31 October 2007

SaaS in a (Jump)Box

One of the big benefits of Software as a Service (SaaS) is that you don't need to install or configure it. The downside is that it's "only" online. Well, how about this idea for getting the best of both worlds:

A JumpBox is a virtual appliance that bundles an entire server based application into a single pre-configured unit. With a JumpBox, you have quick and simple installation on a variety of virtualization platforms.

It has the virtues of SaaS simplicity, but with the power and control of a local installation. Of course, you can only do this with free software, otherwise those closed source types go ballistic over "illegal" downloads. Poor them for missing out on this very clever idea. (Via Read/WriteWeb.)

Whatever the Question, the Answer's GNU/Linux

It's interesting that whenever people try to come up with low-cost machines for developing countries, the answer is GNU/Linux. The OLPC/XO is the best-known example, but here's another one:

Rather than one inexpensive laptop per child, the answer being presented is a somewhat more powerful computer, with zero maintenance or moving parts, which can be shared by a number of children running free and open source software.

Of course, it's pretty obvious why: the cost of software is zero, which means there's no money there wasted on fat cats in Western countries. But there's another interesting angle:

Perhaps the oddest technical feature of the tablet-style PC is the fact that it runs an ARM-based RISC CPU, the Freescale i.mx31. The key reason for choosing this RISC CPU over a conventional x86 Intel or AMD processor was battery life. Morgan explained that this CPU's power envelope of just 3.5 watts made an 8-hour use possible. The other key reason was that this particular chip had strong video and graphics capabilities, which would be needed to show videos and animations in a classroom environment.

The downside is that it does not run the vast amount of x86 software out there.

The operating system is a cut down version of Debian Linux, recompiled for the ARM architecture, complete with most of the office and communications software expected in a GNU/Linux system.

Oh look: there's that wide platform support again: is this turning into one of open source's best-kept secrets? (Via Linux Today).

Loongson: GNU/Linux's Longshot

One of the under-appreciated strengths of GNU/Linux is its wide platform support. So what? you might sniff: the only platform that matters is Intel's. Well, yes - at the moment. But that could change courtesy of those nice people in the Middle Kingdom.

For Loongson - which readers will remember, is a Chinese chip company that has built a microprocessor surprisingly similar to one produced by MIPS - is hoping that Chinese government support will make its architecture rather important:

Once Loongson chips can meet basic demand, China plans buy them for its army, government offices, and public education. In addition, some local governments have been purchasing computers for China's rural areas to demonstrate the achievement of the "new country construction." It's estimated that China's rural areas will utilize at least 6 million computers in 2007 and 2008, giving Loongson a big boost in this arena.

Why is this good news for GNU/Linux? Because Loongson chips cannot run Windows - there is no MIPS port for XP or Vista. But there is already one for GNU/Linux, which is, amazingly enough, precisely the OS that those 6 million future machines (if they materialise) will be running. Hen hao.

Google's OpenSocial

Or should that be Open Social? - That's what a certain Marc Andreessen (now, where have I heard that name before?) calls it, and he should know:

My company, Ning, is participating in this week's launch of a new open web API called Open Social, which is being spearheaded by Google and joined by a wide range of partners including Google's own Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Salesforce.com, Oracle, iLike, Flixster, RockYou, and Slide.

In a nutshell, Open Social is an open web API that can be supported by two kinds of developers:

* "Containers" -- social networking systems like Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Friendster, and...

* "Apps" -- applications that want to be embedded within containers -- for example, the kinds of applications built by iLike, Flixster, Rockyou, and Slide.

This is the exact same concept as the Facebook platform, with two huge differences:

* With the Facebook platform, only Facebook itself can be a "container" -- "apps" can only run within Facebook itself. In contrast, with Open Social, any social network can be an Open Social container and allow Open Social apps to run within it.

* With the Facebook platform, app developers build to Facebook-proprietary languages and APIs such as FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and FQL (Facebook Query Language) -- those languages and APIs don't work anywhere other than Facebook -- and then the apps can only run within Facebook. In contrast, with Open Social, app developers can build to standard HTML and Javascript, and their apps can then run in any Open Social container.

What this shows, for the nth time, is that the future history of computing is about the race towards openness, and that the company that opens up the most - as in totally - wins. Google seems to get that, even if there are still a few dark corners of its soul that could do with some sunlight.

GNU Voodoo Strikes Again

Everyone is waiting for some juicy lawsuit that will establish the validity of the GNU GPL once and for all. But the trouble is, those who fail to follow the rules of GPL keep on giving up before these things come to trial. Here's another one - the Monsoon case I wrote about a little while back:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and Monsoon Multimedia today jointly announced that an agreement has been reached to dismiss the GPL enforcement lawsuit filed by SFLC on behalf of two principal developers of BusyBox.

BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. Monsoon Multimedia uses BusyBox in its HAVA TV place-shifting devices.

As a result of the plaintiffs agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit and reinstate Monsoon Multimedia's rights to distribute BusyBox under the GPL, Monsoon Multimedia has agreed to appoint an Open Source Compliance Officer within its organization to monitor and ensure GPL compliance, to publish the source code for the version of BusyBox it previously distributed on its Web site, and to undertake substantial efforts to notify previous recipients of BusyBox from Monsoon Multimedia of their rights to the software under the GPL. The settlement also includes an undisclosed amount of financial consideration paid by Monsoon Multimedia to the plaintiffs.

That GNU voodoo is just too darn powerful, it seems.

Crowdsourcing the Language Ark

Samuel Johnson famously wrote an early English dictionary entirely on his own. But a far better approach today would be to write one collaboratively across the Internet, with people offering and refining definitions. And given the global nature of the Net, better make that a multilingual dictionary, too.

That's what LingoZ is trying to do. At the moment, the number of languages covered is relatively small; what I'd like to see is this widened to hundreds and then thousands of languages. As well as a useful resource in terms of translation, it could also play another important role: preserving the hundreds of languages faced with extinction as a kind of virtual ark. I'm not sure that LingoZ has the vision to do that, but somebody should. (Via eHub.)

Curling Up with Open Source

One of the heartening signs in the software industry is the continuing flow of donations to the free software commons. The latest to see the light is interesting because it's in a domain where open source code is fairly thin on the ground: Rich Internet Applications.

Curl, Inc. today announced its plans to release a significant body of code for the Curl Rich Internet Application (RIA) platform to the open source community. As the first step in its open source strategy, Curl will broaden its development platform and empower the Curl developer community by establishing a common repository of open source component libraries. As a result, developers will have all of the components required to support rapid development of enterprise-class RIAs. Curl's Open Source projects are provided under the Apache V2.0 License and hosted by SourceForge.

For tools like this, the benefits of open source are clear: people are able to try out your products much more easily, and the code can be freely passed around, growing the size of the user base for practically no cost. Indeed, the power of this kind of viral distribution is so great it's surprising there aren't more such releases. (Via 451 CAOS Theory.)

30 October 2007

Put Me Down for X

One of the interesting ideas for replacing the current patent mess is to use a bidding system. People - or, more likely, governments - would pledge a certain amount of money for any company that developed a drug to do "Y", with the result placed in the public domain. Clearly, these sums would be relatively large, but still much less than the current system, which involves pharmaceutical companies taking out patents on drugs that cost hundreds of millions to develop, and then charging thousands of pounds per individual course, and billions cumulatively.

That's not going to happen any day soon in the world of drugs, given the latter's rather inflated ideas of its own worth (just how many copycat drugs for rectifying rich people's excesses do we need?). But it might just work in the world of free software, and Cofundos are giving it a whirl:

1 Somebody misses an open-source software tool or library for a specific purpose, a feature in an open-source software or a plugin for an existing software. He describes the project to develop the software.
2 Requirements-Engineering: Other people help enhancing the description of the project by adding specific requirements and comments.
3 Bidding: Users who also like the project and need the resulting software, bid a certain amount of money, which they will donate to the project performer after its successful completion.
4 Offering: Specialists who are capable to perform the project and to develop the respective software offer to realise the project for a certain amount of money and within a certain timeframe.
5 Call for competitive offers: As soon as the sum of the bid amount exceeds the money requested by the first offer, a call for competitive offers is started and lasts for three week.
6 Accepting an offer: After the three weeks call period for alternative offers is elapsed, all bidders are requested to vote about which offer to choose. Bidders votes are weighted by the amount of their bid. The specialist with the majority of the votes is selected to carry out the project.

