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Sinclair's Syndrome

A curious FAQ put up by an unnamed ISO staffer on MS-OOXML. Question #1 expresses concerns about Fast Tracking a 6,000 page specification, a concern which a large number of NB's also expressed during the DIS process. Rather than deal honestly with this question, the ISO FAQ says:

The number of pages of a document is not a criterion cited in the JTC 1 Directives for refusal. It should be noted that it is not unusual for IT standards to run to several hundred, or even several thousand pages.

For ISO, in a public relations pitch, to blithely suggest that several thousand page Fast Tracks are "not unusual" shows an audacious disregard for the truth and a lack of respect for a public that is looking for ISO to correct its errors.

From: An Antic Disposition by Rob Weir.

Martian headsets for Earth people: How to fix Internet Explorer 8

by Sander Marechal

Updated on 2008-04-10@10:47. Joel Spolsky recently published a very insightful piece called Martian Headsets on his personal blog Joel on Software. It's definitely recommended reading for everyone who deals with standards in some way. The core of his article is about the standards compliance of the upcoming Internet Explorer 8. IE8 presents a problem because, although it is pretty standards compliant, it renders a lot of websites quite badly. The problem is of course not in IE8 but in all the websites that were targeted at IE7, IE6 even lower.

The IE8 team presented a controversial solution that would have IE8 render all pages as if it were IE7 unless the developer specifically told IE that it would render well under IE8. Web designers worldwide revolted at the idea and the IE8 team changed its mind. But that still leaves the problem of what to do with all those sites that work badly in IE8.

In his piece, Joel tells us that there is no right answer. Whatever Microsoft chooses, it looses. Well, I disagree that it's this black-and-white. There is a third solution possible that allows IE8 to be fully standards compliant and ensures that the vast majority of websites will work just fine. In this article I will present three changes that Microsoft could implement that will allow the Internet Explorer 8 team to have its cake and eat it too.

Digg this article: This article on Digg

A response to Patrick Durusau: Who Loses If OpenXML Loses?

by Sander Marechal

Updated on 2008-03-26@17:34 I emailed a copy of this article to Patrick and he has responded. I have posted his response at the bottom of the article.

This is a response to Patrick Durusau's recent letter Who loses if OpenXML loses? (PDF). Before I discuss the various points that you make in your letter there is one thing that I would like to say; I find it shameful that you, Patrick, makes these kind of statements without a proper disclaimer that this is your personal opinion and not the position of the ODF committee (for whom you edit the ODF specifications), the V1 or any other technical body that you represent. In fact you seem quite happy that the media is running with headlines like “The ODF editor says…” else you would have done something about it after your previous publications. To lead by example:

The opinions expressed in this letter are my own. They do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of LXer Linux News, nor the viewpoint of my employer Tribal Internet Marketing. They do represent the viewpoint of The Lone Wolves Foundation though.

Now, back to your letter.

The only one who loses if DIS 29500 fails is Microsoft, whose Office 2007 cashcow will run into trouble. Everyone else, including the OpenDocument Format, do not need an ISO stamp of approval on DIS 29500. The current Ecma 376 standard, flawed as it is, is more than enough to work with.

This letter is also posted on LXer Linux News. This article on Digg

The Art of Being Mugged

by Sander Marechal

Last week was the Ballot Resolution Meeting on the 3,522 comments that were submitted on the failed Ecma proposal. Microsoft is spinning it as a victory, with over 99% of the comments approved with a 3-2 majority. But really, this is simply the most spin I have ever seen anyone give on a story, including SCO's spin on it's own laswuits. The reality is that from the 104 delegates, 6 voted to approve 90% of the comments without discussing them, 4 voted against it and the rest either abstained or refused to vote out of process. How does 6 out of 104 even come close to “consensus”?

Rob Weir was at the BRM in Geneva and has written an excellent story called “The Art of Being Mugged” on the proceedings at the BRM. To call it an utter failure would be kind. Now the National Bodies have 30 days to recast their vote on Ecma's OOXML proposal. My gut estimate is that it will be defeated again, and by a larger margin than the last vote.

But really, it should not even come to a vote. The BRM story clearly shows why ISO is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the IT industry. ISO needs to pull itself together now and remove OOXML from the fast-track process if it wants to have any credibility left. Practically all JTC-1 rules were violated at the BRM so there are plenty of excuses for ISO to act on this. Act now or become irrelevant.

