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Microsoft Open Source Patents

Microsoft Invests In Open Source Software Company 99

Posted by timothy
from the world's-biggest-open-source-vendor dept.
joabj writes "In what may be its first investment in an open source software company, Microsoft has quietly invested in TurboHercules, which maintains the Hercules open source IBM mainframe emulator. Perhaps the potential for purloining customers from the juicy mainframe market outstrips any misgivings Microsoft may have about open source. You might remember TurboHercules: In March, it filed an antitrust complaint with the EU over IBM's tying of its mainframe OSes with its hardware." A story from earlier this year gives more information on the related conflict between Hercules and IBM over patents.
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Microsoft Invests In Open Source Software Company

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  • by clarkn0va (807617) <apt.get@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:44PM (#34422548) Homepage

    Perhaps the potential for purloining customers from the juicy mainframe market outstrips any misgivings Microsoft may have about open source.

    The only misgivings MS ever had about open source is for the potential it has for giving away what it has always charged money for, thus eroding their profit share. I've often wondered why they don't leverage it to their own advantage more, much like the way they appropriated BSD code for much of their networking utilities, like netstat et al.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:44PM (#34422564) Homepage Journal

    If the courts make IBM give in this could be huge for Microsoft. Turbo Hercules could be used to make an easy migration to Windows. Or maybe Microsoft will make an IBM mainframe compatibility layer like the Posix layar using Turbo Hercules? If you could run your mainframe software on a Windows server things would really start to suck for IBM.

    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      Indeed. Not to mention it might actually be feasible for some people to learn mainframe OS's in their spare time.

      We've got an AS/400 at work that we still do a lot on (though we've been migrating away from it slowly). It's the only system I don't have a fucking clue how to use. I mean sure, I can login, and futz around enough to get a few basic things done, but I don't really understand the system, and that bugs me.

      Windows was easy. For $200-300 you can get a Windows system. Linux? About the same or l

      • Is there anyone online that lets you remote in to a public copy dedicated for educational purposes?

        • by MBGMorden (803437)

          You can get accounts on them for fairly reasonable prices, but you're essentially buying time as a user. From what I've seen it's more useful for developers who want a machine to code on when they're aware from work. From a system administrator perspective, you just don't have the access capabilities to learn how to do things like OS upgrades and the like.

          For Unix comparison, it'd be like being given an account on a machine with no root access. You can code, run apps, etc, but no fiddling with the setup.

      • by baegucb (18706)

        An AS/400 isn't a mainframe. It's based on a System/38, a mini-computer, iirc (I've used both but not recently). Anyways, the Hercules emulator is based on MVS, which was originally open source from IBM. MVS begat z/OS which is the current IBM mainframe OS (we also run Linux LPARs using virtualization and specialized processors). And no, x86 doesn't have the IO capability to compete with mainframe hardware. The most Hercules could do is try and convinve mainframe customers to run their software, rather than

        • by bws111 (1216812)

          Hercules is not based on MVS in any way. Hercules is based on the z/Architecture Principles of Operation, which describes the instruction set, etc for the z/Architecture. Hercules (+windows+pc) is a 'replacement' for mainframe hardware, nothing else.

          • by baegucb (18706)

            Ummm.. nope. Hercules initial release was 1999 (according to wiki although I was relying on memory in my first post). z/OS came out in 2001. It may now use Z architecture, but not originally.

      • Hercules emulates the IBM large systems machines (360/370/390/ES9000/zSeries), no AS/400 support here. The AS/400 was (is) a midsize machine (we used to call them minicomputers back in the day). It is a totally different beast from the large systems. If I recall, when it was introduced it had a lot of unique features (variable length words, memory mapped files), at least for it's time. Later machines switched to the Power architecture (iSeries I believe).
        However, I never cared for it because (as a develop
      • by dwywit (1109409)
        *Sigh* - let me know when you find as AS/400 emulator - I'd like to see how to make it work properly on non-AS/400 hardware, but just having that OS to play with.... I've been out of it for a while, but I've never seen the granularity of control available in any other mid-range or server OS. I've never seen a Microsoft OS that even approached the ability of OS/400 to manage resources and jobs. FWIW, I used to manage an AS400 that supported 200+ green screens and 200+ desktop PCs. It had 48MB (yes, megabytes
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        I have no intention of just "playing around" on my employer's production system

        Wuss! What's the worst that could happen?

        Ah...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Meh, I don't know about that. I don't think we would see people flocking from mainframe hardware to a Herc/Win box for production stuff. Hercules is very cool, but if you poke around with the software you get the feeling that it's not something you would bet your F500 company on.

