29 February 2008

Geneva BRM Vote Result: It's Clearly "Zlthoy"

If anyone can make sense of what happened this week in Geneva during the BRM process it's Andy Updegrove. He has an unrivalled grasp of both standards in general and the specific background to the whole sorry business. So the fact that I don't really understand his post of what exactly the final result of the meeting was is a worrying indication that my brain has started to rot.

Here's the summary:

There are two ways in which you may hear the results of the BRM summarized by those that issue statements and press releases in the days to come. Perhaps inevitably, they are diametrically opposed, as has so often happened in the ODF - OOXML saga to date. Those results are as follows:

98.4% of the OOXML Proposed Dispositions were approved by a two to one majority at the BRM, validating OOXML

The OOXML Proposed Dispositions OOXML were overwhelmingly rejected by the delegations in attendance at the BRM, indicating the inability of OOXML to be adequately addressed within the "Fast Track" process

Oh, thanks, Andy. I think what I'm looking for here is a kind of Hegelian synthesis of those two contradictory statements.....

On Being Open

Interesting thoughts from Cory Ondrejka on the virtues of telling people what you're doing when you start a new company, rather than trying to keep everything secret:

It may seem slightly counterintuitive, but once you noodle on it a bit, being open is a tremendously positive and competitive move. It forces your ideas to survive far broader scrutiny, makes it easier to hire, and lets your early employees do what they want to be doing anyway: brag about their cool, new company.

He also makes another crucial point:

It’s similar to considering how to talk about competitors. Sure, having enemies can be motivational and useful when you are getting started, but you and your competitors are collaboratively shaping the landscape for your new companies. Spending time publicly bashing them makes you look like an ass and hurts your ability to work together down the road. It is rare for any sector to be winner-take-all – even eBay has competitors – and multiple, high-quality products in a space can help ensure the overall business grows far quicker than any one company could on its own.

Such "bashing" is much rarer in the open source world, since everyone is effectively working together - the code is open, after all. Your competitor is also your collaborator, since ideas - and even code - can generally flow freely between you.

Microsoft Using NGOs in India to Lobby for OOXML?

If this is true - and I have no reason to think it isn't - then I predict that it will come back to bite Microsoft very badly one day:

Mail from Microsoft India's Corporate Social Responsibility group to the NGO

As per our discussion please find attached the draft letters -­ please cut/edit/ delete and change it any which way you find useful. Also attached is the list of NGOs who have sent the letters. And attached is also a document that details wht (sic) this debate is all about. Look forward to hear from you in this regard. In case you decide to send the letters, can you please send me a scan of the singed (sic) letters that you send out. Thanks this will help me track the process.


Form letters on OOXML sent by Microsoft to NGOs


Mr. Jainder Singh, IAS
Department of IT
Ministry of Communications & IT,
Electronics Niketan
CGO Complex
New Delhi - 110 003

Respected Sir

Please write a paragraph about your organization

Please paraphrase "We support OXML as a standard that encourages multiplicity of choice and interoperability giving us the ultimate consumer the choice. * recognizes that multiple standards are good for the economy and also for technical innovation and progress in the country, especially for smaller organizations like us, who require choice and innovation"

Please write about your work

Please paraphrase "*** also supports OXML as this does not have any financial implications thus releasing our resources for welfare and development of society."

Thanking You

Yours Faithfully

Name Designation

(Via Open Source India.)

Do You Dare to Brainstorm?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Sounding Off Against Sound Copyright

Talking of petitions, here's one against extending the copyright in sound recordings, open to anyone. It includes the following excellent summary of what we're fighting for:

Copyright is a bargain. In exchange for their investment in creating and distributing sound recordings to the public, copyright holders are granted a limited monopoly during which are allowed to control the use of those recordings. This includes the right to pursue anyone who uses their recordings without permission. But when this time is up, these works join Goethe, Hugo and Shakespeare in the proper place for all human culture – the public domain. In practice, because of repeated term extensions and the relatively short time in which sound recording techniques have been available, there are no public domain sound recordings.

This situation is about to change, as tracks from the first golden age of recorded sound reach the end of their copyright term. The public domain is about to benefit from its half of this bargain. Seminal soul, reggae, and rock and roll recordings will soon be freed from legal restrictions, allowing anyone (including the performers themselves and their heirs) to preserve, reissue, and remix them.

Major record labels want to keep control of sound recordings well beyond the current 50 year term so that they can continue to make marginal profits from the few recordings that are still commercially viable half a century after they were laid down. Yet if the balance of copyright tips in their favour, it will damage the music industry as a whole, and also individual artists, libraries, academics, businesses and the public.

The labels lobby for change, but have yet to publicly present any compelling economic evidence to support their case. What evidence does exist shows clearly that extending term will discourage innovation, stunt the reissues market, and irrevocably damage future artists' and the general public's access to their cultural heritage.

As Europe looks to the creative industries for its economic future, it is faced with a choice. It can agree to extend the copyright term in sound recordings for the sake of a few major record labels. Or it can allow sound recordings to enter the public domain at the end of fifty years for the benefit of future innovation, future prosperity and the public good.

Everyone Loves an Open Source Hacker

On Open Enterprise blog.

End Software Patents Now!

One of the most remarkable - and heartening - changes in recent years has been in the attitude to software patents. Until a few years back, there was a certain fatalism regarding these particularly pernicious intellectual monopolies, as if they belonged, with death and taxes, to the inevitable and immutable. But people have started fighting back, both in terms of seeking to have patents revoked, and trying to get the entire category abolished.

The latest manifestation of this is the End Software Patents site:

Every company is in the software business, which means that every company has software liability. We estimate $11.4 billion a year is spent on software patent litigation (see our resources for economists page), and not just by Microsoft and IBM—The Green Bay Packers, Kraft Foods, and Ford Motor are facing software patent infringement lawsuits for their use of the standard software necessary for running a modern business.

Software innovation happens without government intervention. Virtually all of the technologies you use now, was developed before software was widely viewed as patentable. The Web, email, your word processor and spreadsheet program, instant messaging, or even more technical features like the psychoachoustic encoding and Huffman compression underlying the MP3 standard—all of it was originally developed by enthusiastic programmers, many of whom have formed successful business around such software, none of whom asked the government for a monopoly. So if software authors have a proven track-record of innovation without patents, why force them to use patents? What is the gain from billions of dollars in patent litigation?

Best of all on what is sure to become one of the central sites in the fight against patents, are the resources. Even though I follow this area closely, I was amazed at just how much hard evidence there is that software patents are harmful from just about every point of view. Victory just got closer.

Google Sites – Not Your Father's JotSpot

On Open Enterprise blog.

WaveMaker Visual Ajax Studio Goes AGPL

On Open Enterprise blog.

Not That They're Desperate or Anything

In what may be an unprecedented decision, Microsoft said Thursday that it plans to lower the retail prices for several flavors of Windows Vista.

For those in the U.S., Microsoft is cutting prices only on the higher-end versions of Vista, and only for the upgrade version used to move from an earlier copy of Vista. The suggested price for Vista Ultimate drops to $219 from $299, while Home Premium falls to $129, from $159.

A dog is still a dog, even it costs less.

28 February 2008

Just How Healthy Will Google Health Be?

Ah, yes, Google Health:

Due to the sensitive and personal nature of the data that will be stored in Google Health, we need to conduct our health service with the same privacy, security, and integrity users have come to expect in all our services. Google Health will protect the privacy of your health information by giving you complete control over your data. We won't sell or share your data without your explicit permission. Our privacy policy and practices have been developed in thoughtful collaboration with experts from the Google Health Advisory Council.

All highly laudable.

So what happens when somebody turns up on Google's doorstep with a warrant, demanding information about an individual? Presumably, it will fight. And what happens when somebody *doesn't* turn up on Google's doorstep with a warrant, but just wants a quiet chat about the records of someone who is - because the US government says they are, but can't reveal the details because it's a state secret - a terrible wicked evil terrorist, and anyway has a funny-sounding name? Will it fight for them, too?

Why Microsoft's New EU Fine is Just Fine

On Linux Journal.