My math-fu tells me OOXML has not passed JTC-1

by Sander Marechal

Updated on 2007-09-05@17:39. If my math-fu is anything to go by, it looks like Microsoft's Office Open XML will not become an ISO standard today. Various websites around the world are all busy tallying the votes as the news is dripping in. If their tally is correct then OOXML has been turned down by a very narrow margin. OOXML needed 2/3 of the P members to vote "yes", after subtracting abstains. With 5 abstains out of 41 P members, that means 24 "yes" votes. With 13 "no" votes already cast that means only 23 possible "yes" votes remain. Talk about a narrow margin.

Update: It's official! ISO has now officially stated that OOXML has failed.

A ballot on whether to publish the draft standard ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML file formats, as an International Standard by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has not achieved the required number of votes for approval.

Approval requires at least 2/3 (i.e. 66.66 %) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 to be positive; and no more than 1/4 (i.e. 25 %) of the total number of national body votes cast negative. Neither of these criteria were achieved, with 53 % of votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 being positive and 26 % of national votes cast being negative.

This article was originally posted on LXer Linux News

Automatically mounting and unmounting Samba/Windows shares with CIFS

by Sander Marechal

Last updated on 2007-12-03@23:55. At my work the employees are in the fortunate position that they are free to choose whatever OS they want to work with. At the moment the default is still Windows XP but you are free to wipe the drive and install whatever you feel—as long as you can do your job properly. And there is work underway to roll our own distribution for internal use. You're even free to bring in your Mac (but we won't supply you with one). The only thing that's banned (unofficially) so far is Windows Vista. Server-side we run a mixture of Linux and Windows, and the thend is to replace broken Windows machines by Linux machines if possible. In such a heterogeneous environment it makes sense to share our files through Samba. It's one of the few protocols that any OS can speak.

If you're running Windows Server 2003 then you can't use the smbfs driver that most Linux distributions ship by default. Sorry, no "Places » Connect to server" for you GNOME folk. You'll need to use the CIFS filesystem driver and you'll need to edit /etc/fstab. Adding the required fstab entries is actually quite easy as I will show below, but on Debian and it's derivative distributions you get a nasty error when you subsequently try to reboot or shutdown your machine, which hangs for about 30 seconds waiting for a timeout:

CIFS VFS: No Response for Cmd <number> mid <number>

It took me quite a bit of time to properly solve that one, but in the end it turned out to be quite simple. I will show you later in the article, but let's start mounting first.

Apache and Subversion authentication with Microsoft Active Directory

by Sander Marechal

Last updated on 2009-02-16@22:43. The company I work for had finally realized the benefits of a decent source code versioning system so after a short evaluation they settled on Subversion. To make user management easier they also wanted to use Microsoft Active Directory, so I set off on a quest to make Apache talk to our Active Directory 2003 server for authentication.

In this article I will explain how to set up Apache 2 on Debian Etch and make it talk to an Active Directory 2003 server. After that I will show you how to setup Subversion and use LDAP groups to control access to multiple subversion repositories. After I rant a bit about my two-day nightmare with Active Directory that is…

Linux Foundation discusses Microsoft threat after Linspire deal

Another one bites the dust. After Novell and Xandros, Linspire has signed away their future as well for a wad of cash in the short term. The reaction of the Linspire community isn't as negative as the Xandrosians but that should be no surprise. Xandrosians are the type of people with a big dislike for Microsoft and willing to pay to get far away from it. Linspire folk are on average more the kind of people that want a cheap/free Windows replacement.

The effects of these deals and Microsoft's patent protection racket will be discussed this week at the Linux Foundation summit at Google's Mountain view headquarters. The effect should be clear though. Under GPLv3 only the Novell deal is grandfathered in. Linspire (and Xandros) will get no such protection and will likely be barred from distributing GPLv3 code if they want to keep their Microsoft deal. That should end their distributions pretty quickly.

It's a good thing I run Debian. There's no corporate entity there to sell my rights to Microsoft behind my back. Red Hat should be equally safe despite that it's a commercial distro. And if the sky really does fall down one day… Oh well, there's still Solaris.

The Microsoft Xandros Deal

“Microsoft, Xandros Broad Collaboration Agreement Extends Bridge Between Commercial Open Source and Microsoft Software”. And so it begins again… Here are the details from the announcement on Microsoft's press wire:

  • Systems management interoperability
  • Server interoperability
  • Office document compatibility
  • Intellectual property assurance
  • Microsoft sales and marketing support

Stephen Walli has written a pretty good summary of the MS-Xandros deal over at his blog, but I don't quite share his conclusion that in the end it's just hot air and patent FUD anyway, and therefor does not matter much to either party. It will certainly matter to Xandros. If not the deal itself then on what it's customers think. And they don't think much good. Lot's of talk about switching to a different distro. Resellers wanting to return stock. Loyal costomer who have been there since day one crying foul. It's not pretty.