      • by bhcompy (1877290)
        It's a start. PICK OS is currently emulated very successfully, with APIs built in to the emulator for TCP/IP communication(PICK predates TCP/IP), SQL interaction(PICK is a multivalue db with its own query language, not a relational db with a dialect of SQL), etc. You don't buy mainframes to run PICK anymore, you emulate it in *nix or Windows. When the Hercules software matures, the same thing will probably start to happen because of the cost and maintenance.
        • by bws111 (1216812) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @05:48PM (#34423580)

          Hercules is a hardware emulator. Running stuff on Hercules does not get you any closer to migrating to Windows than running on a real zSeries machine does. The only thing Hercules does is allow you to move from expensive but highly reliable hardware to cheap hardware. Of course that move comes with an enormous performance penalty, and your 5 9s mainframe reliability has just gone in the toilet. There are probably only a handful of IBM customers world-wide who would even seriously consider doing that. The only thing Microsoft 'gains' from this is potential damage to IBM.

          • +3, insightful (if I had any points...)

          • They gain the employees. On a related note, Microsoft also bought up VirtualPC a few years ago.
          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            Actually you will not loose too much if any performance depending on which zSeries you are using. Of course Microsoft would have to write a compatibility layer on top of the hardware emulator for a complete solution.

            • by baegucb (18706)

              You lose reliability and speed of IO amongst other things. Start at about page 11 of http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/redbooks/pdfs/sg246366.pdf [ibm.com]

              • by LWATCDR (28044)

                Reliability is a given. There are few things in this life that are as Reliable as a well maintained Z Series. But Intel based servers are getting very good at up time these days. Redundant power supplies and RAID arrays go a long way. Don't get me wrong. They are not as reliable as an IBM mainframe. Heck you can hot swap CPUS on those things but they are pretty good.
                Herc on a PC could replace some smaller mainframes. A company might decided that the uptime of their windows servers is now good enough for th

          • There are probably only a handful of IBM customers world-wide who would even seriously consider doing that.

            I knew a friend who did some work for a ma-and-pop trucking company to run the AS/400 they were tricked into buying. They have about 5 trucks on the road in peak season. How ultra-reliable does their system need to be? Sure, you don't want it to lose or corrupt data, but if push came to shove they could leave it turned off 23 hours a day and only boot it for some occasional data entry.

            I'd stake money that there are a lot of little shops like this with way more computing hardware than they could possibly nee

            • by bws111 (1216812)

              That may be true, but it has nothing to do with Hercules or this story. AS/400 is what used to be called a mini-computer. It was sold as a turnkey system to small and medium sized businesses, and as a departmental server in large businesses. It has it's own processor architecture and instruction set, and it's own operating system (OS/400). Hercules, on the other hand, is emulating the z/Architecture machines. These machines have a completely different architecture (which started out as S/360) and opera

              • by LWATCDR (28044)

                There is a "low" end System Z both for the 9 and 10. According to IBM they start at around $100,000. while not cheap is a lot less than millions of dollars.
                And let's not forget things like development, testing, and even legacy systems that people may be sill running. I am sure that there is more 370 and 390 code still running that any of us wants to think about.

          • by rtb61 (674572)

            It doesn't seem likely that the intent is to damage IBM so much as a opportunity to build up a series of legal cases against IBM to be used in negotiation with IBM over something like Linux patents. So IBM produces an OS that they sell with their hardware and they want to control licensing of that OS ie if you run it on other hardware you must be pirating it as they only sell it with their hardware, this case nor the other one doesn't really seem to have any depth.

            So M$ just seems to be temporarily propp

            • by bws111 (1216812)

              After reading some of the other posts I thought of another reason for MS to do this. For example, there is a post by someone whose company has a mainframe, but it is very lightly used and the rest of the stuff is Microsoft. It seems to me that that lightly used mainframe represents a big threat to MS, in that someone could wake up one day and say 'hey, we could move a couple hundred web servers and SQL servers to run on that mainframe with Linux', and there goes MS's grip on that customer. So it is advan

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        What if it is a Microsoft supported and endorsed Herc/Win box?
        I think you may be under estimating how much trust people have in Microsoft.
        And people are already using Herc for things like development and yes even for replacing older mainframes.

      • Depends on why they're using a mainframe. If it's because a mainframe is the right tool for the job, then Windows almost certainly isn't. A lot of people, however, are using a mainframe because it was the only thing that could handle the workload back in the '70s or '80s. These days, a cheap desktop can probably handle the load if it hasn't grown much.

