The patent issue
The discussion quickly got steered into the patent problem. Miguel is very aware of the patent situation in US today and the dangers this [will] mean for Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS). He acknowledges that most patents today should be invalid, as they were filed over trivial technical solutions, but the US patent office seems to be doing a poor job seperating the valid ones from the trivial ones. This situation creates many lawsuits every year in US and according to Miguel, this will only get worse with time. Apparently, for many companies, this is a fast way to make some easy money by suing other companies (over trivial technical matters sometimes). The F/OSS developer community hasn't had the problem upon them yet, but as F/OSS becomes more and more popular, Miguel believes this will eventually become a real problem.
Regarding Mono and the Microsoft .NET patents, Ximian is now splitting the "non-free" parts of .NET in Mono, and so OS providers can decide if they want to include in their products the "non-free non-ECMA" portions or not. Apparently, even without the non-free portions, Mono is fully usable, complete with the GTK# bindings, database and other free parts. Miguel knows that a completely "clean" Mono will still find resistance from some OS/distro makers for political reasons, rather than legal or technical ones, and he is prepared for it.
Ximian met with Microsoft executives a few months ago -- as part of a symposiuym -- and it's not a secret that Microsoft is aware of the Mono developments. Miguel explains: "If there is indeed a new technology that Microsoft holds a patent to and they do not explicitly allow us to use, we will remove that code, or rework the code in a way that does not infringe the patent. We do not like the current patent environment in the US, but we have to play by the rules." Miguel also gave us a number of technical examples around Corba having technologies for years that Microsoft only now starts to be using in their products. "Longhorn's Indigo or Avalon, all was done before by us and others", said Miguel. "Most of the new technologies in Longhorn have existed in the past in one way or another, but they failed to get shipped with a vehicle as Microsoft Windows to users, so they live only on CVS repositories, old research papers, and old systems." He has so many such examples it that makes him sleep tight at night and not worry about such things. Besides, "it doesn't make sense to not create something just out of fear that it *might* infringe on some patents somewhere," he said, meaning that if developers would be driven by this fear, no developer would be able to develop something today with this huge number of patents in US. But software development does go on, if more carefully than in the past.
Taking over the world
Because patents will most probably be the cancer of the tech industry in the near furure in US, Miguel is having an alternative plan on how to 'take over the world': starting with the third world. "Poor countries don't have the money to buy and maintain Windows; this is where open source software is becoming a real and powerful alternative," he said. More developed countries also use Linux: Miguel mentioned the 200,000 Debian machines in Spain running Gnome and many other smaller projects using Linux and OSS at many levels: schools, government applications, servers, even on home desktops. And long as EU won't adopt similar patent laws like US currently employs, Miguel sees Linux (and F/OSS in general) becoming a major power in the industry, competing head to head with Microsoft in a few years. "Even the Linux desktop is almost usable today", he said semi-joking and continued "if the whole world is using Linux in the future, US will have to 'switch' eventually too, regardless of patent problems. And when that happens, there's no stopping".
But Miguel's world take over plan doesn't only go through the third world first, but also through Windows. He believes that what matters are the applications (and the OS as an extension), and if people are using F/OSS applications on any operating system, this is a win-win situation for the F/OSS future. He mentioned the Mozilla, OOo and Gimp examples, applications that thrive on Windows as well as on Unix. Ximian is working on a native port of Evolution 2.0 to Windows using the WIMP engine to make the application look XP-native. Having replaced --with capable alternatives-- the browser, the office suite and now the corporate mail client/PIM application on Windows, this situation can drive adoption of F/OSS faster. Miguel realizes that while, for example, OOo doesn't have all the MS Office features, "it's good enough" and that's a great start for the majority of users.
- "Chatting with Miguel, Page 1/2"
- "Chatting with Miguel, Page 2/2"