Microsoft Patents Sudo - So Sudo me!

It appears that Microsoft has patented sudo, or at least its own version of sudo.

It appears that Microsoft has patented sudo, or at least its own version of sudo.

Note: In case the term sudo is unfamiliar to you, here's how it's described on Wikipedia:

"The sudo command is a program for some Unix and Unix-like computer operating systems that allows users to run programs with the security privileges of another user (normally the superuser, a.k.a. root)."

According to Groklaw, the USPTO has granted Microsoft a patent over something that it didn't invent.

Here's how the "invention" is described:

The invention claimed is:

1. One or more computer-readable media having computer-readable instructions therein that, when executed by a computing device, cause the computing device to present a user interface in response to a task being prohibited based on a user's current account not having a right to permit the task, the user interface comprising: information indicating the task and an entity that attempted the task; a selectable help graphic wherein responsive to receiving selection of the selectable help graphic, the computer-readable instructions further cause the computing device to present the information; identifiers, each of the identifiers identifying other accounts having a right to permit the task, wherein the identifiers presented are based on criteria comprising: frequency of use; association with the user; and indication of sufficient but not unlimited rights; one of the identifiers identifies a higher-rights account having a right to permit the task, wherein the one of the identifiers comprises: a graphic identifying the higher-rights accounts associated with the user; and a name of the higher-rights account; an authenticator region capable of receiving, from the user, an authenticator usable to authenticate the higher-rights account having the right to permit the task, wherein: the authenticator comprises a password, and the authenticator region comprises a data-entry field configured to receive the password.

... and it goes on and on like that for ages more ...

Does this sound familiar? Well, if you peel back the jargon and legalese, it sounds to me like the sudo that Linux users are familiar with, but with a jazzier graphical interface. Kinda like the "Run as administrator" or the UAC (User Account Control) feature that Microsoft introduced in Vista. OK, not exactly sudo, but close enough for discomfort, ambiguity and possible patent trolling.

Um, prior art, anyone?

Groklaw offers up a suggestion as to why Microsoft might be interested in patenting this "invention," and it makes sense to me:

Perhaps Microsoft would like everyone in the world to pay them a toll at least, even if they don't want to use Microsoft's software? Like SCO, but with more muscle behind the request? Or maybe it might be used as a barrier to competition? What do you personally believe Microsoft wants patents on things like sudo for? To make sure innovative new companies can compete on an even playing field with Microsoft?

Here we have the perfect example of why software patents must die. Most I've come across are stupid, and the rest obvious and not really "inventions" in the proper sense of the word. At best the processes outlined in the patents are vague and the end results poorly specified. Software patents seem, at best, to be some sort of ill-conceived land grab on digital ideas that boil down to common sense and the limitations of working with a screen and keyboard. The real-world equivalent would be being granted a patent on a style of walking.

Maybe this is sudo, maybe it's not, but either way, I can't see how this is patent-worthy.

I'm sure you'll be reading a lot about this over the coming days. I'm also sure that everyone reading the patent (and I strongly urge you to do so, because if nothing else it is a great cure for insomnia and also gives you a tiny glimpse into just how monumentally boring and tedious patent work must be) will have their own thoughts, feelings and conclusions on the matter.