The IBM open source pledge amended

The IBM open source pledge amended

Summary: IBM wrote its original pledge based on the idea that open source communities, and the companies arising from them, would not be going into its vault and making off with its crown jewels.

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TOPICS: Open Source, IBM
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This just in. Florian Mueller is still mad at IBM.

"IBM still hostile, dangerous and utterly hypocritical," he writes, in asserting its patent rights against TurboHercules when it did not assert them against Hercules, the open source project on which it is based.

The real news is that Eric Raymond agrees with Mueller. The author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which did so much to define open source as distinct from Richard Stallman's free software ideal, says IBM is digging itself into an ever-deeper rhetorical hole.

"IBM now appears to be claiming the right to nullify the 2005 pledge at its sole discretion, rendering it a meaningless confidence trick," Raymond writes. "’Im watching this and I’m wondering when the adult supervision at IBM is going to step in."

Actually, we're all adults. IBM wrote its original pledge based on the idea that open source communities, and the companies arising from them, would not be going into its vault and making off with its crown jewels.

Fact is, IBM cannot allow its mainframe monopoly to be broken by a rival company. Billions of dollars in software and hardware sales are at stake here.

It would be like Microsoft allowing the re-engineering of and introduction of a compatible Microsoft Windows operating system. Or Apple letting the Mac OS go entirely open source. Or Oracle letting go of its intellectual property rights.

So IBM has amended its pledge.

You may say, they have no right. You may say, IBM said at the time the pledge was legally binding.

Many will. Raymond again. IBM's actions are a "graceless attempt to nullify the entire pledge, a move which couldn’t offend the open source community more if it were calculated to do so."

Raymond and Mueller are morally and, perhaps legally, correct. But IBM made a unilateral pledge. It's not a contract. And I'm certain that in the IBM boardroom they're adding, it's not a suicide pact, either.

I believe IBM would rather take a hit to its open source credibility than steer into a financial iceberg. I am wondering how, or whether, this might all end up in court, because it's not in court yet. It's before the European antitrust authorities.

My guess is that while those authorities may chastise IBM, and may even fine it, they won't free TurboHercules from IBM's legal grip. And if open source advocates then march over to Hercules, the open source project (as they are doing), IBM could close it down and take that hit, too.

Yes IBM is wrong. Yes IBM is acting badly. Yes, Mueller and Raymond are right.

But for IBM to do otherwise, it seems to me, would be to break a responsibility higher than that to open source, which is the one it owes its shareholders.

What concerns me most right now is the chilling effect all this will have on other companies which have intellectual property rights. Will we ever see such a broad-brush pledge as IBM gave in 2005 again? Or will companies see this precedent as a cautionary tale, never to let go of what they feel is theirs?

Topics: Open Source, IBM

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23 comments
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  • Happens everytime

    From all I have seen, every time an existing for profit tries to involve itself with open source they run into trouble and either sink from it or they walk away.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Um.. hello? Have you never heard of Google, Apple, or Microsoft?

      They have all benefited directly from open source projects.

      Google use the open source webserver Apache on the open kernel Linux.

      Apple based their operating system on the open source UNIX/BSD-based kernel Mach.

      Microsoft got their first TCP/IP stack straight from BSD.


      If you've never heard of any of those for profit companies.. how about Novell, Red Hat, or Canonical? They make good livings directly supporting free open source software.
      AzuMao
      • RE: The IBM open source pledge amended

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  • Next, M$ will amend its pledges!

    Now M$ has the cover to amend it's patent pledges and show its real face.
    For IBM it will take a lot of donations, contributions and OSS sponsorship events to wash this shame.
    Linux Geek
    • It wouldn't have to...

      ...if Open Source didn't try to cook IBM's golden goose. They could have worked with IBM without trying to build software to kill Big Blue's profits.

      Anytime group A trying to eat the lunch of group B, group B will have to defend itself. What should IBM have done? Let TurboHerc build the emulator and lose billions so Open Source can fell good about itself?

      Run a business - make a product - and then sit on your hands as someone tries to defund it. I bet your idealism will die rather quickly.
      Fark
      • So it's okay for them to give it away for free, but not sell it?