Thing is, Xandors has the worst kind of customers to try to pull this on. Most of them are former Windows users with a big dislike for Microsoft who are willing to pay good money for something that is untouched by Microsoft but still works a bit like it. Bad move Xandors.

Open letter to Novell: Release the patent numbers!

by Sander Marechal

The technology industry has been in a buzz since last Monday's Fortune article in which Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith claims that the GNU/Linux operating system infringes 235 of Microsoft's patents. If GNU/Linux indeed infringes so many patents then it's very curious that Microsoft refuses to tell the community which 235 patents those are.

Gutierrez refuses to identify specific patents or explain how they're being infringed, lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them.

Many journalists and editors concluded from this that Microsoft knows it's 235 patents are bogus. But apparently Microsoft is willing to tell someone what those 235 are. They are telling the companies that they sign cross license deals with. Companies such as yourself, Novell.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said that while Microsoft won't discuss specific patents publicly, it has discussed them in private with companies such as Novell Inc. that struck deals with the company to exchange patent royalties for indemnification against litigation.

Source: The Washington Post.

Today you, Novell, claim that GNU/Linux infringes none of the 235 patents that Microsoft is talking about. From your own Novell Open PR blog:

While providing numbers is new, the claims that violations exists are not new. In response to similar Microsoft claims back in November, we put out an open letter from our CEO, Ron Hovsepian, that states our position on this issue. That position hasn’t changed.

From that open letter… “We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgement that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property.”

I call on you, Novell, to tell the community which patents Microsoft thinks are infringed by the GNU/Linux operating system. You know the patent numbers. Microsoft gave them to you. Now release them so we all can publicly prove what you claim: That GNU/Linux infringes no Microsoft patents. If you do, then you may gain back some of the credibility in the community that you lost when you signed the cross-license deal with Microsoft last year.


Sander Marechal, GNU/Linux user and developer

The Contradictory Nature of OOXML (Part II) – 19 Nations Respond

Well the results are in, and an unprecedented nineteen countries have responded during the contradictions phase - most or all lodging formal contradictions with Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC), the ISO/IEC body that is managing the Fast Track process under which OOXML (now Ecma 476) has been submitted. This may not only be the largest number of countries that have ever submitted contradictions in the ISO/IEC process, but nineteen responses is greater than the total number of national bodies that often bother to vote on a proposed standard at all.

Ordinarily, contradictions would be posted at the JTC1 site relatively quickly. However, in this case I am told, Ecma will be given the opportunity to prepare responses before the contradictions will be posted, with a deadline of February 28. On or before that date, Ecma will respond with its proposed "resolution" for each contradiction. Once this has been received, JTC 1 will publish the response, accompanied by the text of the contradictions themselves, as submitted by the national bodies. At that point, a decision can be made on the next step.

From: The Standards Blog.

Yankees in the Court of King Arthur, with a Microsoft Agenda

ANSI/INCiTS has completed their review of Ecma 376, and is ready to cast their ISO/IEC Contradiction Review Phase Fast Track Ballot in favor of Ecma 376 being rammed through ISO, as Sam Hiser points out in his PlexNex blog:

Rather than confront the clear evidence of contradictions and inconsistencies, the brave hearts at ANSI/INCiTS choose to narrow the definition of what a contradiction is. And narrow it they did. They decided that one standard contradicts another standard only if the proposed standard causes the existing standard not to work. […] Because both files can physically exist on the same disk without interfering with each other, our champions determined that OOXML did not contradict ODF. Maybe they thought this would go unnoticed, but as one disheartened friend of open standards pointed out:

“this argument can be used for every XML format, every programming language, every operating system, in fact every software standard, since software is ultimately data, and data can be segregated on disks. So they essentially chose a definition so narrow that it nullified the concept of ‘contradiction’ for most of what JTC1 has authority over.”

I can only hope that the European standards institutes have more sense and see ANSI's recommendation for what it is and fight this thing untill the end.

From: Open Stack.

A dystopian future - looking beyond Windows Vista

by Sander Marechal

If the thought of Microsoft Vista's DRM restrictions, restrictive EULA, version confusion and user lock-in has you scared then you definitely do not want to know what the lads from Redmond have in store for the next version. If this patent application, covered by Groklaw here, is anything to go by then the next version of Windows, Vista+1 is really going to give you nightmares.

