[Mono-list] I need help with FUD

Jonathan Pryor jonpryor at vt.edu
Fri Jan 16 14:02:04 EST 2009

On Fri, 2009-01-16 at 01:58 -0800, neptune235 wrote:
> So I've been studying and reading up on Mono, and in the course of this I
> came upon articles saying that Mono should be quarantined from Gnome, its
> not free software etc. But in reading these articles, I'm having a hard time
> seeing the core issues clearly.

The problems are multifold:

Software patents suck.

Software patents *really* suck.

Software patents *really*, *really* suck.  (Yes, so important that it
deserves to be mentioned three times.)

Last, but not least, the FUDsters can't see the forest for the trees.

Specifically, they spend so much time on Microsoft (a tree) that they
miss the entire forest of *actual* patent problems, patent trolls, etc.

Case in point: A long time ago Wang patented, in effect, remote
procedure calls (or some variation on the theme).  Microsoft licensed
said patent from Wang (for DCOM).  Sun didn't.  Later, Kodak bought the
patent off Wang and sued Sun, as Java infringed on the patent.  Kodak
won, to the tune of $92 million.

Thus, the FUD-leading question: what are the patent licensing terms
here?  Does Sun's payoff to Kodak make Java fully, legally clear on this
patent?  Is Java, now GPL'd, *actually* free (given that we *know* it
treads on this patent)?  Or does every Java distributor need to worry
about future patent lawsuits from Kodak?

The answer: I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea.  (I would assume that
some large patent cross-licensing deal occurred, so we don't actually
need to worry about Kodak suing Red Hat.)

But the point is that IT DOESN'T MATTER.  *ANYONE* can hold a patent,
for ANYTHING, and sue ANYONE at ANY TIME.  Ergo, Gnome is not free of
patent issues, KDE is not free of patents issues, Linux is not free of
patent issues, Python is not free of patent issues, Ruby is not free of
patent issues...NOTHING is free of patent issues (except software that
is older than 20 years old, which is (1) ~useless, and (2) might still
be covered by patents because of submarine patents, etc.)

(See also all the lawsuits by small/independent companies against
Microsoft, Novell, Sun, etc.)

It's usually not the large companies you need to worry about.  It's
usually the small ones, as there's no harm in suing (especially patent
holding companies, as they don't make any products so patent
cross-licensing isn't even something they care about).

Thus, the FUD is *extremely* hard to fight, as the first three points
are quite valid (software patents suck), and then the FUDsters
mis-represent the fourth fact ("we only need to worry about teh 
Micro$osft!!!") without noting that EVERY alternative they propose faces

Which means their entire argument falls down to: Microsoft is evil,
everything they touch is evil, let's all go use something else.

Which is intellectually vapid, misses the point, and overlooks the fact
that Microsoft has done a great amount of good (and also owns patents on
a number of technologies that the FUDsters seem quite OK with, such as
HTML, CSS, C++, XML....).

To be intellectually "pure," they should argue for the use of software
which CANNOT have any patents on it.  Alas, as mentioned earlier, this
would require using software no one wants to use, assuming any such
software actually exists.

> And if that is correct, how can I show to people exactly what that totally
> free part of Mono is? The FUD is so vague, I get the impression that the
> entirety of this project is patented by Microsoft, but when I look for
> details I'm not seeing it. Is there some way I can show people that this
> isn't the case? 

You can't.  The FUD is deliberately vague because they don't want anyone
looking at Mono for any purpose, because they really just don't like it.
I'm sure they'd say mono causes cancer if they wouldn't get laughed at
for it.  Furthermore, vague assertions can't be fought with facts, as
there isn't enough substance in vague assertions to argue against.

It's a losing battle, and will be "won" just as soon as one particular
religion "wins" over all others (i.e. "never").

 - Jon

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