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The European Union's Sixth Framework Program is a proposed program for the funding of scientific research and development across Europe. It has many goals, including:
...enabling the Union, within the next ten years, to become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy.
A budget of over EUR 16 billion is proposed for this activity, which will last through 2006. Of that, about EUR 3.6 billion is to be set aside for "information society" projects. That, of course, is a substantial chunk of change, with the potential to bring about some truly interesting developments.
It is not surprising that the European branch of the Free Software Foundation has something to say about what kind of software should be developed with these funds. FSF Europe sees a possible escape from an undesirable situation:
As a result of the proprietary software model, we are currently in a situation where almost the whole European information technologies industry is dependent on an oligopoly of U.S. software companies. Viewed from the European perspective, such a situation is highly unstable and unfavorable
The solution to this problem, of course, is to fund the development of a European free software industry. The potential, they say, is great:
Free Software is clearly a model of the future and Europe already has an increasingly vibrant Free Software scene unrivaled anywhere in the world. This gives Europe a very unique chance to capitalize on the benefits of Free Software and get a head-start into the knowledge economy.
FSF Europe is asking that at least 50% of the "information society" budget go to free software and documentation, and that free software be preferred in all the program's funding decisions. In some areas (fundamental science and "eEurope"), they would like to see 100% free software.
For the most part, one would expect these recommendations to be uncontroversial - at least, outside of a Microsoft boardroom. Software developed with public money should, in general, be available to the people who paid for it. There may be, however, a bit more disagreement over one other recommendation from the FSF:
Additional positive scores in the evaluation process should be granted to projects employing ``Copylefted'' Free Software and projects taking steps to ensure the enduring availability and legal maintainability of the Free Software created through copyright assignments to appropriate institutions.
LWN has often pointed out the benefits of the GPL. But this sort of attempt to create governmental preferences for a specific software license could well be self-defeating. Reasonable people - all of whom support free software - can and often do disagree over software licenses. This recommendation looks like an attempt by one group to grab preferential treatment over the others. Is it not enough that the resulting software be free?
OpenOffice 1.0 released. The announcement went out on May 1: OpenOffice 1.0 is now available. OpenOffice has been covered on this page before, so we'll say little about it here. Suffice to say that OpenOffice is the most comprehensive, feature-complete free office suite available for Linux today.
The OpenOffice team started with a large pile of corporate code, complete with proprietary bits cut out and comments in German. The better part of two years of work has turned it into a highly capable package with many of the worst features (i.e. the StarOffice desktop) removed, an open, XML-based file format, and, of course, a 100% free code base. It is a great achievement; congratulations are due to the OpenOffice.org developers.
Catching up with Linux companies. A few Linux and free software companies came out with news this week, so here's a combined article to catch up. Some of these companies, we might say, are doing better than others.
Remember EBIZ Enterprises? The company once ran TheLinuxStore.com and, through a high-profile merger with LinuxMall.com, was trying to set itself up as one of the primary Linux retail outlets. EBIZ also announced an agreement in March, 2001 to acquire Linux NetworX. Things didn't go so well, of course; the Linux NetworX acquisition was called off, and EBIZ went into bankruptcy last September.
EBIZ has now made an SEC filing describing its plan for emerging from bankruptcy; it's a grim document. The big, secured creditors (The Canopy Group, Caldera, Ingram) will get their money back in full - over several years, if the company lasts that long. The Canopy Group will, if it exercises its options to exchange some of the debt for equity, emerge with a controlling share of the company, along with the right to name three directors.
The other creditors are not so lucky; they get 7% of what they are owed (over two years) and a chunk of stock in the post-bankruptcy company. The worst treatment, however, is reserved for the stockholders: their shares will simply be "canceled" and replaced with a 60-day "right" to buy new shares at $0.65 each. Essentially, this company is being taken from its owners and handed over to management and the large creditors.
The reformed company still plans to make its living through sales of Linux-oriented products to consumers and VARs. EBIZ also plans, it seems, to run a Linux news site, a bad business idea if there ever was one...
It may have happened more quietly, but Lineo appears to have gone through a similar process. Since Lineo is a private company, there is less information available on what went on; the best coverage of the company's "recapitalization" seems to be in these articles on LinuxDevices.com and NewsForge. Lineo went through some sort of legal routine that involved foreclosing on the old company, but transferring most of its assets to "Lineo 2." More money got pumped into Lineo, with the end result that the company is controlled by, once again, the Canopy Group. Lineo is claiming that it will reach a profitable status any minute now; if those words are true then the company should soon be past its problems.
Some better news can be found in this press release from MySQL AB. This company claims "unprecedented growth," with first quarter sales being "53 percent over projections." According to the PR, the dual-licensing scheme, wherein companies incorporating MySQL into their products pay for a proprietary license if they do not wish to be bound by the GPL, is working out well. MySQL has also received a new round of venture financing.
The "dual license" approach may yet prove to be a workable business model - at least, for bits of software infrastructure that other companies wish to use in their products. There are problems, of course: not all potential contributors will be willing to allow their code to be sold as a proprietary product. In some areas, however, it may be possible to put together a reasonable development community behind a free product and still sell GPL "indulgements" to companies willing to pay.
Samba and the CIFS Specification. The Samba Team has released a statement regarding the Microsoft CIFS specification license and its effect on Samba. This specification, remember, prohibits use of the described technology in GPL-licensed code. The Samba developers, however, are not worried:
The Samba Team wishes to reassure the Samba community that this document will not have any impact on the use or further development of Samba.
Essentially, the Samba Team is saying (1) they have no need for Microsoft's documentation, since the relevant information has already been published elsewhere; (2) Microsoft's CIFS patents do not apply to the Samba code, and (3) the Team does not accept Microsoft's criticism of the GPL:
While Microsoft labels the GPL as "Intellectual Property Impairing" in their license document, it has in fact proved to be a very successful vehicle for encouraging the development of a high quality CIFS/SMB implementation. Far from "impairing" intellectual property the Samba Team believes that the distribution terms of the GNU GPL has provided an environment which has encouraged a high degree of industry collaboration to the benefit of both Samba users and the many successful companies that have built a wide range of products on top of Samba technology.
In other words, it's business as usual for a development group which has been producing high-quality, seriously useful free software for many years.
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May 2, 2002