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Posted Oct 08, 2004

Evil of September 2004

To Evil!
by Danny O'Brien

They say that all that's required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If only it were that easy. I spent October eating nachos and playing Kingdom Of Loathing in my duvet, yet still no sign of several-headed whores of Babylon waving triumphantly from Buckingham Palace's balcony. Evil must try harder.

To give it its due, though, the forces of darkness did have quite a bash in September. Join me now as I throw solder flux on the votary candles, and invoke thrice this month's nominations for Evilness Incarnate (IT Department).


We start, as any trawl through the inferno should, up to our thighs in spam.

This month, Redmond's lawyers sprayed a unique license from its hind-most intellectual property glands - all over the IETF's proposal for an anti-spam mail authentication standard, Sender ID.

As ever, open source kill-joys had a few problems with Microsoft's license. First, the patent license they offered wasn't transferable. So everyone who got the source had to sign a deal with Microsoft to use their super-special patented technology.

Well, it was sort of transferable - but only to "End Users".

Unfortunately, open source doesn't really believe in End Users. To those sentimental fools, sharing software doesn't have an end, and users are just friends who haven't submitted a patch yet.

The upshot of that was that everybody who got an open source implementation of Sender ID would have to sign their own patent license with Microsoft or risk getting sued.

Now, Microsoft states in its FAQ (while leaning on your mantelpiece, and examining some delicate pieces of China your sainted mother gave you) that you don't have to sign this license. We're just being careful, you know, for when the Software Patent Wars start. And believe me, those are going to get nasty. Very nasty. We'd only sue in retaliation against those who might threaten to sue us for patent infringements.

It's protection, really. This is a lovely piece of Ming you have here, don't you think, Steven?

The open sourcers said no to the license terms, and Microsoft took its highly sophisticated patented technology (which works out where mail came from by looking at the mail headers, so please stop doing that at once, it's unlicensed), and went home.

Now, was Microsoft evil?

"To Evil!"'s house rule #1 states that corporations don't wreak evil; people wreak evil. Blaming Microsoft for doing bad is a bit like smacking your aluminum siding whenever your housemates steals some toast. No-one feels guilty, no-one gets blamed. You just hurt your hand.

If evil was committed, who personally within Microsoft takes the rap? Their Sender ID team at the IETF? It doesn't seem that way. Despite their cheery defences of the Microsoft Royalty-Free Sender ID Patent License (Now With Low-Fat IETF Buzzword Compliance), you get the feeling that Harry Katz and the Sender ID team knew that the initiative would collapse without open source mailer support, and genuinely assumed a more liberal licensing regime would be forthcoming from their masters.

Rumour has it that the decision to keep the license, against all opposition internal and external, came from the highest possible authority: Microsoft's Chief Architect himself.

And House Rule #2 says we can't nominate Microsoft's Chief Architect as an official Harbinger of Evil. Because that would be far too easy. It's sort of the Godwin's of the field.

So, no evil here, albeit only on a technicality. Gads, but those Microsoft lawyers are good. Next!

Jonathan Schwartz

We got a couple of nominations for Sun's Jonathan Schwartz this month.

I think most people assume that as soon as someone starts blogging, they're instantly a member of the devil's wind section. Not true: blogs are neither necessary nor sufficient for evil to triumph. They're just what we call an enabling technology.

One nomination came for Schwartz's revelation of Sun's Linux strategy, as channelled through CNET/Ziff-Davis, to destroy Linux by getting everyone to think that it's really Redhat in disguise.

Schwartz blogs that the local branch of the Ziff-Davidians was confused about this. Well, who wouldn't be? Assuming the journalist hadn't brought his own crack to the feast, isn't making Linux indistinguishable from Redhat Redhat's Linux strategy?

Those with long memories will recall how a few years ago Sun released their own version of Linux - which turned out to be mostly a global-search-and-replaced version of Redhat's CD. So is Sun copying everything from Redhat, including their advertising strategy? Or is it just that Sun themselves confused Linux with Redhat so much, that it's all gone a little fuzzy over there?

Sadly, we're not paid to be as confused as Sun's strategists, so we'll put this one down to miscommunication, not malicious intent.

The other Schwartzian transform to be interpreted as evil was the Sun COO's blog entry defending software patents.

