31 May 2007

Google's Gears of War

Gears is a browser extension that we hope -- with time and plenty of input and collaboration from outside of Google -- can make not just our applications but everyone's applications work offline.

Well, not exactly gears of war, not least because Google has wisely made the code freely available under an open source licence:

We are releasing Gears as an open source project and we are working with Adobe, Mozilla and Opera and other industry partners to make sure that Gears is the right solution for everyone.

But certainly likely to represent the start of a skirmish or two in the field of offline working.

Once More unto the Breach

For all you Brits out there, something to ponder and then expatiate upon (nicely, mind):

OpenXML is an ECMA standard which has been submitted to ISO for endorsement as an international standard using the "fast-track" procedure.

...

The relevant BSI Technical Committee has set up a special panel to consider the UK position on the document and to submit technical comments. If you wish to submit comments, download your FREE copy please use the link below.

Download Draft International Standard ISO/IEC 29500 DPC here.

Please return the comments form electronically by 30 June 2007 to:

csc@bsi-global.com

So you know what to do. (Via Bob Sutor's Open Blog.)

30 May 2007

IE Indeed

Sigh. Tell me again why people are still using Internet Explorer:

It turns out the link installs a malicious post logger that transmits all information submitted through Internet Explorer to a website controlled by the attackers.

After reverse engineering the rogue browser helper object that attaches itself to IE (the malware doesn't work on other browsers), Stewart says he was able to locate a site that stored detailed information on some 1,400 executives who fell for the scam.

When will they learn? (Via Mobile Open Source.)

Mozilla Trumps MSN

The virtual tracks left by people as they change jobs delineate the shifting patterns of the business world: a concentration towards or away from a company speaks volumes about the subtle and mostly invisible dynamics that lie below. So this news truly speaks volumes:

Li Gong, the former top executive for MSN in China, has joined Mozilla's Chinese subsidiary, Mozilla Online, as its chairman and CEO.

Microsoft, are we worried yet?

The Wisdom of Pubs

Thanks, Luke: I may well borrow that one....

Patents Are the Enemy, Not Enabler, of Innovation

As patent problems become ever-more prevalent in computing, it's important to emphasise that not only are they innappropriate for software, since the latter essentially consists of mathematical algorithms, but they are damaging even in the wider world. James Watt's use of patents to stifle the development of steam engines (yes, you read that correctly) is perhaps the best-known example, but here's another, more recent one:

For Memorial Day this past weekend, the Associated Press ran an article all about the sudden rise in popularity of infrared grills for home use. Despite the technology first being invented in the 60s (for drying paint on cars), it was a very limited market until the key patent expired in 2000 and real innovation could occur that would allow such grills to be produced economically for backyard use.

Time to kill those patents, people.

29 May 2007

Will Microsoft Be Assimilated?

I knew that I knew nothing about aQuantive. Here, for example, is something rather important that I didn't know I didn't know:

Information available from Atlas' Web site indicates the Internet software company employs extensive use of open source software including Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Solaris.

Software engineers at Atlas' Raleigh office do client/server development in C and C++, software maintenance and "scripting", and developing and maintaining custom reporting capabilities.

Other sought after skills include Unix development, JavaScript, and those for Windows software administration like SQL Server and IIS.

The use of open source is not confined to Atlas with the second significant business unit Avenue A Razorfish boasting "we also frequently utilize open source technologies".

There was a similar situation when Microsoft bought Hotmail, which was running on Apache and FreeBSD for a long time after acquisition. Since aQuantive is much bigger, we can presumably expect Microsoft to have even more difficulty assimilating it.

The Wisdom of Metrics

I like reading Nicholas Carr's stuff because it is often provocative and generally thought-provoking. A good example is his recent "Ignorance of Crowds" which asserts:

Wikipedia’s problems seem to stem from the fact that the encyclopedia lacks the kind of strong central authority that exerts quality control over the work of the Linux crowd. The contributions of Wikipedia’s volunteers go directly into the product without passing through any editorial filter. The process is more democratic, but the quality of the product suffers.

I think this misses a key point about the difference between open source and open content that has nothing to do with authority. Software has clear metrics for success: the code runs faster, requires less memory, or is less CPU-intensive, etc. There is no such metric for content, where it essentially comes down to matters of opinion much of the time. Without a metric, monotonic improvement is impossible to achieve: the best you can hope for is a series of jumps that may or may not make things "better" - whatever that means in this context.

This is an important issue for many domains where the open source "method" is being applied: the better the metric available, the more sustained and unequivocal the progress will be. For example, the prospects for open science, powered by open access + open data, look good, since a general metric is available in the form of fit of theory to experiment.

Microsoft Backs Open...Spectrum

Interesting:

Today UK regulator Ofcom released its review of the ~750 responses it received during a public consultation earlier this year on reallocating the "digital dividend" (frequencies released by the switch-off of analog TV broadcasts).

The exceptionally large number of responses shows that the public recognised the importance of this consultation. It also shows that Ofcom's proposals were controversial. Many commenters question whether auctions of service-neutral licenses can ensure that non-economic factors are considered in the redistribution of spectrum.

Ofcom's review of the responses gives a surprising amount of space to Microsoft's submission, which was only 8 pages long. Since that response argued strongly for license exempt use of the "dividend" we find it especially interesting, too.

I've been remiss on this one - in fact, mea culpa, I didn't even get around to making a submission myself (shocking, I know). So it's great to see Microsoft doing it for me....

Openness is Hard-Wired in the Brain

Altruism, which lies at the heart of true openness, is hard-wired, it seems:

The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Now there's a surprise. Not.

More Google Desktop Moves

Google's story that it's really, really, really not competing with Microsoft gets thinner by the day. Apparently, it's just bought a very interesting security company called the GreenBorder Technologies:

Headquartered in Mountain View, California, GreenBorder Technologies was founded in 2001 to bring a new approach to enterprise security. GreenBorder, the industry’s first Desktop DMZ software for Windows, keeps Internet invaders out and enterprise data in. It allows users to safely connect anywhere, go to any website, open any Internet email or attachment, and use any downloaded files without worry. GreenBorder’s unique, signature-less approach never needs updating and provides continuous protection against corruption, theft and invasion of business data systems.

I wonder when Microsoft is going to take Google seriously.

28 May 2007

MySpace - Closed, Facebook - Open

A little simplistic, perhaps, but it captures the spirit of the direction of both outfits, I think. Certainly, Facebook's decision to provide an API to third-party developers should provide a perfect test of the closed vs. open approach. I don't use either, but my money's (obviously) on Facebook. Should be interesting.

DVD-Unlocking in Europe Ruled Lawful

I'd seen this decision, but missed its broader significance:

A Finnish Court has unanimously ruled that the Content Scrambling System (CSS) computer code, which unlocks DVD movies, is lawful in Europe. The decision was a first to interpret the legality of DVD decoding software under the 2001 European Copyright Directive.

...

What is so exciting about this week’s Finnish Court decision is that it will apply throughout the European Community, since it was an interpretation of the EU-wide Copyright Directive’s definition of the key term “effective” in Article 6. If CSS is not an “effective” technological protection measure regulated by the directive, then its decryption is lawful throughout the European Community.

Moreover:

Besides applying across the EU, European experts believe this ruling will apply across media platforms and not restricted only to DVDs.