        There are also the people developing mainframe software. They could easily work on a laptop and only deploy on the real hardware. Moving these people of

        • by evilviper (135110)

          They could easily work on a laptop and only deploy on the real hardware. Moving these people off the mainframe reduces the load on the mainframe, taking money from IBM (they charge for turning on each CPU).

          Except it practically never works that way... making it cheaper and infintely easier for people to develop and test software for IBM mainframes is likely to make the platform much more popular, not less. And realistically, would you expect companies to run critical software on an emulator? Personally,

          • by bws111 (1216812)

            Correct. IBM itself has offerings to allow you to emulate a zSeries on a linux box for development purposes. [ibm.com]

            However, I must point out that the EU complaint is not about IBM objecting to companies that are running old stuff using Hercules. IBM is objecting to companies running the very latest z/OS on an emulation of IBM's latest hardware.

          • by Ritchie70 (860516)

            I think my (Fortune 200) employer has a bunch of stuff that runs on a mainframe because that's where it runs, not because of any volume or even reliability requirements. It needs to run once a day (or once a week) and process what once was an awe-inspiring amount of data but now is a DVD.

            Since we're officially a "Microsoft Shop" I could totally see us using something like this.

            I am kind of amused by Microsoft now being in the business of "hardware" to run IBM's "software" though.

      • Many F500 companies have legacy mainframe applications that are not critical to the business, but they don't want to spend the $$$ to rewrite them for another platform. For these application, Hercules would make sense (if they could legally run z/OS). Also, whenever I'm engaged in a mainframe development project (yes, they still happen - occasionally - though usually only for maintenance enhancements), I use my local MVS instance to do the development since the "real" mainframe is usually pegged and just ge
    • If you could run your mainframe software on a Windows server things would really start to suck for IBM.

      Depending on what you are doing on the mainframe, you can do that already. If all you need is to be able to run some mainframe batch jobs or TSO scripts execs, then it's already there now. Simply download Hercules and you can download your choice of MVS 3.8j, DOS Release 34, or VM/370 (maybe even a couple more). These are quite old versions of mainframe operating systems which are in the public domain. I have all of them installed and occasionally play when them just to keep my old mainframe skills fresh.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        Has IBM actually said z/OS can only run on IBM hardware? The only statement related to that that I have seen is where they said they wouldn't license for Hercules, because they think Hercules infringes on patents and other IP.

        • by mswhippingboy (754599) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @09:12PM (#34426224)
          z/OS is licensed per CPU (tied to the CPU serial number). Long before TurboHercules, the Hercules community tried to get IBM to provide a "hobbyist/student" license to allow z/OS (or OS/390) to be legally run on Hercules, but IBM was not interested. I don't believe at that time IBM was concerned with IP or patent issues, there just wasn't enough in it for IBM to waste their time with.
          Having said that, I know IBM "used" to license their OS to run on competitor mainframes such as Amdahl and Fujitsu, mostly because they were forced to as part of the antitrust settlement. I don't know it that's the case anymore.
          However, even if IBM were to be forced to license z/OS to be run on Hercules, I'm sure no one could afford it (at least for hobby/training purposes). I remember back 20 years ago we used to pay about $6,000 per month just for MVS (about $25,000 per month for all the IBM software we had), and we were a pretty small mainframe shop.
  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:51PM (#34422652) Homepage

    Besides the people behind this case, the case itself is quite interesting too.

    The European Commission (or Court of Justice) will have to decide if IBM has harmed TurboHercules through anti-competitive behaviour. IBM has also asserted patents. This means that if the European institutions find that IBM is doing wrong, then they will also have to decide if IBM can use its patents to continue the wrong. I.e. what trumps? Competition law or patents?

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/IBM_and_TurboHercules,_2010 [swpat.org]

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Competition_law_defence [swpat.org]

    If competition law trumps, then this opens a new path for breaking down the problems that software patents are doing to standards and interop.

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Harm_to_standards_and_compatibility [swpat.org]

    • You know this has been decided before in favor of IBM.

      If you bothered to research the case you will find the issue is with a company called Turbo Hercules telling companies that have mainframe contracts with IBM to violate those contracts so they can use Turbo Hercules.

      It's a matter of contract law.

      IBM does not have an issue with the Turbo Hercules project and have donated code to that effort.

      IBM does have an issue with a piss-ant company trying to get their customers to violate terms of their a
      • > You know this has been decided before in favor of IBM.

        Oh? Got a link?

        My understanding was, as is mentioned in the story summary:

        "You might remember TurboHercules: In March, it filed an antitrust complaint with the EU over IBM's tying of its mainframe OSes with its hardware."

        I.e. no decision has been taken.