We 'Umbly Petition....

I'm not sure that these e-petitions do any good, but since they exist, it seems churlish not to use them. Here's another one Brits may be interested in signing:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to not force internet service providers to act as legal representatives for the RIAA and be treated like a common courier.

I think they meant "not to force" and "carrier", but I doubt Gordon's going to be paying that much attention....

27 February 2008

What Windows Server 2008 Learned from OSS

Fascinating stuff from Microsoft's Sam Ramji:

When I think about what works really well in open source development and technology, the following things stand out:

* Modular architectures
You can find these wherever you see participation at scale – and often a rearchitecture to a more modular system precedes expanded participation. Great examples of this are Firefox, OpenOffice, and X11 – from both the historical rearchitecture and the increased participation that resulted. The Apache HTTP server and APR are good examples that have been modular for as long as I can recall.

* Programming language agnostic
A given project uses a consistent language, but there are no rules on what languages are in scope or out of scope. Being open to more languages means opportunity to attract more developers – the diversity of PHP/Perl/Python/Java has been a core driver in the success of a number of projects including Linux.

* Feedback-driven development
The “power user” as product manager is a powerful shift in how to build and tune software – and this class of users includes developers who are not committing code back, but instead submitting CRs and defects – resulting in a product that better fits its end users.

* Built-for-purpose systems
Most frequently seen in applications of Linux, the ability to build a system that has just what is needed to fulfill its role and nothing else (think of highly customizable distributions like Gentoo or BusyBox, as well as fully custom deployments).

* Sysadmins who write code
The ability of a skilled system administrator to write the “last mile” code means that they can make a technology work in their particular environment efficiently and often provide good feedback to developers. This is so fundamental to Unix and Linux environments that most sysadmins are competent programmers.

* Standards-based communication
Whether the standard is something from the IETF or W3C, or simply the implementation code itself, where these are used projects are more successful (think of Asterisk and IAX2) and attract a larger ecosystem of software around them.

What's interesting about this is not that it's astute analysis - which it is - but that Ramji doesn't mind making it public while admitting that Windows is learning from open source. Of course, it would be stupid not to, but it's nonetheless an important sign of how things are finally changing at Microsoft that it's prepared to trumpet the fact - and of the irreistible rise of the open source way.

Privacy Trumps Copyright in EU?

This could be big:

Today the German Constitutional Court decided that the state may not engage in surreptitious surveillance of information technology systems. The case, a constitutional complaint against a law permitting such surveillance by intelligence services, was decided on the basis of a new human right in the confidentiality and integrity of information technology systems.


The decision may have a dramatic impact in relation to the constitutionality of protected rights management information systems deemed to protect copyright. Where a supplier of copyright works manipulates data stored on a customers computer, or where personal data are being collected in order to allow the right holder to trace the use of works supplied online, it appears that if the customer can invoke the new right there is little left to argue for right holders that such means are necessary to protect copyright.

Now let's watch this ripple through the European Union until it reaches that nice Mr Brown and his plans to get heavy with ISPs over alleged copyright infringements on their networks....

MySQL's Disappearing Anti-Patent Page

Here's a troubling observation:

Go to the MySQL Web site and try to click on the MySQL anti-software patent page, and you won't find it. It's the other shoe dropping as MySQL today became part of Sun Microsystems, which like the rest of the commercial software and services industry, considers software patents a necessary evil.

Let's hope this isn't part of a larger trend at the new MySQL....

Free As in ...."Free Love"?

Techdirt's Mike Masnick pointed to yet another exploration of free as a business model. It's called "Free Love":

which is all about the ongoing rise of 'free stuff', and the brands already making the most it. Not to mention the millions of consumers who are happily getting into a free-for-all mindset. Yes, expectations are being set. Absorb and apply!

In fact, this is probably the best round-up to date of all the different kinds of free business models. It had all the ones I had come across, and many I hadn't.

Mike concludes his post with an excellent - and self-referential - point:

It's neat to see all of these different things come out at the same time -- once again highlighting the concept that ideas generally aren't formed in a vacuum. The trends that resulted in so many people recognizing the same thing at once are all around us. Yet, if we believed in the world where artificial scarcity rules, then we'd be focused on who "owned" this concept and who got the rights every time someone else mentioned it. That, of course, would be silly. By allowing so many different people to express these concepts, not only do we all get to see different perspectives on the same concept, but we get to learn from each other and build on these ideas.

Peace, man.

Hardware's Race to the Bottom

I've written several times about the importance of the Asus Eee PC; here's another way of looking at it:

At Sony's annual Open House event, Sony's IT product division senior vice president Mike Abary said if the Asus Eee PC starts to do well, it could potentially shift the entire notebook industry into a race to the bottom.

If mainstream PC buyers start to find their needs met by a lightweight, simply featured, inexpensive portable, it's likely to impel all of the major players in the industry to pile on by lowering their prices.

This, of course, is precisely what open source has done to proprietary code, so it's interesting to see the same happening to hardware, again driven by free software.

26 February 2008

The Council of the EU is Barking

Want some amusement? Try this, which comes from the Council of the EU:

In order to succeed in the transition to a highly competitive knowledge economy, the European Union needs to create a "fifth freedom" - the free movement of knowledge. Member States and the Commission are invited to deepen their dialogue and expand their cooperation in order to further identify and remove obstacles to the cross-border mobility of knowledge.

Now, the easiest and most obvious way of removing "obstacles to the cross-border mobility of knowledge" would, of course, be to mandate open access.

Of which there is no mention whatsoever in said communication. (Via Open Access News.)

Broadcast Treaty Threatened Again

This idea died at WIPO, and should now be laid to rest with the canonical stake through its heart:

in view of a standstill in WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) negotiations on a convention on neighbouring rights of broadcasting organisations, the Committee of Ministers has asked the Council of Europe body entrusted with developing standards on freedom of expression, media and new communication services - the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services (CDMC) - to take stock of the situation and, if justified, to elaborate a draft Council of Europe convention designed to reinforce the protection of those rights (near copyright of broadcast signals). Such a convention would add to existing Council of Europe instruments on this and related subjects, which include a number of recommendations and declarations as well as a 1994 convention relating to questions on copyright law and neighbouring rights in the framework of transfrontier broadcasting by satellite and the 2001 convention on the legal protection of services based on, or consisting of, conditional access.

(Via IP Justice.)

Open Enterprise Interview: Ivo Jansch

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Chumby Era Begins

Today is a Chumbylicious day:

Chumby Industries announced today the public launch of the chumby, its much-anticipated compact consumer Internet device that enables people to receive a constant personalized broadcast of their favorite parts of the Web. The chumby device is currently available in the U.S. at www.chumby.com for $179.95 including shipping.

A little bigger than a coffee cup, the Wi-Fi connected chumby provides people with a fun, hassle-free way to enjoy what they want most out of the Internet at a glance and wake up to thousands of different streaming Internet radio stations, custom "alarm tones," videos and more. With a large and growing base of content from the Internet, including the latest news, weather and entertainment, as well as the ability to share photos, widgets and e-cards with family and friends, the chumby is one of the most versatile and lifestyle-friendly Internet enabled devices on the market today.

One reason why it is so versatile is that it runs GNU/Linux and is designed to be hacked. Here's what Linux Journal had to say on the subject:

“Chumby Industries was formed by hackers who wanted to create something interesting, useful and different. The starting point was the humble clock radio”, its creators explain. Since then, Chumby has evolved from a clock in a cushion to an Any-purpose Net-native Linux device. That's any with a capital A, because the Chumby is built to be hackable at every level, including the physical. Not only does it sense motions and squeezings, but it also hosts an assortment of charms, through its “outerware API”. The charms and much more about the Chumby were designed by Susan Kare (who designed the original desktop icons for the Macintosh and Windows, among too many other things to mention). Susan is Creative Director for Chumby. The company might be cuddly, but it means business too.

And if that's not enough, one of the founders of Chumby is Bunnie Huang, ace hardware hacker. I'm sure that the Chumby will not only be hugely successful, but will spawn an entire industry of configurable consumer widgets.

