31 October 2008

Bilski: Almost the Big One

Those with good memories will recall a short post I wrote back in February about a case, generally known as “Bilski”, that was going before the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC). It was important, because it asked the court to rule on the patentability of business methods – something that, like software patents, have blossomed to absurd levels in the US. The judgment came through yesterday, and it's pretty good news for those who would like to see some sanity in this area. Here's what well-regarded the patent law blog PatentlyO wrote....

On Open Enterprise blog.

30 October 2008

Open Enterprise Interview: Dirk Morris, Untangle

One of the reasons the open source development methodology is so powerful is because of the modularisation that lies at its heart. This allows those with a particular expertise to work on the module they are best able to improve, and for all such modules to be slotted together thanks to the clean interfaces between them. And at a higher level, the open source world is made up of many independent projects – unlike the world of Windows, say, where the ecosystem revolves around and is dependent on Microsoft's strategic decisions to a high degree - each able to proceed at a speed and in a direction that suits them best....

On Open Enterprise blog.

29 October 2008

A Big Day for Fans of Archimedes

At 2pm on October 29th, 2008, ten years after the Archimedes Palimpsest was purchased by the present owner, the core data generated by the project to conserve, image and study the manuscript, will be released on the web. This will be the electronic product that Reviel Netz looked forward to, several years ago. Conceptually speaking, what we wanted to create then was a digital version of the Archimedes Palimpsest – and one that revealed the unique ancient texts in the manuscript that were scraped off and overwritten with a prayer book by Johannes Myronas in 1229AD.

That's the good news. The even better news is this:

1 Rights and Conditions of Use

The Archimedes Palimpsest data is released with license for use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights. It is requested that copies of any published articles based on the information in this data set be sent to The Curator of Manuscripts, The Walters Art Museum, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore MD 21201.

That's pretty incredible, and simply would not have been possible a few decades ago. Particular kudos goes to the present owner of the manuscript for making it available; for Larry Lessig and others for coming up with the Creative Commons licences; and for RMS for starting everything with his crazy GNU project.

Give a Convicted Monopolist Enough Rope...

... it will hang you.

Maybe there's some kind of lesson here.

Uncle Brucie Frightens Me


Measures such as ID cards are a temporary measure before biometric technology becomes ubiquitous; That was the warning from security guru Bruce Schneier this week who claims that surveillance technology will get more sophisticated and, more importantly, smaller and harder to detect. "We live in a very unique time in our society. The cameras are everywhere and you can still see them," said Schneier, BT's chief security technology officer. "Five years ago they weren't everywhere, five years from now you are not going to see them."


Biometric technologies such as face recognition, or systems based on a particular type of mobile phone owned or even clothes, may also be used for identity checks. The increase in background ID checks means that the current debate around national ID cards in the UK is only a short-term issue, according to Schneier. "I know there are debates on ID cards everywhere but in a lot of ways, they are only very temporary. They are only a temporary solution till biometrics takes over," he said.

Eventually, even airports won't actually require people to show ID, as the checks will just happen in the background while you queue for check-in or move through the terminal. "When you walk into the airport they will know who you are. You won't have to show an ID – why bother? They can process you quicker," he said.

Jackboot Jacqui Strikes Again

Our dear Home Secretary decides to ignore what we proles think again:

His warning follows an admission yesterday by Jacqui Smith that the technical work on creating a giant centralised database of all email, text, phone and web traffic will go ahead, despite the fact that ministers have decided to delay the legislation needed to set it up and instead put the proposal out to consultation.

Democracy? I've heard of it.

Tim O'Reilly's Greatest Post

I don't always agree with Tim O'Reilly's views, but it seems clear to me that this is his best, and potentially most important post even though - or maybe because - it's about politics, rather than technology:

for those concerned about climate change, the most urgent case for the election of Barack Obama was made by John McCain. Despite being an early and thoughtful advocate on the threat of global warming, he lost all credibility with his selection of Governor Palin as his running mate. We can not afford to take the risk of a Vice-President (especially for a candidate as old as McCain) who is scornful of science, denies human involvement in creating climate change, and is completely unprepared to tackle this most urgent of problems.

Let's hope America is listening to him and all the others saying much the same. If they don't, this planet is in very serious trouble indeed.

Que la Bête Meure

The National Health Service's £12.7 billion computer system is in doubt after its managers acknowledged that there will be further delays.

Connecting for Health, the NHS agency responsible for the world's biggest civil IT project, said it didn't have a clue when hospitals in England will start using the software that is required to keep track of patients' medical files.

Come on, put the beast out of its misery.

Cloud Computing Dispels the Fog of FUD

One of the anomalies of the currently-fashionable cloud computing is that people tend not to talk about the underlying operating system – presumably because they tend to think the cloud *is* the operating system. The fact is that both of the main cloud computing systems – from Amazon and Google – have been running on GNU/Linux. In other words, not only is open source running vast swathes of the Internet, but now it's holding up nearly all the clouds, too....

On Open Enterprise blog.

28 October 2008

La Bell'Italia

Italy is famous for its glorious art, fine food, and friendly people; maybe we should add “enlightened uptake of open source” to that list. Here are two more data points....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Haapy Birthday PLoS

The Public Library of Science did not invent open access, but there's no doubt it took it to the next level:

On the 13th of October in 2003, with the first issue of PLoS Biology, the Public Library of Science realized its transformation from a grassroots organization of scientists to a publisher. Our fledgling website received over a million hits within its first hour, and major international newspapers and news outlets ran stories about the journal, about science communication in general, and about our founders—working scientists who had the temerity to take on the traditional publishing world and who pledged to lead a revolution in scholarly communication (see, for example, [1,2]). It was not only scientists and publishers who wanted to see what this upstart start-up was doing; we had somehow captured the imagination of all sections of society. Not all of the reactions were positive, of course, especially from those in the scientific publishing sector with a vested interest in maintaining the subscription-based system of journal publishing. But thanks in no small part to the efforts of the founders—Pat Brown, Mike Eisen, and Harold Varmus—and an editorial team that included a former editor of Cell and several from Nature, our call for scientists to join the open-access revolution [3,4] did not go unheeded. Five years on, the publishing landscape has changed radically.

