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Microsoft Patents Sudo's Behavior 657

Foofoobar writes "Just when you thought all was safe on the crazy patent front, Microsoft has come out of the obvious patent closet to file patent number 7617530, which basically duplicates the functionality of 'sudo' which is found in all Linux systems. PJ over at groklaw has a wonderful writeup on the entire fiasco."
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Microsoft Patents Sudo's Behavior

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  • Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alain94040 ( 785132 ) * on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:38PM (#30065978) Homepage

    I don't condemn all software patents. Just because it's software doesn't mean that it can't be brilliant and stunningly innovative.

    But sudo with a GUI? A quick fix I'd suggest to get rid of those bogus patents is to have a rule that says that if a patent is proven obvious later on, then the company (Microsoft in that case) would lose all their patents for the year. That would make them think twice before filing junk...

    the Co-FoundersMeetup [] in Mountain View is next week

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:49PM (#30066148)

    The big industry writes them up just as protection from patent trolls and then collude to keep small competition out (ie Microsoft was threatening that Linux was stepping on its patents back in the day).

    Patents were made to spawn innovation - bypassing secretive guilds by incentivizing the opening of knowledge to public domain in exchange for a limited time monopoly. Projects and society are way too fluid now to keep many inane details secret anyway. There needs to be a study of which types of patents coming in provide useful knowledge to the People, and which majority are just wastes dumps of text - and amend the system accordingly.

    I would urge the USA to do this now, while it is the leading superpower in which others follow suit. It may have been to our advantage in the past, but not so in the future, imo.

  • by lilo_booter ( 649045 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @05:59PM (#30066310)

    Yes, MS has applied for a patent on sudo's behaviour and that is what the title is ridiculing - as should we. Regardless of their success or failure, we're entitled to point and laugh.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:03PM (#30066362) Homepage

    Just because it's software doesn't mean that it can't be brilliant and stunningly innovative.

    The suggested punishment might be a little extreme, but the idea is sound. We need some kind of penalty for companies filing junk patents for the electronic equivalent of exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide across a thin, moist membrane.

  • by ericthughes ( 1015253 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:05PM (#30066384)

    when you attempt to mount a drive that is not defined in fstab. Ubuntu pops up a "enter your password" dialog. M$ maybe up to some dirty old tricks here...

  • by gbutler69 ( 910166 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:09PM (#30066460) Homepage
    And I'm not just talking about sudo/gksudo etc....look at "Policy Kit". This is EXACTLY what this Patent describes. EPIC FAIL Microsoft! The FREE SOFTWARE WORLD has OUT INNOVATED YOU AGAIN! Been doing this for at least more than a year. Been in design/documentation/talked about for even longer.
  • I have prior work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rkuris ( 541364 ) * < minus berry> on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:10PM (#30066482) Homepage
    I am the original author of "priv", which came before sudo, and I didn't see any mention of it. This utility was published in Unix World back in 1987, and basically did the same thing. Does this mean "priv" is exempt from this patent?
  • POLICY KIT! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gbutler69 ( 910166 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:11PM (#30066498) Homepage
  • Pseudocode (Score:4, Interesting)

    by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @06:59PM (#30067064)

    I think a better solution would be for the patent to be described using pseudocode or some variation thereof. Since this is afterall a software patent, the application should be written in a form that is legible to others in the field. It would also lead to easier settlement of a dispute since previous art could more easily be compared with pseudocode.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fritsd ( 924429 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @07:02PM (#30067098) Journal
    You're using the argument that without software patents, those "inventions" would not be publically disclosed (after all, that's the trade-off, right?) So why is it that the source code of those "inventions" is not attached to the patent as proof of public disclosure? There's no technical reason whatsoever to not do this.
  • Groklaw is wrong (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:02PM (#30067642)

    The claims presented on their web page do not conflict with sudo.

    sudo works in a very different way: sudo is about the user saying "i need to be a different user so I can run command Y"

    This feature is about the operating system saying "user X, in order to do Y, you need more privilege."

    The two concepts are quite different.

    Maybe Groklaw folks should use Vista/Windows7, as well as Unix, and try to understand the difference(s) between the roles of the two.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RichardJenkins ( 1362463 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:05PM (#30067676)

    After reading the patent, best I can tell is it's saying:

    "Sometimes an application tries to do something whilst running under a non-privileged account. If an application tries this we could use [magic] to interrupt the process and present a dialogue allowing a user to assume permissions of another account which we know has appropriate permissions [by magic]. Alternatively, we could [do magic] to determine if the user can elevate privileges of their own account, and allow them to do so."

