Legal Battles Ended

The three year criminal investigatin of the author of PGP - Pretty Good Privacy is over - the case was closed without prosecution.

The three-year criminal investigation of Philip Zimmermann, the author of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), by the U.S. federal government was closed without prosecution. Mr. Zimmermann had been alleged to have violated the antiquated U.S. export control laws in releasing PGP.

A few days later, the U.S. Supreme court ruled in favor of Borland in the Lotus copyright infringement suit. This means that the court has again upheld the notion that a user interface is not copyright-able, which is certainly a relief to the free software community.

David 1, Goliath 0

Those who tuned into last month's Stop the Presses read about what I termed “The Desktop War”, and about two products which are attempting to bring MS Windows applications to Linux and other platforms: The freeware program Wine, and a commercial product called TWIN XPDK, created by a small company called Willows Software. There has been a recent flurry of activity at Willows.

Last month, the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) approved a new standard called APIW (Application Programming Interface for Windows) over the objections of Microsoft. This standard, authored by Willows, is now on track for ISO approval as an international standard.

David 2, Goliath 0

This month, Willows announced that they are releasing binaries and source code for XPDK (a toolkit for porting MS Windows applications to Linux and Unix and soon Mac, OS/2, and Netware, which, not surprisingly, follows the APIW specification) free for non-commercial use. At the same time, they announced their extensive commercial support program, which is detailed on their World Wide Web site, www.willows.com

Willows has officially said that they do not support using XPDK for running off-the-shelf Windows program, because supporting it would be extremely time-intensive and take more resources than they have. However, they discovered during beta testing that many people joined the beta test group solely to attempt to run off-the-shelf binaries with the included “xwin” Windows program loader. By releasing the source code, as well as the binaries, free for non-commercial use, they allow technically capable users to support themselves and others, even using the xwin program to run off-the-shelf binaries. Essentially, the non-commercial users will be “paying” for the software by contributing bug reports, and bug fixes if they are capable.

While the xwin program currently only supports the 16-bit windows interface, the library can be compiled in a 16-bit or 32-bit version. Willows says that the full Win32s API will be supported by June, because they have already written most of the infrastructure that is necessary.

When asked whether he thinks Wine poses any threat to Willows' business, Rob Farnum, CEO of Willows, said that he doesn't think so, for a few reasons. Essentially, Wine has a much narrower scope: running windows binaries on a few Intel Unix platforms, and eventually providing a win32s library for most 32-bit Unix platforms. By contrast, XPDK can run Windows binaries on other processors, and is not X- or Unix-specific. It is already running on PowerPC Macs and is targeted to be released for OS/2, Netware, and both flavors of Macintosh this year. This doesn't mean that Willows doesn't take Wine seriously; they have paid close attention to its development and regularly benchmark XPDK against it.

When asked what pieces were currently missing from XPDK, Rob said that implementing OLE is the biggest technical challenge facing them. When asked whether he thought Microsoft's recent noises about OLE for Unix were meaningful, he said “No.” His reasons were:

  • The projected release date is too late to be meaningful. The actual coding is being done by Software AG, who has licensed the OLE code from Microsoft, and who is projecting a late 1997 or 1998 release date.

  • OLE for Unix is already available from Mainsoft and Bristol, as part of their Windows API on Unix packages.

  • OLE is so tied to Windows internals that it isn't clear what OLE on Unix would mean, anyway, and Microsoft has not made this clear.

He suggests that the announcement was a tactical move by Microsoft against CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) and the OMG (the Object Management Group with supervises CORBA). Microsoft would like to be able to ignore its promises to provide an ORB (Object Request Broker) for Windows.

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