Neat. And, even better:

All ideas and contributions on Cofundos are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. All project outcomes must be licensed under an OSI approved open-source license.

Also worth noting is that this could never work for closed source, since you cannot, by definition, add arbitrary functionality to such black boxes.

The only thing I'd say is that the sums on offer for new bits of code are currently rather low. This may well be lack of publicity - which is why I've giving some to what sounds like a fascinating attempt to think and do differently.

ODF - Nochmals "Ja, Danke"


In his words of welcome Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called ODF "a completely open and ISO-standardized format." It was thus an "excellent basis" for "a free exchange of knowledge and information in a time of globalization," he declared. This in turn was a necessary ingredient of the knowledge society, he averred. Within the Federal Government the Federal Foreign Office is considered the strongest proponent of free software. After having early on networked its foreign missions with the help of open-source programs and migrated its laptops to Linux and OpenOffice the Federal Foreign Office intends to extend its program of migration to all workstations of its diplomats by the middle of next year.

Microsoft Buys Open Source (Talent)

I predict we'll see much more of this:

Microsoft has hired the creator of the SubSonic tool set and plans to use SubSonic as a key part of an upcoming platform.


SubSonic will remain under the same MPL (Mozilla Public License) 1.1 license it always has and will remain as completely open source as it always has, he said. "Nothing will change at all," he said. "I'm just getting paid, essentially, to work on it."

Conery said he had been working under contract with Microsoft for about eight months before the company hired him.

He is not the first developer of open-source technology hired by Microsoft to boost its developer division. The company hired John Lam, a Ruby expert, and Jim Hugunin, who delivered an implementation of Python for .Net, among others.

This is a shrewd move for Microsoft, which is following in the footsteps of Google. As Chris DiBona told me recently:

Google has been very public in the fact that we have three primary languages, and that's C++, Java and Python. So as part of that we try to bring on staff people who are the world leaders in those projects - Josh Bloch and Neil Gafter for Java, Guido on Python, Ian Lance Taylor and Matt Austern. We do that because having those people on staff, those projects can continue to move forward, and that's good for us; and also our use of the projects informs the directions sometimes where these projects can go.

So, seeing Linux in an environment like Google informs the direction of Linux in a lot of ways, because you get to see it in an extremely high-load, high-availability environment that you don't really see that often, and you see it on commodity hardware here. So that's really good for the outside world that Andrew [Morton] gets to see that, and that Andrew can really code whatever he wants.

You can't buy love, but you can certainly buy influence.

Now We Are (HTML) 5

Remember HTML? It's (nearly) back:

This specification introduces features to HTML and the DOM that ease the authoring of Web-based applications. Additions include the context menus, a direct-mode graphics canvas, inline popup windows, and server-sent events.

(Via Heise Online.)

29 October 2007

Willy Nilly, Ageing Rocker Gets With It

Sir Cliff Richard, Tony's bosom pal, was one of the leading, er, lights in the effort to extend the sound copyright to a mere 95 years, instead of the current 50. Happily, that failed, but it's nonetheless surprising to see the music of the said musical knight being used for a nice bit of innovative thinking from EMI, one of the few music companies that seems to get it:

Benefiting from one of the first new digital directions from the new owners of EMI, from today, his latest album Love, The Album, goes for sale via online pre-order at £7.99 - with the price dropping the more fans make the purchase. The collection has a floor minimum of £3.99 and, no matter when a customer pre-ordered, they'll only pay the lowest final price.

Old Fogies Grok Openness, OK?

The Telegraph is a bastion of, er, right-thinking people; it also has an age profile that is similarly to the right. So I was astonished to read this review of the dinky little Asus Eee PC (I want one, I want one), which says things like this:

Asus has kept the cost down by using open-source software – it runs a Linux operating system rather than Windows, although future versions will be available with Windows; uses OpenOffice (oppenoffice.org) for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations; and has the excellent Firefox web browser for surfing the internet.


Asus assures me that most peripherals, such as printers and iPods, will work fine, as long as you download the necessary Linux driver.


At just over £200, people may be weighing it up against other options, such as an entry-level "normal" laptop, compromising an element of portability for additional computing functionality. Dell's laptops, for example, start at around £329 if you opt for one running the Linux Ubuntu operating system, or £399 for one running Windows.

In other words, it treats GNU/Linux, OpenOffice.org, Firefox and open source as, well, normal. If this kind of stuff is appearing in the Telegraph - and the retired colonels aren't choking on the kedgeree when they read it - we're truly making progress.

A Brief History of the Software Patent Mess

As fascinating video of former Red Hat General Counsel, Mark Webbink, explaining where software patents came from in the US, and how Microsoft suddenly became fond of them.

In the Digital Age, Analogue Makes the Money

Further hints that the way to make money with digital content is to go analogue:

Why do so many people still love vinyl, even though its bulky, analog nature is anathema to everything music is supposed to be these days? Records, the vinyl evangelists will tell you, provide more of a connection between fans and artists. And many of today's music fans buy 180-gram vinyl LPs for home listening and MP3s for their portable devices.

"For many of us, and certainly for many of our artists, the vinyl is the true version of the release," said Matador's Patrick Amory. "The size and presence of the artwork, the division into sides, the better sound quality, above all the involvement and work the listener has to put in, all make it the format of choice for people who really care about music."

Yup, yup and yup.

28 October 2007

Well and Truly Bug.gd

Here's an interesting application of Linus's Law: "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". The site bug.gd puts up an error message, and hopes someone can explain what to do. The frightening thing is this fact from TechCrunch:

Bug.gd has been seeded with 60,000 error messages and solution from Microsoft

Microsoft has solved 60,000 error messages? So how many million are left?

27 October 2007

Oh, Well Done, Microsoft

Look: little Johnny Microsoft is doing *ever* so well in his plucky attempt to catch up with that clever GNU/Linux chap:

Microsoft Corp has made progress in getting its Windows software to work on a low-cost laptop computer for poor children that currently runs on rival Linux software, an executive said on Thursday.

The world's largest software company is now working to adapt a basic version of Windows XP so it is compatible with the nonprofit One Laptop per Child Foundation's small green-and-white XO laptop.

"We're spending a nontrivial amount of money on it," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Will Poole said in an interview on Thursday."

But be warned:

"We remain hopeful with our progress to date, we still have significant work ahead to finalize our analysis and testing processes," he said. "At the end of the day, there's no guarantees."

So, just remember that: when you're dealing with Windows XP, there are no guarantees. Unlike with GNU/Linux, of course, since it runs rather nicely on the XO already. Now, which would *you* rather have?

26 October 2007

Intellectual Monopolies Are No Privilege

We often call copyright a species of intellectual property, abbreviating it, “IP.” This brief paper suggests that we consider copyright as another sort of IP: an intellectual privilege.

When I first saw this idea, I thought it was wrong, but for the right reasons: "intellectual property" does not exist, but calling it "intellectual privilege" is not the way to flag that up. For the lay person, it makes it sound like it's a privilege to access it. Let's call them what they really are: intellectual monopolies - which nobody is going to mistake for something nice and cuddly.

Against this background, I was glad to see Mike Masnick, that bellwether of sound thinking on these issues, broadly in agreement with me:

I'd tend to side more with those who refer to it as an intellectual monopoly, as that's much more descriptive. Intellectual privilege, for all the niceness of retaining the "IP" designation, probably requires too much explanatory baggage.

Good News, Ulaanbaatar

For my one reader in Mongolia, good news:

President Nambaryn Enkhbayar of Mongolia announced today his commitment to provide every child in his nation with a connected laptop by the end of 2010.