I always said those Finns were an intelligent bunch.

Microsoft-Novell Agreement: Patently ***

So, details of the Microsoft-Novell agreement have been released. IANAL, but this is unbelievable:

7.2 ***. If a *** (or ***e.g., an *** or ***) *** that this Agreement or the *** (including *** or with respect thereto) of *** under this Agreement are not *** to which a *** and there is an *** by a *** with respect to such *** that the *** and there is no *** (e.g. through amendment of this Agreement), then such *** may*** of the *** this Agreement by *** to the ***.

No, really.

The Intellectual Monopoly Ratchet

One of the most frightening aspects of the intellectual monopoly game is the ratchet effect. A country typically increases intellectual monopoly protection to attain "parity" with another group, but overshoots in some areas. Other countries then ratchet up their intellectual monopolies to achieve "parity" - and overshoot.

Here's the ratchet in action:


If this Korea US FTA is passed, then the US will request other countries to include these things in the following FTA. So it needs to have international solidarity activities to stop this kind of US FTA.

27 May 2007

DNA Database Delirium

Talking of DNA databases:

Civil liberties groups are warning that the details of every Briton could soon be on the national DNA database, raising fresh concerns of a 'surveillance society'. Controversial plans being studied by the government would see the DNA of people convicted of even the most minor, non-imprisonable offences, such as dropping litter, entered on the national database.
Madness.

But there's one tiny ray of hope:

Privately, the Home Office anticipates a public backlash against the proposals. 'This is a completely open exercise,' one Home Office source said. 'If there is overwhelming opposition against this we will not go there.'

So we know what we must do.

Googling the Genome, Part III

Good to see some others concerned by the imminent arrival of personal genomics:

In addition, many scientists fear cheap genome sequencing could have other, worrying consequences. Professor Steve Jones of University College London, said: 'If you make your genome public, you are not just revealing information about yourself and what diseases you might be susceptible to, you are also giving away crucial data about the kind of illnesses your children might be prone to. Each of your children gets half your genes, after all. They might not want the world to know about the risks they face and become very unhappy in later life that you went public. Your other relatives might equally be displeased.'

And by its implications for civil liberties:

However, there are other concerns, as Professor Ashburner points out. 'Anyone who commits relatively minor offences can have their DNA taken and analysed. At present, the main use of this process is to create a DNA fingerprint that can be used to identify that individual. But soon we will be able to create an entire genome sequence of that individual from a swab or blood sample. We will end up knowing everything about their genes. In the end, we could have millions of people on a database and know every single genetic secret of each person. That has to be a very worrying prospect.'

25 May 2007

Even Google Nods

Accessing Google Analytics to view some stats about this site, I received the following warning:

"www.google.com" is a site that uses a security certificate to encrypt data during transmission, but its certificate expired on 16/05/2007 00:18.

Whoops, someone was careless.

More About Sculpties...

...but not much yet. (And what about some galleries, eh?)

Dell Delivers - Double Quick

I never thought this would happen so quickly:

You asked, we listened. For advanced users and tech enthusiasts, we’re happy to offer a new open-source operating system, so you can dive in and truly enjoy a PC experience just the way you want it. In addition to the FreeDOS systems we already offer, we are proud to announce PCs with Ubuntu.

Systems currently available are rather limited - only the Dimension E520 N, Inspiron E1505 N and XPS 410 N. Still, it's a start. Get buying, people.

Will This Solve Spam?

State and local governments this week resumed a push to lobby Congress for far-reaching changes on two different fronts: gaining the ability to impose sales taxes on Net shopping, and being able to levy new monthly taxes on DSL and other connections. One senator is even predicting taxes on e-mail.

Taxes on email? Well, that's spam sorted. Pity about the collateral effects.

24 May 2007

The Internet is a Commons...

...and these people are cutting down the trees.

Great piece; sad, sad story.

Redflag and RedOffice Day

Good news from the Middle Kingdom:

Sun Microsystems, Inc. , the OpenOffice.org community and Redflag Chinese 2000 Software Co., Ltd., today announced a joint development effort that will focus on integrating new features in the Chinese localization of OpenOffice.org, as well as quality assurance and work on the core applications. Additionally, Redflag Chinese 2000 made public its commitment to the global OpenOffice.org community stating it would strengthen its support of the development of the world's leading free and open
source productivity suite.

Under the provisions of the agreement, Beijing Redflag Chinese 2000, which produces the popular OpenOffice.org-based RedOffice, will add to the open source project approximately 50 engineers, some of whom have been working on the OpenOffice.org project since the second half of 2006.

(Via Erwin Tenhumberg.)

IBM Opens Up - A Little More

One of the most important journeys in the world of software has been undertaken by IBM. Its early support for first Apache, and then GNU/Linux, were critical in establishing open source as viable for business. Then came the donation of code to Eclipse, and many other smaller acts of openness.

Here's the latest one:

IBM is kicking off an experiment to open up its software development process in a way that mirrors the creation of open source applications.

"The reward of getting our information out there is going to be amazing and critical to the future of IBM's software," Jerry Cuomo, chief technology officer of IBM's WebSphere middleware suite, told vnunet.com in an interview at the IBM Impact 2007 conference in Orlando.

Cuomo is planning to publish the source code control system of software projects and encourage lead engineers to start blogs.

This will allow them to engage in conversations with outside developers and IBM customers and poll them on planned features and technologies.

I'm sure this will become the standard way to develop commercial software. Just think: one day, even Microsoft will be doing it.

Welcome to the World of Social Network Churn

Being an old fogey, I don't care much about all these new-fangled social networks (even LinkedIn seems overly, well, chummy for my tastes). But they're undeniably important, especially for those young people. However, I think we are about to enter a new phase for social networks that is going to leave a lot of people - investors in particular - feeling queasy.

Looking past the vertiginous growth rates mentioned here, the real killer is at the end:

Bebo’s traffic share rose threefold in the year to April while MySpace grew around two and a half times, Hitwise found, with the former poised to overtake MySpace this month, having ranked number one for the last three weeks. But it’s Facebook that now seems to be the hottest property. Anecdotally, many of my friends who had only just discovered MySpace have now upped and left for the more structured communication confines of Facebook, where they are better able to reconnect with old classmates and colleagues.

I predict that this fickleness will be a defining feature of a world that is predicated on being a memeber of what's hot, and not being a member of what's not.

Welcome to the world of social network churn.

Confused Over Novell? You Will Be

This is getting seriously hard to parse:

In a surprise announcement earlier today at the Open Source Business Conference, Novell and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that Novell would be contributing to the EFF's Patent Busting project. In addition, the two entities will work for legislation and policies that will "promote innovation," specifically targeting the World Intellectual Property Organization.

23 May 2007

Please, Antigua, Please

Go for it:


Repeated violation of WTO commitments in the face of contrary WTO rulings allows a victimized member country ultimately to suspend its own WTO obligations to the offending nation - a form of restitution much more punitive than tariffs alone. America runs a steady and hefty trade deficit in virtually every category of international trade other than intellectual property.

Were the WTO - with possible European, Japanese, and Chinese support - to allow the Antiguans to suspend all intellectual property obligations to the United States, the American IP industry could face a tiny adversary with an unlimited right to reproduce for its own benefit American IP goods of any kind.