But what about the future?

The next challenge—for PLoS Biology, for PLoS and for all open-access publishers—is to demonstrate the utility of open access in advancing science beyond what can be gained from just making the information publicly available to read. The biggest misconception about open access is that it's only about putting online what was in print and removing any toll for access. It's not: it's about having the freedom to reuse that material without restriction [11]. Open-access publishing is therefore a crucial catalyst for a genuine shift in the way we use and mine the literature and integrate it with databases and other means of scientific communication. We are only just beginning to see the start of these: in video-based initiatives such as SciVee (Table 1); in knowledge discovery platforms such as Knewco, OSCAR, and the NeuroCommons (Table 1); with the increasing use of blogging in discourse about scientific research (see, for example, http://researchblogging.org/); and in the emergence of wiki projects in community-based knowledge curation [13,14].

I can't wait. Here's to the next five years.

27 October 2008

Linus Up Close and Personal

Here's a brace of videos from the recent Linux Kernel Summit. Human nature being what it is, most interest will probably focus on the interview with Linus.

Truth to tell, there's nothing really dramatic there, but the video's definitely of interest because it's one of the highest quality offerings I've seen: if you've ever wondered what Linus *really* looks and sounds like, this is your chance.

The EPO's Reductio ad Absurdum

I've written a lot about the danger that software patents pose to open source. The problem is that intellectual monopolies like patents are fundamentally incompatible with the idea of unfettered exchange of ideas, and the possibility that software patents might be strengthened within the European Union is a serious concern....

On Open Enterprise blog.

More on Labour's Data Delusion

And so it goes on:

Every police force in the UK is to be equipped with mobile fingerprint scanners - handheld devices that allow police to carry out identity checks on people in the street.

The new technology, which ultimately may be able to receive pictures of suspects, is likely to be in widespread use within 18 months. Tens of thousands of sets - as compact as BlackBerry smartphones - are expected to be distributed.

The police claim the scheme, called Project Midas, will transform the speed of criminal investigations. A similar, heavier machine has been tested during limited trials with motorway patrols.

To address fears about mass surveillance and random searches, the police insist fingerprints taken by the scanners will not be stored or added to databases.

Yeah, pull the other one. The point is, given the current government's mentality that more is better, it is inevitable that these prints will be added. The irony is, this will actually make the system *less* useful.

To see why, consider what happens if there is a 1 in 100,000,000 chance of false positives using these new units. Suppose there are 1,000,000 fingerprints on the database: that means after 100 checks, there is likely to be a false match - bad enough. But now consider what happens when all these other fingerprints, obtained at random, are added, and the database increases to 10,000,000: a false positive will be obtained after every *10* checks on average. In other words, the more prints there are on the database, the worse the false positive rate becomes because of the unavoidable errors in biometrics.

This back of the envelope calculation also shows the way forward for biometric checks - of all kinds, since they are all subject to the same scaling problem. The government should aim to *reduce* the number of files it holds, but ensure that they are the ones that they are most interested in/concerned about. In other words, try to cut the database down to 100,000, say, but make sure they are *right* 100,000, not just random members of the public.

It's clear that the reason for Labour's data delusion is that it doesn't understood the technology that it is seeking to apply. In particular, it doesn't understand that the error rate sets a limit on the useful size of such databases. Super-duper databases are simply super stupid.

Hooray! The Wicked e-Voting Witch is Dead...

For the moment, at least:

Secretary of State for Justice Michael Wills was asked if the government planned to introduce e-voting before the local and European elections in 2009. He said last week: "The Government do not plan to introduce e-voting for the 2009 European or local elections ... The Government have no plans for further e-voting pilots in statutory elections at this stage."

AMQP's Long Spoon

Here's Red Hat blowing the trumpet for the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol, or rather for its latest supporter....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Facebook Approach to Open Source

Here's an interesting sign of the times. Facebook is opening up a big wodge of code....

On Open Enterprise blog.

25 October 2008

Libelling Larry Lessig

Wow, outrageous:

Although it is unclear at this point who Senators Obama and McCain might choose, AAP believes it essential that key officials who will deal with intellectual property issues in a new administration have a full understanding of the importance of intellectual property rights for those who hold these rights and for broader U.S. economic and trade interests. AAP is concerned, for example, that based on their past academic relationship, Senator Obama might choose among his appointments a divisive figure such as Larry Lessig - a law professor and leading proponent of diminished copyright rights.

Lessig has done more for *extending* the usefulness of copyright than anyone. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) are simply beneath contempt. (Via Arbeit 2.0.)

24 October 2008

Verified by Visa - As Valueless

I, too, have noticed the insidious spread of Verified by Visa (VbyV), and thought it looked well dodgy, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Here's the problem:

Once obtained by fraudsters, either by direct phishing attack or through other more subtle forms of social engineering trickery, VbyV login credentials make it easier for crooks to make purchases online while simultaneously making it harder for consumers to deny responsibility for a fraudulent transaction.

The easiest way will be for a compromised site to push you to a false login and obtain your magic password. You won't be able to prove it, of course, and so the danger is that you will end up the bill for fraud.

This is a disaster waiting to happen, and lots of people are going to get burned if we don't manage to get some sense into the banks soon. The only way to do that is to get the story out - please pass it on.... (Via Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog.)

Microsoft's Future

This is something that I predicted would happen:

The company's Windows client business grew by half its anticipated target - two percent instead of four compared to last year. Microsoft said fewer traditional PCs and more netbooks had shipped than expected. Also, revenue from OEMs was down as they shifted to sell cheaper netbooks.

Netbooks running Windows mean growth but relatively low income as they do not run money spinning versions of Windows, like Windows Vista Premium Edition. Microsoft said it was too early to say how much netbooks are cannibalizing traditional sales.

It will be interesting to see how steep the dive is.