The only blemish is that you can't currently buy the Chumby outside the US.....

All A-Twitter About Open Source

Here's a clever idea. For those - like myself - who don't Twitter, but want to keep up with the Twittersphere, Raven Zachary has put together a consolidated feed of some of the main open source Twitterers:

To highlight open source activity on Twitter, I have launched a new web application today called The Pulse of Open Source. This is the stream of collective consciousness from the open source community on Twitter. You can follow this stream by simply bookmarking the site and visiting regularly or by adding the RSS feed to your feed reader. You can also create a Twitter account and add the individuals you’d like to follow to your own Twitter friends list if you’d prefer. There is also a mobile version of the site for on-the-go viewing.

I particularly like the fact that I can subscribe to an RSS feed, which justs adds to flow of info that sloshes down every few minutes.

OOXML: "Insufficient and Unnecessary"

Google is pretty careful not to poke the Redmond behemoth too publicly, but apparently it couldn't resist over the upcoming OOXML vote:

Currently, the technology industry is evaluating a proposed ISO standard for document formats. Given the importance of a workable standard, Microsoft's submission of Office Open XML (OOXML ) as an additional international standard has caught the attention of many. In September 2007, the original request to ISO was defeated. After further technical analysis of the specification along with all the additional data available on OOXML, Google believes OOXML would be an insufficient and unnecessary standard, designed purely around the needs of Microsoft Office.

Still Not Learning from Past Experience

The intellectual monopolies lord giveth, and the intellectual monopolies lord taketh away:

Blackboard has prevailed in an e-learning patent dispute against Desire2Learn. A federal jury in Lufkin, TX made the determination Friday afternoon, following a two-week trial. Blackboard was seeking $17 million in lost revenue, as well as an injunction against the company, which is based in Canada.

As you may recall, Blackboard is claiming a ridiculous broad patent on a wide range of obvious ideas:

A system and methods for implementing education online by providing institutions with the means for allowing the creation of courses to be taken by students online, the courses including assignments, announcements, course materials, chat and whiteboard facilities, and the like, all of which are available to the students over a network such as the Internet. Various levels of functionality are provided through a three-tiered licensing program that suits the needs of the institution offering the program. In addition, an open platform system is provided such that anyone with access to the Internet can create, manage, and offer a course to anyone else with access to the Internet without the need for an affiliation with an institution, thus enabling the virtual classroom to extend worldwide.

(Via Techdirt.)

An Open Marriage Made in Heaven?

Maybe Microsoft and Yahoo *are* made for each other. After all, both seem to have got the hots for openness - first Microsoft, and now Yahoo:

"Yahoo Buzz is a good example of how we are continuing to innovate and open up our key starting points to third party publishers, making Yahoo! more social and personally relevant for our half a billion consumers," said Jeff Weiner, executive vice president, Yahoo! Network Division. "In addition, we recently announced that we will be opening up our user interface for Yahoo! Search, as well as creating a smarter inbox by opening up Yahoo! Mail, two other key ways that consumers start with Yahoo!."

Unfortunately, I'm with Hamlet on this one: words, words, words. (Via Mashable.)

Patents to Stifle Competition? - Surely Not

Another judge gets it:

A federal judge recently got so infuriated by the conduct of two highly regarded trial attorneys that he overturned a jury's $51 million verdict, then ordered the lawyers to pay the fees and costs of the opposing lawyers, a sum that could total several million dollars.

U.S. District Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch sanctioned attorneys Terrance McMahon and Vera Elson of the firm McDermott, Will and Emery, of Chicago and San Francisco, for "cavalier and abusive" misconduct and for having a "what can I get away with?" attitude during a 13-day patent infringement trial in Denver.

He ruled that the entire trial was "frivolous" and the case filed solely to stifle competition rather than to protect a patent.

(Via Slashdot.)

25 February 2008

Get a Life? - Get a Clue

I came across the following at the weekend:

Speaking at a Microsoft-hosted event, analyst David Mitchell revealed he used to lecture police on riot control, before eventually becoming the senior vice president of IT research at Ovum. "I thought I would never come back to talking about riot control until I got into the Open XML debate," he claimed.

Mitchell said that people involved in riots fell into two camps: "decent orderly protestors and nutters", and claims that both are participating in the OOXML process. "There are a number of comments that are decent technical debate," he said. "There's also a fair amount of radical activists who are protesting just to cause disruption."

"I feel like getting hold of people and saying 'get a life'," he adds. "It's only a document format. It's just got too silly."

Only a document format?!? How can someone who's supposed to be an analyst be unaware of the larger issues? Document formats are the offline equivalent of HTML, and openness is just as critical off as on the Web. To say that "it's only a document format" misses the point entirely.

Having boiled up a nice vat of invective, I was going to lay into this wrong-headed thinking at some length, when I came across this post by Andy Updegrove, which is not only one of his best, but I would venture that it is also one of his most important. It says more less exactly what I was going to say, only rather better:

It should not go unmentioned that the stakes for society are even higher than I have thus far suggested, because the questions raised above extend beyond the field of ITC [information technology and communications]. Standards of equal importance are urgently needed in other areas as well. These will have as profound an impact on commerce and the human condition in areas such as global warming, and will tell us what we can and cannot do except at our peril, how we will determine whether we are winning or losing that battle, and how we can police ourselves from subjecting ourselves to further environmental degradation.

So it is we see that what happens in Geneva this week is about far more than whether Microsoft wins and IBM and its allies lose or vis-versa, even if that will be the superficial result. It is about fundamental human rights, about not only seizing but also securing the opportunities of the future for the benefit of all. Only by thinking clearly and deeply about these larger issues will we be able to adapt the practices of the past to meet the challenges of a future that has already arrived, whether we realize it or not.

Adobe Opens Up (A Bit)

On Open Enterprise blog.

Madness: ATMs Running Windows XP?

How stupid can banks get?

A white paper by security services company Network Box has said ATM's are less secure because of changes to the way they operate. It said that 70 per cent of current ATMs are essentially PCs running PC operating systems like Windows XP. This makes them more susceptible than when ATMs were mainly built with proprietary software and communication protocols.


"If [the banks] have got Windows XP-based ATM's then this is obviously something which is a concern. We don't want our details sent in plain text. The current firewall protection is not sufficient and they need to look seriously in how to rectify this so there isn't a breach," said Heron.

So *that's* why the collective noun for bankers is a wunch.

Open Voices – Mark Shuttleworth

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Value of Nothing

One of those joining this blog in pointing out the power of pricing at zero is Chris Anderson. His next book is called simply "Free", and he's published a convenient synopsis in the form of an article in his personal publishing vehicle, Wired:

It took decades to shake off the assumption that computing was supposed to be rationed for the few, and we're only now starting to liberate bandwidth and storage from the same poverty of imagination. But a generation raised on the free Web is coming of age, and they will find entirely new ways to embrace waste, transforming the world in the process.

Judging by the article, the book will be highly anecdotal - no bad thing for a populist tome. My only concern is that the emphasis will be too much on the "free as in beer" side, neglecting the fact that the "free as in freedom" aspect is actually even more important.

Digital Reputations

I've not read the book The Future of Reputation, but the fact that it's freely available and comes recommended by Danah Boyd is good enough for me:

This book examines the darker side of personal expression and communication online, looking at some of the social costs of what I'm always rambling on about as "persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences." Our reputation is one of our greatest assets. What happens when our own acts or the acts of others sully that? What role does the technology play in enabling or stopping that? How should the law modernize its approach to privacy and slander to address the networked world?

Reputations play a crucial role in the free software world - a good reason to give the book a whirl.

24 February 2008

Let Us Now Praise Patent Troll Trackers

So the anonymous patent troll tracker is anonymous no more:

My name is Rick Frenkel. I started in IP over 10 years ago, as a law clerk at Lyon & Lyon in Los Angeles. After a few years there as a law clerk and attorney, I litigated patent cases for several years at Irell & Manella. Two years ago I moved to the Valley and went in-house at Cisco. In my career, I have represented plaintiffs, defendants, large companies, small companies, individual inventors, universities, and everything in between. I currently work at Cisco.