As a first step toward making this a reality Professor Nicholas Negroponte, founding chairman of the non-profit association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and Mr. Nyamaa Enkhbold, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, agreed to launch the OLPC initiative in Mongolia as early as January 2008 and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) thereof in the presence of President Enkhbayar.

In January, Mongolia and OLPC plan to launch a pilot project providing 20,000 units of the acclaimed XO laptops, to children ages 6 to 12 in the most remote parts of the country, as well as in the capital Ulaanbaatar.

I'll get me yurt....

It's a Fair Cop (But Society's To Blame)

Here's a heartening sign that the change of management at the top of the UK government (no names, no pack drill) is resulting in a little more rationality.

A few months ago, the government announced its intention of reining in the Freedom of Information Act by making it possible to refuse to give information on the basis that it would cost too much to do so (trust Tony to use tricks like this to get what he wanted.) Now that nice Mr Brown has killed this absurd idea:

In the consultation process, the majority of respondents opposed the proposed changes to the fees regulations. This was particularly the case with responses from media organisations, other non-governmental organisations and members of the public.

However, some public authorities, especially local authorities, welcomed the prospect of some relief from the administrative burden of the FOI Act.

Taking account of the range of responses received, the Government has decided to make no changes to the existing fees regulations.

It does intend, however, to deliver a package of measures to make better use of the existing provisions to improve the way FOI works and to meet the concerns particularly of local authorities.

The last par is still a bit worrying, but kudos to the government for actually *listening* to people when they were asked for their opinions.... (Via The Reg.)

High-Def, Low Interest

worrying about the high-def format war is a waste of time. And to be quite honest, I don't see these formats being around much longer anyway--movie downloads will quickly supplant media as the chosen form of entertainment once our Internet access speeds increase.

Quite. Part of the problem is that the manufacturers are more interested in "solving" the problem of copying than providing something that users want. No wonder the public doesn't really give a damn.

25 October 2007

The Battle for the Soul of WHOIS

I am sufficiently long in the Internet tooth to remember the blissful days before ICANN existed. I say blissful, because from where I sit practically every change it has wrought has led to a degradation of the Internet's naming system: it is more driven by financial rather than technical concerns, more subject to lobbying, and generally more of a mess than it was ten years ago.

And now it looks like ICANN is up to yet more of the same, according to this post by Doc Searls about the battle for the soul of WHOIS (and doncha just the Beowulf references?):

Raise your hand if you use whois every day. Even if your hand isn't up, and you just regard whois as am essential sysadmin tool, this post is for you.

Because if you're interested in keeping whois working for the those it was made for in the first place, you need to visit the battlefield where whois' future is being determined right now. That is, you must be Beowulf to the Grendel that is the Intellectual Property Community. Worse, you must confront him in the vast cave that is ICANN.

Except ICANN is more like Grendel's cave, only a helluva lot bigger, and far more boring. It's easy for an outsider to be daunted by ICANN's labyrinthine bureaucracy, its complex processes, its mountain of documents, the galactic scale of its influence, the ecclesiology of its high-level gatherings and its near-countless topics of concern.

The real problem is summarised thus:

the intellectual property folks see whois as their enforcement database, and are working toward making that its primary purpose. Those two purposes are at odds, and that's what the debate is all about. Except so far the public comments have come mostly from just one side.

This is largely because of the completely opaque way in which ICANN operates. If I had my way, we'd get rid of it entirely, and start again; but given the vested interests at play, that's not exactly likely to happen.

"Open Source Does Not Mean Free": Huh?

Here's an interesting little to do:

Open Source does not mean Free: Why we are declaring a license for the community database


Very shortly you will notice an important change to our GPLv3 Resource site [at http://gpl3.palamida.com/]. This week's events have led to the decision to add a Creative Commons License (CCL) to the site to ensure that recent blatant plagiarism of our database contents by a newly launched GPLv3 site will be duly credited and/or cease. After two days of intense investigation, we have confirmed that most of our database has been copied directly – word for word and misspelling for misspelling, with very few original additions to our initial work. We feel that that this secondary site does a disservice to the open source community that has for many months diligently contributed data to our database, assisted in correcting discrepancies, and supported the accurate and timely tracking of GPLv2 and v3 conversations and conversions. It has always been the aim of Palamida to run our Resource Site like an open source project – encouraging collaboration, edits, transparency and commentary – so we understand that our data has always been free for re-distribution. However, we did not anticipate the entirety of our database being re-copied and re-packaged as original information without appropriately referencing Palamida as the source. We are disappointed to have to add any sort of copyright but have chosen an open source license in hopes of continuing the spirit of the resource.

Well, I hate to break it to you chaps, but if your original licence allowed the database to be copied (and I don't know if that's the case, but let's assume it is) it's a bit unfair to complain when someone, er, copies it. If you want credit - which is a perfectly reasonable thing to want - make sure the licence reflects that. If you don't want people to copy it, fine, but then it ain't "like an open source project".

Basically, sharing means sharing - and open source *does* mean free (subject to complying with the licence.) (Via C|net.)

O(A) Look: Now There's a Surprise

As I've mentioned, getting OA to US-funded research is proving incredibly difficult. Here's one reason why:

In a list of Sen. James Inhofe's top contributors for the 2001-2006 Senate election cycle, Opensecrets.Org identifies Reed Elsevier Inc. as his 11th largest contributor, with $13,250 in contributions. Opensecrets.Org notes:

The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

Before he withdrew them, Sen. Inhofe was the sponsor of two amendments to delete or weaken the NIH Open Access Mandate in the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill.

I'm almost ashamed to have worked for Reed Elsevier long, long ago.

24 October 2007

Open Source Mathematics

Suppose Jane is a well-known mathematician who announces she has proved a theorem. We probably will believe her, but she knows that she will be required to produce a proof if requested. However, suppose now Jane says a theorem is true based partly on the results of software. The closest we can reasonably hope to get to a rigorous proof (without new ideas) is the open inspection and ability to use all the computer code on which the result depends. If the program is proprietary, this is not possible. We have every right to be distrustful, not only due to a vague distrust of computers but because even the best programmers regularly make mistakes.

Seems pretty obvious, really: no open source, no transparency, no way of following the logic, no proof: QED.

And if you can't really believe closed source for maths or science, why should you believe it in business? How can you check an accountancy program, say, if you can't see the code? And don't even get me started on closed-source e-voting machines... (Via The Inquirer.)

Gawd Bless Project Gutenberg

I wrote recently about the tragedy of losing the IMSLM music score commons. Well, it looks like Mr Digital Commons himself, Michael Hart (he was the first, remember - Project Gutenberg began over a decade before GNU) has stepped in with a great offer to take it under his wing:

Project Gutenberg has volunteered to keep as much of the IMSLM Project online as is legally possible, including a few of the items that were demanded to be withdrawn, as well as, when legal, to provide a backup of the entire site, for when the legalities have finally been worked out.

This is a doubly good outcome: all that hard work is not lost, and it gets better infrastructure (and probably more access to legal advice.) (Via Slashdot.)

SA Adopts ODF

The club just got larger:

Open Document format (ODF) yesterday became an official standard for South African government communications.

The ODF standard is included in the government's Mininimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems in government (MIOS) released yesterday.

In the foreword to the document, department of public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, says that "this updated version of MIOS contains an explicit definition of open standards as well as the inclusion of the ISO Open Document Format".

(Via tuxmachines.org.)

Amigo: Open Source's New Friend?

Fifteen of Europe’s leading companies and research establishments in mobile and home networking, software development, consumer electronics and domestic appliances have joined together in Amigo – an integrated project that will realize the full potential of home networking to improve people’s lives.


The Amigo project will further support interoperability between equipment and services within the networked home environment by using standard technology when possible and by making the basic middleware (components and infrastructure) and basic user services available as open source software together with architectural rules for everyone to use.

Interesting in itself, there are couple of other aspects that make it even more so.