Labour's Data Delusion

There is a common misconception in Labour's love of super-duper databases: that more data is better. In fact, as any fule kno, what you want is the right data. Here's a great comment that unpicks that delusion in the context of its insane ContactPoint scheme:

There was no shortage of information about Victoria. There was a chronic lack of wisdom and judgement in interpreting the information that was already available. Victoria’s case demonstrates just how difficult it can be to pick up on abuse. It would be far better to concentrate the limited resources available on retention of experienced child and family practitioners and on thorough investigation of children already known to social services, rather than flooding an over-stretched system with low-level data about every child (up to 50% of the child population) who might need services.

23 October 2008

The Mirror

Wo informieren sich Medienprofis? Dem Branchenblatt "journalist" zufolge vor allem bei SPIEGEL und SPIEGEL ONLINE.

[Where do media professionals get their information? Above all from Der Spiegel and Spiegel Online, according to the industry newspaper "journalist".]

Ja, that mirrors my experience...

Open Source Spaceships?


This is a privately funded suborbital space endeavor.
Our mission is to launch a human being into space.

We are currently developing a series of suborbital space vehicles - designed to pave the way for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft.


We intend to share all our techninal information as much as possible, within the laws of EU-export control.

(Via BoingBoing.)

*All* Russian Schools to Use Free Software

I've often lamented how few schools in the UK use free software, and how difficult it is to break the lock that Microsoft has on the entire educational system. The pathetic state here is highlighted by contrast with Russia, which is making amazing strides in rolling out open source to schools.

It began with a few pilot projects, and apparently these have been so successful that the Russian government has now decided to make it the standard for *all* schools....

On Open Enterprise blog.

22 October 2008

Andrew Keen is Right...

...when he writes:

The hungry and cold unemployed masses aren’t going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some "back end" revenue.

People aren't going to give away intellectual labour in that hope because...that's not why people contribute to Wikipedia, or Linux or any of the thousand other endeavours built around sharing, collaborating and giving.

As studies have shown, if you start paying people to do something that they are doing for the sheer pleasure of doing it, they suddenly lose much of the satisfaction they hitherto derived: people don't *want* to be paid for doing it - but they will want to be paid for doing something that do in order to get paid (aka "work").

And Mr Keen is absolutely spot-on again when he adds:

"Free" doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up.

Indeed not; but it does fill the *heart*, which has its own imperatives quite separate from the undeniable ones of the belly.... (Via Slashdot.)

Investing Out in the Open

As the recent financial fun has shown, investing can soon turn into an ungrounded exercise in fantasy wealth creation based on trickery, deceit and general exploitation of ignorance. Part of the problem is the lack of openness.

So here's an interesting idea from a company called Covestor: investing out in the open.

Covestor is not a bulletin board or fantasy trading game, it's all about actions. Covestor is about real-trades, real people and real results - where you can both build your credibility and see what other real people are doing to achieve their goals. Secondly, it's about helping people make more money by leveraging the hard work that is already being done. Of course, discussion is part of the investment process.

Many of our members also have their own stock blogs and are active on discussion sites. Our role is not to replace that, but to help add trust to what they are saying elsewhere.

Ah yes, trust: that's the glue that holds the opens together; it's also the stuff that, in the financial world, was melted down and sold off like lead from a church roof. Let's hope that Covestor can get its idea to, er, stick. (Via Mark Taylor.)

The True Value of Nothing

How much is GNU/Linux worth? Well, its price is zero, but it's clearly incredibly valuable: what to do? Here's what a new paper from the Linux Foundation did....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why Microsoft Wants Us to Get All Mixed Up

“What's in a name?” some bloke in the sixteenth century once asked. As Microsoft knows, quite a lot. What you call something can have a major influence on how you think about it. So how Microsoft talks about free software is important – not least for the clues that it gives about its latest tactical move to defang the open source threat.

On Linux Journal.

Welcome Back, Old Fruit

The Apricot brand for computers goes back a long way - I was there, unfortunately. Remarkably, it consistently managed to misread the market at just about every turn - from choosing a daft name that was so obviously modelled on Apple's, to the decision to offer only MS-DOS rather than PC-DOS with its PC line ("good enough" we were told at the time), to the hopelessly premature voice-controlled portable system (I'll never forget the sight of Apricot managers shouting, red-faced, into the weird microphone in a desperate attempt to get it to recognise something - anything). And don't even ask about the dancing girls at the launches of their business machines....

Well, Apricot is back with a bang:

Apricot has pulled the plug on its Linux-based netbook, choosing instead to offer the pint-sized Picobook Pro only with Windows XP.


"Apricot will not be selling with Linux variants," a company missive revealed, which suggests it's not merely dropping SuSE for Ubuntu or another netbook-friendly distro.

"Apricot has made this decision to ensure customers have a smooth installation of their operating system," the company told Register Hardware.

"The Linux version proved too complicated with initial testers, who would opt to purchase and install XP any way.

"Apricot believes that this will be a more attractive product offering for their target customers, because as soon as it is switched on, it is ready for use."

Strange, then, that Asus has managed to make GNU/Linux ultraportables that are not only "ready for use" as soon as you switch them on, but extremely easy to use, too; and strange that Asus is so successful with these models. Just a coincidence, presumably.

21 October 2008

Why OpenOffice.org Failed – and What to Do About It

Last week I noted that the release of OpenOffice.org 3.0 seems to mark an important milestone in its adoption, judging at least by the healthy – and continuing – rate of downloads. But in many ways, success teaches us nothing; what is far more revealing is failure....

On Open Enterprise blog.

20 October 2008

Clouds on the Cloud Horizon

Following my post about RMS's doubts about clouds, Stan D. Freeman has kindly pointed me towards the growing kerfuffle over iGoogle's new format in the US, and how everyone is now redefining themselves as Brits (sounds a good move to me).

As Stan points out, this neatly underlines exactly the point that RMS was talking about: once in the cloud, you are in the lap of the gods (or something like that). It seems that Google is forgetting the first rule of Web 2.0: users rule. Why not just let people *choose* what they want? Isn't that supposed to be the way we do things around here?

