IRS Blocks Open Source Non-Profit Status

Open source Foundations have a great track record for good governance of open source projects – think of the Apache Software Foundation, the Document Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation or the Mozilla Foundation and the tremendous software they produce speaks volumes. We take it for granted that they need to be tax-exempt organisations.

Yet troubles in the USA with gaining recognition for open source projects from the tax authorities raise an important question: is tax-exempt status really necessary? Or are we mistaking approval of sound accounting principles for certification of good governance?  Today’s article in InfoWorld has more.


Too Much Power?

In InfoWorld this week, I’ve reprised my views about contributor agreements. The trigger for this was seeing Oracle erroneously change the license for the MySQL man pages from GPL to something nasty. Once they were told, they fixed the error (which had been public for two months), but the fact their build system even has an option for proprietary relicensing that can be accidentally enabled is cause for thought.

Why can they do that? Contributor agreements have given them ownership of all the copyrights, including for things they didn’t make. With those copyrights comes the power to change the license without asking anyone (even by accident).  In an age of OpenStack, Eclipse and Apache, why should we still have important open source projects under the control of unaccountable entities?

Don’t Stop With The Trolls

Bridge on the River DeeMy article in InfoWorld this week rounded up the news of the White House initiative to deal with patent trolls and repeated some proposals I’ve made before on other reforms we could make to relieve some of the pain of the dysfunction while we wait for root-and-branch reform of the patent system.

The White House initiative is good and encouraging, but it’s a source for some concern. There are actually plenty of giant corporations who have found they can monetise their vast patent portfolios effectively. The careful construction of the White House proposals suggests to me that they don’t intend to take action against the behaviour of those corporations.

Their tactics are a lot like those of patent trolls. They approach innovators, demonstrate the magnitude of their patent portfolios, assert there is sure to be a conflict and then demand payment of tribute (euphemistically described as “cross licensing”, as if their victims have something to offer in fair exchange). This is all done under cover of NDA-imposed secrecy from the beginning, and those who dare say they are being shaken down — as TomTom did for example — are punished for their temerity. As a consequence of the NDAs and the out-of court settlements there are no public traces – the perfect shake-down.

This is just as chilling to innovation as the actions of non-practicing entity trolls. In some ways, it’s worse. Its perpetrators also use their patent portfolios to chill fair competition, acting in a way that surely should be considered a form of anti-trust when they take vast swathes of vaguely-described “invention” and attempt to apply it to their competitors to lock them out of markets or tax their profits. Preventing direct copying of actual, concrete inventions would be fair enough. That’s not what we’re talking about here though. We’re talking about attempts to control use of gestures, ideas and even rectangles.

So as we congratulate the White House for taking action against trolls, even going to the extent of creating cute animated graphics to promote their efforts, let’s not give their corporate advisors a free pass.  Patents on pure software are abuse waiting to happen and they need to be eliminated. The worthy White House actions against trolls should not distract us from that goal.

Can Ubuntu Phone Succeed?

On FLOSS Weekly this week, Jono Bacon told us all about the Ubuntu Phone. I’ve summarised the most interesting points on InfoWorld today, but the key take-away for me was they are focussing on the carriers and handset vendors yet don’t appear to have a strong plan to build a developer marketplace around the device. As Sir Humphrey would say, that’s a brave choice.

Stockholm Syndrome Stopping Seeing How Linux Has Won?

Amazingly, the debate about when we will see the “year of the Linux desktop” is still active. Maybe it’s software Stockholm Syndrome making us all love our captor, but the focus on desktop applications, coupled with the idealistic expectation that Windows will be displaced, has led many to overlook or even dismiss the way  Linux actually has taken over the desktop.

We were expecting it to displace Windows; instead, it has displaced the Windows desktop application, powered the reinvention of the mobile market, and in the process done more for us all than the revolution we expected could ever have delivered.  Read about it on InfoWorld.


Microsoft Firewall

On its first anniversary, I remain convinced that the motivation for Microsoft’s wholly-owned open source & open standards subsidiary is primarily to isolate Microsoft from the open source community. I explain in InfoWorld.

Time For A Security Team For OpenJDK

In my InfoWorld column today I consider the recent news that Java 8 is going to be substantially delayed because Oracle’s development staff have had to focus on security issues. I wonder if fully and inclusively engaging the community – especially with a proper security team like other open source communities use to great effect – would help avoid similar delays in the future?


On Joining OIN

I signed up Meshed Insights as an OIN licensee, and was amazed when I told people how few people knew it existed. That was the origin of this week’s InfoWorld column. I realise OIN doesn’t fix everything (how can it when what’s really needed is a return to first principles for the patent system in the meshed internet era?)  But as free a defence that might just work, and which has a huge membership that collectively sends a strong message to the US government that startups need change, it seems obvious to join.

Nokia Attacks

I remain bemused by Nokia’s attack on the prospects of the VP8 video format becoming an open standard. I can’t see what they & their shareholders get as a benefit, but I can see the harm it does to Nokia in the eyes of pretty much anyone who values open source and open standards. Read more in my InfoWorld column today.

Reader Reminder

My Infoworld Open Sources article for this week is now live. It takes the demise of Google Reader as a reminder that without open source software processing open standards, we have no freedom to “rehost and carry on”.

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