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back to article MS patent looks just like Unix command, critics howl

Microsoft has won a patent that covers functionality closely resembling security features that have been at the heart of Unix for more than two decades and more recently been folded into the Linux and Mac operating systems. Patent 7,617,530 describes system software that "presents a user interface in response to a task being …

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Anonymous Coward

There is a GUI sudo

gksudo is one, probably qt has one as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_privilege_authorization_features

kdesudo

Oh, and there is one based on policykit.

Come on, MS are so far behind the curve it has become ridiculous, and the patent offices need to wake up as well. Talk about prior art.

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J 3
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From the snippets here...

Yeah, that's sudo. If you throw in the GUI, then call it kdesudo or gnome-sudo instead.

Anyway, obvious idea, if that's all there is to it..

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WTF?

Only, err, at least 16 years too late!

This precise functionality - with a GUI - has been in IRIX since at least 1993 with the introduction of IRIX 5.x. Try to do something that requires root access and up will pop a dialogue asking for - you guessed - it the root password, or the credentials of another privileged user.

Surely there must be a way of sorting out prior art challenges to this nonsense before it gets granted, isn't there?

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Pirate

A title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Time to keel haul the patent system.

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Qux
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More like a blind eye

"prior art is in the eye of the beholder"?

Rubbish. My personal experience writing technology patents is that the US patent office is almost _guaranteed_ to overlook any prior art you choose not to identify in the patent application.

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FAIL

Let's just take it outside and kill it,

Software patents - ARE STUPID!

... and before you go off on me - I help write software for a living.

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Gates Horns

It isn't about whether it will be struck down

Its whether you want to be the one spending the money to do it

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FAIL

Wait for the Claims

I can see it now, "Linux Definitely infringes on this patent!" will be the next thing out of ballache^H^H^Hmers mouth.

One has to wonder, if open source software does infringe on MS's IP (not that 'Intellectual Property' actually exists in law), how many of those patents are for things with years of prior art?

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FAIL

Stupid

So KDE and Gnome can copy the MS Windows look and feel to the nth degree, but MS does something that makes sense, and two years later we get outrage from Unixers? This is BS.

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Anonymous Coward

Fantastic

Now they patent the i) the bleedin' obvious and ii) the bleedin' obvious with a bleedin' obvious ton of prior art. So who are they going to sue first with this?

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Gates Horns

Nope, I'm with Groklaw

I only read the patents at a relatively basic level, since I'm near enough to falling asleep as it is, but as far as I can tell the new patent talks about a mechanism for allowing the user to run an task as though they were a user which has more privileges, whereas the old patent that The H talks about is a matter of a privileged server checking the privileges of a client before servicing requests (not that it sounds like this one should have passed the obviousness/precedent test either). I could be too asleep to make the distinction correctly, though.

Microsoft's new patent adds a GUI to allow the user to select one of several possible user accounts that have appropriate privileges for the task in hand, apparently automatically. Sudo (in its native form) specifies the user to be run for each task explicitly. So, if anything, Microsoft's "innovation" is to search for possible accounts that the user could choose for this program and let the user select them from the GUI, rather than having an explicit option preconfigured.

Is this innovation enough to have been granted a patent? Not by a long way, in my book, and I'm sure there's plenty of precedent in the open source community for graphical utilities that help set up your sudo settings (I prefer a text editor, so I wouldn't know).

But then I'd like to see *all* patents thrown out (almost nothing is unlikely to be invented repeatedly, these days, and people aren't going to stop announcing cool stuff in conferences regardless of whether there are patents in the way), and copyright law expanded so that the drugs companies can still defend against having all their hard work stolen.

Incidentally, support for sudo being "recently" added to Linux as OS X is a little rich. "Recent" as in neither operating system is more than twenty years old, but the functionality has been there pretty much since they gained multi-user support, which is extremely early in the development cycle of either system.

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@Only, err, at least 16 years too late!