First, this is a massively-funded EU jobbie:

Total cost: 24 MEuro
Funding: 13 MEuro

Secondly, the list of participants in this, er, open source project is also of note:

Project participants:
Philips Research - Philips Design - Philips Consumer Electronics (the Netherlands), Fagor (Spain), France Telecom (France), Fraunhofer IMS (Germany), Fraunhofer SIT (Germany), Ikerlan (Spain), INRIA (France), Italdesign Giugiaro (Italy), SingularLogic (Greece), Microsoft (Germany), Telin (the Netherlands), ICCS (Greece), Telefónica I+D (Spain), University of Paderborn (Germany), VTT (Finland)

Oh look, there's those nice open source people from Microsoft. Well, maybe not exactly open source, since at the bottom of this massive list of downloadable files, we have the following Microsoft EMIC Amigo License, which actually turns out to be a shared source licence, not open source.


The Microsoft EMIC Amigo License applies to the following components:
- Content Distribution Interface
- Data Store
- .NET Programming & Deployment Framework
- Security & Privacy (.NET version)

Now, life is too short for me to try to get my head around this massive project to work out whether these components are indispensable to the entire project, or just bits of it; but if they are, I'd like to suggest, ever so 'umbly, that our super-duper Amigo may be a friend but it ain't really open source. And even if they aren't, it's still a tad confusing that we have Microsoft with shared source lumped in rather sneakily with the open source stuff. (Via Heise News.)

The US Slouches Towards Open Access

Good news, America:

Tonight the Senate passed the Labor-HHS appropriations bill containing the provision to mandate OA at the NIH. More, the vote was a veto-proof 75-19.

Ah, yes, but the bad news?

Yes, this is big, even if we cleared this hurdle only to face a Bush veto.

It is extraordinary how difficult it is proving to give the US people access to the research they pay for.

SCO Zombie May Take a Few More Steps

The SCO saga may stagger on awhile:

SCO has gotten a $16 million bid from York Capital for its Unix business. Coupled with the $10 million line of credit York is ready to provide, it's money enough to keep SCO's litigation against Novell and IBM going and to underwrite its budding mobile interests, the company says. SCO's lawyers will be filing papers related to the bid this afternoon with the bankruptcy court in Delaware.


The deal SCO has cut with York would reportedly leave SCO with ownership of the litigation and what is being called the "core IP," apparently any IP necessary to the lawsuits. York, a $12 billion Manhattan firm known to buy small software companies with declining revenues and turn them around, would get a 20% interest in any licenses SCO's litigation produces. Say, if circumstances conspired to allow SCO to restart its hated SCOSource Linux licensing scheme. York would also get the right to license SCO's Unix source code and get control of its contracts with licensees. York is expected to invest in the business, which includes a bunch of sterling accounts, and attempt to grow it.

Haven't people got better things to do with their lives?

Funk That (Gutsy) Gibbon

Like half the world and their dog, I have upgraded my Ubuntu box to Gutsy Gibbon. Many things have been written about this (the finest probably being this utterly quintessential masterpiece by Rupert Goodwins - geek writing at its finest), but one point that hasn't really been hammered home enough, in my opinion, is the fact that the upgrade required precisely three clicks (in my case - YMMV).

Think about it. For "other" operating system, you not only have *pay* to upgrade, but you have to stick in discs and god knows what. With Ubuntu, you just issue your peremptory command "upgrade", and Ubuntu toddles off to the right repositories, and does it. Automatically. I mean, how much easier can it be?

I'm sure that once people experience this they will never go back to those "other" operating systems. And that's not even taking into account the similarly trivial way in which you can install tens of thousands of new programs with the same single click command.

So, just how good does Ubuntu have to get before people see the (brown) light?

A Taste(Book) of the Future of Publishing

Publishers continue to fret over their precious texts appearing online, worrying that there's no business model for them if the content is already "out there". Well, take a look at this for an alternative vision of publishing in the future:

TasteBook is a service that lets users take their favorite recipes from partner sites (starting with Epicurious) and create printed cookbooks that are delivered to them and/or friends. Users can add their own recipes as well, and customize the book with their name and other information. Blurb, which was recently in the news, is somewhat similar but does not focus on recipes.

I predict this will happen more and more, and publishers realise their job is about, well, publishing - producing objects with words in them. In other words, the money is in the analogue stuff - the digital you give away as promotion.

23 October 2007

Another One Bites the GNU GPL Bullet

A little while back, I wrote a piece for Linux Journal about how GPLv3 would supplant GPLv2. Why? Because the GPL has gradually supplanted other licences, simply because it has become the de facto standard that everyone now understands (or thinks they do).

And look, here's another one, doing it for the same reason:

Dimdim calls itself the world's first free Web meeting service based on an open source platform. Users can share their desktops and files while chatting and videoconferencing with meeting participants. Dimdim was originally licensed under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), but the possibility of a big deal with a university made Dimdim executives eventually change to the GNU General Public License (GPL) instead. By changing the software's license from the MPL to the GPL, "we are making it easier for the community to use our product," says Dimdim founder DD Ganguly.

We Need This...

...like we need a hole in the head:

the European Commission wants the EU to bypass WIPO and the WTO and move forward on a new anticounterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) made directly with key trading partners.

The goal is to strengthen the intellectual property protections so important to the EU, the US, Korea, Japan, and others. Despite formidable protection offered by WIPO treaties and WTO rules, the Commission announced today that it needs to do more to protect European business, in part due to the "speed and ease of digital reproduction" and "the growing importance of the Internet as a means of distribution."

I Was Wrong: Microsoft Won

I could feel it in my bones: the great victory of the EU over MS is a sham. Here's why.

Ex-steely Neelie - to be renamed wheeler-dealer Neelie - said as follows:

I told Microsoft that it should give legal security to programmers who help to develop open source software and confine its patent disputes to commercial software distributors and end users. Microsoft will now pledge to do so.

And naively, I thought that meant what it said. Silly me. Reference to the rather low-profile EU FAQ clarifies:

Can open source software developers implement patented interoperability information?

Open source software developers use various “open source” licences to distribute their software. Some of these licences are incompatible with the patent licence offered by Microsoft. It is up to the commercial open source distributors to ensure that their software products do not infringe upon Microsoft’s patents. If they consider that one or more of Microsoft’s patents would apply to their software product, they can either design around these patents, challenge their validity or take a patent licence from Microsoft.

WTF?!? "Some of these licences are incompatible with the patent licence offered by Microsoft" - what, you mean like - choosing totally at random - the GNU GPL, as used by Samba, the only program that really cares about Microsoft's damn protocols?

And let's not forget that this "patented interoperability information" isn't even valid in Europe, because you can't patent software or business methods or whatever you want to call this stuff. And yet the EU has just passed a quick benedictus on the whole bloody thing.

This is a total and utter cop-out, and confirms my impression that politicians are a total waste of skin. But don't take my word for it, read those of someone who understands what's going on far better than me, Pieter Hintjens, of the FFII:

I've watched the emerging deal between the EU and Microsoft over the last weeks with increasing skepticism. From the moment the ECJ decided that Microsoft was indeed guilty of abusing its dominant position, it seemed clear that the vendor was negotiating its way through the wet paper bag that the EU - indeed the global - anti-trust policy has become.

The EU Commission steps down in 2009, and any appeal would have taken three years at least, damning Kroes and her department to eternal infamy as the anti-trust team who could not get Microsoft to back down.

Now Kroes can retire with glory, and Microsoft has to start behaving. But as the Las Vegas saying goes, every game has a patsy, and if you don't know who the patsy is, chances are it's you.

Microsoft pays the EU its fine, plus additional costs. It's perhaps a month or two of net profit for the vendor. The EU gets its paper victory. And what about open source?

Read it, and weep.

Update: More analysis from Groklaw seems to confirm the details.

Oracle Users (Heart) MySQL

The Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) recently surveyed their members about open source and has now published their findings. A few highlights:
-More than one third of the respondents reported that they have deployed an open source database in production, which is a higher rate than for open source tools, frameworks or applications.
-Nearly three-quarters of that group have MySQL installed

Three-quarters? Wow. Bear in mind that MySQL, just like Linux before it, will become more powerful, nudging Oracle from underneath. Classic Innovator's Dilemma stuff. Maybe time to worry a little, eh Larry?