Under the Aegis of AEGIS

Accessibility rarely figures in the headlines – unless there's some competitive angle, as there was with ODF's supposed lack of accessibility features that Microsoft was quick to trumpet. Against that background, it's good to hear of a thoroughgoing project to improve accessibility, like this one, announced by Sun's Peter Korn....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Real Story Behind GNU/Linux

If the prospect of another week stretching out before you is getting you down, I've got good news. There's a post about GNU/Linux that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It's a real stonker - try this for a start....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Surely Shome Mishtake?

People seem a little confused here:

Please note: this article is password protected and only available for IP-Watch Subscribers.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. All of the news articles and features on Intellectual Property Watch are also subject to a Creative Commons License which makes them available for widescale, free, non-commercial reproduction and translation.

Or maybe they mean the statement that the article is password protected is under a CC licence...

Anyhow, this confusion about intellectual monopolies is highly appropriate, given the subject-matter of the article:

Intellectual property and financial stakeholders, representatives from developing and developed countries, and nongovernmental organisations are in Vienna this week to work on a global guide on how to use intellectual property as collateral in commerce.

Got that? After one of the worst economic crises in recent history, caused by pyramids of non-existent wealth being constructed on totally fictitious financial instruments, they now want to use "intellectual property" as "collateral" in commerce - that is, more totally fictitious financial istruments to create another pyramid of non-existent wealth.

19 October 2008

Madness Begets Madness

This is where the madness of authoritarianism leads:

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.

Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say.

The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details.

This is another reason why the super-duper snooper database is madness: to make it even vaguely workable, the government must try to plug all these loopholes. But plugging one - pay-as-you-go mobiles - only highlights the next. In this case, it's pay-as-you-go mobiles from *abroad*. The logic of the super-duper snooper database means that people will be forced to register every mobile as they come into the UK. But this will simply create a black market for used mobile phones, so then the UK government will have to make *those* illegal. And then people will turn to encrypted VoiP, so that will be made illegal, and so on, and so forth.

Why don't they just implant chips in us at birth at be done with it?

18 October 2008

What is an Open University?

It is:

one in which

1. The research the university produces is open access.

2. The course materials are open educational resources.

3. The university embraces free software and open standards.

4. If the university holds patents, it readily licenses them for free software, essential medicines, and the public good.

5. The university network reflects the open nature of the internet.

where "university" includes all parts of the community: students, faculty, administration.

The Wheeler Declaration.

Why Stella is a Star

That's Stella Rimington, former head of MI5. Her Guardian interview is so packed with good sense that I'll have to quote it at length:

A former head of MI5 today describes the response to the September 11 2001 attacks on the US as a "huge overreaction" and says the invasion of Iraq influenced young men in Britain who turned to terrorism.

In an interview with the Guardian, Stella Rimington calls al-Qaida's attack on the US "another terrorist incident" but not qualitatively different from any others.

"That's not how it struck me. I suppose I'd lived with terrorist events for a good part of my working life and this was as far as I was concerned another one," she says.

In common with Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, who retired as MI5's director general last year, Rimington, who left 12 years ago, has already made it clear she abhorred "war on terror" rhetoric and the government's abandoned plans to hold terrorism suspects for 42 days without charge.

Today, she goes further by criticising politicians including Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, for trying to outbid each other in their opposition to terrorism and making national security a partisan issue.

It all began, she suggests, with September 11. "National security has become much more of a political issue than it ever was in my day," she says. "Parties are tending to use it as a way of trying to get at the other side. You know, 'We're more tough on terrorism than you are.' I think that's a bad move, quite frankly."

Rimington mentions Guantánamo Bay, the practice of extraordinary rendition, and the invasion of Iraq - three issues which the majority in Britain's security and intelligence establishment opposed privately at the time.

She challenges claims, notably made by Tony Blair, that the war in Iraq was not related to the radicalisation of Muslim youth in Britain.

Read it and weep.

17 October 2008

Where China Leads...

...can Jacqui be far behind?

All visitors to internet cafés in Beijing will be required to have their photographs taken in a stringent new control on the public use of cyberspace.


According to the latest rules, by mid-December all internet cafés in the main 14 city districts must install cameras to record the identities of their web surfers, who must by law be 18 or over. There are more than 250 million internet users in China, approximately 10 times more than there were in 2000.


All photographs and scanned identity cards will be entered into a city-wide database run by the Cultural Law Enforcement Taskforce. The details will be available in any internet café.

Well, if it's got a centralised database, Labour's bound to want one to add to its growing collection....

Hoon Mines the Moron Meme

One of Tony Blair's stupider statements was the following:

"The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

Let's call this the Moron Meme: it assumes that people are stupid enough to confuse basic rights to life with others rights to liberty, when in fact they are two quite distinct dimensions. And having made this false comparison, Blair was then able to use false logic to demand a trade-off: if you don't want to be killed by terrorists, then you must give up some/many of your civil liberties.

What this glosses over is the real possibility that you can have *both* by bringing a mature and calm intelligence to bear on the situation, instead of respondingly disproportionately out of abject, unthinking fear ("Terrorists! Terrorists! Everybody panic!")

It was stupid when Blair said it, and it's just as stupid now Geoff Hoon is parroting it:

[Julia Goldsworthy] asked: "How much more control can they have? How far is he prepared to go to undermine civil liberties?"

Mr Hoon interjected: "To stop terrorists killing people in our society, quite a long way actually.

He added: "The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

This exchange contains another extraordinarily stupid statement:

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."

- As if the Internet were some magic pixie dust that, when sprinkled on terrorist activies, makes them murderously efficacious.

And yet today, without those powers, the British secret services seem to be doing a pretty good job at stopping misguided idiots attempting to spread mayhem and murder (not least thanks to the latter's enormous incompetence): seen any good terrorist attacks recently? No, nor me.

The only possible reason for bringing in more snooping powers is because it gives the Government even more control over everything - its current obsession.

What Comes After “Embrace, Extend”?

Here are two small, but significant moves by Microsoft....

On Open Enterprise blog.