Privacy Through Openness

Hm, a novel approach:

So it dawned on him: If being candid about his flights could clear his name, why not be open about everything? "I've discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away," he says, grinning as he sips his venti Black Eye. Elahi relishes upending the received wisdom about surveillance. The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there's a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho. "It's economics," he says. "I flood the market."

Googling the Genome, Part II

23andMe is a privately held company developing new ways to help you make sense of your own genetic information.

Even though your body contains trillions of copies of your genome, you've likely never read any of it. Our goal is to connect you to the 23 paired volumes of your own genetic blueprint (plus your mitochondrial DNA), bringing you personal insight into ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits. By connecting you to others, we can also help put your genome into the larger context of human commonality and diversity.

Toward this goal, we are building on recent advances in DNA analysis technologies to enable broad, secure, and private access to trustworthy and accurate individual genetic information. Combined with educational and scientific resources with which to interpret and understand it, your genome will soon become personal in a whole new way.

Nothing special there, of course. What makes this news is the following:

Google said it had invested $3.9 million in the company, called 23andMe Inc., giving the Mountain View, California-based Google a minority stake in the start-up, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

I wrote about this three years ago, but purely theoretically. Be very afraid. (Via TechCrunch.)

Blooming Science Blogs

It is rather ironic that science, which is a paradigmatic example of openness in action, should be a relative laggard when it comes to getting formally behind open science. So it's good to see a couple of new blogs on the subject, as noted by Bill Hooker.

Better blooming late than never.

22 May 2007

The Joy (and Utility) of FUD

As I've written elsewhere, Microsoft's FUD is more interesting for what it says about the company's deepest fears than for its overt message. This is certainly the case for the latest example:

Coverage of the debate on the new version of the GNU Public License (GPLv3) has focused on the differing opinions among three groups: Project leaders like Linus Torvalds and other top Linux kernel developers; Foundations like the Free Software Foundation (FSF) led by Richard Stallman; and Large Technology Companies such as Sun, HP, IBM, and Novell. While these three groups are certainly all affected by revisions to the GPL, open source developers are also affected, but have been significantly under-represented in the discussion. In this paper, our objective was to give developers a voice and bring their opinions into the debate. What does this fourth constituency think about open source licenses, the upcoming release of the GPLv3, and the philosophies surrounding open source software?

Actually, I lied: the results in this particular case, although predictable, are so hilarious that they deserve wider airing:

Thus our results suggest the actions of the FSF may only be favored by approximately 10% of the broader community and leads us to ask, should a committee be created with a charter to create and revise open source licenses using a governance model similar to that of the open source development model? Is it contrary to the spirit of the open source community, which relies on the wisdom and view of the masses, to have the governance of licenses controlled by a few individuals whose views run contrary to the objectives of potentially 90% of the people affected by their actions, especially when the community members are the very creators and developers of the software under discussion?

Hello, people: those "few individuals" you are talking about are essentially Richard Stallman, as in Richard Stallman who single-handedly started this whole thing, fought most of the key battles, and even wrote some of the most important code, alone. And you're questioning his right to revise the licence that he - as in Richard Stallman - devised and then gave to the world?

But of course the main takeaway from this is that Microsoft is really, really worried by precisely those new provisions in GPLv3 that are designed to limit its ability to subvert free software, to the extent that it would even contemplate publishing a sponsored report of this kind based on - wait for it - a massive 34 replies out of 332 requests; talk about "few individuals".

Thanks for the info, chaps.

The "Avoiding Mass Extinction Engine"

Anything that calls itself the "Avoiding Mass Extinction Engine" is obviously worth supporting, but even more so when it does everything right:

What is particularly exciting about it however, particularly from an open knowledge/data point of view, is that:

* All the code is open (GPL)
* All the data (~70TB of it) is open (CC by-sa)
* They’ve provided a nice ‘Knowledge’ API in the form of a RESTful data service

Der CEO Spricht

I find Jonathan Schwartz's blog fascinating. Not so much for what it says - even though that is often, as here, thoughtful and well written, as for the fact that the CEO of a huge company that is being turned around in front of our eyes thinks that it is worth doing, and at such length.

My fascination sometimes feels of the kind provoked by watching enormously large structures head slowly but inexorably towards each other. Not that I want to be negative, you understand.

21 May 2007

Second Life Open Sources the Sky (and Clouds)

Linden Lab continues to do good in acquiring and open-sourcing cool technology:

Linden Lab, creator of 3D virtual world Second Life, today announced the acquisition of graphics technology from Windward Mark Interactive. Linden Lab will acquire WindLight, an advanced atmospheric rendering technology; Nimble, a realistic 3D cloud simulator; and associated intellectual property and interests.

...

Following the acquisition of this technology, Linden Lab will integrate Windward Mark’s WindLight into the Second Life Viewer and will open source the code under a General Public License agreement. The Viewer (available here: http://secondlife.com/community/downloads.php) featuring WindLight will be immediately available for PCs, with a Mac version to follow.

“This is a great example of the benefits of an open-source model,” said Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab. “Our core development team is tightly focused on improving the Second Life experience in terms of stability and scalability, but open sourcing has enabled external developers to integrate additional enhancements that are also hugely valuable; WindLight is one of these. We’re excited to bring this technology to Second Life and pleased to have such a talented team of developers join Linden Lab.”

Open Motes

Wow, a new one on me:

SquidBee is an Open Hardware and Source wireless sensor device. The goal of SquidBee is getting an "open mote" to create Sensor Networks.

The main concepts behind SquidBee are:

* Self-powered

* Wireless Comunications

Repeat with me: "Ubiquity, Ubiquity, Ubiquity..."

How does SquidBee work?

1. Acquires values from environment parameters: temperature, humidity, lightness, presence, pressure or (almost!) whatever you can sense.
2. Operates with these values, when required.
3. Transmits these values using a low power comsumption wireless technology (ZigBee).
4. Sleeps until next timeout and repeats from the first stept.

Second step is not always necessary, depending of the calculations needed it may be better to make them in receiver computer to save nodes energy.

An open mote? What does it really mean?

It means every part of the mote is accessible and can be studied, changed, personalized, ... From the schematic circuit to the source code of the programs that are running inside the mote.

(Via dailywireless.org.)

Microsoft's New Mantra: Choice Is Good

Recently I was bemused by Microsoft's espousal of ODF, and now here we have the company spreading more joy:

The company on Monday is expected to announce that it is sponsoring an open-source project to create a converter between Ecma Open XML--a set of file formats closely tied to Microsoft Office--and a Chinese national standard called Unified Office Format (UOF).

I think I understand what Microsoft is up to.

Until recently, its approach was to try to block ODF at every twist and turn: the last thing it wanted was another standard - much less a truly cross-platform, open one - to join the club of approved formats.

That strategy has failed: ODF is being chosen or is on the brink of being chosen by more and more governments around the world. And where governments lead, local business will follow. Microsoft is now faced with the prospect of losing its monopoly in the office sector. Indeed, it risks being locked out completely, as more and more countries opt for ODF only.

So I think Microsoft has decided to cut its losses, and go for a very different approach. Given that it can't shut out ODF, and there is a danger that Microsoft's OOXML will not be selected alongside it, the company is now pushing very hard for as many standards as possible: the new mantra being "Choice is Good". The point being, of course, that if you have lots of competing standards, then the one with the largest market share - Microsoft's - is likely to have the advantage.