Microsoft Changes Its Tune....

This is too cool. How do you follow up C#? Why, with F#, of course....

Pity they spoil it by using a shared source licence, rather than going fully open source. (Via Ars Technica.)

Groklaw Begins to Grok the iPlayer

I've written pretty extensively about the scandal that is the BBC iPlayer. The main man fighting the good fight here is the indispensable Mark Taylor, and it's good to see that Groklaw has caught up with him and the iPlayer saga in this interview. Do read it to learn the terrifying twists and turns in this sorry tale.

Mighty Mozilla Maketh Mucho Moolah

Mozilla's revenues (including both Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation) for 2006 were $66,840,850, up approximately 26% from 2005 revenue of $52,906,602. As in 2005 the vast majority of this revenue is associated with the search functionality in Mozilla Firefox, and the majority of that is from Google.

It's also doing rather well on just about every other metric, as Mitchell's post "Beyond Sustainability" explains. Recommended reading.

22 October 2007

Tragedy of the (Music Score) Commons

Here's Wikipedia's info about the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP):

a project for the creation of a virtual library of public domain music scores, based on the wiki principle. Since its launch on February 16, 2006, more than 15000 scores, for 9000 works, by over 1000 composers (as of October 2007) were uploaded, making it one of the largest public domain music score collections on the web. The project used the popular MediaWiki software.

A kind of Project Gutenberg for music - a digital commons, in other words, lovingly put together by hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers, for the greater good.

And here's what has happened:

On Saturday October 13, 2007, I received a second Cease and Desist letter from Universal Edition. At first I thought this letter would be similar in content to the first Cease and Desist letter I received in August. However, after lengthy discussions with very knowledgeable lawyers and supporters, I became painfully aware of the fact that I, a normal college student, has neither the energy nor the money necessary to deal with this issue in any other way than to agree with the cease and desist, and take down the entire site. I cannot apologize enough to all IMSLP contributors, who have done so much for IMSLP in the last two years.

This tragic situation arises because of the discrepancy in copyright terms: what is in the public domain in Canada (where IMSLP is hosted) may still be in copyright in Europe (where Universal Edition is based). But trying to impose European terms on Canadian content is clearly wrong, as Michael Geist rightly points out:

As for a European infringement, if UE is correct, then the public domain becomes an offline concept, since posting works online would immediately result in the longest single copyright term applying on a global basis. That can't possibly be right. Canada has chosen a copyright term that complies with its international obligations and attempts to import longer terms - as is the case here - should not only be rejected but treated as copyright misuse.

Remind me never to buy a score from Universal Edition again.

Blogging in Italy: Not La DolceVita

I love Italy - wonderful people, wonderful scenery, wonderful art, wonderful food, wonderful wine - well, you get the picture; but I do sometimes wonder about the politicians:

The Levi-Prodi law lays out that anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money.


the Levi-Prodi law obliges anyone who has a website or a blog to get a publishing company and to have a journalist who is on the register of professionals as the responsible director.

99% would close down.

The lucky 1% still surviving on the Internet according to the Levi-Prodi law would have to respond in the case of the lack of control on defamatory content in accordance with articles 57 and 57 bis of the penal code. Basically almost sure to be in prison.


Update: A blogospheric firestorm seems to have brought the Italian government - some of it, at least - to its senses. Dio sia ringraziato.

Microsoft Opens Its Gritted Teeth

I didn't write about Microsoft's capitulation to steely Neelie earlier because the open source aspect seemed unclear. Trust Matthew Aslett to dig up the official details of her announcement:

I told Microsoft that it had to make interoperability information available to open source developers. Microsoft will now do so, with licensing terms that allow every recipient of the resulting software to copy, modify and redistribute it in accordance with the open source business model.

I told Microsoft that it should give legal security to programmers who help to develop open source software and confine its patent disputes to commercial software distributors and end users. Microsoft will now pledge to do so.

I worry that there's some wiggle room here - just what exactly is "the open source business model"? - but given the soundness of its thrashing, maybe Microsoft really has given up fighting the EU. Let's hope.

I suppose it's worth pointing out the huge symbolism of this win. Microsoft, a company built on black box nature of its code, and on using its proprietary interfaces to lock out competitors, has been forced to open up those interfaces - something that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. So deeply has openness now entered the system.

Open Content Alliance - Good, but not New....

Nice story in the New York Times about libraries choosing to go with the Open Content Alliance rather than that nice Mr. Google or Mr. Microsoft:

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.

That's all jolly well and good, but what I can't understand is that the blogosphere is going nuts about this "new" initiative:

The Internet Archive, whose main claim to fame is the Wayback Machine, designed to archive the internet's web history, has created a new project: the Open Content Alliance.

Well, no, not as such:

The Open Content Alliance (OCA) represents the collaborative efforts of a group of cultural, technology, nonprofit, and governmental organizations from around the world that will help build a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia content. The OCA was conceived by the Internet Archive and Yahoo! in early 2005 as a way to offer broad, public access to a rich panorama of world culture.

So founded in 2005; and as its press archive shows, it's hardly been dormant since then....

Update: More details from Da Man himself, Brewster Kahle, here.

Open Tesco?

Tesco may not be a name that means much outside the UK, but the fact that this huge retailer is selling GNU/Linux-based systems - some for as little as £140 (without a screen) - is pretty significant. After all, it's not hard to imagine lots of people seeing the price tag and buying one without really noticing that it doesn't have Windows, discovering that it doesn't matter that much (aside from games). (Via 451 CAOS Theory.)

Green...About the Gills

Well, that didn't last long:

Trolltech has discontinued its Linux-based "Greenphone" development platform. Touted upon its introduction as the first Linux-based mobile phone with user-modifiable firmware, the device will be superseded by various third-party products, including not only open phones, but also portable media players, navigation devices, and home automation equipment, the company says.

Out of the Mouth of Babes and Sucklings

Look, this content stuff is quite easy. It costs money to make a CD because it's a physical object, and if you take a CD from a shop, the shop no longer has it: that's stealing. It costs (virtually) nothing to make a digital file (electrons are cheap), and if you make a copy of a file, the original owner of that file still has a copy: that's not stealing (it may be copyright infringement, but that's another matter).

See, even nine-year-olds understand the difference:

TF. Do you think you should be paying for stuff off LimeWire? You have to buy CD’s from the shop…

- You have to pay for CD’s because they’re actually on a disc not on the computer. My cousin, right, she uses LimeWire when she doesn’t have any money for CDs.


Trivial Defamation

One of the unanswered questions is to what extent web sites/blogs need to worry about defamatory postings made by their users. Here's a little legal sanity from the UK:

In a move sure to please football fans arguing the toss on bulletin boards all over the UK, a High Court judge has ruled that lively banter of a “strictly defamatory” nature can still be so trivial that The Man can’t always force board owners into revealing poster’s identities.

God bless pragmatism.

China Gets Wired

Indeed, it's possible that the restrictions on press reporting, both on- and offline, is actually spurring Internet use. In the first half of 2003, for example, during the SARS crisis, 9 million Chinese people went online for the first time, and almost 50% of users reported an increase in their Internet usage during SARS. Silencing the press anywhere is likely to pique interest, and despite the surveillance, China's Internet is still a place to sate such curiosity. As blogger Lian Yue said in a recent email interview with your correspondent, "For people who have even just a little Internet experience, you can pretty much get any information you want to know."

Just think about the implications of that last sentence....

21 October 2007

Weekend Reading

Here are two online journals that may be of interest. Both, happily, are open access, so you can root around to your heart's content.

The first is the inaugural issue of the International Journal of the Commons. I have to declare a very tangential interest here in that they asked me to review a submitted paper: obviously my well-intentioned comments were devastating, since it's not included in the present issue...