What a Difference a Year Can Make

Talking of ultraportables, can it really be just a year that they've been around? Apparently:

ASUS sold over 350,000 Eee PCs in the fourth quarter of 2007 and had sold 1 million by June of 2008. And according to recent reports, the company has now shipped 4 million. That original Eee PC 701 was only the start of ASUS’ plunge into the category and, since then, they have released over 10 netbook models.

And let's remember: those first machines all ran GNU/Linux. Once again, despite Microsoft's prattle about "innovation", it was only later that the Windows world caught up. And only when Microsoft made a huge U-turn and gave Windows XP a new lease of life in the face of the fact that Windows Vista was not just a dog, it was a slow, fat, lazy dog that wouldn't even run properly on ultaportables.

Here's to the next year.

16 October 2008

Ultra-Portables Creep Towards £100

The one thing that's certain about ultraportables is that their price will keep coming down for a while. Here's one step:

Let's get the sub-$300 netbook party started! Pereira just pinged me to share this Best Buy link which shows the white Asus Eee PC 900A available for $299. This is basically the same model as the 900, but the "A" stands for Atom. As in 1.6 GHz Intel Atom. So it still comes with Linux pre-installed on the 4GB SSD drive and includes 1GB of RAM which is more than plenty. My original Eee PC was pretty zippy when running Linux with just half of that.

Indeed; and as the price drops, so the pressure on Microsoft increases....

Microsoft "Innovates" Again - By Copying GNU/Linux

Good to see that Microsoft is trying hard to keep up with free software:

A recent Microsoft survey sent out to select users has us wondering what on Earth the mega-corp is planning to do next, and judging by the looks of things, it has everything to do with Instant On. We've seen a number of these lightning-fast boot applications, with the most recent being ASUS' Splashtop OS and the iteration loaded onto Dell's freshest Latitudes.

How to Save the Amazon Forest by Sharing

The use of technology to monitor deforestation and other problems in the Amazon rainforest is a great idea. This could make it even better:

Canada and Germany are among the only countries that have satellite images from radars that can penetrate clouds.

"If they really want to help the Amazon, they could make their satellite images available," said Lopes.

Sharing this kind of info (a) costs *nothing* to the governments concerned and (b) could give this important project a big boost.

The Forecast Looks Good for OpenOffice.org

OpenOffice.org has always been something a Cinderella in the free software world. Partly this is because it started out as a proprietary program, and partly because it took a while for its code to be sorted out (although the same is true for Mozilla/Firefox). Whatever the reason, it's not had as high a profile as other major open source programs. But that looks like it is about to change, thanks to the interest in the recently released version 3.0....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why We Need More Spam

Jerry Fishenden is not somebody you'd expect me to see eye-to-eye with much:

Jerry Fishenden is Microsoft UK's lead technology advisor, strategist and spokesman. Since being appointed to the role in 2004, Jerry has been responsible for helping to guide Microsoft's vision for how technology can transform the way we learn, live, work and play. He plays a key role in an international team of technology officers who work closely with Craig Mundie, Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer. Jerry's popular blog on issues of technology and policy can be found at http://ntouk.com.

But he's put up an excellent analysis of all that's wrong with the UK Government's proposed super-snooping database that's all-the-stronger for being much more moderate in tone than mine often are:

I remain unconvinced that we should be using technology to progressively build a panopticon here in the UK. Technology has a huge upside that we should be using positively, not allowing its more toxic potential to erode our long cherished liberties.

But what really caught my attention was the following point about weaknesses in the plan:

scale and volume: at Microsoft, last time I looked we were having to deal with some 3 billion spam emails a day through our Hotmail/Windows Live Mail service. Let alone the volume of legitimate emails. The Independent states that about one trillion emails and more than 60 billion text messages will be sent in Britain this year, and that most homes and offices now have a computer, with an estimated 20 million broadband connections. That's a serious volume of data and a serious data centre or data centres we're potentially talking about - let about the analytics then required to make sense of that data.

Yes, of course: what we need to do is *increase* the volume of spam, say, a thousand-fold - easy enough to do if you sign up for a few obviously dodgy Web sites, and reply to a few spam messages with your address. That would be inconvenient for us, but not a problem given the efficiency of spam filters these days (Gmail catches about 99.5% of the spam that I receive). But multiplying the quantity of information that the UK Government's super-snooping database would need to hold by a factor of one thousand would really cause the rivets to pop. And once databases scale up to cope with that, we just turn up the spam volume a little more.

Perhaps the same approach could be applied to Web browsing: you could write an add-in for Firefox that pulls in thousands of random pages from the Internet every day (text only). This, again, would add enormously to the storage requirements of any database, and make finding stuff much harder.

If the UK Government wants to live by technology abuse, then let it die by technology abuse. Alternatively, it might try actually listening to what people like Fishenden and countless other IT experts say about how unworkable this scheme is, and work *with* us rather *against* us on this matter....

15 October 2008

The Elephant in the Library

As I read about the incredible riches of content stored on the Internet, one thing worries me increasingly: who's doing the off-site backups? Too many of the current stores seem to have single points of failure, but nobody's really talking about this serious issue - call it the elephant in the library.

So it's good to hear of new projects that aim to back up content independently of others. Things like HathiTrust:

HathiTrust is a bold idea with big plans.

As a digital repository for the nation’s great research libraries, HathiTrust (pronounced hah-tee) brings together the immense collections of partner institutions.

HathiTrust was conceived as a collaboration of the thirteen universities of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and the University of California system to establish a repository for these universities to archive and share their digitized collections. Partnership is open to all who share this grand vision.

HathiTrust is a solution.

To prospective partners, HathiTrust offers leadership and reliability.

It provides a no-worry, pain-free solution to archiving vast amounts of digital content. You can rely on the expertise of other librarians and information technologists who understand your needs and who will address the issues of servers, storage, migration, and long-term preservation.

Not all of this content will be freely available to all, although that will be the main emphasis - here's the current stats:

2,123,209 volumes
743,123,150 pages
79 terabytes
25 miles
1,725 tons
335,300 volumes (~16% of total)
in the public domain

Still, it's good to have backups for proprietary content too: if in the coming apocalypse it's lost because the primary stores go down permanently, there's no hope of ever opening it up.