>Surely there must be a way of sorting out prior art challenges to this nonsense

Yes it's called perjury - when you file a patent you make a legal statement that it is new and novel and that you don't know of any prior art.

I don't know of anybody ever being prosecuted though.

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FAIL

@ stupid Anonymous Coward

This article is about patents.

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Not exactly sudo

"Systems and/or methods are described that enable a user to elevate his or her rights. In one embodiment, these systems and/or methods present a user interface identifying an account having a right to permit a task in response to the task being prohibited based on a user's current account not having that right. "

Sudo does not identify an account to the user that has rights to complete the task... An information disclosure security risk in itself. Sudo defaults to root but using sudo whilst specifying the -u command line switch will allow sudo to execute the command as that named user.

I can only presume that MS using a GUI and presenting a list of accounts with suitable privileges is what make this idea different enough to warrant a patent.

Imho they are as bad as Apple at patenting prior art with a twist of lemon. They should not have been allowed the patent because it is just sudo in a dress wearing a name badge.

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WTF?

@Andrew Garrard

" if anything, Microsoft's "innovation" is to search for possible accounts that the user could choose for this program and let the user select them from the GUI, rather than having an explicit option preconfigured"

That sounds like a really bad idea to me, as in: "I don't have access to this resouce. Find me a list of users who do so I know which accounts to use when trying to break into it"

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Sudo

http://xkcd.com/149/

Heh.

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On the Mac

That description perfectly describes the Authorisation dialog that pops up whenever an action requires an administrator privileges, moreso than the sudo command which is required to be typed before attempting an action, if you don't use the sudo command the admin action simply fails will a boiler plate error, it won't prompt you for a username/pass.

either way it's old hat.

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Re: Stupid @ AC 20:22

The single most stupid post here is yours.

No one here has said a single thing complaining about MS including this functionality in Windows. In fact, many of us, having to deal with Unix and Windows on a regular basis, are quite happy to see such functionality start to appear over in MS land. What has all us all ready to see Ballmer crushed by one of his own chairs is the notion that MS got a patent for it. If you don't get this now, you're either an MS troll or too stupid to justify further attempts at communication.

-d

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End software patents. Now.

'bove says it all

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Boffin

gksudo anyone?

Okay okay, so gksudo doesn't have a nice drop-down box that helpfully points out which users have admin privs (as if that's a good idea). Well done! Very inventive!

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@Only, err, at least 16 years too late!

>Surely there must be a way of sorting out prior art challenges to this nonsense

Yes, it's called ``suing'' and that appears to be the only way the merkin patent system operates. Do what you want, patent what you like, and the courts will sort it out eventually, usually in favor of the one with the most money, i.e. can pay lawyers for the longest amount of time, while all others go titsup. The system is broken, people!

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FAIL

retrospective

Even if sudo is not prior art - and it obviously is - surely the policy editor has been around for more than 5 years. WHy on earth are microsoft granted a retrospective patent?

This whole business of software patents is as foolish as we all said it would be in advance.

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Unhappy

FFS

And Microsoft wonder why people detest their business practices? No, wait, they don't wonder, they know and don't give a dam as they are always able to throw enough money at the decision makers to get their own way.

Utter, utter bastards!

They steal from OSS constantly, then try to cripple OSS with the patent system. Money comes to money, like flies around shit.

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WTF?

So, where's the EFF?

Where is the great EFF with a law suit to challenge the legitimacy of this patent?

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Monopolists

Convicted monopolists should not be allowed to patent anything. Abuse of power and all that.

Patents were originally conceived to help the little guy build up a business.

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Makes a change

from Apple patenting the blindingly f***ing obvious then...

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US patents

US patents, what a joke. I think that the rest of the world should do what the US do, ignore patents that are issued by countries other than itself. US can blatantly and legally ignore patents from the UK or AUS, so why should we respect the US patent system?

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Linux

RE: Stupid

"So KDE and Gnome can copy the MS Windows look and feel to the nth degree, but MS does something that makes sense, and two years later we get outrage from Unixers? This is BS."

