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Software Patents Versus Free Software (WordPress, MP3 Playback)

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  • On React and WordPress

    Big companies like to bury unpleasant news on Fridays: A few weeks ago, Facebook announced they have decided to dig in on their patent clause addition to the React license, even after Apache had said it’s no longer allowed for Apache.org projects. In their words, removing the patent clause would "increase the amount of time and money we have to spend fighting meritless lawsuits."

    I'm not judging Facebook or saying they're wrong, it's not my place. They have decided it's right for them — it's their work and they can decide to license it however they wish. I appreciate that they've made their intentions going forward clear.

    A few years ago, Automattic used React as the basis for the ground-up rewrite of WordPress.com we called Calypso, I believe it's one of the larger React-based open source projects. As our general counsel wrote, we made the decision that we'd never run into the patent issue. That is still true today as it was then, and overall, we’ve been really happy with React. More recently, the WordPress community started to use React for Gutenberg, the largest core project we've taken on in many years. People's experience with React and the size of the React community — including Calypso — was a factor in trying out React for Gutenberg, and that made React the new de facto standard for WordPress and the tens of thousands of plugins written for WordPress.

    We had a many-thousand word announcement talking about how great React is and how we're officially adopting it for WordPress, and encouraging plugins to do the same. I’ve been sitting on that post, hoping that the patent issue would be resolved in a way we were comfortable passing down to our users.

    That post won't be published, and instead I'm here to say that the Gutenberg team is going to take a step back and rewrite Gutenberg using a different library. It will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year.

  • MP3 Is Dead! Long Live MP3!

    Back in May, there was an unexpected surge in press coverage about the MP3 audio file format. What was most unexpected about it was it all declared that the venerable file format is somehow “dead”. Why did that happen, and what lessons can we learn?

    What had actually happened was the last of the patents on the MP3 file format and encoding process have finally expired. Building on earlier work, it was developed by the Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG) built on the doctoral work of an engineer at Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Many companies held patents on the standard and it was not until April that the last of them expired. There’s no easy way to ascertain whether a patent has expired even after the date one moght expect it, so the wave of news arose from announcements by Fraunhofer Institute.

    Framing this as an “ending” fits the narrative of corporate patent holders well, but does not really reflect the likely consequences. Naturally the patent holding companies would rather everyone “upgrade” to the newer AAC format, which is still encumbered under a mountain of patents necessitating licensing. But for open source software, the end of patent monopilies signals the beginning of new freedoms.

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Unixstickers

Unixstickers

Awesome products, will definitely get another bunch of some more stickers soon :-)