And if you were wondering:

What does the name HathiTrust mean?

Hathi (pronounced hah-tee) is the Hindi word for elephant, an animal highly regarded for its memory, wisdom, and strength. Trust is a core value of research libraries and one of their greatest assets. In combination, the words convey the key benefits researchers can expect from a first-of-its-kind shared digital repository.

LSB 4 For Whom?

Remember the Linux Standard Base (LSB)?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Jacqui Wants "Openness"

Jacqui Smith has set out plans to give the police and security services more powers to gather phone and e-mail data.

But wait:

"I want this to be combined with a well-informed debate characterised by openness, rather than mere opinion, by reason and reasonableness," she told the IPPR.

Well, that's alright, then. Except:

"What we will be proposing will be options which follow the key principles which govern all our work in this area - the principles of proportionality and necessity."

What, like ID cards, you mean?

Note, too, that when she says this:

"There are no plans for an enormous database which will contain the content of your emails, the texts that you send or the chats you have on the phone or online."

There is also this:

Plans to collect more data on people's phone, e-mail and web-browsing habits are expected to be included in the Communications Data Bill, due to be introduced in the Queen's Speech in November.

Which, assuming it's correct, means that "web-browsing habits" - IP addresses et al. - *would* be stored, which are potentially even more incriminating that email, texts or chats....

Open Source Business Does Not Scale

At first sight, the findings of The 451 Group’s latest CAOS report, “Open Source is Not a Business Model“ might seem to be terrible news for open source....

On Open Enterprise blog.

14 October 2008

Birth of a Meme: the O(o)pen Web

One of the interesting slogans that the Mozilla Foundation has been pushing a lot recently is the idea of the “open Web”. That's clearly distinct from an *open source* Web, but the latter is more or less predicated on the former, since a Web that isn't open is hardly going to be very welcoming to open code....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Celebrating Open Access (Day)

Open Access is a movement that works for the free online availability of research materials. As one of the best short introductions to the subject explains....

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 October 2008

More Data Losses? Yes, Please....

I’ve been asked to say a few more words about various recent data losses.

These losses are reported to me in various ways: one day a memo from the IT manager, the next a report in the news media, or as happened last week by EDS over dinner at Le Gavroche. In most cases the data is not especially sensitive, being limited to next of kin details, passport and National Insurance numbers, drivers’ licence and bank details, National Health Service numbers, medical records and child protection details.


In each case we have followed established procedure and established enquiries. Each one is an isolated incident. Taken together the picture is that almost all of these leaked details had been leaked already, several times in some cases. Therefore no single leak can be regarded as particularly significant. We have established various call centres for people who wish to take part in consultation and feedback processes.

This kind of wit almost makes me look forward to the next data loss....

Maybe Erik *Will* Deliver...

I have been gently reminding Erik Huggers about his confidence that there would be a GNU/Linux version of iPlayer that included the time-limited stuff by the end of the year. Now here's the first sign that he might deliver:

Today, we are announcing that in partnership with Adobe we are building a platform-neutral download client.

Using Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), we intend to make BBC iPlayer download functionality available on Mac, Linux and Windows for the first time later this year. Whatever platform you use, you'll now be able to download TV programmes from the BBC to watch later - on the train, in the garden, or wherever you like.

Given our obligations to rights-holders and the BBC Trust, these programmes are protected with DRM, but in a way that shouldn't affect your enjoyment of our programmes, whatever platform you've chosen.

I must confess the idea of using the cross-platform AIR crossed my mind too. Given the licensing constraints that the BBC operates under, this is probably the best we can hope for in the circumstances.

Now, if the BBC could please start working on getting rid of DRM when it licenses content in the future....

Symbian's Patently Terrible “Triumph”

Although I've written elsewhere about the recent court case of Symbian v Comptroller General of Patents, noting that it was bad news, I hadn't realised quite how bad the news was until I went through the complete judgment. It's plain that the judges in question, who to their credit tried their level best to understand this mysterious stuff called software, failed to grasp the central issue of what software is. As a result, they have passed down a judgment that is so seriously wrong it will cause a huge amount of damage in the future unless it is revoked by a higher court....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Counterproductive Counter-Terrorism Bill

Excellent in-depth analysis of all that is wrong with this deeply-flawed bill here.

10 October 2008

Sawing Off the Branch on which We Sit

I am a great believer in trees and the commons they form; it seems to me that going beyond preserving them to extend their coverage across the world could help deal with many of the most pressing problems facing mankind: climate change, desertification, water, etc.

It has always struck me as barmy that the contribution that trees make to the planet has not been better quantified; now it has:

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

It puts the annual cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion.

The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

The study, headed by a Deutsche Bank economist, parallels the Stern Review into the economics of climate change.

Think about that, and then think of the continuing destruction of forests around the world - in the Amazon, in Africa, in Indonesia, in Russia. This really is the literal equivalent of sawing off the branch on which the whole of humanity sits....

Ubuntu's Balancing Act

One thing that has always struck me in the free software world is the power of example. Once it emerged that Google ran on GNU/Linux, there could be no more argument about the latter's suitability for the enterprise. Similarly, MySQL's adoption by just about every Web 2.0 company meant that it, too, could no longer be dismissed as underpowered.

I think that the following could mark a similar milestone for the business use of Ubuntu....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Visualising the End of an Era

Good analysis - and don't miss that embedded video:

Twenty world Internet citizens met in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in October of 2008 for a week of reflections on life, love, and the Internet.

The perfect if unintentional nailing of a bunch of narcissistic wallies and their bankrupt "values"....

Those Who Have Nothing to Hide...

Ha! Brilliant:

I’ve been asked to say a few words about the disappearance of a computer hard drive containing the personal details of about 100,000 of the Armed Forces. The information was being held by EDS, which is the Ministry of Defence’s main IT contractor.


I can confirm the disk was not encrypted. We have not[h]ing to hide from whoever stole it, and therefore nothing to fear.

