Sunday, 11 April 2010

So sue me!

OK, I don’t really mean me. It’s just that IBM seems to have been particularly litigious recently, and in many ways seems to have returned to its bunker mentality of old rather than the caring all-embracing modern self that we were just getting used to. Two particularly high-profile cases are IBM versus TurboHercules and IBM versus NEON Enterprise Software.

TurboHercules, you’ll remember, sells services around the open source Hercules project – there was an interesting article about it in the recent Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2010 ( Hercules basically emulates a System z mainframe on a PC. IBM has rattled its corporate sabre saying that it has “substantial concerns” about the Hercules project infringing its patents.

The Internet is abuzz with people rushing to mount their high horses to condemn IBM for alleged double standards. Last time, I was talking about 10 years of Linux – the well-known open source software – on mainframes, and here they are attacking another open source project. Well, they are probably right. I’m no apologist for IBM. I personally feel that these alternative entry points to mainframes are a good thing. But I can also see IBM’s point of view: they are a business, and they don’t get any income from the Hercules project. Some bean counter somewhere is going to flag this as a bad thing! And someone else looking at revenue income is going to view this as a hole through which they are losing money.

So, Hercules has filed an antitrust motion in the European Union asking for IBM to unbundle its mainframe operating system from its hardware. IBM claims the motion is unfounded and offers the metaphor that a software emulation business is just like selling cheap knock-offs of brand-name clothing.

Neon Enterprise Software, you’ll recall, produced zPrime, which allows “ordinary” mainframe work to be run on specialty processors – thus saving the users money because only work running on the main General Purpose Processor (GPP) is chargeable (although, of course, the specialty processors must be paid for). IBM sent out letters suggesting that people using zPrime would be breaking the terms of their contract with IBM. NEON sued claiming IBM was illegally using its powerful position in the marketplace to hurt sales of zPrime. IBM then countersued claiming that zPrime violates their (IBM’s) copyrights (that word again).

Grasping for metaphorical language again, IBM suggests that NEON’s business model is “no different than that of a crafty technician who promises, for a fee, to rig your cable box so you can watch premium TV channels without paying the cable company. Even if it could be accomplished technically, it is neither lawful nor ethical." Again, the blogosphere is full of people listing their “why I hate my cable provider” stories.

So, it’s a good year to be a lawyer. A good year for people writing metaphors for IBM. And probably a bad year for mainframers and would-be mainframers. And, in terms of publicity, a bad year for IBM.

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