It's a shrewd move, because at first blush it's hard to argue against having choice. But the flaw in this argument is that choice has to occur around the standard, through competing implementations, not between standards. In the latter case, all the benefits of open standards are lost, and the status quo is preserved. Which, of course, is exactly what Microsoft is hoping to achieve with its sudden rash of generosity.

Against Perpetual Copyright

Rather better than my curt dismissal below is this more rigorous explanation of why copyright should not be perpetual. Interestingly, it's a wiki, and therefore a collective creation. Also interestingly, it suffers from one fairly major flaw: it is much too long. So much so that even I, crazed copyright enthusiast that I am, find it hard to read to the end.

I think this may be a problem of the wiki format, which encourages honing and addition, but makes deletion difficult, because it feels like an act of sacrilege against the creation of others. But as any professional writer will tell you, one of the most valuable services that can be performed on prose is to cut it. When it comes to words, less is nearly always more.

20 May 2007

Copyright Fool or Copyright Knave?

It's hard to decide whether the author of these words is a copyright fool or a copyright knave:

No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.

Well, apart from the one that intellectual property does not exist, is actually an intellectual monopoly, and hence a bad thing that should be limited as much as is possible?

Given that he comes from the Claremont Institute, whose mission is "to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life." - ooh, look, weasel words - maybe I can guess which side of the fool/knave watershed he falls. (Via Against Monopoly.)

19 May 2007

Microsoft Starts to Get the Modularity Bug

First, this incredible opening par:

Some of the changes in the upcoming release of Windows Server 2008 are a response to features and performance advantages that have made Linux an attractive option to Microsoft customers.

Er, say that again? Windows Server 2008 is explicitly responding to GNU/Linux?

Then, this little nugget:

"Having less surface area does reduce the servicing and the amount of code you have running and exposed, so we have done a lot of work in 2008 to make the system more modular. You have the server manager; every role is optional, and there are more than 30 components not installed by default, which is a huge change," Laing said.

Ah, yes, modularity....

18 May 2007

In Praise of Modularity (Again)

News that Firefox users tend to be more up-to-date with their security patches is interesting, especially for on account of the suggested explanation:

Much of this patching success has to be credited to Firefox's automatic update mechanism, which debuted in version 1.5 but was improved in version 2.0. The browser checks to see if a new version is available and notifies the user when it finds one. The security updates tend to be small (around 200KB to 700KB), which also makes the updating process less painful.

Internet Explorer, in contrast, is typically updated along with the rest of the system with Windows Update. Regular users of Windows Update automatically got upgraded from IE 6 to IE 7, so it is not surprising that people still stuck on IE 6 are not updating as much as IE 7. It's possible to assume that many of the people who aren't using Windows Update are avoiding it because the Windows Update web site checks (using WGA) to see if the user has a legitimate copy of the operating system, but as critical updates for IE 6 are still automatically downloaded by Windows even if WGA fails, it seems more likely that the numbers include legitimate users who have turned automatic updates off.

Once again, the virtues of modularity become clear - and turn out to have very clear real-world benefits too, in this case.

Google Enters the Fourth Dimension

It's a bit rudimentary at the moment, but Google's new Timeline view for searches is quite entertaining. (Via Vecosys.)

Microsoft Pays $6 Billion For Who???

Interesting: Microsoft has apparently paid $6 billion for a company I've never heard of - aQuantive. Aside from demonstrating my shallow knowledge, this also underlines the fact that we live in an online world driven by advertising. And people said the banner ad was dead....

An OGGly Duckling?

One of the things I love about Richard Stallman's crusade for freedom is that it is so uncompromising. This means that it tends to espouse strict, unimpeachable positions that may not be totally practical (which he would doubtless say is irrelevant).

A case in point is the new PlayOGG campaign, which encourages people to ditch MP3 files and use the OGG standard instead. Now, I yield to none in my admiration for OGG, but I really can't see this happening. Moreover, it's not long until the troublesome patents on MP3 expire anyway, so the whole question will become moot.

SOPERA: Beyond the SOA Soap Opera

I'm not the biggest fan of the SOA idea, which I find rather modish and ripe for being replaced by the next buzzword du jour, but I can hardly disagree with the second part of this statement:

„SOA und Open Source sind zwei der wichtigsten Trends in der IT. Die Verbindung von beiden bringt Unternehmen mehr Flexibilität bei geringeren Kosten“, sagt Ricco Deutscher.

["SOA and open source are two of the most important trends in IT. Bringing them together offers businesses more flexibility for lower costs," says Ricco Deutscher.]

Herr Deutscher is the CEO of the new company Sopera GmbH, which has just done something rather fine:

Deutsche Post World Net places SOA platform with Eclipse

IT service provider SOPERA will drive forward development of the platform at Eclipse

Bonn, 15 May 2007: After already announcing in April that it plans to make its SOA platform also available to other companies by the end of the year, Deutsche Post World Net has now secured a key basis for development with the Eclipse Foundation .

...

Deutsche Post’s IT service provider, SOPERA GmbH, will play a leading role in further development of the platform as a board member of the Eclipse Foundation. SOPERA managing director Dr. Ricco Deutscher describes the development perspectives: “It’s all about establishing an open-source, modular and standard-based SOA platform as part of a future open source stack.

This is good news for everyone, and emphasises how pivotal Eclipse is becoming - not just for open source, but computing in general. (Via James Governor's Monkchips.)

The Copyright Battle, Part II

I don't normally pay much attention to industry organisations, since they are pretty much self-serving. But the new Copyright Alliance (which so far doesn't seem to have a website) forms an interesting pairing with the Digital Freedom Campaign, which I wrote about last year. Copyright is and will be for some time an extremely hot issue.

17 May 2007

Exporting Jurisdictions - the Other Way

We're used to seeing the US exporting its own ideas of what consitututes illegality when it comes to copyright and patents - notably through its free trade agreements - but here's a useful reminder that in today's interconnected world, things can flow the other way too:

As Second Life grows, the European market becomes a larger and larger part of its user base. ComScore estimates as a much as 61% of Second Life's residents are based in Europe (including 16% in Germany). While ComScore's likely overestimated the number of active European residents, there is no doubt that European users have made up a substantial percentage of Second Life's rapid growth over the last eighteen months. Enough growth, that Linden Lab is rumored to be looking for European collocation space. And with servers in Europe, the Second Life content on those servers would unequivocally fall under the laws of the nation(s) those servers are based in.

And since you cannot usefully carve up the metaverse based on the physical geography of its users, this means that European laws - notably on virtual child pornography - are likely to be applied to the whole of Second Life.

Microsoft Backs ODF

No, really:


Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has voted to support the addition of OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.0 to the nonexclusive American National Standards list.

Not quite sure why, but let's hope for the best. (Via tuxmachines.org.)

A Short Trip Through TRIPS

The WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement has figured many times in this blog. It's increasingly clear that it represents one of the bastions of old-style intellectual monopoly protection. Indeed, one measure of success in re-framing the debate about intellectual monopolies would be when TRIPS is repealed, or at least superseded. Here's a handy guide to it, together with links to recent TRIPS-related news.

The Guardian Identifies Itself on ID Cards

Good to see Charles Arthur coming out with a forthright attack on the madness that is the UK ID Card. Good, too, to see the Guardian returning to its roots by doing so.