Not sure if you're trolling but you realise Apple lost their famous case in 80's because they found you cannot patent the 'look and feel' also their was prior art (ie Xerox PARC).. The thing is many people get annoyed with Microsoft about is that they steal ideas and then patent them.

This patent is only really an issue in the US as I don't believe anyone outside the US acknowledges software patients - the thing is someone like IBM might end up taking Microsoft to court to defend this but I doubt Microsoft would as part of their business is based on this fragile house of cards.

This shows that software patents are a terrorable idea for this reason alone (i.e. prior art being ignored).

MIke

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Gates Horns

@AG

MacOS X has such a GUI. It requests the username and password of somebody with the proper privileges. It can be yourself if you're an admin, root, or a completely different account. It allows administration of a machine without having to log out of a low-privileges account.

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Rolled into Linux?

Why does the world insist on saying "It's been in Unix forever and has recently been rolled into Linux"???

Linux is an example of one of the many operating systems in the "Unix" class. It's treated like something different when it isn't.

Or were they talking about Unix(tm), the operating system name often the case of legal dispute between SCO & Novell?

Either way, it's a stupid phrase. Linux (or, more accurately, "any linux distribution") is just as much "Unix" as Solaris, Irix, HPUX or any other of them.

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FAIL

the beasts motivation

M$ knows upfront this is obviously a bogus patent and they have no motivation to sue anyone and get it invalidated in the discovery phase. Instead they will use it as one more FUD patent to throw in big business face about why it has to avoid the evil Linux or get sued into oblivion (via proxy front companies ala SCO of course to avoid the negative publicity). Modern society is having a very hard time providing a living for its people with the massive overhead of our leech lawyers (who write the laws in the ultimate vested interest) and leech money shuffling stealing financial system. Nothing benefits society like discouraging innovation via legal extortion.

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WTF?

WTF

When I asked my Ubuntu box to check for updates this morning (prompted by my Vista laptop telling me yet more security updates had been downloaded - I've been getting 1 a day for the last week or so), a little box popped up asking me to confirm my "administrator" authority upgrade by typing a password. It has done so for quite a while now. And does so every time my "normal" user requests an action/program that requires "admin" access.

Someone explain to me how Microsoft's "new concept" is different from that?

@Kevin (Just Kevin): Actually, UNIX is technically a trademarked name denoting one particular "flavour" of that OS range. The common naming convention for the entire family is *nix, which denotes any UNIX-flavoured OS, such a Linux, BSD, HP-UX and (yes) OS-X. As such, it is entirely possible for something to be in UNIX (one flavour) and only be recently bundled into Linux (another flavour).

To make an analogy, your comment is akin to wondering about the statement "it was available for some time in XP and has recently been bundled into Vista" - after all, they're all MS Windows, right?

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Jobs Halo

Another Me Too

OpenSesame.App from NeXTStep 3.1 circa 1992.

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Flame

Patents: dripfeed for lawyers and civil servants

>>why should we respect the US patent system?

We don't of course. A separate patent has to be taken out in the various countries of the EU to be valid. As for the Chinamen, lip service is the order of the day.

Anyway, the whole patent system - not just the software patents - is total crap. I can't wait for this mistake to land on the scrapheap of history. It started off with the Wright Brothers and Edison going full retard and scuttling their potential commercial success trying to be monopolists hiding under Mama Govnmt's shirts. It hasn't become better since. Yeah, all that "publication of ideas" B.S. and blah blah blah.