Do I care? Not a jot. What I care about is this:

Now that I have been unmasked, I’m not sure where the blog is going from here. I’d like to keep it going. For one, I still have quite a few post ideas in me (indeed, I have several already prepared, waiting to go). Further, there aren’t many in-house counsel blogging, and I think we deserve a voice. I’m going to take off the next couple of weeks to think it over.

He can be called Rick or Rumpelstiltskin for all I care: he performs a hugely valuable service that the world of computing would be poorer without. Let's hope those couple of weeks of thinking it over mark a hiatus and not a halt.

22 February 2008

Why eGov UK is Doomed

Read this and weep:

Directgov welcomes and encourages other websites to link to it as the main UK central government website. By linking to Directgov you are deemed to have signed up to the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions? For linking to a website??? If this is how little "the main UK central government website" groks the essential nature of the organic, evolving, pullulating Net, no wonder so many government IT projects are such an utter disaster.

Let a Thousand (Open Source) Blogs Bloom

Reading the various reactions to Microsoft's "big" announcement about openness, I was struck by the cumulative force of all the different open source blogs offering their two penn'orth. It made me realise how important it is to have ever more of the things to add to the blogospheric pressure.

And so, against that background, let me say: Welcome, Green Eggs and Ham.

No, I don't know either.

Firefox Hits 500,000,000 Downloads

Make mine half a milliard.

21 February 2008

Microsoft Gets Open Source Religion – Or Maybe Not

On Open Enterprise blog.

UK Copyright Extension Alert

Even though the Gowers Review comprehensively trashed the idea of extending copyright for sound recordings, zombie-like it's back as a Private Member's Bill. The indispensable Open Rights Group has more and tells you what do about it. Hint: it involves writing to your MP:

What can you say to persuade your MP to show up to the Commons on a Friday? Perhaps you might point out that all the economic evidence points against term extension. Or that every other UK citizen is expected to contribute to their pension out of income earned in their working life. Or that retrospectively extending copyright term won’t encourage Elvis Presley to record any more new tracks. Or that if governments continue to draft intellectual property legislation on behalf of special interest groups, it will only further erode the respect that ordinary citizens have for the letter of the law.

Why Intellectual Property Does Not Exist, Part 3502

A nice point from Mike Masnick:

Those who insist that copyright is the same as real property break their own rule by also insisting that they retain perpetual rights to the good, even after it's been sold. If copyright were like real property, after the creator sold it, the buyer could do whatever they want with it, including giving it out for free.

A hit, a very palpable hit.

The Inq Has the Dirt on the One

More details on the Elonex £100 ultraportable:

Elonex claims the whole caboodle is optimised for the Linux software it runs. The Linux is Debian flavoured and the little office suite that is bundled with it is all branded ONE. ONEInternet, ONEMail, ONEWord, etc.

As we surmised, storage comes in a 1Gb flash flavour. There's 128Mb of DDR-II memory, a seven-inch 800 by 480 LCD screen with stereo two-channel audio, built-in speakers, a microphone and audio Jack. Wibbling comes courtesy of a Lan/WLAN 10/100M Ethernet with WLAN 802.11g Antenna.

Update: And someone else has spotted that it seems to be this machine, rebadged.


Just one more reason why the Microsoft-Yahoo merger, if it happens, will be hell:

Yahoo is following in Google’s footsteps again in search. Today, it is shifting a crucial part of its search engine to Hadoop, software that handles large-scale distributed computing tasks particularly well. Hadoop is an open-source implementation of Google’s MapReduce software and file system.


Yahoo is replacing its own software with Hadoop and running it on a Linux server cluster with 10,000 core processors.

Go that? 10,000 core processors running GNU/Linux at the heart of Yahoo. Microsoft is damned if they do (rip and replace) and damned if they don't. Go on, make our day, Steve....

Document Freedom Day a Month Too Late?

It all sounds jolly japes:

On 26 March 2008, the Document Freedom Day will provide a global rallying point for Document Liberation and Open Standards. It will literally give teams around the world the chance to "hoist the flag": A 'DFD Starter Pack' containing a flag, t-shirt, leaflets and stickers is in preparation and is planned to be sent out in the first weeks of March to the first 100 teams that sign up. Sixteen teams already signed up during the preparation phase of the DFD prior to this release. Sign your team up now!

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

But I can't help feeling that they have missed a trick here. Surely the obvious time to try to raise awareness of open documents and open standards was just before the meeting beginning on February 25 in Geneva to decide the fate of Microsoft's soi-disant Open Office XML format?

Dell Fails to Deliver

On Open Enterprise blog.

Welcome to ... The Spittoon

Last night I had the pleasure - and privilege - of attempting to hack the minds of a roomful of young scientists. It was my usual Digital Code of Life riff, and in the course of preparing my thoughts I wandered over to the 23AndMe site. This, you will recall, is:

a web-based service that helps you read and understand your DNA. After providing a saliva sample using an at-home kit, you can use our interactive tools to shed new light on your distant ancestors, your close family and most of all, yourself.
It is also the company set up by the wife of one of the Google founders - you can join the dots yourself.

But one thing I'd not come across before was the company's blog - called, rather charmingly, The Spittoon....

Cock-a-Hoop Over Open Source VoIP

On Open Enterprise blog.

Thunderbird is Go

On Open Enterprise blog.

Adobe Flash - Now with Added Evil

Another reason to hate Flash:

Now Adobe, which controls Flash and Flash Video, is trying to change that with the introduction of DRM restrictions in version 9 of its Flash Player and version 3 of its Flash Media Server software. Instead of an ordinary web download, these programs can use a proprietary, secret Adobe protocol to talk to each other, encrypting the communication and locking out non-Adobe software players and video tools. We imagine that Adobe has no illusions that this will stop copyright infringement -- any more than dozens of other DRM systems have done so -- but the introduction of encryption does give Adobe and its customers a powerful new legal weapon against competitors and ordinary users through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

(Via Techdirt.)

19 February 2008

Microsoft's DreamSpark - What a Giveaway

On Linux Journal.

Bank Julius Baer, Meet Barbra Streisand

One of the claims to fame of Techdirt's Mike Masnick is for coining the phrase "the Streisand effect":

The phenomenon takes its name from Barbra Streisand, who made her own ill-fated attempt at reining in the Web in 2003. That's when environmental activist Kenneth Adelman posted aerial photos of Streisand's Malibu beach house on his Web site as part of an environmental survey, and she responded by suing him for $50 million. Until the lawsuit, few people had spotted Streisand's house, Adelman says--but the lawsuit brought more than a million visitors to Adelman's Web site, he estimates. Streisand's case was dismissed, and Adelman's photo was picked up by the Associated Press and reprinted in newspapers around the world.

So attempts by the Bank Julius Baer to shut down the Wikileaks site are not only doomed, but doomed to make things much, much worse than if the bank had just put up with it. Fighting openness is just not a good idea.

Monopoly in the DNA

It seems that Bill Gates' foundation is affected with the same love of monopolies and keeping things closed as its creator:

The chief of the malaria program at the World Health Organization has complained that the growing dominance of malaria research by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation risks stifling a diversity of views among scientists and wiping out the health agency's policy-making function.

In a memorandum, the chief of the malaria program, Arata Kochi, complained to his boss, Margaret Chan, the director general of WHO, that the foundation's money, while crucial, could have "far-reaching, largely unintended consequences."

Many of the world's leading malaria scientists are now "locked up in a 'cartel' with their own research funding being linked to those of others within the group," Kochi wrote. Because "each has a vested interest to safeguard the work of the others," he wrote, getting independent reviews of research proposals "is becoming increasingly difficult."

Amazing: exactly the same dynamics seem to be operating here for research as for software. Must be something in the DNA. (Via Slashdot.)

18 February 2008

AsteriskNOW Now

On Open Enterprise blog.

Bye-bye US Business Method Patents?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Is Elonex the ONE?

One emerging trend is that of ultra-cheap ultraportables powered - of course - by GNU/Linux. As I've noted before, Microsoft simply cannot follow down this particular rabbit-hole: Windows is too big and too expensive for such cheap hardware.