16 May 2007

Open University Opens Up Some More

Some nice cc'd courses from the kind people at the Open University. (Via The Inquirer.)

Amazon Goes DRM-free - And So Do We (Almost)

This is big news:

Amazon.com today announced it will launch a digital music store later this year offering millions of songs in the DRM-free MP3 format from more than 12,000 record labels. EMI Music's digital catalog is the latest addition to the store. Every song and album in the Amazon.com digital music store will be available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software.

It's important not so much because of the songs that will be freed in this way, as for the huge publicity it gives to the idea of being DRM-free. Until now, few end-users have really understood what the implications of DRM were; but once big names like Amazon start pushing the virtues of DRM-free stuff, then people will naturally demand it from other outlets - and from other labels alongside the enlightened EMI.

We're nearly there, people. (Via PaidContent.)

Hugging Hugg.com

Although the site itself is nothing special, its name is sheer genius. (Via GigaOM.)

The Same Old Song

Sigh, the usual idiocies:

UK copyright laws should be extended to prevent musicians from missing out on royalties in later life, MPs have said.

I hate to break this to you chaps, but royalties are there to encourage the creation of new songs, not reward you for ones you have already written.

The killer, though, is the following:

"Given the strength and importance of the creative industries in the UK, it seems extraordinary that the protection of intellectual property rights should be weaker here than in many other countries whose creative industries are less successful," the report said.

Well, you know, maybe it's precisely because the term is shorter here that people have more incentive to write new songs. Extend the term, and they have less incentive to compose, leading to less creativity. Simple, really, when you understand that copyright is a quid pro quo, not a gold-plated pension for ageing rockers.

Fighting Climate Change with Open Data

Here's an interesting idea on several levels:

the Zerofootprint platform, powered by Business Objects, provides urban dwellers the ability to view their “environmental footprint” – the effect their daily habits have on pollution levels and the strain they place on our natural resources.

Enter accessible data — such as miles driven each year, miles flown, kilowatt hours used, location of home and office — and you can easily calculate your effects on the earth. The calculator measures not only the amount of carbon dioxide emitted (the carbon footprint) but also the use of resources such as land, trees and water. Once an individual's impact has been calculated, the Zerofootprint tool provides information on how to reduce it, measuring the results.

I think this makes an important point: if you can't measure something - in this case environmental impact - then you can't manage it. Providing direct feedback to people on the consequences of their day-to-day choices seems a sensible way to engage them in fighting climate change and the destruction of the environmental commons.

Interestingly, there's another level:

Much of the data gathered will be stored on the Insight database — and then the real work begins.

The challenge, or challenges, will not stop with the creation of a database. As soon as a representative sample size is available, business analysts and number crunchers everywhere can roll up their sleeves to use the information in meaningful ways.

For instance, imagine a visualization comparing the carbon footprint per kilowatt hour of electricity used in Paris versus Shanghai.

“When we are able to analyze and visualize this data, that is bound to suggest a myriad of solutions,” says Ron Dembo, founder of Zerofootprint, whose mission is nothing less than to change the world by helping people reduce their environmental footprint. “The database created here will be the ‘creative commons’ for building models for many different opportunities.”

Again, this is hardly a novel insight, but it is an important idea. Aggregation of open data in this way provides a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. What's striking is that both this and the idea of providing some kind of feedback lie at the heart of open source and related open endeavours. Modularisation means that people can work on small elements that together contribute to a larger whole; and the feedback they get for their efforts - typically peer esteem - is what keeps them going.
(Via Ars Technica.)

15 May 2007

Copyright Done Right(er)

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

The Government has proposed a change to the damages available under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, ruling out the possibility of the award of punitive damages in civil cases of copyright infringement.

...

The Government has long considered punitive damages more appropriate to criminal law. "[The] aim of civil law should be to provide compensation for loss, not to punish the defendant," said the paper.

Amazing. Kudos to the UK Government. (Via Michael Geist.)

Deranged Millennium Copyright Act

If you thought the DMCA was bad, take a look at this:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is pressing the U.S. Congress to enact a sweeping intellectual property bill that would increase criminal penalties for copyright infringement, including "attempts" to commit piracy.

The best bit, though, is the following:

* Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who "recklessly causes or attempts to cause death" can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.

This would be funny if it weren't so sad: life imprisonment for using "pirated" software? What planet are they on? But I like to look on the bright side: in the face of this utterly deranged legislation, I think a lot of people are going to start looking rather favourable on free software....

14 May 2007

A Ray of Sunshine

Here's a fascinating post about software patents from Greg Papadopoulos, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Sun. He has lots of surprisingly sensible things to say on the subject (i.e., he more or less agrees with me), together with the following comment that offered a truly fresh take on the subject (not something that happens often):

Patents are a far more blunt instrument than copyright, and tend to teach far less than code. I just don't know of any developer who reads patents to understand some new software pattern or idea. Remember, the limited monopoly we grant a patent holder is in exchange for teaching others how to do it so that when the patent expires everyone is better off (the length of time of the grant is another issue. How long is two decades in software generations?)

Of course! This is the real test of a patent: if it doesn't teach anything to people who ought to be hungry for knowledge it reveals, it's almost certainly trivial or obvious.

Brilliant, Greg. (Via Erwin Tenhumberg.)

Business Credibility in a Box

Ha!

Small businesses know they must seem successful to become successful. So they play Thriving Office while they're on the phone. This valuable CD is filled with the sounds people expect to hear from an established company, providing instant credibility. It's fast, easy and effective!

Thriving Office contains two 39-minute tracks: “Busy” and “Very Busy”. Both are filled with the sounds of voices, phones, computers, drawers and more.

(Via TechCrunch.)

Hold the Front Page - Or Maybe Not

The hot news, of course, is Microsoft's threat to sue the entire open source ecosystem. Or maybe not. As Techdirt rightly points out, this is not a threat, but actually just re-heated FUD. But even more, it's a final wake-up call: we need to get software patents sorted out before they sort out free software.

13 May 2007

A Flash of Recognition

Now, where have I heard this before?

I assert that there is something wrong with web-like "rich" formats that aren't hyperlink-able or indexable by search-engines. You could argue that these bugs could be fixed, and Flash is wisely becoming more URI-addressable and view-source-able over time. But it still ain't the Web. It is not hand-authored, easily tweaked incrementally, copy-and-paste-able. It's hardware.

Oh, yes, I remember:

I hate Flash animations even more: they are not only opaque - there is no cyber-there there - they are barriers to my free navigation of the Web and waste my time as they download. In effect, they turn the Web into television.

Well, television is, indeed, hardware.

11 May 2007

All 'K? KDE 4 Alpha is Out

KDE justs keeps on getting better and better, and is pretty much the de facto open source desktop these days. Now we have KDE 4 - well, an alpha release, at least - and it looks pretty cool.

Taking the DMCA Biscuit

This is almost Jesuitical in its contorted logic:

Media Rights Technologies and BlueBeat.com have issued cease and desist letters to both companies and to Adobe Systems Inc and Real Networks -- which produce the Adobe Flash Player and Real Player respectively -- for actively avoiding their X1 SeCure Recording Control, which they said is an effective copyright protection system.