        Not making a living wasn't one of the conditions in IBM's pledge.
        AzuMao
        • Thus the headline

          IBM wrote a unilateral document, and has amended
          it. I know Raymond and Mueller say nullify, but
          the point of my post is that amended is more
          accurate.
          DanaBlankenhorn
      • RE: The IBM open source pledge amended

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  • Your analogies are way off.

    They're not taking IBM's stuff. They're selling stuff they made themselves.

    This is more analogous to the ReactOS project, not to what would happen if someone stole the Windows source code and sold it, or pirated Windows or whatever.

    Also, complaining about the possibility of a monopoly ending? Hello? Monopolies are bad for the economy. They lead to lack of innovation/competition.
    AzuMao
    • I agree with you. IBM does not

      IBM feels that its mainframe technology is
      protected by patent, and thus it is the only
      company that should profit from it,
      notwithstanding its previous patent pledge.

      Don't argue with me. I'm just reporting this. Talk
      to the sign.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • Except ...

      REACT OS project is NOT making anti-trust complaints against MS. And I can pretty much guarantee you that if they did, MS would find a way to bite back. AND, MS would have every right to do that. Open source projects are one thing, thinly veiled commercial agendas are another. If you want to dance with the elephants, you had better learn the steps first.
      George Mitchell
      • I'm sure they would be if MS was trying to sue them into shutting down.

        [b] [/b]
        AzuMao
        • You got it backwards

          IBM may have been threatening, but it was TurboHercules which brought out the lawyers first. The European Anti-trust suit was launched by TurboHecules, not IBM.

          Or have you not been paying attention.

          It would be like ReactOS suing M$, not the other way around.
          mheartwood
          • My bad; I thought they only did that in reaction to legal threats from IBM.

            [b] [/b]
            AzuMao
  • Read PJs analysis on this for balance ...

    A lot of the criticism of IBM is really off the wall. This is not about open source at all. It is about trying to leverage this pledge in a way that makes IBM competitively vulnerable. No company in their right mind would allow this to happen. It turns the original pledge on its head to advance a proprietary agenda. Its just like what Pystar was trying to do to Apple. IBM is doing the right thing to staunch it. IF IBM is in violation of anti-trust principles, anti-trust laws need to be enforced. In fact, anti-trust laws need to be enforced across the board and that would solve a lot of these issues. But trying to use open source pledges in order to circumvent IP rights to advance a for profit agenda is just wrong and not in the spirit in which those pledges were originally made.


    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20100408153953613
    George Mitchell
    • The Link

      It's a very interesting piece, and there's more
      than analysis here. Apparently there are
      documents being analyzed.

      There are dark hints about this being a
      Microsoft or HP set-up against Microsoft. I
      don't necessarily buy that.

      But I have written that this story has two
      sides, and I stand by that.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • I buy it. Microsoft have a long history of setting themselves up.

        [b] [/b]
        AzuMao
  • Seriously?

    Is IBM really afraid that someone is going to take over
    their mainframe business by running a S/390 emulator on
    a PC? That's like painting "Boeing 747" on a single
    engine Cessna and expecting it to fly across an ocean.
    I don't see how allowing TurboHercules to succeed is
    anything but a win for everyone involved. The people
    likely to use it are the people who can't afford an IBM
    mainframe.

    Is it surprising that IBM Legal is freaking out over
    this? Of course not. It is understandable but its an
    unsubstantiated fear.
    cabdriverjim
    • Data General

      I seem to remember (It may be before you were born) that Data General produced a 360-on-a-chip IC and IBM blocked it. The court ruling was that they could manufacture it, but they could only sell it to IBM. (or did I dream it?)
      c_hirst@...
  • RE: The IBM open source pledge amended

    Well, why doesn't IBM redo its AIX "OS" to load Desktop systems like Gnome or KDE. Both are open source System and would increase there presents in the Business world and would be more competitive in the OS Server/Client world as well as maybe in the home, though I doubt that will ever happen but the other opportunities are a bound. Just look at Sun/Oracle and what they have done to there "OS" by using Open Source products to enhance there systems. BTW, Not all Open Source products are Free,Some come with a Free use clause but not with an Source Code use Clause. AIX is Rich and a Strong System but with out a Desktop System for the users in the office, It's Dead in the woods.
    JWBeall