And to prove the point that the only way is down, here are tantalising hints about a new sub £100 - yes, you read that correctly - machine called the ONE from the UK manufacturer Elonex:

The ONE has been specially designed to aid and encourage learning. The user-friendly unit comes with a full software suite including a word processor, spreadsheet, scientific calculator, and an imaging and graphics package. Linux is at the core of the ONE. This has not only massively reduced the cost and has been a major factor in making the ONE available sub £100, but also corresponds with the governments startegy on software interoperability. “I want to see young people access all sorts of software, to feel confident with the use of open-source and proprietary software." Jim Knight MP.

Nice one: let's see what the UK government's reaction to *that* is....

Vista's Poor Outlook

On Open Enterprise blog.

Hacking Ashley Highfield

Some might say I've been overly critical of the BBC's digital boss, Ashley Highfield (no, no). Be that as it may, it's certainly true that I've not offered any concrete solutions for changing his mind about the urgency of divorcing iPlayer from Microsoft (and no, Macintosh implementations do *not* count). Maybe this is the way:

The BBC's George Wright and Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon offered to install the OS on a laptop for Ashley to take home and experiment with. We're hoping that both George and Ashley will be posting about the experience.

Nice move, Jono.

Open Enterprise Interview: Stefane Fermigier

On Open Enterprise blog.

Photoshop on GNU/Linux

As I've noted elsewhere, free software is absolutely central to Google's success and future. Here's some further proof - it's helping to get Photoshop running on GNU/Linux using Wine:

"Photoshop is one of those applications that Desktop linux users are constantly clamoring for, and we're happy to say they work pretty well now," Google engineer and Wine release manager Dan Kegel wrote. "About 200 patches were committed to winehq, and as of wine-0.9.54, Photoshop CS2 is quite usable," Kegel noted in a separate post.

(Via tuxmachines.org.)

Motivation of Open Projects Volunteers

More info is always good, especially when it's about open source. So here's what sounds a worthy endeavour:

My name is Zbigniew Braniecki and I'm a sociology student at Leon Koźmiński Academy in Warsaw.

The goal of this survey is to extend our knowledge about nature of volunteer participation in the Internet open communities. To learn why people participate and what keeps them going.

It will allow us to better understand how open communities (should) work and who the people building them are.

The survey is made of two parts, socio and psychological. It will be most helpful if you make it to the end.

The whole survey will take you no more than 12 minutes to complete.

Thank you for your help. The results will be publicly available on the Interent.

16 February 2008

Is Europeana Too Flash?

I've written before about the nascent European Digital Library:

Consistent with the i2010 digital library initiative, this thematic network will build consensus to create the European Digital Library. It will find solutions to the interoperability of the cultural content held by European museums, archives, audio-visual archives and libraries in the context of The European Digital Library.

Now we have a chance to try it out - at least as a demo. It's cross-linking is impressively rich, but I do worry that we're going to end up with something too flashy - or, rather, too Flashy, with lots of invisible code that makes deep linking impossible. We shall see - or maybe not....

15 February 2008

Charlie's Not My Darling (Again)

Charlie McCreevy is a one-man disaster area: first he tries to bring in software patents for the European Union, now he wants to extend copyright for performers. I could rant about this but Mike Masnick has already said everything that needs to be said:

It's important to be entirely clear here: this is a total and complete bastardization of copyright law. Copyright law was intended to grant the creator of content a deal: you create new content and we will give you a limited time monopoly on the rights to that content before passing it on to the public domain, from which everyone can benefit. It was designed as an incentive system, providing a gov't backed monopoly in exchange for the creation of content. By creating content and accepting that deal, musicians clearly said that it was a reasonable deal. To later go back and change the terms for content already created and extend copyright makes no sense and is violating the contract made with the public. You can't newly incent someone to create content that they already created 50 years ago. Thus, the only reason to extend copyright is if you believe that it's really a welfare system for musicians. If that's the case, then we should be explicit about it, and present it that way, rather than calling it copyright.

That's not all that McCreevy has up his sleeve either. He's also apparently a huge fan of copyright levies that add taxes to any blank media for the sake of reimbursing musicians just in case you happen to use that blank media to record unauthorized material. It's effectively a you must be a criminal tax. So, basically, McCreevy's plan is to treat all consumers as criminals, forcing them to cough up extra money for musicians, while also setting up a welfare system for musicians hidden in the copyright system. Musicians must love him, but it's a bit ridiculous for him to claim these proposals make sense because "copyright protection for Europe's performers represents a moral right to control the use of their work and earn a living from their performances". Does Mr. McCreevy earn a living from something he did 50 years ago? Does Mr. McCreevy get a cut every time a consumer buys something just in case they commit a crime?

Superb stuff, Mike.

14 February 2008

Code is Law is Code

Code and law have been inextricably mixed ever since Richard Stallman drew up the first GNU GPL. Indeed, in many ways, the logical processes for crafting both are similar - which is probably handy. Nonetheless, law does present special problems that hackers need to be aware of.

To provide some help, the Software Freedom Law Center has just put together a useful legal issues primer for open source and free software projects:

This Primer provides a baseline of knowledge about those areas of the law, intending to support productive conversations between clients and lawyers about specific legal needs. We aim to improve the conversation between lawyer and client, but not to make it unnecessary, because law, like most things in life, very rarely has clear cut answers. Solutions for legal problems must be crafted in light of the particulars of each client’s situation. What is best for one client in one situation, may very well not be best for another client in the same situation, or even the same client in the same situation at a later date or in a different place. Law cannot yield attainable certainty because it is dynamic, inconsistent, and incapable of mastery by pure rote memorization. This is why we do not provide forms or other tools for “do it yourself” lawyering, which are almost always insufficient and, in fact, can be very harmful to a project’s interests.

The specific topics addressed herein are:

1. copyrights and licensing,
2. organizational structure,
3. patents, and
4. trademarks.

They are presented in this order because that most closely aligns with the life-cycle of the legal needs of a typical FOSS project. When code is written, copyrights immediately come into being. The terms under which the owner of those copyrights allows others to copy, modify and distribute the code determine whether it is considered “free” and/or “open source.” Once a project gains speed, many benefits can be achieved by the creation of an organizational entity for the project that is separate from the project’s individual developers. After successful public release of a project, patent and trademark issues may arise that need attention.

Happy Birthday, Budapest Open Access Initiative

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) is the nearest thing to an official definition of open access that we have. Today is apparently its sixth birthday. If you want to find out more about BOAI and what's happened in those six years, where better to go than the man who helped draw up that definition, Peter Suber?

And what better birthday present could open access have have than this announcement that Harvard, or at least The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will be adopting it as standard policy?

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.

What Davos Can Teach Us

The World Economic Forum is a fairly disgusting dance of power and money, but even in this context intelligent observers can learn something useful. For example, here are Brian Behlendorf's thoughts on the problems of getting people to understand and engage with true openness:

On the downside: twice, I mentioned ODF vs. OOXML in conversations with people, and each time, there was a lack of awareness of the issue. I really don't want to embarrass them so I won't name names, but they were people who really should have known; one was a leader of a business that has been around for years and has serious document management and longevity issues, the other a government official who was charged with preserving his country's culture but sadly non-technical. In both cases, the initial response was along the lines of "this is a mess that you techies have created, I expect you to clean it up", as if it was simply a matter of defects in code that a company like Microsoft would be cleaning up quickly. If it turned out that valuable company data from 1993 were in a Word file format that couldn't be properly read by Office 2008, then they'd simply hire someone or a firm to dive in and repair it by hand. I believe I brought both of them around to understanding how it's not just a matter of bugfixing or outsourcing the problem, that it is a knowlege and institutional threat, and the role they need to play as informed customers in pressuring vendors to do the right thing. But, Microsoft's judo-move with OOXML of appearing to do the "right" thing that isn't actually right in practice has more power than I think you or I would wish were true.

