Reading Comprehension and the English Language

Last night Simon Phipps blogged about the Moonlight announcement.

It is funny to be lectured about software freedom from people that use MacOS computers as their main desktops instead of Linux. And to be lectured about whether implementing Moonlight for Linux or not is a good idea. If you smell an inconsistency here, is because its their trademark.

Simon is usually a sensible person, I met him at GUADEC a few years ago and I consider him a good friend and has a great reputation in the open source world for helping Sun open source Java. I have fond memories of hanging out at FooCamp and FOSDEM with him, so I was surprised about his post.

As I pointed out on his blog entry comments he made a number of mistakes on his analysis of the license.

He opens with the following paragraph:

I see Miguel is expecting flak for his initiative to implement Silverlight on GNU/Linux, and I'm sure he'll get it. The thing that caught my eye, however, was what terms I was asked to agree to if I as much as give Silverlight a try on any other platform in the ecosystem Miguel is helping create. Just take a look at the license agreement you're assumed to agree to if you so much as click the "Get Silverlight" button (yes, your acceptance is there in 4-point text in the Get... graphic). You will be agreeing you will not:

He is implying that Moonlight will be covered by Microsoft's EULA. This is not the case. Moonlight is released under a combination of LGPLv2 and MIT X11 licenses. I did bring this up on his comments, and Simon replied with:

Oh, and I didn't intend to imply Moonlight was equally tainted, I didn't think for a moment that you'd license it as anything but Free software and I think I made that clear in my first paragraph. My apologies if you thought otherwise.

I keep re-reading the original paragraph and it is very ambiguous to the point of leading to the confusion. The only point where he addresses this is several paragraphs later: "Miguel is encouraging you to surrender your freedoms if you're using the technology he promotes anywhere but the operating system he is working on. He's the lure for someone else's trap.".

Simon is concerned that using Silverlight on Windows comes with a bunch of requirements that are contrary to software freedom. But Simon, if you care about your software freedom, why are you using MacOS (or Windows) in the first place? If people care about that issue, they should switch to a fully open source system. And correct me if am wrong Simon, but since you link to a Mac license, I can imagine your main desktop is a MacOS machine (I vaguely remember that to be your main desktop; Why not OpenSolaris or Linux?), it seems like you have already surrendered your software freedom rights a long time ago.

And let me add, you can always port Moonlight to Windows. It is free software, remember?

His blog post is confusing, a commenter on Simon's blog points exactly that:

Just to let you know that I skimmed this post after it was linked on Louis' blog and got the impression that the points in the license that you raise are in Moonlight rather than Silverlight.

I didn't realize until I read Miguel's comment that this is not the case.

Of course, it is obvious on a second reading that you are talking about Silverlight. But I hope no-one else makes the same mistake as me, but worse does not realize it.

So one person is already confused. But it gets better. Pundit Matt Asay gets it wrong too (For those not familiar with Matt Asay, he is like the Robert Novak of open source punditry). He opens his own blog entry with:

Simon Phipps takes apart the licensing maze required to start "enjoying" Novell's Moonlight. Novell clearly wants to be popular with someone, and so has settled on Microsoft.

So Simon text is definitely obscure enough that pundits are making the same "mistake" I made when I read Simon's obscure blog post. On the other hand, it was pundits that got the US into the Iraq war, so we must cut the punditry circles some slack, we can not expect them to be scholars.

Now it is time to take exception at Matt's claim that:

Simon [...] takes apart the licensing maze required to start enjoying Novell's Moonlight"

No Matt, Simon did not explain anything about Moonlight, he was talking about Silverlight's EULA license, and while doing so, he managed to botch his analysis on several counts.

I am not in the business of defending Microsoft's EULAs, but in this case Simon tried to imply that we were covered by it. And well, Moonlight is not, as I said above Moonlight is under the LGPL/X11 licenses.

It seems that the EULAs for these proprietary plugins are pretty much all the same. As Stephen Walli pointed out on the comments for Simon, he is throwing rocks in a glasshouse, here are some EULAs that just as bad or worse as the Silverlight one:

Silverlight terms are simpler to read than any of the previous five. This seems like an improvement.

When it comes to damages, a topic that Simon seems to care about as he writes: "that the limit of Microsoft's liability in any matter (including "internet services") is $5", here is the breakdown of the other EULAs:

  • Acrobat: 50 dollars.
  • Helix: 5 dollars.
  • Silverlight: 5 dollars.
  • Java: 0 dollars.
  • Flash: 0 dollars.

And for good measure the GPL, LGPL and MIT X11 licenses put that at zero. So Acrobat, Helix and Silverlight are actually the most generous in this space.