    I'm not sure if such a system existed when this was filed in 2005 (it certainly does now, except the bits which this patent does by magic are fully fleshed out and publicly viewable in the source), but the only non-obvious part in going from the following scenario:

    rj@laptop:/$ passwd root
    passwd: You may not view or modify password information for root.
    rj@laptop:/$ sudo passwd
    [sudo] password for rj:
    Enter new UNIX password: what they described is the bit which they've left to magic.

    Most tellingly: "the specific features and steps are disclosed as preferred forms of implementing the claimed invention." they're trying to steal the feature of automatic privilege escalation from anyone who wants to build it without going through MS.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:08PM (#30067712)

    I will say it again. Let companies keep their trade secrets. I would rather see companies come up with something and pay their engineers money to improve it over the competition than have to throw money at the USPTO and Lawyers. Hell, I would rather see the Marketing department get some of that money to advertise why product X is better than Y than to hold a monopoly and sit around collecting money. Look at the vast amounts of money that get thrown around on patent litigation whether a patent has obviously good standing or clearly has prior art. If you want to contest another's patent or defend your own, you are going to have to cough up a lot of money, money that could be going into R&D making your product even better. Businesses should be constantly innovating with the fire of innovation on their asses. Everyone wins in this scenario because the person with the best product makes the most money and the losers can try again next time to come up with something that is either cheaper, faster, or of higher quality (pick 2). The consumers would also win because they would have a constant slew of people actually putting on a song and dance for your money rather than the business-as-usual methods of expecting consumers to pay tribute to you because you're the only game in town.

    Imagine if the Internet had come out in the time of software patents. The Internet in its current form started in bits and pieces. Imagine how long it would have been to have an internet where half the technologies we have didn't exist and the other half cost a prohibitive amount of money. Microsoft, Apple, Oracle/Sun, Adobe, and a lot of other tech giants owe a lot of where they are now on not having a nuisance patent system.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2009 @08:22PM (#30067822)

    The problem being you can engineer your way round a patent on a specific innovative break design in a car.
    Trying to work around a patent with a flowchart with a note reading "slows car down" is pretty much impossible.

    Hence it kills innovation, not encourages it.

  • Re:claims (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2009 @12:38AM (#30069388)
    The patent was filed four and a half years ago. I suspect that Microsoft has prior art of their own that predates ubuntu's first release as well. "Years" isn't enough. First is.
  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdot@nexusu[ ]rg ['k.o' in gap]> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @07:26AM (#30071006) Homepage

    1. Copyright
    2. Licences such as GPL, LGPL, BSD (if you want to give it away), Creative Commons, ... etc

    These things don't protect you from the things patents are _supposed_ to protect you from (namely, someone ripping off your _idea_, rather than your implementation).

    1. Proprietary software. In other words don't publish your code.

    This one will protect your idea, only if it is a hidden subsystem within your product - e.g. an algorithm which is orders of magnitude faster than existing methods of doing that job would be partly protected when integrated into proprietary software since it wouldn't be visible, but a "whole-product" idea such as Amazon's infamous one-click purchase system isn't protected because it is downright obvious how it could be implemented without needing to look at the code.

    Of course, interested parties can still reverse engineer your code anyway.

    I am sure this can easily be added to without resorting to stupid software patents, which IMHO don't contribute to innovation in developing software. The only people that stand to gain from software patents are the Lawyers and patent Trolls.

    On this we certainly agree. IMHO the whole patent system is broken and rarely does anything beneficial to innovation.

  • Re:Penalties (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @03:18PM (#30077144) Journal

    Actually, it is a little beyond that, otherwise it would be identical to what Apple has done since MacOS X.0. What this does different is bring up a dialog box WITH USERS that can run the application, and you can select one of those to run the app as instead, if you know the password. In a UNIX-like system this is worthless because you may have hundreds or thousands of users, but most desktop windows systems only have a handful of users at most.

    In fact, I don't think Linux (or UNIX for that matter) could even do this if it wanted to, or it'd be very ugly - it would have to check the sticky bit (and other special bits), then user, group, and role for all users to generate that list. Windows uses an ACL (Access Control List) []. Macs (since Tiger) and some UNIX/UNIX-likes support both UNIX permissions and ACLs which just compounds the mess. ACLs have a bit more flexibility than the UNIX bits - for instance, I could assign multiple groups and users not in those groups access permissions. I also don't have to edit /etc/passwd to do it (a root owned file) if I want to share a file with several users and don't have a container group.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein