Friday, 11 June 2010 16:25

Ubuntu apes Novell in IP scare campaign


In its hurry to embark on ventures that would result in making its GNU/Linux distribution a profitable one, it looks like Canonical, the makers of the popular Ubuntu GNU/Linux, has gone a step too far.

Canonical has launched an initiative called Ubuntu Advantage which attempts to sell its product based on many factors, one of them unfortunately being the hoary old chestnut about the possibility of Linux having IP problems.

The wording says it all: "Ubuntu Advantage gives you peace of mind with comprehensive legal cover. Ubuntu Assurance helps customers to deploy Ubuntu without complicated legal concerns. We take care of intellectual property (IP) infringement legal claims brought against customers in their use of Ubuntu."

Shade of Steve Ballmer and his repeated claims about Linux violating 235 patents - none of which, funnily, the fiery Microsoft chief executive could bring himself to name.

This tactic by Ubuntu is despicable and is the same as that indulged in by Novell which, after it sold out and signed a patent licensing pact with Microsoft in November 2006, has sought to distinguish its SUSE Linux product by the fact that it has no IP concerns.

Novell also pushes its Microsoft software clones, Mono and Moonlight, by claiming the same thing.

By trying to use scare tactics, Canonical shows scant respect for the rest of the free software and open source community and concern only for its own agenda. Time to remind people there that were it not for a certain free top-quality GNU/Linux distribution named Debian, there would be no Ubuntu.

The Canonical spiel continues: "The Ubuntu Assurance Programme, included in Ubuntu Advantage, covers your business for claims of intellectual property (IP) infringements arising from your use of Ubuntu. This offer is designed to safeguard your business and make deploying Ubuntu even easier."

I guess for this dynamic initiative we have to thank the far-thinking CEO of Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth, who, it would appear, has gone one step too far in his haste to rake in the moolah and balance the books.

But then this is all part of an accelerating trend with Ubuntu; as the distribution grows, so too it would appear does the arrogance of the people who work on it. Canonical has, in recent months, sped up its bid to try and monetise Ubuntu and make the distribution, now nearing its sixth birthday, at least pay for itself.

In pursuit of that goal, Yahoo! was signed up as the default search engine for the last version of Ubuntu and, in keeping, with Shuttleworth's stated philosophy of openness, an explanation for this shift was provided online.

But then arrogance emerged. Canonical suddenly decided to switch back to Google - and when I asked Gerry Carr, the PR hack at Canonical, about it, he was unwilling to go beyond, "I am afraid we can't go into the specifics of this change in any more detail than has already been given by Rick in the original statement." That original statement simply said that the company chose a particular search engines when it was deemed best at a given time. Score zero for openness and one for arrogance.

The popularity of Ubuntu appears to have gone to the heads of those at Canonical. This is the only way I can account for the fact that my next inquiry, about the dropping of the Mono-dependent F-Spot picture viewer for the next release of Ubuntu, did not elicit a reply from Carr. Shuttleworth has said in the past that while he cannot pay personal attention to queries, someone from the company always will respond. That promise now appears to be empty.

No distribution apart from Novell's SUSE, which we must consider a Microsoft proxy, has sought to indulge in scare campaigns to make its distribution more of an attractive proposition. Red Hat has ascended to its position of the number one Linux company by doing the right thing by the community. Novell, by contrast, is now desperately searching for a buyer.

Sadly, this last fact appears to be lost on Canonical. Trying to stuff people full of fear and sell GNU/Linux won't work. It never has.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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