Earlier today in Brussels, a European open source company hit IBM with another antitrust complaint. The company, TurboHercules, manufactures a product aimed at providing mainframe users with a low cost alternative for some of their most crucial applications and data. TurboHercules’ allegations closely resemble other complaints filed against IBM in the European Commission and also the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s own complaint in the United States, which is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice.
The TurboHercules solution is based on the longstanding Open Source software project “Hercules,” which was originally developed in France in 1999. Hercules is freely downloadable and its source code continues to be maintained by a network of worldwide volunteer software developers. Hercules has evolved into a capable mainframe emulator that allows many applications designed for the IBM mainframe to run on non-mainframe hardware, drastically lowering its customers’ operating costs and increasing their flexibility and has an estimated 5,000-10,000 users worldwide.
TurboHercules’ complaint, the third filed against IBM in Europe for its anticompetitive conduct in the mainframe market, outlines a disturbing pattern of behavior directed against competition. The complaint describes how IBM refuses to let its customers run IBM’s dominant mainframe operating systems on anything other than IBM mainframe hardware. IBM also uses undocumented software interfaces and protocols to prevent competition with its mainframe hardware. Both of these practices are illegal pursuant to the recent Microsoft case and the precedent set by the Commission’s investigation into IBM in the 1980s.
The following statement can be attributed to Erika Mann, CCIA’s Executive Vice President and head of CCIA’s European office:
“Having yet another complaint in Europe—by an open source company no less—points to a systemic pattern of behavior by IBM directed at anyone who threatens its mainframe monopoly. We and our industry sincerely hope that IBM reverses course and honors its previous commitments to both the public and the European government to license whatever patents that IBM claims are necessary to use Hercules on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.”
The following quotes can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“Once again, according to the documentation we have seen, IBM is speaking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to its support for the open source community and its commitment to the responsible use of its patent portfolio. The fact that IBM would actually assert that an open source project infringes its patents is proof that IBM’s support of open source stops the minute it threatens IBM’s lucrative mainframe monopolies.
“IBM is preventing customers from moving mainframe applications—applications that the customers own and many times even programmed themselves—to the computer platform of their choice. Without emulators such as Hercules, these applications would remain locked-in to mainframe.”
“With the mainframe occupying such a large and critical role for businesses and governments throughout the world, this complaint—as one in a series of complaints—is immensely important. Customers, including nearly all the world’s major businesses and governments, would literally save billions of dollars if competition was allowed to enter this strategic IT market. IBM’s cynical behavior, which is at odds with its public statements on both open source and intellectual property, illustrates that it sees TurboHercules and the other companies trying to enter this space not merely as a small nuisance, but as a clear threat to its monopoly.”