The other journal is Innovations from MIT Press. This has an interesting mix of articles, including one by Cory Ondrejka on Second Life, and others on the Science Commons and Open-Sourcing Social Solutions.

20 October 2007

Should We Tolerate Tolerated Use?

Although this article by Tim Wu came out a few days ago, I hadn't read it through until now; but I see that it's raising some fascinating questions about the *next* stage of the copyright battle, not least through Our Man in the Audience, Larry Lessig:

This spring, at the Max-Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany, I gave a talk on the phenomenon of tolerated use, and in the audience was Stanford professor Larry Lessig, a Thomas Jefferson figure in the information revolution. "So here's what I want to know," he asked. "Why should we tolerate tolerated use?" His point: If you care about free expression and the core reasons for our copyright law—i.e., protecting the artists—why would you put up with a system that makes something like fan art illegal and then tries to ignore the problem? Surely the right answer is to fight for reform of the copyright law: Have the law declare clearly that most noncommercial activities, like fan sites and remixes, are simply beyond the reach of the law.

In a sense, it's simple: laws that are ignored by hundreds of millions of people are, by definition, bad laws.

Update: If you enjoy Tim Wu's article, as I'm sure you will, why not give this rather meatier paper a whirl: it's a fascinating alternative history of copyright, and its "role in the regulation of competing disseminators."

The Dash of OpenMoko

What's Dash?

Dash Express is the smartest Internet-connected automotive navigation system on the road. In fact, it's the first and only navigation system with built-in two-way connectivity. Which means it gets you where you want to go—in the fastest time possible—and delivers the most relevant information—right to your dashboard. Plus, Dash Express is the only device on the market that automatically and wirelessly updates its software and features, so all you have to do is drive.

That's certainly cool, and presages things to come. But what's even cooler?

But when I asked about the hardware, and discovered that it was based on openmoko, the open source linux-based phone infrastructure, my ears really perked up. At bottom, this is a PHONE, and that tells us something very interesting about the future of the phone, with more and more devices with phone functionality that don't actually look or act like phones. It's also a full linux computer. Let your imagination be the guide.

This gives me a whole other perspective on openmoko. I had seen a couple of openmoko phone prototypes, and I thought, these are never going to get the fit and finish of commercial phones. But wow, does the Dash highlight the power of open source, allowing for innovation that you'd never expect.

Watch out for more devices made brilliant with a dash of OpenMoko.

Copyrighting Trees

No, that's not a metaphor (as in social graphs), but literally about people copyrighting trees:

Then there’s the Lone Cypress, a tree along California’s famous 17-Mile Drive. It’s probably the most infamous example of someone trying to exert ridiculous intellectual property rights. They must’ve made it sound like a good idea, though, because it seems that the idea of copyrighting trees is catching on.

And this promotes creativity?


Now, where have I heard this before?

Today it costs only $300,000 to sequence a person's DNA, and the $100,000 benchmark is in sight. It's an information processing problem, he said. In other words, Moore's Law and genetics are tightly tied. It won't be long before your genome--and your likelihood to get various diseases, live long, be athletic, etc.--will be available in a standard medical test.

The implications for medicine, and its evil twin the insurance industry, are vast. Despite the privacy issues, Venter is in favor of transparency in genomics, so that, for example, you'll be able to "Google a date's DNA," as O'Reilly remarked. Scary? Sure. But "a good idea," Venter said. "Especially if you plan to have children."

Oh yes, I remember:

Consider a not-too-distant future in which personal genomes are readily available. For those with relations affected by a serious medical condition, this will conveniently provide them with any genetic test they need. But it will also offer the rest of us information about our status for these and other, far less serious, autosomal recessive disorders that might similarly manifest themselves in children if we married a fellow carrier.

A bioinformatics program running on a PC could easily check our genomes for all genes associated with the autosomal recessive disorders that had been identified so far. Regular software updates downloaded from the internet - like those for anti-virus programs - would keep our search software abreast of the latest medical research. The question is, how potentially serious does a variant gene's effects have to be for us to care about its presence in our DNA? Down to what level should we be morally obliged to tell our prospective partners - or have the right to ask about?

And just when is the appropriate moment to swap all these delicate DNA details? Before getting married? Before going to bed together? Before even exchanging words? Will there one day be a new class of small, wireless devices that hold our personal genomic profile in order to carry out discreet mutual compatibility checks on nearby potential partners: a green light for genomic joy, a red one for excessive recessive risks?

Given the daunting complexity of the ethical issues raised by knowing the digital code of life in detail, many may opt for the simplest option: not to google it. But even if you refuse to delve within your genome, there are plenty of others who will be keen to do so. Employers and insurance companies would doubtless love to scan your data before giving you a job or issuing a policy. And if your children and grandchildren have any inconvenient or expensive medical condition that they have inherited from one side of the family, they might like to know which - not least, to ensure that they sue the right person.

19 October 2007

Under Slashdot's Bonnet

Everybody knows that Google runs on scadzillions of GNU/Linux boxes, but now we also know the details about Slashdot's Penguin power:

Slashdot currently has 16 web servers all of which are running Red Hat 9. Two serve static content: javascript, images, and the front page for non logged-in users. Four serve the front page to logged in users. And the remaining ten handle comment pages. All web servers are Rackable 1U servers with 2 Xeon 2.66Ghz processors, 2GB of RAM, and 2x80GB IDE hard drives. The web servers all NFS mount the NFS server, which is a Rackable 2U with 2 Xeon 2.4Ghz processors, 2GB of RAM, and 4x36GB 15K RPM SCSI drives.

Impressive what you can do with 16 boxes.

Microsoft's Monopoly: "Indisputably Resilient"

Well, well:

In what appears to be a surprise move, four state attorneys general who previously praised the effectiveness of Microsoft's antitrust settlement with the feds are now changing course.

In a nine-page court filing with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Thursday, officials in New York, Maryland, Louisiana and Florida said they were joining a group of six states, led by California, and the District of Columbia in calling for extending oversight on Redmond until 2012.

And listen to this:

The New York group's filing centers largely on what it calls the "indisputably resilient" monopoly that Microsoft holds in the operating system realm. The attorneys general said they were "mindful" that Windows' approximately 90 percent market share in client operating systems is not the only test for how successful the antitrust agreement has been. But they added, "the absence of meaningful erosion in Windows' market share is still problematic for the public interest."

What a fine phrase that is: "indisputably resilient". I think I could really get to like using that....

Open Gaming Platform?

Rival gaming systems should make way for a single open platform, a senior executive at Electronic Arts has said.

Gerhard Florin said incompatible consoles made life harder for developers and consumers.

"We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible," said EA's head of international publishing.

Well, you've convinced me, squire.

UGC "Principles" - Ugh!

Here's a fatuous little document:

Copyright Principles for UGC Services

Leading commercial copyright owners (“Copyright Owners”) and services providing user-uploaded and user-generated audio and video content (“UGC Services”) have collaborated to establish these Principles to foster an online environment that promotes the promises and benefits of UGC Services and protects the rights of Copyright Owners.

Well, no, actually. All it does is codify the petnulant demands of the media industry, and lay bare their incomprehension of the brave new world in which they find themselves, darkling. There is no quid pro quo for users (except "principle" no. 6: When sending notices and making claims of infringement, Copyright Owners should accommodate fair use. - Well, that's jolly nice of them), and precious little for any "UGC" service that signs up.

The most interesting thing about this utterly pointless exercise in self-delusion is that Microsoft has signed up, and Google hasn't, which speaks volumes about their respective positions as far as "UGC" and the media industries are concerned. Curious, too, that the whole document is marked "©2007 Microsoft Corporation" as if Microsoft had written the whole thing....

Springer Told to Spring Off

Another fine example of a major research institution saying "basta" (or maybe "Es ist genug", since it's the Max Planck Society) to price gouging by scientific publishers:

Following several fruitless rounds of talks the Max Planck Society (MPG) has, effective January 1, 2008, terminated the online contract with the Springer publishing house which for eight years now has given all institutes electronic access to some 1,200 scientific journals. The analysis of user statistics and comparisons with other important publishing houses had shown that Springer was charging twice the amount the MPG still considered justifiable for access to the journals, the Society declared. "And that 'justifiable' rate is still higher than comparable offers of other major publishing houses," a spokesman of the Max Planck Digital Library told heise online.

