CyberTech Rambler

June 23, 2011

AVM vs Cybits

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 9:47 pm

This is an interesting case, but please note carefully that we only have one side of the story. In effect, it appears that AVM is suing Cybits for modifying software on its router.

The best balanced view is on GrokLaw. H-Open has a more detail reporting and AVM’s view point. I had been following it since yesterday through Glyn Moody’s post. Say you follow my discovery trail, starting from Moody’s post, then to FSFE’s post (Note that the post was created before the oral hearing so the ‘Oral Hearing’ part was posted later). You will be left wondering why the plaintif AVM is that stupid. Since the court filing is in German and I cannot read German, I cannot find out for myself AVM’s part of the story. This is especially true since as GrokLaw noted in the first sentence that GPL is rarely (if ever) tested in court, except Germany. GrokLaw’s article  clarified the claim from AVM’s viewpoint. The H-Open has more details in the last paragraph. AVM is not that stupid after all.

AVM is worried that its customers do not realize that Cybits modified its router. It is worried that its customers will then blame AVM if something goes wrong, even if it is Cybit’s. That is a legitimate worry. Let’s go ahead and presume that Cybits is an intransigent vendor which refuses to work with AVM to cure AVM’s concern, then AVM has to sue. The question is: on what grounds?

I believe AVM had chosen poorly. By choosing to argue that Cybits has no rights to modify the GPL part of the software on the routers it lands itself in  very difficult position. Every argument it tries to present on copyrights ground turn out to hurt itself more than help it’s case. The scenarios it was arguing was well researched by FSF and rejected. I particularly like the argument ‘You can modify the software, but just not on our routers’ advanced by AVM’s lawyer as reported by The H Open.

Do AVM has a copyright case with reference to Cybits modifying the GPL part of the software and reinstall it on the router? Most likely not. What AVM lawyer is trying to say is this is about AVM trying to protect itself from the problems Cybits caused with Cybits modification. What the lawyer is trying to do  is to try to twist GPL in a way that will help AVM. To do so it has to try to carve up a niche to the strong sharing provision of GPL. Bad tactics here.

Quite frankly, all is needed is Cybits put print on some papers or its application informing the users that it will be modifying bits and pieces of the firmware. I cannot see why Cybits will object to that. To me it is not necessary to do so. Just like AVM argued (but again to their disadvantage), router is not treated as a computer by consumers and consumers do not expect to install software on the routers. Therefore, if they bought Cybits’s software and install it on the routers, they will be fully aware that the firmware is from Cybits, not AVM, thus no real harm to AVM’s reputation.

I believe the case is extremely likely to be another case where a vendor tried but failed to create a chip of GPL’s armour to protect free software. I think this will actually make GPL stronger as it add another failure to  challenge the GPL.

However, it must be said that AVM do have a legitimate concern that Cybit’s modification will cost it money in customer support if something goes wrong on the router. To me the solution is easy: Tell the customer to flash the firmware to the official version if something goes wrong. The cost, to AVM, is small. If it becomes unreasonably large, then AVM can sue Cybits to recover the money. Risk of permanent reputation damage? Not high and the damage Cybits will be asked to fork out can cover it. If AVM had waited for real damage to occur, it will have a stronger case and need not try to rely on GPL to win the case.

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June 16, 2011

My view on OpenOffice.org to Apache Incubator

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:15 pm

Well, Oracle managed to get OpenOffice.org into Apache Incubator. The vote itself was not a surprise, neither is the ‘landslide’ in favour of it.

The world’s reception of OpenOffice.org move is as expected: LibreOffice supporter and FSF don’t like it, IBM-ers love it (Rob Weir’s postings here and here) which is not surprising because IBM is perceive to be the biggest winner and I believe, behind the scenes, one of the significant instigator for this move).

Me? Not really that sure whether it is a good for open source office productivity suit.

First, what I think are the negative side:

The biggest problem I see is  I cannot see how OpenOffice.org fit in with other projects hosted by Apache Foundation. OpenOffice.org is by-and-large an end user product. Most if not all Apache Foundation projects are development tools. Even their ‘flagship’ (Apache Webserver) is not an end user project. You need to put in quite a lot of effort (in the form of creating webpages) to make its deployment make sense for you, or as my colleague said: “You don’t use Apache webserver, you _develope_ your webserver”. So how does an end user product fit in to it?

Second, fragmentation of the pool of developers available to LibreOffice project. Whether Rob Weir like it or not, taking the total number of developers available for OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice as 100%, i.e., as in his  ‘scarcity fallacy’ chart (first chart), there will be developers who would had worked for LibreOffice should OpenOffice.org is not an option. I obviously see this as a zero sum game. Rob Weir says it isn’t. Part of his argument is that as open/mixed source takes developers/users away from proprietary software vendors, all of us benefit. I understand that and agree that in terms of absolute head count, both are bound to see an increase as  open/mixed source are indeed taking developers away from proprietary software vendor. However, in percentage terms, having a choice means both parties lose developers that would had worked for them.

The positive side:

The biggest is of course the Apache License for OpenOffice.org has the potential to capture a larger audience than Lesser General Public License of LibreOffice.org can ever do. I don’t whole-heartedly thinks that because people can keep modification private so Apache License must be bad. History has thought us that keeping modification private, e.g. the almost utter failure of Unix favours that originated from BSD Unix, brings only short term profits. A lot of companies and developers realize that it is in their interest to contribute back.

We now have a bigger voice in the OpenDocumentFormat fight against OOXML and it is called the Apache Foundation. At the end of the day the key  to interooperability is ODF, not OpenOffice.org. The more we  can reach out to other users/developer the better.

My original brainstorming says why not strip the ODF part of OpenOffice.org and give that to Apache, everything else, e.g. the UI etc to LibreOffice. The reason having a version of ODF that any software, open source or otherwise, can use is very important. Apache License give people the confidence to do this. Possibility of vendor’s modification becoming proprietary stranglehold later, i.e. like what Microsoft did to RTF? Not impossible but extremely unlikely and therefore worth the risk. Moreover, ODF part fits in with other Apache project really nicely.

Finally, what I think is undecided:

Who will win? OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice.org. My money is on LibreOffice.org. History says that GPL and LGPL-ed versions of the same software are more likely to survive the test of time. Besides, after considering everything, I am bias enough to think that LibreOffice is probably the better home for OpenOffice.org.

Is the fragmentation a good thing? In the long run, I think it is. There is this one big hurdle call duplicated work at both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice.org. However, I think both parties has enough developers that this duplication is not as serious an impediment the way smaller community suffers from. The rivalry between the two means we will see more competition and better products. It also means we finally get out of the comparison to MSOffice trap.

 

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