        If you can give a link to show it's been decided, I'll be happy to admit I wasn't up to date on the case.

        • The previous case was in the 80s and was a US antitrust case. An EU case will be testing different laws and the situation with regard to IBM's monopoly is quite different (people do get fired for buying IBM now), so the outcome may well be different.

          This case is particularly interesting because it may set a precedent that prevents tying OS X with Macs, and so on.

          • Ok, thanks.

            Did the US case in the 80s touch the patents issue at all?

            If it was over software, it probably didn't since no one was really using software patents back then, but if there were any patent issues, I'd still be interested in getting a reference so I can look into how the competition authority handled it.

            (To restate the broader question: when the competition authority finds anti-competitive behaviour that's being propped up by contract or market forces, and takes the necessary action to end this an

            • by bws111 (1216812)

              Well, in the 50's (US), IBM was forced to license it's patents to anyone who wanted them. If IBM and the other party could not come to agreement on the royalty the court would decide it.

              • Hmm, that mention of royalties is usually a bad sign, but it would be interesting to see what might happen if IBM's only competitor was a free software project.

                Hate to be a broken record, but have you a link (maybe a Wikipedia page) for that case?

                (The reason I keep asking for links is that I'm building a wiki at en.swpat.org which is an information resource for campaigns against software patents. I'm trying to raise the general quality of lobbying, so I try to avoid adding unsourced stories.)

                • It's a matter of historical fact that IBM was sued twice for antitrust in the US. I don't know the exact case numbers. The first case began in the late 1950's, and the second one was in the 1970's/80's. I recommend you get a copy of "Father Son and Company: my life and times at IBM" by Thomas J. Watson (the son of the founder). You should be able to find it on Amazon, it's a good read of IBM's corporate history as viewed from the inside by the president/CEO.

                  FWIW, I'm on IBM's side in this matter with TurboH

                  • I'm not doubting anyone that these cases took place :-) Thing is, I'm building a wiki of information which should be useful for campaigns against software patents. I'm trying to raise the standard of discussion, so I avoid adding information that doesn't come with proof.

                    I probably won't get time to read that book.

                    As for being on one side or the other, I'm on neither. My role is that I'm trying to *document* what happened (insofar as it's relevant to patents and software development). I'm not calling for

  • by kawabago (551139) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:51PM (#34422660)
    Apple ties OSX to it's own hardware and no one argues that is wrong, although I think it is.
    • Did you not hear about the Hackintosh movement and Psystar? Plenty of people have complained about OS X being tied to Macs.

    • Apple ties OSX to it's own hardware and no one argues that is wrong, although I think it is.

      I think it's unfortunate, but how is it 'wrong'? Their software, their hardware, their choice.

      • by kawabago (551139)
        Software is protected by copyright. As an author I can't control where you read my book. Why should Apple control where we run their software? The law can be wrong and I think it is here, fair use needs to be expanded.
        • As an author I can't control where you read my book. Why should Apple control where we run their software?

          Would you use threats of violence (government) to tell the author of that book what to write?

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Apple ties OSX to it's own hardware and no one argues that is wrong, although I think it is.

      A lot of people would argue it is wrong, but 99% of Apple customers don't care as long as it's cool and works. It is the 1% who should know better (developers, et al) that annoy me. If it was Microsoft doing this, they'd be all over them for anti-competitiveness, lack of openness and so on, but somehow Apple get exempted because they're technically quite good/

  • Investment in FOSS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Conversely, IBM should invest serious money/time in ReactOS and WINE ... and encourage the liberation of Mono...

  • IBM should invest serious money/time in ReactOS and WINE ... and encourage the liberation of Mono...

  • by iONiUM (530420) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:53PM (#34422692) Homepage Journal

    While I'm happy Microsoft is investing in open source, I find that their target is fairly suspicious.. what easier way to take on IBM indirectly than to give money to an open source company who is already in conflict with them.

    In addition, it's not like Microsoft isn't already trying to embrace open source. You'd be surprised at just how much stuff is released under MS-PL licence. And while that may anger you, as it's their own licence, it's rather free.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly - this is SCO in a different hat, but with an actual product.

  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @04:55PM (#34422714) Homepage
    As time goes by, most MS senior management will realize that open source is neither good nor bad, but an instrument that can be more useful than closed source under many circumstances.

    En un lugar del estado de Washington cuyo nombre quiero olvidar...
  • M$.. investing in open source.. good.. evil.. must.. classify.. DOES NOT COMPUTE!
  • They aren't investing in the company because it's open source, they are investing in a company that just happens to release their product as open source.

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