Leaping Linux's Patent Hurdle - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Government // Enterprise Architecture
Commentary
9/21/2007
12:06 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Leaping Linux's Patent Hurdle

In the wake of my last column, Why Linux Is Already A Success, I got a great many comments and letters from people who agreed completely with my point of view -- that Linux was already a success on its own terms. I did, however, receive a reader comment that added some sobering real-world perspectives.

In the wake of my last column, Why Linux Is Already A Success, I got a great many comments and letters from people who agreed completely with my point of view -- that Linux was already a success on its own terms. I did, however, receive a reader comment that added some sobering real-world perspectives.

Said comment was by reader Jim Garret, who wrote: "This article makes a good point, but you also have to consider multimedia codecs. Linux will have succeeded when a user can see and hear everything on the web that a Windows user can -- legally. (I'm in the USA, so perhaps I'm handicapped on this point!)"

Not every Linux user has to deal with software patents, but it has been something of a cloud hanging over everyone's heads. If you want to legally decode certain sound or video formats (mainly, MP3 audio), you need to pay for a license. Ditto DVDs, which require some kind of royalty fee per player sold. DVD playback is something of its own weird issue: It's entirely possible to run programs that play DVDs without paying a cent (the VLC player, for instance, does this), and while no one has yet gone to jail for doing so, the legality of using such a program is still a gray area.

Keep in mind, it's not impossible to play MP3s or watch DVDs as-is on Linux right now. It's not even particularly hard; it just involves manually installing the proper codecs after you finish setting up everything else. But most people would, I imagine, like to do those things without jumping through any extra hoops or, more importantly, worrying about which possible patent-holder's toes they're stepping on. Part of the list price of every copy of Windows sold includes the licensing for the software patents used in it -- a necessary evil, much like the fact that Windows itself has a price tag at all.

There are formats that are not patent-encumbered -- the Ogg Vorbis audio codec, for instance -- but most people don't have most of their music in such a format and aren't inclined to convert it all, with a possible loss of quality.

To that end, there are a few ways to deal with the situation.

One, rework the patent system. Given the rumblings building steam in Washington right now, that may not be as absurd as it might seem at first -- but it's still a long way off. (It does have the advantage of knocking out ten other problems in one fell swoop, though.)

Two, create a for-pay Linux distribution with proper licensing costs for any possible patent usage. The problem is that the only people who want to pay for Linux are corporate customers, who are generally paying for support; I suspect everyone else is not going to shell out for Linux, patent indemnity or not, when they can do an end run around the patent muddle on their own.

Three, draw a line in the sand and simply declare that, with the privilege of using Linux, you have to give up anything that's patent-encumbered as a rule. At least, out of the box. That's pretty much what people have been doing so far -- and while it hasn't exactly been the barrier to Linux adoption, it hasn't helped.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

News
How SolarWinds Changed Cybersecurity Leadership's Priorities
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/26/2021
Commentary
How CIOs Can Advance Company Sustainability Goals
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  5/26/2021
Slideshows
IT Skills: Top 10 Programming Languages for 2021
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  5/21/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Planning Your Digital Transformation Roadmap
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
Slideshows
Flash Poll