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fail article is fail

that groklaw article is utter fail. It's not sudo, (or even a GUI for sudo), and, though I don't know much about policykit other than what the authors say on their main page, it doesn't appear to be that either

the patent CITES THE SUDO MANUAL. I am not a lawyer, shady or otherwise, but if I _WERE_ a shady lawyer I'd point out to my clients that a reference to the invention you're trying to steal is maybe unwise

from this I conclude that it's not supposed to be about sudo. despite the gorklaw article mentioning "GUI" about half-a-trillion times, the patent goes to great pains to repeat (say, a quarter of a million times) that the gui implementation shown in the patent is merely that, an example implementation, and that the fact that it's a GUI is also not the point

whether software patents are a good idea, and whether, assuming they were, what is being described is patentable, are two other, more worthy, discussions that groklaw decided weren't as important as starting their own inane FUD

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@magnetik

Think a minute before you spout a knee-jerk reaction, there's a much simpler way to do this that has worked since Windows NT: Right click the file/folder and open its properties. The security tab lists all users' permissions if you have any rights to the object at all. The same is true on all operating systems, by various means, or do you think that seeing the owner/group in a *nix file list is any different?

If you don't have any rights, you won't see the box, you'll just get a generic Administrator default runas box.

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Stop

@AC:20091112-2022

There's a difference here: KDE and Gnome aren't going to sue MS after they copy the UI. MS might probably sue Linux/OpenBSD/Solaris/etc AFTER they copy and patent the process. I'm sure people won't mind if MS weren't so money minded that they're evil enough to sue people for something they copied and then patented.

Stop. Because M$'s patent must be stopped before they sue other OSes into bankruptcy.

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@Kevin (Just Kevin) &@Neoc &prior art

Kevin scrive: "Either way, it's a stupid phrase. Linux (or, more accurately, "any linux distribution") is just as much "Unix" as Solaris, Irix, HPUX or any other of them."

Nope. There is no Linux distribution qualified to wear the name "UNIX". Same for BSD (although I could make a case for Apple's Darwin being a "real BSD based UNIX", whatever that means ... and part of the reason I run Slackware is because it's closer to the AT&T UNIX that I grew up with in the early '70s than any other distribution).

Neoc contributes: "Actually, UNIX is technically a trademarked name denoting one particular "flavour" of that OS range. "

Not correct. There are a wide variety of OSes, ranging from AIX to True64 to z/OS to Apple's own OSX 10.5 (and several others) which are qualified to be called UNIX.

Linux & the BSDs are properly called "unix-like", or in the vernacular, "*nix".

Adding to the "prior art" comments, I seem to remember pre-solaris SunOS 2.x-ish in the early or mid '80s popping up a dialog box (the GUI was Motif) asking for the root passwd when ordinary users tried to do root-only stuff. It MIGHT have been a local implementation; we had access to Sun's source where I was working at the time.

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@frymaster

"the patent CITES THE SUDO MANUAL. " It doesn't matter what they state in the application, Prior art is not taken into account at the issuing of the patent. A third party has to pony up to challenge the application and prior art is one of the options. Only obviousness and patentabilty count and the US patent office don't seem to look very hard at those.

This is patent poker. Microsoft have opened the bidding and the other players have to either follow or fold. That give me a thought....

SCENE - wild west saloon. A tall lean stranger is in town. He faces Microsoft across a smoky table. The other players are out of the game only these two remain. The cards have been dealt Microsoft has a huge pile of gold, dollar bills and land deeds. The stranger is down to his last few dollars. All is silent and tense.

Microsoft - I'l raise $1000

stranger - All in

Microsoft - 'read 'em and weep

stranger - You cheated!

Microsoft - That's a lie!

the gun smoke clears and Microsoft lies dead on the floor. The Stranger blows the smoke from his gun as the piano strikes up and the party gets back into the swing.

... Well we can dream can't we.

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@ foxyshadis

" The security tab lists all users' permissions if you have any rights to the object at all"

Sure, that just proves my point. If you *don't* have rights to an object you can't see who does, but this MS GUI will give you a list of users who do have rights so you can pick one to authorize with.

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FAIL

What a joke.

This is a perfect example of why software should not be patentable.

Maybe Microsoft will try to patent the wheel next.

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Jobs Halo

Rabid Dog

"Makes a change from Apple patenting the blindingly f***ing obvious then..."