Linus and the Art of the Kernel Release

In case you missed it, something of truly global importance happened last week. No, not the collapse of capitalism as we know it, something much more profound: Linus started a blog. His first post suggested that it won't be of much interest to the enterprise open source world, since it's really a *personal* blog....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Reasons to be Cheerful

As Chris Anderson notes, whatever the other one does, the *gift* economy should do well in these difficult times:

# Gift economy: This is driven primarily by people's "spare cycles" (AKA cognitive surplus) and rising unemployment means more spare cycles, sadly. Obviously people still need to pay the rent, so many of these shared contributions are really just advertisements for the contributor's skills. But other contributions will be idle hands finding work while they look for their next job. As a result I think you'll see a boom in creativity and sharing online as people take matters into their own hands. Today, if you're in-between jobs you can still be productive, and the reputational currency you earn may pay dividends in the form of a better job when the economy recovers. Result: Positive

Sharing ideas is even more fun when everyone has less stuff.

09 October 2008

"I've Never Voted Tory in My Life..."

....but next time I will if this proposal isn’t dropped.

Isn't it interesting how often we're hearing that refrain about ID cards....?

Open Source Schools

I've often lamented the lack of uptake of open source in schools. Here's a site that's trying to do something about it, called, logically enough, Open Source Schools:

The Schools Open Source Project is an initiative to help schools with awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development of Open Source Software (OSS). A number of schools are already realising the benefits of OSS within their ICT strategy. This project will work to share their experiences along with good OSS practice from other sectors with the wider community of educational practitioners, including teachers, decision makers and IT specialists.

(Via SolidOffice.)

Why eBay Should Open-Source Skype

eBay is not going through the happiest of times. Not only has it found it necessary to make 1000 people – 10% of its workforce – redundant, it has had to own up to a serious breach of trust with its Internet telephony program, Skype....

On Linux Journal.

08 October 2008

First, Catch Your "War on Terror"....

Watch this trick:

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was disclosed in July.

First, create a nebulous threat to the nation; call it something grand like, oh, "war on terror". Pass a set of wide-reaching laws that let you do anything to "fight" it. Then, redefine anyone who opposes you as a "terrorist" (after all, you are in favour of the "war on terror"; they are against you; therefore, they are against the "war on terror", and thus against the country). Apply previously created laws to the hilt.

Voilà! No more opposition. (Via Slashdot.)

Oh Irony, Thy Name is Labour

How does the Labour government manage to do it? Just as they let out a few sly leaks about their super-duper cure-everything Interception Modernisation Programme - basically the ultimate in data mining for info against those terribly naughty bad chaps, all for a measly £12 billion because, you know, we're rolling in it, right? - we have, with stunning timing, the following:

The most extensive government report to date on whether terrorists can be identified through data mining has yielded an important conclusion: It doesn't really work.

A National Research Council report, years in the making and scheduled to be released Tuesday, concludes that automated identification of terrorists through data mining or any other mechanism "is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts." Inevitable false positives will result in "ordinary, law-abiding citizens and businesses" being incorrectly flagged as suspects.

The whopping 352-page report, called "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists," amounts to at least a partial repudiation of the Defense Department's controversial data-mining program called Total Information Awareness, which was limited by Congress in 2003.

Let's hope the Nu Poodles ares sufficiently sycophantic to pay attention to what their lords and master in the US say, even if they won't listen to the pleadings from the serfs they rule.

And talking of IT screw-ups from Labour, here's a very timely post from that one-man investigative marvel, Tony Collins:

All governments have unsung IT successes and large failures. But New Labour has had more big government IT-based calamities on general exhibit than any government we can remember, despite earnest attempts to learn lessons.

The Party's record was summed up in November 2004 by the National Audit Office, whose reports are always carefully-worded. It said, "The government has a poor record on delivering successful large IT-based projects and programmes." That perception remains today.

He has this perceptive analysis of why Labour has gone data-mad:

Building a bridge from the US to England may seem a good idea in theory but it is not practical. Yet ministers embarked on the technological equivalent with the NHS's £12.7bn National Programme for IT because nobody they would want to listen to told them it was fanciful.

One reason so many large public sector projects fail is that executives from some IT suppliers regularly propose to government unrealistic but ostensibly credible and beneficial solutions to problems civil servants did not know existed until suppliers explained what could be achieved with new technology.

The tenacity of some suppliers wears down civil servants. Indeed the centralising, self-aggrandising, and self-expanding instincts of bureaucracies play perfectly into the hands of some IT sales teams who understand the "transformational" agendas of successive governments.

Windows XP Ultraportables - Free Virus Included

Yet another reason to buy the GNU/Linux version:

Asus has admitted that some of the its Eee Box desktop mini PCs have shipped with a virus.

But while the company has only admitted the infection was present in machines shipped to Japan, Register Hardware can confirm that other territories may be affected too.

According to an email sent out by Asus, PC Advisor reports, the Eee Box's 80GB hard drive has the recycled.exe virus files hidden in the drive's D: partition. When the drive is opened, the virus activates and attempts to infect the C: drive and an removable drives connected to the system.

According to Symantec, the malware is likely to be the W32/Usbalex worm, which creates an autorun.inf file to trigger recycled.exe from D:.

Bad News on the UK Software Patent Front

Why is there always this Jesuitical casuistry when it comes to software?

We have the following:

what goes on inside a computer can be said to be closer to a mathematical method (which is, of course, not patentable by virtue of art 52(2)(a)) than what goes on inside other machines.

But before that the same judge has said:

It can also be said in favour of Symbian's case that it would be somewhat arbitrary and unfair to discriminate against people who invent programs which improve the performance of computers against those who invent programs which improve the performance of other machines.

Well, no more unfair than not allowing physicists to patent the laws they discover, or the theorems that mathematicians prove. The point is, software is not "closer to a mathematical method", it *is* a mathematical method, or rather a concatenation of them.

All this juridical "on the one hand" and "on the other" in the interests of "balance" does not change this. The current decision is seriously bad news, because it opens the door to even more weaselly patent applications that contort themselves into the magic position to gain the favour of whichever Jesuit is on duty that day.