In simple terms it's a modular OS, much like Linux, whereby every package will have to be bought separately, has been heavily DRM'ed and will be licensed under different licensing terms. And I'm not talking about applications here but about things that people see as core OS functionality, such as basic networking, internet access, running multiple instances of one application, using an USB device (licensed on a per-device basis), etcetera. You'll even have to pay separately just to be able to install third-party applications or to use the new RAM you bought.

A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection - updated

In mid-January 2007, Microsoft responded to some of the points in this writeup. Some of the material was new and interesting (for example clarifying just what actually gets revoked when a driver revocation occurs), other parts seem more likely to have come from Waggener Edstrom (Microsoft's PR firm) than Program Manager Dave Marsh.

From: Peter Gutmann.

Kroes sets deadline for Microsoft to hand over software secrets

Brussels gave Microsoft a nine-day deadline yesterday to provide its rivals with outstanding details of its software systems or face fresh fines.

Neelie Kroes, the European Union's competition commissioner, gave the world's largest software group until next Thursday - Thanksgiving Day in America - to hand over all relevant information about the secret protocols behind its Windows operating system. Ms Kroes fined Microsoft €280.5m (£190m) in July for failing to comply with commission rulings and could now fine it up to €3m a day.

From: The Guardian.

One Small Business Gladly Gives Microsoft the Boot

You are reminded that Microsoft Windows, portable Microsoft devices or laptops running Microsoft Software within our network is forbidden as of 9/20/06. If you have not already received your Linux Live CD, email Ken or Tammy and they will get you one, along with any instructions you may need. These are yours to keep and at no cost. You are encouraged to use them at home as you see fit.

Everyone should be so lucky to recieve an e-mail like that from your CEO out of the blue on a monday morning. Read part two on how Ken Starks a.k.a Helios of lobby4linux fame is helping an anonymous company that ran afoul of the MS-BSA protection racket migrate a 9 city/455 desktop computer business network from Windows to Linux — Fedora Core in this case.

If you missed how this came to be, then you should read part one: No one ever got fired for using Microsoft — Yes they did.

The Microsoft-Novell patent deal and the GPL

by Sander Marechal

The news of the Microsoft-Novell deal is hard to miss in the Linux community. The reactions range from very negative to vaguely neutral. The most interesting bit of the agreement for me are the patent clauses. Did Novell sign away it's future by mistake or did it cleverly safeguard the future of Mono, Samba and OpenOffice.org?

Surprises inside Microsoft Vista's EULA

The next version of Windows is just around the corner, so the next time we discuss software licensing in my course, the EULA for Vista will be front and center. You can read the Microsoft Vista EULA yourself by going to the official Find License Terms for Software Licensed from Microsoft page and searching for Vista. I know many of you have never bothered to read the EULA - who really wants to, after all? - but take a few minutes and get yourself a copy and read it. I'll wait.

Back? It's bad, ain't it? Real bad. I mean, previous EULAs weren't anything great - either as reading material or in terms of rights granted to end users - but the Vista EULA is horrendous.

From: The Register.

Microsoft Media Player 11 shreds your rights

Think DRM was bad already? Welcome to Windows Media Player 11, and the rights get chipped away a lot more.

WMP 11 will no longer allow you the privilege of backing up your licenses, they are tied to a single device, and if you lose it, you are really SOL. [...] This is nothing less than a civil rights coup, and most people are dumb enough to let it happen.

But it gets worse. If you rip your own CDs, WMP 11 will take your rights away too.

If the file is a song you ripped from a CD with the Copy protect music option turned on [...] You will be prompted to connect to a Microsoft Web page that explains how to restore your rights a limited number of times.

This says to me it will keep track of your ripping externally, and remove your rights whether or not you ask it to.

Then when you go down on the page a bit, it goes on to show that it guts Tivo capabilities. After three days, it kills your recordings for you, how thoughtful of them. Going away for a week? Tough, your rights are inconvenient to their profits, so they have to go.

What WMP 11 represents is one of the biggest thefts of your rights that I can think of. MS planned this, pushed the various pieces slowly, and this is the first big hammer to drop.

From: The Inquirer

FOSS Community, Microsoft And Reconciliation

Neil McAllister calls on the FOSS community to drop the fortress mentality and work to build bridges with Microsoft. That's kind of like saying an abused wife should hug her husband just because he brings her flowers. Maybe Microsoft really is changing, but LXer's Don Parris suggests watching to see what they are holding in the other hand.

From: LXer