One could argue that Apple have learned their lesson, having played fair and been bitten too many times in the past. Now they are the IP rabid dog that few dare to approach. It doesn't make it right, but it makes it understandable.

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@jake

The GUI on SunOS in the mid 80's was never Motif, which was only released around 1989.

SunOS originally came with SunView, and later Sun released an X-windows version called OpenLook. The first official Motif-based GUI shipped by Sun was on Solaris 2 and based on CDE, sometime in the 90's.

I do vaguely remember such a superuser popup in SunView, but I'd have to boot my Sun 386i or 3/80 to check :)

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IT Angle

Was thinking

About inventing a motorised sort of wheel based transport and patent it, if the only criteria is you have to get the patent to the patent office first i could be onto a winner. I'm aware that people are making transport like this at the moment but no-ones claiming patent rights.

Does anyone know if you have to have a working model (i'd probably call it model-t for some reason) or is a paper based design good enough.

IT Icon for El-Reg for fixing your comments problem.

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Unhappy

@frymaster

Actually, hands up, I'll admit that I'd not read the references and noticed the link to sudo.

This does, perhaps, raise the question of what the patent is actually for. If it's for the elevation of privileges, then sudo covers it. If it's for the GUI selection of accounts, there's plenty of precedent, and the patent - as you say - claims that the GUI is just an example. If it's the autogeneneration of a prospective accounts list then - as magnetik says - it's a bad idea from a security perspective, and probably still not new.

It would be better for the reader if the patent had to point out the novel step, rather than restating the functionality of prior art and burying the novel step in it. Of course, it's in the interests of patent lawyers to try to make the patent covers as much ground as possible, in the hope of pulling in unrelated infringers.

I don't think Microsoft are entirely evil in this - the corporate culture encourages people to get patents monetarily, so you can't blame them for trying - but I still claim there's no way I'd have permitted this one, because the innovation step, if any, isn't significant enough even compared with the prior art that they state (never mind what's actually out there).

On the other hand, you've got to like the patent office doing their best to get themselves put out of a job. What's not clear is how one could possibly get rid of the software patent system (internationally) without a logistical nightmare for everyone who's already in financial negotiations relating to patent deals - although I'm in no doubt that it would be better if every software patent (and possibly a good many others) were immediately invalidated. Maybe someone should find a solution. And patent it.

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Gates Halo

Patents

You can only patent methods, not ideas. This patent is for achieving the sudo like functionality via a specific method. You can't just say "it's the same as sudo!" and not allow it, because a) there is (in all likelihood) no patent already in place for sudo, and b) the prior art has to me for the method, not the functionality.

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Anonymous Coward

Not a new feature in windows

Being doing this for years.

Assuming you're usual logon account is a power user/restricted user one try and install something outside your priviledges and you get this sort of interface already. Alternatively right click something to run it and choose a different account.

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What really irks me

isn't that this is new, or "looks remarkably like sudo", but that it's being patented. Patenting is going to kill the software business dead, or at least keep it to the large software houses who can afford the licensing.

Truely novel algorithms (e.g. new and revolutionary approaches to graphics, video/audio encoding, compression) I could understand, but GTFO of here with patenting a fucking security interface.

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MS can't sue for sudo.

The patent mentions sudo as prior art... MS can't sue someone for implementing the thing they have said it is based on. This looks a lot like the part of UAC that allows you to have two accounts with the same username and password, one with limited access, and one with full access, so to do an admin task you must specifically authorize it to happen.

The reason for the patent would be to prevent anyone from retrospectively applying for a patent for sudo and suing MS for implementing privelege escalation in UAC, which would be a brain dead idea, legally trying to force MS to release an insecure OS...

Software patents are a stupid idea, as are ones for business methodology, but while they exist, companies wil have to protect themselves from trolls. Even if they have a reputation for trolling themselves. In fact, ESPECIALLY if they have a reputaion for doing it themselves.

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@scott 19

Karl benz patented the motor car in 1866, the patent expired more than 100 years ago and you'd be laughed out of the patent office for failing to notice that.

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