Now, thanks to this column's unthinking blinkered acceptance of open source orthodoxies, this is evil. But to be evil enough to win top prize, you really do have to get away with it.

And, unfortunately for our needs, karmic retribution has already exacted its revenge on Schwartz. The words had barely left Schwartz's lips when a U.S. district court popped up, and declared that the IP respecting Sun had infringed upon one of Kodak's gallery of software patents.

Kodak initially put in for $1.06 billion damages, which is lawyer-speak for "we'll take a settlement". Whatever happened, Sun's stock dropped, and Schwartz got another one of those swift kicks in the nest-eggs.

If only Sun had rolled out a Sun Microsystems Royalty-Free Funny Dancing Penguin Patent License which Kodak's minions had to sign before writing Java applets, they wouldn't be in this mess. And they'd have a chance at this month's award. Next!

John Kerry

The final evil nominee on our list of They That Shall Not Be Named (Except In The Context of This Article, Where Naming Them Is Rather The Point), came from an unusual quarter.

The semi-sentient clouds of Rumour and Innuendo passed over the home of the usually dove-like Larry Lessig this month, and hinted to him that Bruce Lehman was advising the US democratic presidential team on intellectual property policy.

We pause now for the thunderclaps to subside.

You might not know Bruce Lehman by name, but you shall certainly know him by his works.

He was the chief architect behind the DMCA; he almost managed to persuade the US government to abandon support for the fledgling Internet, until the engineers came up with some way of doing it that didn't involve duplicating copyrighted bits. He tried to move the US copyright office away from the Library of Congress (who at least know the problems with copyright, as well as its advantages) to the US Patents Office.

Ah, yes, the US Patents Office. As PTO commissioner for the Clinton administration, Bruce Lehman was a key figure in introducing broad software patents in the United States, and encouraging harmonization with that liberal regime elsewhere.

Suffice to say that his re-appearance in the Whitehouse would not be accompanied by angelic choirs of open source programmers singing Hosannahs.

Now, as it turns out, opinions differs as to whether Mr Lehman really has appeared on the shoulder of Mr Kerry. He himself says he has only a "minor role", while sources close to Kerry deny his very existence. So rather than stick the hatchet to Mr Kerry, and have exactly 49.999% of Americans likely to vote furious with us, we'll shift our target slightly to the right, and award this month's Black Heart to Bruce himself.

Bruce Lehman, Mr Software Patents to you, is this month's Evil Without Portfolio.

Who will be October's Agent of the Archfiend? Perform your faith's ablutions, and mail your incantations to

Danny O'Brien is the co-editor of NTK incarnate.

To Evil! will appear monthly.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Re: Evil of September 2004 (Score: 1, Insightful)
by Anonymous on Oct 11, 2004 - 06:06 AM
You write:
One nomination came for Schwartz's revelation of Sun's Linux strategy, as channelled through CNET/Ziff-Davis, to destroy Linux by getting everyone to think that it's really Redhat in disguise.

I think you've got it backwards. The strategy is to destroy Redhat, by getting everyone to think that it is Enterprise Linux in disguise. That is: if you're a big business, and you want to run a non-MS operating system, you can pay Redhat lots of money, or pay Sun slightly less money and get more features. That's just business; it's not Evil! except to the extent that business (i.e., capitalism) is Evil!.

Re: Evil of September 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Oct 11, 2004 - 10:31 AM
Bruce Lehman gets the nod for being... Bruce Lehman?
Doesn't he actually have to do something wicked in the month in question to qualify, other than breathing (however close to the ear of a presidential candidate he chooses to do so)?

Re: Evil of September 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Oct 12, 2004 - 04:53 AM
Let's face it, the linux community is starting to run scared from the realization that Red Hat is now the Microsoft they were hoping to escape, and scared that a little competition from Solaris is going to ruin their supposed invincibility. I've run the benchmarks, and Red Hat has a really big problem...

Good work. (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Oct 12, 2004 - 08:08 AM
With all the lame attempts at humor floating about the net, this column is actually quite funny. Keep it up!


Re: Evil of September 2004 (Score: 0)
by Anonymous on Oct 12, 2004 - 10:13 AM
Wow, with all the 'Anonymous' posts of people supporting Sun, it would appear that Sun is pretty terrified of Linux.

I guess my comment has just as much merrit as any other 'Anonymous' poster.

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