Open access, here we come.

Likely to Take a Bit of Stick

Well, part of the music industry seems to have got half the message - that it needs to offer something beyond the music that is circulating freely around the Internet. But I don't somehow think that "something" is a USB drive:

Universal Music, the world’s biggest music company, is to release singles on USB memory sticks this month, in an attempt to arrest the decline in music sales.

The Vivendi-owned company plans to charge about £4.99 for USB singles starting on October 29 with releases from piano rock band Keane and Nicole, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. That compares with £2.99 for a typical CD single.

However, the hope is that fans will be willing to pay extra because the extra storage capacity on a USB allows the addition of videos and other multimedia.


So, they think kids are going to rush out to buy overpriced USBs offering some digital tracks plus a couple of music videos that will be available on YouTube? Hm, can't quite see this, myself.... (Via The Reg.)

Mr. Open Access Made Inaccessible

This is something I've been waiting for: an in-depth interview with Peter Suber, the person who has done more than anyone to drive the open access movement forward. Or as the interview puts it:

Philosopher, jurist, and one-time stand-up comic, Peter Suber is widely viewed as the de factor leader of the open access (OA) movement.

Even better, the interviewer is Richard Poynder, whose praises I have sung on several occasions. Just read the intro to the interview and you'll see what I mean.

Alas, the intro is all that I *can* read. Stuck rather sadly in an earlier and not very successful business model, Richard insists on asking readers of the full interview to make a donation, with $8 the suggested sum. Not unreasonable, given the quality of the interview - at least, I imagine, since I've not read it. But I won't pay it (nor will I cheat and read the interview without paying).

As a fellow freelance journalist, I appreciate Richard needs to make a living, but it's as a struggling freelance journalist (all freelance journalists are struggling by definition, since we never know where tomorrow's commission will come from) that I can't pay out $8 for the pleasure of reading it, much as I'd like to. And I imagine I'm not the only one in this situation (there are doubtless even a few non-journalists who are struggling...)

So here we have the ironic situation that what is probably the best interview with the most important person in open access is not readily accessible. Richard: do change that model, please.

OSA Alert Alert

A few months back I wrote a feature about the importance of making open source apps play nicely with each other. One of the key players here is the Open Solutions Alliance. A good place to find out more about this organisation is its newsletter, whose latest edition has just appeared.

Anime-ting Music Business Models

Here's a characteristically generous post from Andrew Leonard about new business models for music, as practised in Japan:

Once upon a time, a rock band played local clubs, got a record deal, released a single, made an album. Today's up-and-comers license their tunes to video games, movies, cartoons and, of course, commercials.

And, more specifically:

According to Wikipedia, Asian Kung-Fu Generation songs are featured in Nintendo and Konami musical games, as movie themes, and grace the credit sequences for half a dozen anime shows, including "the second opening" for "Naruto" and "the fourth opening" for "Fullmetal Alchemist."

(Via Boing Boing.)

Man! Booker Shortlist for Free?

This could be quite significant:

All the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize could be made available online in a radical move being considered by publishers, it was reported today.

Negotiations are said to be in progress with the British Council to digitise the six shortlisted novels so they can be downloaded in full, all over the world.

It is hoped the initiative will capture new audiences - particularly in Asia and Africa - who may be unable to access the actual books.

Jonathan Taylor, chairman of The Booker Prize Foundation said the details of the plan are still being discussed. But it is thought to be linked to the 40th anniversary of the prize, which will be celebrated next year.

Those behind the venture hope it will boost, rather than detract from sales of the hard copy as readers who download the novel online, may be inspired to buy a paper version for themselves.

It's a brilliant idea - and not just because I've been espousing it for ages. It's brilliant because the Man Booker shortlist is perfect for this kind of approach.

Its books tend to be, er, rather intellectually dense, which means that you really wouldn't want to read an entire novel online. But you most certainly might want to read some of it to find out whether it's your cup of tea. And then, as the article rightly points out, such a scheme is likely to widen the audience for the shortlist books hugely. And of course, if it works for the Man Booker shortlist, others might suddenly see the logic too...

Go for it - seriously, man.

Ballmer Will Buy (Into) Open Source

"We will do some buying of companies that are built around open-source products," Ballmer said during an onstage interview at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

A refusal to consider acquisitions of open-source developers "would take us out of the acquisition market quite dramatically," Ballmer said -- a tacit acknowledgment of how thoroughly open-source development has reshaped the software market.

I don't think Steve really realises what he is saying: you can't just buy an open source company, you have to buy *into* the entire culture - it's the only way the company's product can survive. In other words, Microsoft would have to become - if only in part - an open source company, as I've maintained it would for a while, now. (See also Matt Asay's interesting thoughts on who exactly Ballmer might be getting his chequebook out for.)

18 October 2007

A Library of Open Access Digital Libraries

If you're a fan of digital libraries - and, let's face it, who isn't? - you'll find this mega-list useful, especially because:

The sites listed here are mainly open access, which means that the digital formats are viewable and usable by the general public.

That's not to say it's anywhere near complete, not least because it has it's own, self-confessed biases:

This list contains over 250 libraries and archives that focus mainly on localized, regional, and U.S. history, but it also includes larger collections, eText and eBook repositories, and a short list of directories to help you continue your research efforts.

(Via DigitalKoans.)

Stil Rather Crode (Anagram)

I'm as keen as the next son of Albion to support Brit high-tech startups, but it's jolly hard when they insist on wedding themselves to the past rather than embracing the future. Take edocr (durable little meme, that), a new rival to Scribd:

www.edocr.com allows business documents such as press releases, white papers, case studies, product updates, brochures, analyst reports, etc (any .doc and .pdf) to be interacted within the business community.

Hey, chaps, every heard of ODF? Google has, Apple has: seems to be getting quite popular. Maybe time to, er, read around the subject a bit...? (Via TechCrunch.)

Of Open Source, Open Access and Donald Knuth

I often witter on about open access, assuming people know what I'm talking about. But if you'd like a little historical background, try this, which explains why people interested in open source should also be interested in open access:

Like all things that has to do with the Internet, the computer scientists are ahead of the curve in the flight from the old model of scientific publishing.

In probably one of the biggest shocks of the scientific publishing world, in 2003, the entire editorial board of the prestigious Journal of Algorithms resigned en masse. They subsequently re-formed as the editorial board of a new journal with the similar-sounding name of ACM Transactions of Algorithms.

In a sharply worded letter, the co-founder of the journal (and legendary computer scientist) Donald Knuth, explained the reasons for the mass defection. The reason being that Elsevier had been gouging the subscribers of the Journal of Algorithms for years. It had reached the point where the only defense was to bail ship.

Microsoft : Master of All It Surveys

I love Microsoft-sponsored surveys - not for what they purport to tell us, but for what they indicate Microsoft cares about. Here's another one:

In the IT industry, Microsoft and its "ecosystem" of parters are big--on the order of 40 percent of the market. And if any policy makers around the world doubted its influence, it now has the data to prove it.

The software giant commissioned research company IDC to survey 82 countries and measure the economic impact of the IT industry, and Microsoft specifically.

Overall, the results were not surprising, according to Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. IT contributes to economic growth and job growth more than other industries, according to the IDC study.

The study managed to quantify the Microsoft business universe. There are about 14 million people working at companies that touch Microsoft software in some way, either as hardware distributors, services companies, or software developers.

That number represents about 42 percent of the overall IT market, according to the data. Mundie expects that number to stay consistent in the coming years.

The point is obviously to show how jolly important Microsoft is to all those economies, and how governments had better not fiddle with the delicate ecosystem. But of course what this necessarily overlooks is the huge value of the open source ecosystem - difficult to quantify using traditional economics - not least because open source saves people money, whereas Microsoft's ecosystem costs money. This means it looks smaller when it is simply leaner.

