Open Source Fights Back

Lora Bentley

Lora Bentley spoke with Bruce Perens, open source evangelist and creator of, a free domain registry based on open source software.


Bentley: The announcement cites a Netcraft report, which found that's migration from Linux to Windows caused Apache to lose server share. Was this event the sole impetus for
Perens: Not the first. It's part of a continuing behavior pattern by Microsoft that I think it's fair to call "dirty fighting." GoDaddy was using Apache (I assume on Linux) because it was a great technical solution. They didn't switch to IIS on Windows Server 2003 for any technical reason. The switch was accompanied by a press release by GoDaddy, containing Microsoft promotional language. Now, I've changed many servers from one thing to another, but I've never made a press release about it. GoDaddy wouldn't be doing that unless Microsoft had offered them something valuable in return. There has been talk in the domain business that Microsoft has been offering the large domain registries a wad of cash to switch their parked sites. There is no other reason to do this than to influence the Netcraft figures.


Bentley: Why take this approach given that the sites that were migrated have no content as of yet?
Perens: It all has to do with the Netcraft report, which reports total Web sites first and active Web sites (the ones with real content) farther down the page where it has less impact on the reader. Netcraft's treatment of parked domains as a valid statistic gives Microsoft an incentive to influence parked sites, as they can use the Netcraft figure to brag about their mindshare in the server OS and Web server market. I felt that by paying someone to move a parked site (which is what I think happened), Microsoft was engaged in what we called "Diary Distortion" back when I was a media student: an active effort to influence an audience-share rating system in a way that distorted the result away from what the actual audience was doing.

So, I thought to myself: Hey, I could fight back with a page of Ruby on Rails coding. That's all it took to create the site, and it was done in an afternoon. Hackers (and by this I mean creative programmers, not computer criminals) enjoy getting a big impact from a small input like that. So, this was fun to do. It also didn't take long, and didn't keep me from more important pursuits. I enjoy programming, and if I never did it I wouldn't be much use in representing the open source developers.


Bentley: Donations over and above the amount required to operate and administer the project are slated to go toward forming a political action committee that focuses on free and open source software. Can you give us examples of projects that you envision the PAC undertaking?
Perens: The big issue is software patenting. Unfortunately, open source is very severely threatened by software patents - fighting them is a matter of survival. The NTP vs. RIM systems case is the most recent poster boy for the injustice of the system. First, the patent office found NTP's patents invalid. Then RIM had to pay half a billion dollars anyway, for an instant end to the case. ... According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association's annual economic survey, it costs $3 million to $5 million to defend a software patent case. But a company does not have to spend that much to prosecute a patent against an open source developer: They only need to wait until he runs out of money. A few years ago, there was a case where open source developers settled a case with a company that felt they were infringing trade secret or copyright. They had to sign the copyright of their software over to the plaintiff and sign a legal agreement that they'd never develop that sort of software again. They never had their day in court to defend themselves because they could not afford that.

OSDL and Red Hat have funds to help defend the developers, but they are only enough to fight a few cases. IBM and HP, which you might expect to be sugar-daddies in this sort of case, have a pro-software-patent agenda. IBM has lobbied for increases in software patenting in Europe - directly against the open source folks who have so far won that fight.

So, what would I do with money? ... Well, I spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. these days. The florists have a full-time lobby that fills a small office building in Alexandria, Va. I want at least that much for open source. Currently, there is an organization called OSAIA, a division of CCIA, that helps us out, but they are not willing to take on the software patent fight. We need to take that on, and it takes money.

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