MRT and Bluebeat said the failure to use an available copyright protection solution contravenes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the manufacture of any product or technology designed to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work or protects the rights of copyright owners.

How do they come up with this stuff?

Identifying ID Card Flaws

As costs for the hare-brained UK ID Card continue to spiral out of control, the LSE has put together a timely submission to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into “A surveillance society?” that picks apart the current scheme's weaknesses.

Park at My LAMP Server

Up to the London OpenCoffee meeting yesterday (well, with a name like that, how could I resist?), where I met Anthony Eskinazi. He's the MD of the self-explanatory ParkAtMyHouse.com:

We are a brand new and innovative service which aims to provide affordable and penalty-free parking around public venues by enabling property-owners to rent out their empty driveways, garages, car parks and other spare pieces of land to drivers needing somewhere to park.

Motorists and cyclists on their way to work, a big sports match or a hospital appointment for example, can arrange to use a property-owner’s space on a one-off or regular, short-term or long-term basis.

What I love about this idea - aside from its blindingly obvious nature, always a good sign - is the way it uses technology to make economic and social activity more granular, and hence more flexible and efficient. It also has a green angle, thanks to this tie-up with Zipcars.

Not surprisingly, one reason why Eskinazi was able to turn this idea into reality with minimal resources is because he's built his site (personally) on a LAMP stack. He also mentioned how much he owes to the content management software Joomla, which he says is both easy to use and yet extremely powerful.

09 May 2007

A Theory of Modularity

I've mentioned a few times how important modularity is to the efficiency of openness. This seems pretty obvious, intuitively, but it's nice to know that some academics have produced a rather nice, rigorous demonstration of why this should be the case for software:

Important software modularity principles, such as the information hiding criterion, have remained informal. DSM modeling and Baldwin and Clark’s design rule theory have the potential to formally account for how design rules create options in the form of independent modules and enable independent substitution.

This paper evaluated the applicability of the model and theory to real-world large-scale software designs by studying the evolution of two complex software platforms through the lens of DSMs and design rule theory. The results showed that (1) DSM models can precisely capture key characteristics of software architecture by revealing independent modules, design rules, and the parts of a system that are not well modularized; (2) design rule theory can formally explain why some software systems are more adaptable, and how a modularization activity, such as refactoring, conveys strategic advantages to a company.

Er, quite. (Via Michael Tiemann.)

The True Cost of Intellectual Monopoly Infringement

Not as big as some would have us believe:

International trade losses due to product counterfeiting and piracy are much lower than estimated by business lobby groups, according to the most detailed global study to date.

...

The report, due for endorsement by the OECD board later this month, could prove embarrassing for international business lobbies, which have used the higher estimates to lift intellectual property rights up the global political agenda and to demand crackdowns in China and elsewhere.

(Via Michael Geist's Blog.)

OpenSourceCinema.org

Here's a meme that pops up now and again, an open source film. But this one comes with a twist - it uses a wiki for the script:

This is the script for the film. I'm laying out everything I plan to do or hope to do.

This film is not finished - this film will never be finished [that's what we've been saying for 4 years!]. This writing is not meant to be perfect - instead it is meant to be dynamic. I am not editing myself as I write. I am being open. I'm like a bird, I'll only fly away.

I'm begging for help! Any page in this wikifilm can be edited. If you want to add something you think should be filmed, or that you have filmed, STEP UP! Wise man once say about this site: MORE BOOTY SHAKIN', LESS COUCH POTATIN'!

If thoust thinks the wording can be improved upon or otherwise ameliorated, then thoust must act to change at once!

Every page, except this one, can be edited. (Why? Because this page generates the Table of Contents).

We will create a feature documentary from this wiki. It will play in theaters and on TV. Everyone who contributes will get a credit. So choose your handle wisely.

Below are the chapters of the film as I see them. Please - comment, change, act, create. Changing is not breaking - changing is evolving. Structure is dissolving. Music is revolving.

Ode to an OA Hero

Open access is only just beginning to creep into public consciousness, so it is hardly suprising that the OA pioneers - the people that have done all the donkey work and made it happen - are almost totally unknown. So it is good to see this very detailed profile of Matthew Cockerill, one such OA hero.

He's (the) publisher at BioMed Central, which is part of the Vitek Tracz empire. Amusingly, I had lunch with Tracz some years ago, but got not an inkling of what he was up to, which is a pity given my current interest in his work. Whether that was his fault (he was communicative, but not in a very helpful way) or mine (I was insufficiently inquisitive), is hard to say: probably both.

Maybe It's Because I'm a Dot-Ldn-er

Yes: as the world's most exciting city - think Swinging Sixties goes digital (Networked Naughties?) - London absolutely has to have its own top-level domain, and to hell with the logic:

Supporters of the campaign for London to be the first ever city to have its own internet domain name are invited to voice their support to Nominet, the UK’s internet registry.

...

Lesley Cowley, Nominet’s chief executive, says the correct extension could be either a second level domain in the .uk space, such as ldn.uk, or a top level domain such as .ldn.

(Via Vecosys.)

OpenJDK

Free!

Insights into the Hacker Worldview

From David Miller, one of the most senior kernel hackers, comes this little story:

Say you've been doing nothing for the past few weeks except looking for a real nasty and hard to trigger bug. You think you're getting close and the one piece of debugging information is just around the corner, perheps the next build or the one after that will spit out the debugging message you need to find the bug. All the rest of your work is being blocked by this problem, you have to fix it.

You've been drinking coffee all day, and guzzling water as well.

So now you have to go REALLY BAD, you're about to pee your pants. What do you do? Do you go to the toilet and take care of things or you cross your legs as hard as humanly possible thinking "just one more build, just one more" for the next half hour?

If you're one of the ones who would go to the toilet you're not a programmer.

Learning from the Encyclopedia of Life

One of the great trends online is to pool data to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. The Encyclopedia of Life is one example, but on a splendidly ambitious scale:

an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity.

Highly laudable, not least the last part. But I can't help feeling that something has gone wrong in the realisation of this grand project.

The opening page of the website is a huge image that takes a while to load even with a decent broadband connection, and which conveys absolutely nothing (it's a nice picture taken from space of the Earth from mesopotamia to poor oppressed Tibet: and?). The home page has a video on it (why?), and all the demo pages are PDFs (er, isn't this supposed to be a website - you know, groovy HTML stuff?). slow to load, presumably because they are over-coded.

All-in-all, then, a superb idea, but one that clearly needs a lot of tweaking - to say nothing of slimming down - if it is to be really useful.

08 May 2007

13 AE 01 56 46 3C 13 30 2E 9E CA 2B 13 30 FE 14

No, it's not that number, it's my number:

First, we generate a fresh pseudorandom integer, just for you. Then we use your integer to encrypt a copyrighted haiku, thereby transforming your integer into a circumvention device capable of decrypting the haiku without your permission. We then give you all of our rights to decrypt the haiku using your integer. The DMCA does the rest.

The haiku is copyright 2007 by Edward W. Felten:

We own integers,
Says AACS LA.
You can own one too.

Here is your very own 128-bit integer, which we hereby deed to you:

13 AE 01 56 46 3C 13 30 2E 9E CA 2B 13 30 FE 14

Ubuntu Uber Alles

Can Ubuntu do no wrong? First Dell, now this:

To fulfil the aims of our mission and in response to the technical challenges that these devices pose, we are announcing the Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded project.