17 October 2007

Amazon One-Click Patent Struck Down

Here's an amazing victory:

In a recent office action, the USPTO has rejected the claims of the Amazon.com one-click patent following the re-examination request that I filed on 16 February 2006.

My review resulted in the broadest claims of the patent being ruled invalid.

In its Office Action released 9 October 2007, the Patent Office found that the prior art I found and submitted completely anticipated the broadest claims of the patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,960,411.

I had only requested the USPTO look at claims 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21 and 22 but the Office Action rejects claims 11-26 and claims 1-5 as well!

What's particularly remarkable is that this has happened through the dogged perseverance of one individual: Peter Calveley.

Kudos, sir. (Via Boing Boing.)

Job Title of the Week

Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, today announced the appointment of Nick Van Wyk to the role of Senior Transformation Executive, in addition to his current role as Vice President, Global Operations.

Senior what?!?? If I had an shares in Red Hat, I'd probably sell them now - they're clearly out of their pram.

WIPO to Wipe Itself Out?

I've written before that WIPO needs to change to reflect the new realities of intellectual monopolies, but it seems the organisation wants to go even further by melting down completely:

Hundreds of employees at the World Intellectual Property Organization, a prominent United Nations agency, have signed a petition calling on WIPO Director General Kamil Idris to put the organisation’s interests before his own in addressing allegations that he misrepresented his age on official documents and possibly engaged in other untoward activities. Idris is under pressure to step down by countries that see him as having lost the ability to lead the organisation.

First the World Bank, now WIPO...who's next?

Apple Supports ODF

At last:

OpenDocument and Word 2007 Formats

Take advantage of TextEdit support for the Word 2007 and OpenDocument formats for reading and writing.

OK, so maybe not huge news in itself, but further evidence that the barriers to ODF are gradually falling. (Via Erwin Tenhumberg.)

Patently Wrong, Mathematically Proved

Well, after yesterday's post about a paper drawing fascinating parallels between today's patent trolls and yesteryear's patent sharks, here's another zinger from academia, one of whose authors has just won this year's Nobel-ish prize for Economics. And look what it says:

the software industry in the United States was subjected to a revealing natural experiment in the 1980’s. Through a sequence of court decisions, patent protection for computer programs was significantly strengthened. We will show that, far from unleashing a flurry of new innovative activity, these stronger property rights ushered in a period of stagnant, if not declining, R&D among those industries and firms that patented most.

We maintain, furthermore, that there was nothing paradoxical about this outcome. For industries like software or computers, there is actually good reason to believe that imitation promotes innovation and that strong patents (long patents of broad scope) inhibit it. Society might be well served if such industries had only limited intellectual property protection. Moreover, many firms might genuinely welcome competition and the prospect of being imitated.

What's interesting about this - aside from the fact that a respected economist is arguing against patents for industries like software, and using maths to prove it - is that the whole idea of welcoming competition so that everyone can build on the communal advances is incredibly close to the underlying dynamic of open source, which gets better much faster because it can always draw on the work of others.

So essentially the result of the paper is that industries like software work better (a) without patents and (b) when they operate according to the open source development model. Imagine. (Via Slashdot.)

Wikimedia Commons Hits Two Million Mark

Hooray for the commons:

Wikimedia Commons, the multilingual free-content media repository managed by the Wikimedia Foundation, reached the milestone of two million uploaded files on October 9, 2007, less than a year after it reached one million. This makes Wikimedia Commons the fastest growing large Wikimedia project. The rapid growth reflects the young age of the project, launched just over three years ago in September 2004. Since March 2007, Wikimedia Commons has routinely had over 100,000 files uploaded every single month. It is now not uncommon for over 5,000 files to be uploaded in a single day. The largest single-day figure so far has been the 9th of September 2007, when a huge 9719 files were uploaded in a mere 24 hours.

(Via DigitalKoans.)

16 October 2007

Microsoft Now Officially Open Source...

..well, some of its licences, at least:

Acting on the advice of the License Approval Chair, the OSI Board today approved the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) and the Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL). The decision to approve was informed by the overwhelming (though not unanimous) consensus from the open source community that these licenses satisfied the 10 criteria of the Open Source definition, and should therefore be approved.

This is surely the right decision: refusal on the grounds that it was Microsoft would have been petty in the extreme - and would have played straight into its hands. Open source is strong enough to welcome Microsoft into the fold, even if it is still something of a black sheep. It will be interesting to see what the company does with its shiny new licences. (Via 451 CAOS Theory - Matthew Aslett's new gig for those who don't already know.)

Why Monocultures are Bad for You

In 1987, the Great Storm struck south-eastern England; one result was the mass destruction of many woodlands:

Because the hill was effectively a monoculture of mature beech trees of a similar age, it did not surprise Mr White that so many were lost in the storm.

Twenty years on, the woods are growing back - some of them naturally, not in a managed way as they were before the storm. The result?

As part of the recovery programme on the hill, the National Trust formed a partnership with English Nature to see what would happen if 50 acres (20Ha) of the 450-acre (180Ha) site was left to recover naturally.

"There is a very high percentage of dead wood in there," Mr White revealed, "which is now home to invertebrates, which birds obviously feed on.

"And the fungi are absolutely magnificent, especially at this time of year. There is a very varied ecology; a mature and advanced ecology."

The lessons for the ecosystem of software will not be lost on readers of this blog....

Parenthetically, I was there when the Great Storm struck. Shortly afterwards, I wrote a cheerful little piece about it, reproduced for your delectation below:

Windy City

Some sat at their desks, fiddling with pencils and paperclips. Others stood in the corridors, dimly lit by the emergency power. With no phones and no electricity, there was nothing to be done. An enormous silence hung over the whole building. Outside, there was a clear blue sky.

Upon waking that morning, it was apparent that something was wrong. The alarm radio had not gone off: its display was dead. Throughout the still house all the electric clocks had stopped at the same moment: 4.34 am; it was as if time had had a heart attack. No light, no hot water, no kettle: the tiny marginal acts of civilisation had been cancelled.

People stumbled into work as if in a trance, more out of habit than from any real sense of necessity. Everywhere there were scenes of destruction: huge trees uprooted, lying stricken across the road. Cars were driven under them with white-knuckled bravado, or gingerly past them, up on the pavement. People milled around, some taking photographs. There were no trains and few buses. An occasional ambulance flashed by.

On the radio the police issued urgent pleas for everyone to stay at home; it was pointless going to work they said. And the radio itself was strangely different. Bulletins were broadcast every ten minutes. The mindless music and vacuous ads had all but stopped. Instead, the catalogue of deaths and disasters, the no-go areas and the helplessness of the authorities were hammered home with a kind of crazy glee. A curious jitter ran through people, as if someone had walked over their collective grave. It felt like the end of the world.

It was the Great Wind of '87. 'The worst weather in 300 years', they said, 'the worst disaster since the war'. The dead, though few, were publicly lamented - so alien to this sanitised world of ours is random, violent death through force of Nature. Everyone felt an aesthetic pang at the sight of centuries of trees laid low in the dust; still majestic like fallen royalty, but doomed and irreplaceable. But most of all people felt themselves chastened, as if they had narrowly escaped something unthinkable. A case of presque-vu.

For winds, albeit of record speeds, had shut down the whole seething, pullulating metropolis of London. No transport, no telephones, and worst of all, no power. Mere air had pulled the plug on late twentieth century civilisation in so comprehensive a manner that people could only stand around and stare impotently. Power and telephone lines were restored after some hours, but the effects of that great wind were felt directly for days after, and the scars would remain for decades.

Imagine, then, a greater wind, an unnatural wind whose very touch is death. After a nuclear explosion, following the huge pulse of radiation, but before the even more horrifying fall-out of radioactive debris, there is a shock wave. That shock wave moves across the land like the Voice of God in the Old Testament: it is swift and terrible and unstoppable. In comparison the Great Wind of '87 will seem a light spring breeze. Looking around at our silent, desolated city, were we not right to be windy?