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Eolas: Black or White?

September 25, 2003

Questioning Mike Doyle’s motives.

Originally commented on Todd’s thoughtful piece on what Mike Doyle of Eolas should do with his recent windfall from Microsoft:

With this patent, and the resulting half billion, Doyle has a hell of a power over today’s web. He can make or break every browser on the market.

There’s no indication yet whether he’s a good guy or not. He’s given the web community no sign of good faith. And until that day comes, his ability to destroy Microsoft’s competition remains an overwhelming shadow.

I’d absolutely love it if he turned out to be a friend. If this is David and Goliath, he needs to throw the first stone. Doyle, it’s your move. What’ll it be?

I needn’t duplicate what has been said elsewhere, but this patent issue is huge, and could potentially change the landscape of the web. We’re quick to assume the worst, but could Doyle be the biggest friend Mozilla, Opera, and Apple have right now?

The developers and the competing entities out there to Microsoft, I think, will come to find that we are more of a friend than a threat. (Mike Doyle, Eolas)

Could there be a glimmer of hope with quotes like this? I want to believe.

Reader Comments

September 25, 06h

While I’m not a big fan of Microsoft in some areas of their business, the possibility that this patent would be used to punish them just doesn’t sit well with me.

If the situation goes the way it already is and Microsoft hobbles Internet Explorer in some fashion, do we really think that this will force IE users to move to the non-hobbled platforms/browsers?

Lach says:
September 25, 06h

Why is it better if he pulls bullshit patents but only uses them on Microsoft? When did real competition die? And no, someone hitting me isn’t a justification for me hitting back.

Dave S. says:
September 25, 07h

“When did real competition die?”

The words ‘illegal monopoly’ don’t mean much to you, do they?

“And no, someone hitting me isnít a justification for me hitting back.”

Fair enough. But isn’t it poetic justice (if no other kind) that Microsoft’s money would go toward gaining back some of that ill-gotten market?

But this is only so much theoretical head-bashing anyway. Time will tell.

Michael says:
September 25, 08h

Sorry to disagree Dave but two wrongs do not a right make.

I loathe these submarine patents that sit and sit and sit in somebodies box until the technology comes to fruition and becomes popular. Then VOILA “Hey we own that!”

Sure some of the MS business people have done some sleezy things (and there are still some up there striving to do good). I despise the fact that some companies get the chance now (EOLAS, SUN, IBM, ORACLE, AOL, Netscape, etc) to excuse away their own bad behaviors based on the fact that those bad behaviors damage MS and by default help everyone else. That’s not necessarily a truism.

And so I’ll hold out judgement on EOLAS until they come forth with something other than lawyers and double speak.

Dave S. says:
September 25, 08h

For God’s sake, man, you don’t have to apologize for disagreeing with me. I haven’t yet posted a sign saying ‘check your critical thinking at the door.’

(Although ‘monocratic despot’ has always had a nice ring to it…)

September 25, 08h

I don’t for a second believe that Doyle’s is anyone’s friend but his own. Eolas went after microsoft because it was a fat target. They’d sue anyone else who had money.

Eolas is in the business of stockpiling patents, and wringing maximum benefit from anyone else profiting from a similar idea.

They’ve got a patent on moving hotspots on video, and one on an “open-linked hypermedia system.”

Oh, and they also own the phrase “invented here”.

You don’t want someone corrupt as a friend just because they have power.

- Lloyd

Lach says:
September 25, 11h

Now that I’m back home and actually have some time to do my points justice:

Actually, Lloyd has pretty much summed up what I wanted to say.

Pretty much, patents have been given for the most ridiculously broad subject matter, and I don’rt agree with it. Not at all. It removes true competitiveness from the field of computing, and I don’t agree with that no matter who it happens to. Not to mention that the word hypocritical could easily be applied to them not applying the patents to Microsoft’s competititors when they do it to Microsoft itself.