We will start more detailed planning at the Ubuntu Developer Summit next week in Seville and the first release of this edition will be in October with Ubuntu 7.10. If you are interested in the project, please get involved. We will be working through our normal development processes on Launchpad, the developer mailing lists and IRC.

Finally, we are delighted to be working with Intel on this version of Ubuntu. Intel are making significant contributions of technology, people and expertise to the project. We hope that others who are interested in producing an easy-to-use and open source environment for this class of device will join us in making this a success.

(Via Linux and Open Source Blog.)

Cory on the DRM'd BBC

I and many others have written about the pathetic moves by the BBC in terms of adopting Windows DRM, but you've got to give it to Cory, he has a way with words. In particular, he sums up nicely one aspect that I haven't covered here:

They also instructed the BBC to stop making MP3s of public-domain classical music available, because the classical music industry is "precarious." That's smart -- we'll improve the health of the classical music industry by making sure that no one under 35 with an iPod can listen to it. Nice one, Trustees.

Couldn't have put it better myself. And, in fact, I didn't.

Update: Nice piece by Bobby in the Guardian, too: good to see the rage is spreading. Shame on you, BBC.

The Chief Lizard Wrangler Speaketh

One of the unsung heroines of the open source movement is Mitch Baker, whose official job title is "Chief Lizard Wrangler" - the lizard in this case being Mozilla. I interviewed her for Rebel Code, a long time ago, about how she oversaw the transition of Netscape's browser code to open source (which included drawing up a couple of new open source licences such as the Mozilla Public Licence..)

At that time Mozilla was interesting historically but had relatively little impact on the wider world of computing. No more. To catch up with the why and the how, here's a useful - and rare - interview with her.

07 May 2007

German Court Gets It Badly Wrong

Bad decision, bad news:

the Court states that operators of Internet forums are liable for all comments posted there, even if the operator has no knowledge of their content.

OK, we'll just close the Internet down, then.

04 May 2007

Microsoft +Yahoo! = MegaHard!!!

Very interesting development here: Microsoft is starting to pursue Yahoo. This is completely logical: Microsoft is getting so utterly trounced by Google that it needs to bulk up fast in the online search sector and its related fields.

Of course, integrating two such companies would be a hugely challenging task, and might be disastrous for both. But assuming it happens and doesn't collapse under its own weight, such a merger would also have very interesting repercussions for open source.

After all, Google is pretty wedded to free software as a competitive weapon against Microsoft, whereas Yahoo is probably more neutral on the matter. If Microsoft got its mitts on Yahoo, that would undoubtedly change, and its offerings would become far more Windows-centric - at which point, things would start to get really nasty.

It's certainly a cool scoop for the New York Post, but I do wonder about their subs (maybe they trained on the Grauniad):

Microsoft and Yahoo! also feature complimentary offerings on the content side, with MSN drawing an older audience with its news focus.

I'm not sure their very complimentary at the moment, but doubtless they will become that way if Microsoft pulls this off.

Open Trading

One of the important benefits that flows from openness is that it allows decisions to be made on the basis of verifiable information. This allows "good" to be preferred, and "bad" deprecated (where "good" and "bad" would vary according to context and even personal viewpoint). That is, it allows a Darwinian natural selection to take place.

The results in the world of software are clear to see, but what's interesting is the extent to which it might be applicable in other fields.

Here's an interesting example:

Products would be tagged when they are made and further information added at each point in the production process, for example, how much the item cost the trader and how much it was sold on for. "You could work out whether the traders along the chain have been paying their workers a decent wage by looking at the profits they are reporting," says Light.

Fair trade based on facts, not faith. (Via weaverluke.)

Heavenly Mashups

One of the most important innovations of the Web 2.0 era has been the mashup. As I've noted before, mashups really need underlying meshes, and geographical ones are an obvious type. But the amazing Wikisky shows that in many ways heavenly mashups are even better than earthly ones:

The main purpose of WIKISKY is to consolidate astronomical, astrophysical and other information about different space objects and astrophysical facts.

We hope to achieve this purpose using the principle of visualization. When a person reads an article about a star, the star is only the abstraction for that reader. The person cannot emotionally feel the reality of the star without actually seeing it. We strive to create an extremely detailed sky map to help everybody to better understand the information gathering about any space object and various phenomena connected with those space objects.

Aside from the joy of being able to zoom around and into the sky just as you would over Google Earth, and the awe-inspiring sight of thousands - millions - of major structures there (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is simply gob-smacking), where Wikisky really comes into its own is in its annotation.

As you mouse-over objects, a pop-up gives you basic information. Clicking on that object takes you to a page with links to detailed images and - most importantly - to relevant papers. This is one reason why the heavenly mashup is superior to mundane ones: there is already a huge quantity of relevant, neatly-packaged information available for the objects on the mesh in the form of published scientific papers.

The only problem is that not all of this information is freely available (though often the preprint versions are): some of the papers requires subscriptions or one-off payments. This shows, once more, why open access to research papers is vital if we are to get the full benefit of such amazing sites as Wikisky: without it, mashups are frankly messed-up. (Via Open (finds, minds, conversations).)

Something Rotten in the State of the BBC

This is beginning to look seriously bad.

First, the BBC makes a duff decision over adopting Windows DRM, and now this:

Erik Huggers, a senior director for Microsoft’s entertainment business, becomes controller in charge of overseeing program strategy. He had previously been responsible for strategy on “MSTV, eHome, Zune and more” and had previously been a senior director for the Windows client division. Huggers also has done a lot to get Windows Media adopted by European broadcasters.

So much for the BBC Trust's commitment to "auditing" the BBC's progress in working towards platform neutrality: you can audit until you're blue in the face, but if the man running an important part of the BBC's Future Media & Technology unit is someone who "has done a lot to get Windows Media adopted by European broadcasters", then clearly you're stuffed.

First Big Blue, Now True Blue Open Source

I remember well my shock - and delight - when IBM announced that it was throwing its weight behind GNU/Linux on 10 January 2000. I feel somewhat similar about news that the Tories are also planning to push free software really hard:

A Tory strategy to make more use of open source software in the public sector is likely to tackle the culture of secrecy in government procurement, according to early details released to The Register.

Planned for publication next month and stemming from shadow chancellor George Osborne's adoption of a West Coast attitude, the plans are also likely to encourage the adoption of open standards and promote an indigenous open source industry.
Click here to find out more!

Mark Thompson, a Cambridge University IT lecturer and businessman who is drawing up Osborne's request to make Britain the "open source leader of Europe", said that procurement - including the notoriously secretive gateway process - might be opened up so that it was easier for smaller firms to pay homage to the public purse.

Indeed, I find myself echoing the thoughts of the hackers interviewed by The Reg:

These ideas have created some excitement in the apolitical open source movement (the flossers). Those who spoke to The Register about the Tory promise found it necessary to say the same six words: "I am not a Tory, but...".

The Economics of Free

One of the central themes of this blog is that Internet has changed many things by allowing the distribution of digital objects for virtually no cost. This has enormous knock-on consequences: the software industry is where that is most evident, but content is being hugely affected too.

I tend to write analogically, drawing on my knowledge of free software (which goes back about 13 years now) to try to understand what is happening - and will happen - in other fields. An alternative approach is to look at this from the viewpoint of economic theory.