I am not going to accuse Simon of double-standards, as he acknowledges in a comment that he would like to see those removed from Sun software as well:

As to glass houses: I expect there are Sun agreements that actually are a threat to software freedom, but it's my (and I believe Sun's) goal to eliminate as many of them as possible. By contrast, the Silverlight agreement is new, and its terms appear intended not just to protect Microsoft but to advantage them. I'm a bit surprised to find you making this apples-to-oranges comparison. I'm an easy target when I'm talking about what concerns me, but do you really believe there's no issue here?

I am not sure to what extend the EULA for Silverlight "its terms appear intended not just to protect Microsoft but to advantage them". Simon botched the analysis on most of his claims (including his statement about video and the MPEG-LA claim, he needs to read the (b) section).

So what we have is a case of exaggerated outrage over a silly license and for good measure a little bit of smearing of Moonlight by association.

Simon also complains that by accepting the license, "* that Microsoft can gather information about your computer and internet connection; * that they can automatically modify the software."

That is incorrect Simon. The license that you accept does not give Microsoft the right to gather the information (unlike the Java license that explicitly states that Sun can gather the information). In addition, Simon conveniently ignores the fact that the the Silverlight EULA states that you can opt-out from automatic-updates (see the license for yourself).

Finally, Simon's take on Mono:

I suppose this is just the same as my issue with Mono; that it's a trailing-edge implementation of an ecosystem that's intended by its architects to take away freedoms. That's what I'm reacting to.

Simon, that was uncalled for. Mono might be trailing behind Microsoft's APIs, but Mono has its own vibrant community and its own stack of open source libraries that are 100% independent of Microsoft's own stack based on the ECMA 335 core. You should know better than that. Mono is able to plot its own destiny and its own ecosystem on his own thank-you-very-much.

Matt Asay Shortsightedness

Matt Asay's bitter blog post misses the point as well, his argument of "position of strength" is a laughable one. Lets play, spot the inconsistencies (post your thoughts):

In other words, if someone is going to be Microsoft's toady, Novell wants to be darned sure it's them. It would be much better to command interoperability from a position of strength, as Red Hat is doing (or as MySQL is doing in databases, JBoss has done in application servers, etc.), rather than between mouthfuls of Microsoft's toejam.

Well Matt, we actually started on Moonlight without any management approval. All my bosses knew about our effort to implement Moonlight was that I requested a trip to Paris on June 21st ("Am going to accept this invitation to ReMix in Paris, the opportunity sounds priceless"). Nobody knew what my engineering group was cooking. And I for one had no expectations at that point to become a "toady", but I guess that is for a psychiatrist to figure out the day I get one.

So we are very excited that we turned our 21-day hackaton into a collaboration to productize Moonlight and to be able to bring Silverlight to Linux users.

To me, Moonlight is of crucial importance because I believe that Microsoft will be successful in getting Silverlight deployed in many sites, and as a Linux desktop user (unlike some outraged open source advocates that stick to OSX :-) I want to make sure that I have access to the Silverlight content from my Linux box.

And speaking of freedom and outrage, Simon you do not seem to mind surrendering your freedoms to Apple when you buy proprietary iPods and proprietary connectors, using the proprietary iTunes. And there are other mp3 players that are purely open source. Why are you using that instead of the purely open source Linux + Banshee?

You have the right to choose to iTunes, and others have the right to choose Silverlight. But of course people like to paint things in apocalyptic terms, more along the lines of "Will someone think of the children?". It may be funny, but only when its part of a Simpsons sketch.

It took real change inside Microsoft and Microsoft's internal organization to push for an agreement with Novell that would officially endorse Moonlight and would provide assistance of a kind that has never been seen between Microsoft and the open source community.

Moonlight will probably help Silverlight get adoption, and advance Microsoft's interest position in this space, but:

  • From a pure technical perspective: Silverlight is the best of breed on this space. I like it, and it matches my opinions. Maybe not everyone's opinions, but mine and some others.
  • As long as I can have my LGPL/X11 licensed code base, am more than happy for Silverlight to become another option on the Internet. Live and let live kind of scenario (Unlike others, I actually love Flash as well, and I love the open source efforts trying to create an open source version even more).
  • Silverlight vs Flash vs JavaFX vs AIR is not a zero-sum game. Those who believe that have a strong scarcity mindset. I for one believe that the ecosystem will become richer by having more options. You know, competition, choice, options, styles.
    Just like on the server space source we have competing frameworks: django, rails, turbogears, asp.net and j2ee.
Posted on 07 Sep 2007 by Miguel de Icaza
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