As it is, Microsoft is far too easy a target for wacky business like this. Yes they’ve pulled things before that they should never have gotten away with, but you’ll find the same thing happening with any big business. It irritates me when people Doyle try to paint themselves as the good guys when they’re really just being greedy corporate pigs.

September 25, 11h

I fully agree with Lloyd, at least until Doyle “puts his money where his mouth is” and proves his claims to be a friend of the Open Source movement rather than a threat to it.

How do we know that Mr Doyle won’t go after other browser companies if MS doesn’t win the appeal? There’s a Swedish adage that I think may prove to be very true in this case: “Much wants more.”

IMHO, software patents will probably do more harm than good to the industry. The European Union recently passed legislation to this effect, albeit not quite as far-reaching as the American one.

Brian G says:
September 26, 01h

Oh for the love of god. Why is Microsoft the bad guy?

Is it because they’re popular? Because they make products that everybody loves but are bug ridden?

Come now folks. If we’re going to get our panties in bunches because of the above two reasons, I’d like to see your equal spite for Sony (who’s PS2 has been crashing on me lately, and who’s DVD players won’t play some of my DVD’s, or who’s VCR’s have started breaking down at an alarming rate recently at my place of employment). Where’s the massive hate-on for Ford, GM, and Chrysler for all of the crap assed cars they make which fall apart (literally) five years after they roll off the assembly lines? Where’s the rage against Shell, Exxon, and all the other oil manufacturers who are propping our fuel prices up, all the while encouraging the big 3 auto makers to make bigger and more expensive SUV’s which suck up the gas which they’re claiming we’re running short on?

Pardon my french, but stop being so goddamn naive. Apple and Open Source aren’t the saviors you’re all making them out to be, and I for one am sick and tired of the nonsense which some of you espouse against Gates and co.

Dave S. says:
September 26, 01h

Liking or disliking Microsoft isn’t at issue here, Brian. I’m interested in hearing opinions about the Eolas patent issue.

I’m watching this one carefully - I’ll be shutting down comments if we veer too far off course.

Michael says:
September 26, 02h

I’d like to be optimistic, but it seems to me that it is only possible to be so on the basis of shutting one’s eyes to what most web-users do.

I posted a link to Zeldman’s piece on another board recently. One response - let me say an articulate one that was well-informed about the background to the case - argued that the Eolas action was good for the Web. I don’t buy that.

Now, even if Eolas go after no-one but Microsoft - a big if - and even if Microsoft find no other way around the problem - another big if - the notion that this is beneficial to the Web depends upon two more (unexamined) assumptions.

Let’s grant Assumption 1 - that Microsoft’s monopoly is bad for the Web: therefore, what is good for the competition is good for the Web.

But how about Assumption 2? This is the assumption that web-users will switch to another browser to get extra value.

I think this is a false assumption, and I think Zeldman already covered this in another context. The average web-user doesn’t switch. Forget the specifics, such as that Mozilla takes a long while to download over dialup; Firebird isn’t mainstream ready … it hasn’t even got an installer, and it takes a bit of fiddling around to get Java working with it; Opera costs or has ads. Forget all that. Most people wouldn’t even go and get a free best-case-scenario alternative.

I did persuade two people I know to try Firebird. Neither uses it now. Mr. Average sticks with the familiar.

The WWW is no longer the province of enthusiasts but Everyman’s territory - where people go who, in Joe Clarke’s words, “barely know how to switch a computer on”.

So I don’t see that the Eolas case benefits anyone other than Eolas.

Posted from Safari on OS X. :-)

joe says:
September 26, 07h

I agree with Michael’s comment on Assumption 2 - ” that web-users will switch to another browser…” and we will get one step closer to the American dream…A car in every garage, and a standards complient browser on every computer.