This is something that I am hugely unqualified to do, but fortunately Techdirt's Mike Marsnick has being doing an excellent job in this respect with a series of posts examining the economics of goods when scarcity is removed. He has now posted a summary to this series, together with consolidated links to the previous posts.

It's well worth reading, as are the comments on the above post - if only to see a fine display of people's misunderstanding of what's going on here. I was also pleased to see that the main example he uses - that of the recording industry, and how it can give away music and still make money from things like concerts, merchanise etc. - is precisely the one that I have been pointing to.

I hope that Mike turns all this into a book one day, since I, for one, would welcome and even more in-depth analysis of this important and fascinating area.

03 May 2007

Open Source War - and Open Source

Another characteristically clear-sighted post from Jamais Cascio on the subject of open source war and the changing nature of power in a networked world:

Despite the end of the utility of conventional force, the lack of certainty as to what the next wave of global compellence power will look like will inevitably lead to strategic mistakes. As we look ahead, it's clear that if another state -- say, China -- decides to take America's place as the leading hegemonic power on the planet by emulating the current American model of extreme emphasis on conventional force projection, that state has already become another Lost Hegemon. The system has changed, and the meaning of power has changed.

Conversely, the first group that cracks this problem has the potential to leapfrog the others in assuming the role of global powerhouse. Given the speed with which technology and organizational models are evolving, we can't assume it will be a state. Corporations seemed poised to take on that role in the 1990s; non-governmental groups are the lead candidates today. It's entirely possible that the kind of social organization that will become the next hegemonic force has yet to be invented. One thing is clear: the next superpower, whoever or whatever it is, will be the actor that finally figures out the new meaning of power.

Well, the first people to understand this new kind of distributed, networked, evolving power were, of course, the coders: how about letting them run things for a change?

Defending the Street Tree

Another great commons under threat:

In towns and cities across the country, millions of other street trees are less lucky. Supersized lorries batter their crowns, utility companies dig up their roots, high-density developments squeeze them out, mobile-phone companies and CCTV operators demand they are trimmed back, water-main repairs shut off life-giving leaks, insurers claim they are causing building subsidence . . . and we, the public, sue councils when we trip on pavements made wonky by tree roots.

Sun Joins Mac Port of OpenOffice.org

Further signs of Sun's broad commitment to open source and OpenOffice.org:

I'm excited to let you all know that as of now Sun engineering will add its support to the ongoing Mac/Aqua porting effort.

The MacOSX porting history is basically as old as OpenOffice.org itself. Practically from the start there was the plan to have a native version for Mac, however as a first step the community decided to produce an X11 port which - since OOo already had several X11 ports from the start - seemed to be a good way to get a version quickly as temporary solution. As usual the "temporary solution" tended to be quite long lived (year 2000 bug anyone :-) ?).

...

Some may ask: Why is Sun joining the Mac porting project? If you look around at conferences and airport lounges, you will notice that more and more people are using Apple notebooks these days. Apple has a significant market share in the desktop space. We are supporting this port because of the interest and activity of the community wanting this port.

(Via Erwin Tenhumberg.)

02 May 2007

(Not So) Mysterious Asia

Simon Phipps has some interesting numbers relating to open source in Asia:

It seems that a few years ago, more than 95% of the software market in China was foreign-sourced. Last year, however, 70% of the software their government was using was open source. That means a market over which western software companies were rubbing their hands with glee in 2003 (presumably awaiting the payout from the first hit that was free) now see the market potentially evaporating.

No Progeny for Progeny

Progeny's metabolic processes are now history. It's off the twig and has kicked the bucket, apparently. With its founder, Ian Murdock, safely ensconced at Sun, this represents the end of a chapter in the story that is the rise of GNU/Linux as a popular platform. Meanwhile, another chapter begins.

Why Their Number is Up

There is an incredible - nay, pivotal - event unfolding on Digg. And it all revolves around a number. As the excellent Brownian Emotion explains:

This number is the key to unlocking the encryption for all high-definition DVDs, the possible successor to the popular DVD format. Using this key in a special program could allow one to copy an HD-DVD, and would thus violate the DMCA and the copyright of the content owners who produce those HD-DVDs.

Of course, the existence of this number is further demonstration of the fact that those in the content industry really don't understand technology: it was bound to be found, and once found, disseminated. But where the story gets really interesting is after those behind the broken HD-DVD technology started trying to block the publication of that number.

As we know (from about 15 years of Internet history), this can't be done. But it turns out that it's even better than that. People started posting links to the number on Digg; Digg was then hit with legal orders to take those posts down, which it did. Digg was then flooded - utterly flooded - with posts about that number and diggs for those posts, until finally, Digg's Kevin Rose decided to do the brave thing:

after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

Digg on,

Kevin

Kudos, Kev.

As a result, the Digg front page is currently awash with stories that contain the number, most with huge levels of diggs (to which I am proud to have added my widow's mite).

This shows two things. First, when the diggnation get it into their head to make a point, there's little even Kev can do about it, short of shutting down the site. Secondly, that attempts to stop the publication of this kind of information is even more doomed than it was ten years ago.

The reason is not just that Web 2.0 has given even more power to the digital people, but because of the nature of what is being published. It's a number: - pure information. There is simply no way that a number can be kept secret, as all the witty Digg postings which just "happen" to mention that particular number, show.

Since everything in the digital world, ultimately, is a number, this also shows why it is impossible to stop the copying of any digital artefact: it's just a number, that has no meaning of itself, only through context and interpretation. So while a number might be the digital representation of a document or song or picture to you, to me it's just my favourite number. There is currently no law against sharing favourite numbers. And the Digg revolt shows what will happen if anyone is foolish enough to bring one in.

For all those trying to defend digital content against copying in this way, their number is truly up.

Now You're Talking

This is my kind of journal:

The Northwest Journal of Linguistics is dedicated to the description and analysis of the indigenous languages of northwestern North America.

Its first issue contains unputdownable papers such as "The Verbal Morphology of Santiam Kalapuya":

This work is a detailed description of the verbal morphology of Santiam Kalapuya, an extinct Native American language of Oregon. This work is the first in-depth grammatical analysis of this language.

De-licious, and open access to boot.

01 May 2007

Dell Desktop Derby: And the Winner Is...

...Ubuntu.

Now there's a surprise.

Manifesto for Free Appliances

More open goodness:

Just as there is a need for Free Software, there is a need for free (as in speech) appliances.

Free Appliances can be modified or enhanced using GNU/Linux tools or other Open Source Software, preferably licensed as GPLv3. They have no binaries without source code. They adhere to generally accepted standards as much as possible. Their documentation is open. They favor open file formats since information in open file formats should not require DRM. They do not use proprietary components when there are generic ones widely available. (For example: batteries should be replaceable.)

We need to know that products that we use have no hidden functionality and that we can enjoy their full capability and value. Such devices must be open because that is the only way their functionality can be verified and audited. Procedures need to be available to assure that no malware has been introduced. In the event that user modifications go wrong, there must be a simple user reset of the device to its original state.

Examples include smart house, open telephone, wearable computer, emergency alarm and a "freed computer":

By now it should be possible to configure a computer which is completely free. It should have a free BIOS, hardware with open drivers, and a complete complement of freed software.