13 February 2008

Striking Back Against the Three-Strikes Rule

As I noted yesterday, the idea of banning people from the Internet after "three strikes" is both outrageous and unworkable. One reason advanced for the latter is that people may be piggybacking on your wireless router, so they get the files and you get the blame.

That may well be true, but I find this rather weak as a potential defence, since it means that you would need to leave your router open, which many would be chary about. But I've just realised that there's a way to do this that goes beyond simply leaving it open and hoping: you join the Fon community, which is all about opening up your router in a controlled way. What's even better, is that it's backed by none other than BT in the UK:

BT and FON have joined forces to create a Wi-Fi community that allows its members to connect for free to thousands of places around the UK and the world, by simply sharing some of their Internet connection at home.

This tie-up with BT always struck me as masterly, because it meant that Fon was suddenly "official", and not some wild hacker thing that ought to be shut down. And yet shutting it down is the only way you could stop strangers from downloading copyright material through your shared connection.

So the three-strikes idea comes down, in part, to this: whether the UK government really wants to scupper BT's attempts to provide "Wifi for everyone", as it puts it, to keep a few lazy media companies quiet for a while - until they realise that plan 'C' has failed too.

Embarrassed by DRM

Here's a telling comment:

The point behind all this is, of course, to conceal the very existence of DRM from the user – Microsoft is so keen on this that it won't use the term itself at all. The vast majority of iTunes users have no idea their content is being "protected" through Apple's FairPlay DRM, and while a vocal minority seem to be driving the music world away from DRM'd music, it's hard to imagine Hollywood (or Bollywood) being so keen on sharing their labours.

Ergo, we need to shout about the presence of DRM from the rooftops: the more people know about it, the more they will dislike it, as Microsoft well understands....

Google's New Open Source Blog

On Open Enterprise blog.

12 February 2008

Opening the Mirror

Der Spiegel is the greatest news magazine in the world, bar none. It makes The Economist look superficial, and yet constantly surprises with the range of its coverage.

A little while back, writing about Focus, its main rival - although that's really too strong a word, good though Focus is - and the fact that the latter was providing free access to its archive, I made the wish that Der Spiegel would follow suit.

Apparently, it has. It's called Spiegel Wissen, and I may be some time....

Must Do Better, BECTA

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Thin End of the Software Patents Wedge

On Open Enterprise blog.

A New Star in the UK Open Source Blogosphere

On Open Enterprise blog.

Next Up for Enterprise Open Source: Nexenta?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Alfresco's Open Source Barometer

On Open Enterprise blog.

Three Strikes and the Media Industry is Out

So the music and film industries want to follow Sarko's daft plan:

People who illegally download films and music will be cut off from the internet under new legislative proposals to be unveiled next week.

Internet service providers (ISPs) will be legally required to take action against users who access pirated material, The Times has learnt.

Users suspected of wrongly downloading films or music will receive a warning e-mail for the first offence, a suspension for the second infringement and the termination of their internet contract if caught a third time, under the most likely option to emerge from discussions about the new law.

Broadband companies who fail to enforce the “three-strikes” regime would be prosecuted and suspected customers’ details could be made available to the courts. The Government has yet to decide if information on offenders should be shared between ISPs.

Well, if they want three strikes and out, try these for size:

Strike One

The music and then film industries failed to recognise that digital downloads were the future. Instead of embracing this incredibly efficient way of distributing content, the industries have fought it tooth and nail. Since there was no legal way to download materials, users were forced to turn to alternative sources.

Strike Two

When it became blindingly obvious that users wanted digital files, the media industry eventually provided them - in the hideously hobbled form of DRM'd formats. Which meant, once more, that people who wanted content that they could use on all their computers and players were forced to turn to other sources.

Strike Three

The present move. Leaving aside the civil liberties angle - the fact that ISPs become the media industries' spies - and that the UK government proposes propping up a dying business model for no other reason than the said industries demand it, even when there is evidence that sharing music *increases* sales of media - it won't work. The instant this becomes law, the number of sites offering encrypted downloads, which are impossible to check in transit, will mushroom, just as decentralised P2P systems sprang up once Napster was nobbled.

The upside is that average user will probably start using encrypting routinely, thus putting the kibosh on Echelon's easy access to everyone's Internet traffic.

Update: Moreover:

UK government proposals to make ISPs take action against the estimated six million users who access pirated online material every year could prompt an explosion in Wi-Fi hijacking, experts warned today.

Microsoft Cunctator

Here's a classic example of how Microsoft plays the delaying game:

Microsoft’s rival Sun Microsystems had complained to the Commission that the US software giant would not grant it data needed to ensure that Windows was interoperable.

“Microsoft’s defence was that the information was covered by intellectual property rights,” Hellstrom said. “This argument was never used when Sun asked for the information. It was only used in the eleventh hour. Microsoft showed one patent a day before we adopted our decision [in 2004].”

One day before: obviously hoping to throw yet another spanner in the regulatory works.


I wrote recently about the wonderful WikipediaVision: be warned, if you thought that was good, you'll love Flickrvision too - and have even less time left to do useful things in your life.... (Via Commonsblog.)

Free Thinking

I have been accused of being "sniffy" about Kevin Kelly's meditation on eight new scarcities created by free; well, be that as it may. However, I was much more impressed by an earlier essay, pointed out by Chris Anderson, called "Technology Wants to be Free", which seems much meatier to me. It contains lots of concrete examples of how the cost of commodities inevitably tend to zero, and concludes with this important thought:

The odd thing about free technology is that the “free as in beer” part is actually a distraction. As I have argued elsewhere (see my 2002 New York Times Magazine article on the future of music for example) the great attraction of “free” music is only partially that it does not cost anything. The chief importance of free music (and other free things) is held in the second English meaning of the word: free as in “freedom.” Free music is more than piracy because the freedom in the free digital downloads suddenly allowed music lovers to do all kinds of things with this music that they had longed to do but were unable to do before things were “free.” The “free” in digital music meant the audience could unbundled it from albums, sample it, create their own playlists, embed it, share it with love, bend it, graph it in colors, twist it, mash it, carry it, squeeze it, and enliven it with new ideas. The free-ization made it liquid and ‘free” to interact with other media. In the context of this freedom, the questionable legality of its free-ness was secondary. It didn’t really matter because music had been liberated by the free, almost made into a new media.

11 February 2008

Catalonian Androids

Google's Android makes its debut in Barcelona:

The first mobile phones fitted with Google's Android software platform made their debut at an industry trade show on Monday, a key advance in the struggle to bring the power of desktop computing to handsets.

But the most interesting part of this report was the following:

Although the technology on display Monday is in prototype form, experts and journalists were so eager to witness its demonstration that all places for private displays were booked out on Monday within the first hour of the show.

Well, there's clearly some pent-up demand *there*.

DAB Dying?

It might seem strange that an avowed lover of high-tech and music should not have a DAB radio: but so it is with me. In part, it's because DAB in the UK seems to be worse than FM (at least that's what Jack Schofield says, and his argument looks pretty reasonable).

But it's also been from a gut feeling that this is the wrong way to go. It looks like I'm not alone:

In a sign of crisis for digital radio, UK commercial radio leader GCap will, as expected, sell its 67 percent stake in the DigitalOne DAB multiplex


”We believe that broadband is the ideal complementary platform to analogue radio given the interactivity that they both provide, creating social networks and communities on-air and online.”

I suppose what I'm looking towards is a radio with built-in Wifi to pick up radio-over-IP signals sent out by one of my computers. One reason for that is the extremely high quality of music online these days: BBC Radio 3, for example, is broadcast at 64 kps, which is pretty much CD quality in a domestic setting. Who needs DAB?

XML People: Tim B on TimBL

Here's a rather wonderful document by Tim Bray, one of the key people in the XML world, and someone who evidently knows everyone else there:

XML is ten years old today. It feels like yesterday, or a lifetime. I wrote this that year (1998). It’s really long.