The fact of the matter is that most people are going to use the browser that:
a - comes with their OS
b - the one that they are the most familiar with (like the one that they use in their office)

Unfortunately for point number ‘b’ many companies are using the web for internal applications that depend on certain javascript and DOM hacks of older browsers. EDS for example has a training program that has to be run on IE 5.0, so many companies make that their default browser. We can make blog sites and commercial sites using XHTML/CSS until we’re blue in the face, but the real progress won’t come until internal corporate web process are built with standards compliant technology.

Eric says:
September 26, 09h

First, stop blaming this guy for only going after Microsoft. It simple common sense that he is going to go after the fattest target and potentially ignore the losers. He sued Microsoft because they were the biggest infinger by way of having the most browsers, and also because he could get money from them. If he sued Mozilla what is he going to get? Maybe he could go after AOL but they aren’t exactly rolling in cash these days and there are probably enough layers between them and Mozilla to prevent anything substantial from being awarded.

Second, Microsoft’s browser market share is not “ill gotten gains”. IE is the most popular because every other browser prior to Netscape 6.1 was not free (Opera) or absolutely sucked, as we all know. Now that IE isn’t the best the share is declining, despite the fact that MSFT is still doing all the things people think got IE where it is today. What is funny to me is that I used to be a gung-ho Mac-fan, but back in 1996 IE4 was SO much better than any browser on the Mac, that I built my first PC just to be able to use the web. I soon realized how bad the usability was on the Mac and became a paying MSFT customer.

Brian G says:
September 27, 02h

Yeah, not so much a lawyer…I got my Trademark and Patent rules confused. Oops.

With patents, Eolas can charge $1 billion (insert pinky finger into side of mouth) to Microsoft, and then charge Apple $1.

The only thing that gets in the way is the pesky “anti-competitive” lawsuits which might fly.

When lawyers win, we all lose!

Michael says:
September 27, 03h

To follow up on the comment on alternative browsers. I think Joe is right on target when he says that many people like to use what they’re familiar with at work.

I also think that a lot of users use what is on the desktop when they first buy the machine. AOL went to great lengths to get the AOL icon on the desktop and keep it there. They realize the prime importance of this. I know people who use AOL as an ISP purely because the icon was there ready and it said “free for x hours”. (And I mean “Desktop” here, too - some might not have found AOL in the “Start” menu!)

At one time some OEMs were stripping out IE and putting Netscape in. Microsoft moved to shut that down.

Companies like AOL and Microsoft know the psychology of the average user. And I’m not being disrespectful to “the average user” here. Such users may have great abilities in other areas, but not everyone is interested in, as it were, going under the bonnet and getting into the works.

PS. Is it “bonnet” in Canada or “hood”? :-)

Brian G says:
September 27, 08h

Dave, with all due respect (and I do respect you), I think you need to look a little more closely at what he said again.

“The developers and the competing entities out there to Microsoft, I think, will come to find that we are more of a friend than a threat.”

The patent lawsuit threatened MS to such an extent that they are considering fundamentally changing the way their browser works. This in turn means that all browsers will fundamentally be changed.

There MUST be legal ramifications as well if Eolas doesn’t protect their patent against Open Source browsers as well. They run the risk of their patent becoming Public Domain.

The over-reaching MS comments were directed to all of the stuff I’ve seen in the last week since you switched over from an ASP based site to a PHP based site. I’m not normally a hot-head, but I just reached my breaking point.

September 27, 08h

Patents, unlike trademarks, cannot be diluted through lack of enforcement. A patent-holder is under no obligation to require the same licensing from all users of the invention.

Bardas says:
September 28, 11h

Eolas’ patent is a non-issue for Microsoft. They will change IE if it is convenient. Otherwise, they will tap a little of the $40 billion in cash reserves they are sitting on to purchase Eolas and its IP. Think about that scenario and see where it takes you.

October 02, 12h

I posted my thoughts about this here.

The software I’m using is a bit lacking in features at the moment so you have to scroll down to read the one I’m referring to. Check out ‘legalized anti-trust’.