It's also really good for its witty pen portraits of XML notables. Here's a sample: Tim B on TimBL:

TimBL is thin, pale, and twitchy, a well-bred British baby-boomer who circumlocutes and temporizes and gets to the point slowly. Englishly, he deplores confrontation and can find a way to paint any blood-feud in the colours of unfortunate misunderstanding. His publications suggest strong idealism, an overriding vision of the future of information space. His detractors say he’s a good second-rate programmer who was at the right place at the right time and got lucky. The McArthur foundation says he’s a genius. I can’t figure out what he’s getting at half the time, or why he does things, but I’ve known a couple of real geniuses and that’s not necessarily a symptom.

However, I take exception to that idea of TimBL being "a good second-rate programmer who was at the right place at the right time and got lucky." Not so much because it's insulting Sir Tim, but because I think it misses the point entirely. Like RMS's, TimBL's greatest contribution is not actually technical: it is ethical.

Had he not put his code into the public domain - after briefly flirting with the idea of licensing it under the GNU GPL - the Web would not have become the greatest invention of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is for his inspired altruism that we salute Sir Tim - not for anything so trivial as a markup language.

OOoCon in China?

The OpenOffice.org Conference (OOoCon) is an

annual gathering is where representatives of all the community projects meet to celebrate and learn from the achievements of the past twelve months, and discuss how to meet the challenges of the next twelve.

Hardly stuff to get excited about, you might think, but apparently not:

I was only 50% out yesterday when I expected four bids to host the OpenOffice.org Annual Conference this year (OOoCon 2008). It’s felt like every time I looked in my inbox today, there was another entry waiting. With an hour to go before the final deadline of midnight UTC, I’m heading off to bed with a total of six bids received:

* Amsterdam, The Netherlands
* Beijing, China
* Bratislava, Slovakia
* Budapest, Hungary
* Dundalk, Ireland
* Orvieto, Italy

Spot the odd one out. The appearance of Beijing is particularly interesting, because it's still not really clear how well open source is doing in China. Maybe this is a hint that there's more interest than you might think.

10 February 2008

Asus Eeek PC?

I'm a big fan of the Asus Eee PC, but it seems that someone was a smidge careless with the software that runs by default:

Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to root.

08 February 2008

EU to Clobber MS Over OOXML Vote - Allegedly

There's a story zooming around the blogosphere that the EU smells something rotten in the state of Denmark - or rather in a few countries - where the committees voting on OOXML ballooned suddenly with pro-Microsoft people.

What's annoying is that there's been no official confirmation of the story, and the original source, the Wall Street Journal, has a paywall, so you can't find out the details.

Not exactly very open.

Saving Limbu from Linguistic Limbo

There's a fair amount of acrimony flying around the OLPC XO machine at the moment, which is a pity. Because the real story is stuff like this old but still important post that I came across recently:

The development team at OLPC Nepal have been working hard on developing various learning activities for children using the XO. A significant area in which they have been making progress has been in creating activities to help children learn their local dialect.

The first dialect to be setup for use on the XO is Limbu. This is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by more than 300,000 people in eastern Nepal as well as parts of Myanmar, Bhutan and India.

This is a really exciting development and is a positive counter to concerns that the OLPC project will only serve to homogenise indigenous cultures. In fact, the project may aid the long term preservation and viability of minority dialects and culture which are no longer part of the curriculum in the traditional school teaching models.

I always was a sucker for those Tibeto-Burman languages....

Top 50 Open Source Alternatives

Top n lists are two-a-penny in the world of computing, and collections of open source alternatives to proprietary are pretty common. This one has the virtue of offering a paragraph on each, so you have a better chance of deciding if something's worth following up.

The same site has some other lists that may be of interest: Top 25 GNU/Linux Games, and an intriguing list of "brave" hosting companies that won't (it is claimed) dump you when the going gets a smidge tough.

DRM For Libraries?

This is a very bad precedent:

the BPL [Boston Public Library] has launched a new service powered by a company called OverDrive. The system gives BPL patrons access to books, music, and movies online -- but only if they use a Microsoft DRM system.

There are lots of problems with the introduction of this system: it bars access to users of GNU/Linux and MacOS and creates a dependence on a single technology vendor for access. These are important issues, certainly. The worst problem, however, is much more fundamental.

By adopting a DRM system for library content, the BPL is giving OverDrive, copyright holders, and Microsoft the ability to decide what, when, and how its patrons can and cannot read, listen, and watch these parts of the BPL collection. They are giving these companies veto power over the BPL's own ability to access this data -- both now and in the future. Cryptographically, BPL is quite literally handing over the keys to their collection. In the process, they are not only providing a disservice to their patrons. They are providing a disservice to themselves.

Libraries should be about opening people's minds, not closing off their collections.

07 February 2008

Time to Get Incensed about the 2011 Census?

US authorities will not be able to see data covering all UK households even if a US defence giant wins the contract to run the 2011 census, a minister says.

The US Patriot Act allows personal data held by companies in the US to be made available to intelligence agencies.

But Treasury Minister Angela Eagle told MPs the government had received legal assurances this would not happen if Lockheed Martin wins the census bid.

Oh, that's alright then - if they really gave "legal assurances".

The fact the US telecom companies have been spying on US citizens illegally because they were told to do so by the US government doesn't have any bearing here, does it? I mean, if Lockheed Martin were *ordered* by the US government to hand over all the census data, they'd just refuse, wouldn't they? They'd have to: after all, they have given those legal assurances.

And if by any chance you were still a teensy-weensy bit nervous about the security of all that intimate information about yourself and your family - because, well, you know, the UK government has had one or two little mishaps with data recently - Angela Eagle has some reassuring words:

she was "pretty confident" there would be robust safeguards on the security of data.

Update: ORG's Becky Hogge points out a useful site called Census Alert that tells you what you can do to thwart this gross insult to the national intelligence.

No Download iPlayer for GNU/Linux in 2008

The BBC will launch a download version of its iPlayer online video service for Apple Mac users by the end of 2008.

But no mention of GNU/Linux obviously means we won't be seeing one this year....

And somebody should tell Mark Thompson about platform-independent technologies:

He wrote: "Were we to choose to not develop any systems or services until they could be received by every single individual licence-fee payer, our capacity for development and innovation - in the interest of serving those who fund our services - would be severely limited."

Welcome to the Spectrum Commons

Dana Blankenhorn gets it:

When the history of this era is written, it will be seen that one of the biggest bi-partisan mistakes was to treat spectrum as property rather than a commons.

Billions have been earned off the spectrum, first by the government, then by those who won the auctions. But the spectrum has been under-utilized and it has been over-priced.

Open Source Airbus

I always knew that that the A380 Airbus was cool:

An Airbus aircraft has a working life of up to 30 years. On-board hardware and software needs to be maintained, updated and adapted to new specifications for the same amount of time. However, 30 years is an eternity in the short-lived software industry. Which software vendor can nowadays guarantee that their tools will still be usable and meet all the relevant requirements in 2030? And the production path from system specifications to tested control programs and the hardware to run them on requires many tools.

Led by aircraft manufacturer Airbus, several companies located in the French Aerospace Valley close to Toulouse have, therefore, formed a consortium and initiated the TOPCASED Open Source project to create the necessary system development tools. TOPCASED is an acronym for Toolkit in Open source for Critical Applications & Systems Development.

OpenID - and Openness - Is Winning

I am very happy to be able to say that Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo are joining the OpenID Foundation (on whose board I sit.) It marks the end of a lot of hard work by all parties involved, as well as -- at least for me personally -- the hope that we will be able to get a decentralized federated single sign-on technology across the internet.

Nearly there....

Australia: The New Commons Hero

One of the surprising - and heartening - recent developments in the environmental world has been the transformation of Australia into a real commons hero. Not just in terms of signing the Kyoto Protocol, but also in taking a very active part in revealing the reality of the scandalously callous and egotistical behaviour of the Japanese whalers.

The latest result of this new position is a truly shocking video that shows the death-throes of two Minke whales, almost certainly a mother and her calf. Be warned: this is literally revolting in its capture of the slow suffering inflicted by the Japanese.

But appalling as it is, it is a valuable document in the fight against this totally senseless slaughter and the Japanese government's cynical portrayal of such butchery as "science". The Australian government and people should be proud of their work in attempting to defend this fragile commons. (Via The Times.)

Copyright Laws: What a Load of Rubbish


If you came across a trash can filled with lawfully made compact discs and DVDs that the copyright owner had authorized to be put in that trash can and then thrown away because it didn’t want to pay the postage to have them returned, do you think you could be criminally prosecuted for selling those copies, and would you think that the copyright owners would be entitled to restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act? If you answered no to these questions, you would be wrong according to the Eighth Circuit.

Open Enterprise Interview: Javier Soltero

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 February 2008

Is Dead Code Worth Open Sourcing?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Running the Internet - All of It - on GNU/Linux

Everyone knows that Google uses hundreds of thousands of commodity PCs running GNU/Linux to power its services. Well, IBM wants to go one further: running everything - the entire Internet, for example - on an Blue Gene/P supercomputer running GNU/Linux:

In this paper we described the vision and exploration of Project Kittyhawk, an ongoing effort at IBM Research which explores the construction of a next-generation compute platform capable of simultaneously hosting many web-scale workloads. At scales of potentially millions of connected computers, efficient provisioning, powering, cooling, and management are paramount.


To test our hypothesis, we are prototyping a stack consisting of a network-enabled firmware layer to bootstrap nodes, the L4 hypervisor for partitioning and security enforcement, Linux as a standard operating system, and an efficient software pack-
aging and provisioning system. An important aspect is that while these building blocks allow us to run a large variety of standard workloads, none of these components are required and therefore can be replaced as necessary to accommodate many diverse workloads. This flexibility, efficiency, and unprecedented scale makes Blue Gene a powerhouse for running computation at Internet scale.

(Via The Reg.)

Dissing OOXML

On Open Enterprise blog.

Michael Geist on a Misleading Microsoft

The Hill Times this week includes an astonishingly misleading and factually incorrect article on Canadian copyright written by Microsoft.

So says Canadian Copyright Crusader Michael Geist.

Why is that interesting? Because it shows that Microsoft regards copyright as within its purview. Which also indicates why people in the open source world need to stand up for copyright rights around the world: it's all connected.

I've Got a Little Brown(Book)

On Open Enterprise blog.

UN University Launches OpenCourseWare

It seems a no-brainer that the United Nations University (yes, it exists) should make available its courses for the world and her dog to use - and now it has:

The United Nations University OpenCourseWare Portal makes course material used by the university's Research & Training Centres and Programmes available on the web free of charge to anyone. With the opening of the site, the UNU joins a select group of over one hundred leading universities from around the world committed to supporting the growth of free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials.

Initially the UNU OpenCourseWare Portal offers open access to about a dozen courses developed by three of the university's centres (in Canada, Macao, and the Netherlands) and the Tokyo-based UNU Media Studio. Expressing his support for this initiative, UNU Rector Konrad Osterwalder said, "This signifies our commitment to broadening access to high-quality educational materials and will contribute to the United Nations University's core mission, which seeks to further the generation and sharing of knowledge in order to strengthen individual and institutional capacities to resolve pressing global problems."

The topics currently covered include e-governance, economic development and innovation, mangrove biodiversity and integrated watershed management. More courses are in production and in 2008, additional UNU units will participate in this initiative which promotes open sharing and global benefits for self-learners and educators.

Ah, yes, mangroves. (Via Open Access News.)

The Most Important Fish You've Never Heard Of

The Menhaden:

The only remaining significant checks on the phytoplankton that cause algal blooms and dead zones are those menhaden schools, and they are now threatened by the ravages of unrestrained industrial fishing. By the end of the twentieth century, the population and range of Atlantic menhaden had virtually collapsed. The estimated number of sexually mature adult fish had crashed to less than 13 percent of what it had been four decades earlier. Although northern New England had once been the scene of the largest menhaden fishery, adult fish had not been sighted north of Cape Cod since 1993.

Marine biologist Sara Gottlieb, author of a groundbreaking study on menhaden's filtering capability, compares their role with the human liver's: "Just as your body needs its liver to filter out toxins, ecosystems also need those natural filters." Overfishing menhaden, she says, "is just like removing your liver."

If a healthy person needs a fully functioning liver, consider someone whose body is subjected to unusual amounts of toxins -- just like our Atlantic and Gulf coasts. If menhaden are the liver of these waters, should we continue to allow huge chunks to be cut out each year, cooked into industrial oils, and ground up to be fed to chickens, pigs, and pets? Menhaden have managed to survive centuries of relentless natural and human predation. But now there are ominous signs that we may have pushed our most important fish to the brink of an ecological catastrophe.

Menhaden are therefore a commons - something owned by all, and in this case, needed by all. Just for a change, human greed is destroying that commons. And once again, there will be a heavy price to pay.

Submarines Ahoy

I've not been following the details of the US Patent Reform Act, but this sounds worrying:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the Patent Reform Act of 2007, but the group does worry that the law in its present state could reform the EFF's Patent Busting Project right out of existence.

The EFF has sent a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) outlining its problems with the Patent Reform Act (the bill has already passed the House). Under the bill's current language, patents will be subject to a post-grant review process, but the current reexamination system would be scrapped.

The post-grant review system would allow nonprofits like the EFF to challenge bum patents for only 12 months after they are issued. In the EFF's view, this isn't nearly enough time to become aware of dodgy patents and the impact they will have on the tech community at large. The group would prefer to retain the current reexamination system and simply add post-grant review to the process.

In particular, this would seem to encourage "submarine patents" - those which aren't used for a while, and then sprung on an unsuspecting world. By which time, of course, it would be too late to challenge.

As the EFF points out:

The public has a right to defend itself against patents that should never have been granted, and organizations like EFF exist to assist in this process. Reexamination proceedings are essential for us to continue this work.

05 February 2008

The Free University

You mean....they don't do this now?


* An institution to address the needs of the knowledge society
* Universities as the intellectual, cultural, and innovative infrastructure of society
* Like public roads & parks, their product should be free

The Free University

* Open access to research publications & proceedings
* Open access to research data
* Open educational resources
* Free & open source software
* Open access to library holdings
* Open standards & file formats
* Socially responsible patent policies

Approving the AGPL: Funambol to the Rescue

On Open Enterprise blog.

Of Sharing and Salience

Here's an elegant meditation on the past, present and future of media production, written by Mark Pesce, one of the pioneers of VRML. This section on sharing (naturally) caught my attention:

In order to illustrate the transformation that has completely overtaken us, let’s consider a hypothetical fifteen year-old boy, home after a day at school. He is multi-tasking: texting his friends, posting messages on Bebo, chatting away on IM, surfing the web, doing a bit of homework, and probably taking in some entertainment. That might be coming from a television, somewhere in the background, or it might be coming from the Web browser right in front of him. (Actually, it’s probably both simultaneously.) This teenager has a limited suite of selections available on the telly – even with satellite or cable, there won’t be more than a few hundred choices on offer, and he’s probably settled for something that, while not incredibly satisfying, is good enough to play in the background.

Meanwhile, on his laptop, he’s viewing a whole series of YouTube videos that he’s received from his friends; they’ve found these videos in their own wanderings, and immediately forwarded them along, knowing that he’ll enjoy them. He views them, and laughs, he forwards them along to other friends, who will laugh, and forward them along to other friends, and so on. Sharing is an essential quality of all of the media this fifteen year-old has ever known. In his eyes, if it can’t be shared, a piece of media loses most of its value. If it can’t be forwarded along, it’s broken.

Pesce then introduces what I think will become a key concept in this space, that of "salience":

All the marketing dollars in the world can foster some brand awareness, but no amount of money will inspire that fifteen year old to forward something along – because his social standing hangs in the balance. If he passes along something lame, he’ll lose social standing with his peers. This factors into every decision he makes, from the brand of runners he wears, to the television series he chooses to watch. Because of the hyperabundance of media – something he takes as a given, not as an incredibly recent development – all of his media decisions are weighed against the values and tastes of his social network, rather than against a scarcity of choices.

This means that the true value of media in the 21st century is entirely personal, and based upon the salience, that is, the importance, of that media to the individual and that individual’s social network.

Highly recommended (Via P2P Foundation.)