As a result of which, new software becomes much *harder* and more expensive to write - even to the point of impossibility, if patent thickets get too thick. Hardly what the great and glorious patent system is supposed to do, is it...?

Why Mono and Samba Are Patently Different

Here's a very good question: why are people (including me) nasty to Mono, but nice to Samba?

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Perils of Intellectual Monopolies, Part 6574

Ever drawn a car? Be careful, they might arrest you for copyright infringement:

Keene Valley resident Jerilea Zempel was detained at the U.S. border this summer because she had a drawing of a sport-utility vehicle in her sketchbook.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers told Zempel they suspected her of copyright infringement.

Now, tell me again why you like intellectual monopolies so much?
(Via BoingBoing.)

07 October 2008

Linus Has a Blog???!?

The end of civilisation as we know it is obviously closer than I thought.... (Via DaveM.)

Get Real, People: Get *Real* People

I'm not a big fan of top “n” lists. They generally lack any kind of metric, and end up with bizarre compromise choices. This “Top Agenda Setters 2008”, supposedly about “the top 50 most influential individuals in the worldwide technology and IT industries”, is no exception....

On Open Enterprise blog.

"IBM" Buys "Red Hat", Sort Of....

Well, that gives an idea of the importance of this move for the world of open access:

Open access pioneer BioMed Central has been acquired by Springer, ScientificAmerican.com has learned.


Those in the open access movement had watched BioMed Central with keen interest. Founded in 2000, it was the first for-profit open access publisher and advocates feared that when the company was sold, its approach might change. But Cockerill assured editors that a BMC board of trustees "will continue to safeguard BioMed Central's open access policy in the future." Springer "has been notable...for its willingness to experiment with open access publishing," Cockerill said in a release circulated with the email to editors.

Opening Up ISO's Can of Worms

Nothing shows better what is wrong with the ISO, and why we need to replace it with a new global standards organisation, than the following post....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Nanny Google

Do we really want to go here?

When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?

Whatever next? - "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid can't do that"...?

You Can Bank on It


The ease with which technology allows customers to move their money around by internet or phone has introduced a new financial phenomenon – the "silent run" on a bank.

Within hours, telephone and internet banking customers can remove huge amounts of money from a bank rumoured to be in trouble, without telltale queues, or any other outward sign of the flood of cash.

The shape of things to come.

You Know You're Getting Old When...

...you don't recognise half the things these young chaps are talking about...

On Open Enterprise blog.

Aptly Astounded

Even though it's years since I crawled out of the dark cave of proprietary software, I remain amazed at the unending stream of free apps that are available in the realm of light. This is such a contrast to the world of Windows, which is predicated on the idea that you must buy everything or you can't have it. To be given good stuff, again and again, is an extraordinary blessing of free software that is all-too easy to overlook.

At the heart of that blessing, for me, is APT, which makes getting as easy as asking. It turns out that there are ways of making this generosity even richer, through yet another gift, APTonCD:

Get APT anywhere

Have you ever felt that there is no life without APT? Well, if you'd suddenly lost conection to the internet, how would you install new packages? What about dependencies? You've just finished installing Ubuntu and configured it to a rad look, with all your favorite applications? For some reason you now have to re-install it? Feel like you have to download all of your favorite programs again? What? You've already forgotten which packages you had dowloaded before?

What is APTonCD?

APTonCD is a tool with a graphical interface which allows you to create one or more CDs or DVDs (you choose the type of media) with all of the packages you've downloaded via APT-GET or APTITUDE, creating a removable repository that you can use on other computers.
APTonCD will also allow you to automatically create media with all of your .deb packages located in one especific repository, so that you can install them into your computers without the need for an internet conection.

How fab is that? (Via Μιχάλης Κασάπογλου.)

06 October 2008

Having Lots of Fon

One of the blogs I really enjoy reading is that of Fon's founder, Martin Varsavsky. What I love about his writing is his candour: he clearly writes what he thinks, even if it's slightly painful for others - or himself. I've already noted this interesting comment:

Fon has to provide special VPN tunneling technology in the UK for the UK secret services to investigate suspected criminals and terrorists when they log on to our WiFi signal.

Strangely, this passage has now been "disappeared" from the original post....

Here's some more interesting info - not quite so controversial, this time:

Fon now has 10 times more hotspots around the world than our second closest rival. In the UK and Japan our coverage is especially good. With this crisis Fon cannot think of deep pocketed investors continuing to cover high burn rates, regardless of the fact that our investors are BT, Google, eBay, Itochu, and some of the largest VCs in the world.

In Praise of that Damn' Richard Poynder

I hate Richard Poynder. Well, not exactly "hate". I'm just continually miffed that he not only keeps interviewing the very people in the open access world that I vaguely had in mind to talk to, he has the temerity to do it better than I would have done.

Unfortunately, it seems that there are some benighted individuals that are *really* less than well inclined towards Richard. The situation is so serious that the grown-ups of OA have been forced to step in to sort things out:

Trying to suppress Richard Poynder's investigations through threats of legal action is contemptible. We hope that the friends of open access in the legal community will attest to the lawfulness of his inquiries and that all friends of open access will attest to the value and legitimacy of his investigative journalism.

Oh, OK: I attest, I attest.

Sussing Out Second Life

Although Second Life has certain lost its cult status - and thank goodness for that - it's still an important laboratory for virtual worlds and their inhabitants. So getting a handle on what people use it for is certainly worthwhile. Here's what looks like quite a thorough job:

The Social Research Foundation (SRF) has created a panel of about 11,000 Second Life residents, and has just released their first public survey on why the panel members are in Second Life, what they are doing there, and how their activities are changing.

None of the results looks startling, but it's good to have them.

The BBC Wants to Open Up


The future for the BBC lies in the technology that can open it up to the world, just as technology gave it life last century. In the corporate world, Facebook, Apple and Google have launched platform services that allow external developers and companies to build services using their code - but the BBC is uniquely placed to use those same principles to create a cultural and commercial resource for the nation.

The director general Mark Thompson has directed the corporation to think beyond proprietary rights management to a new era of interoperability that offers consumers wider choice, control and benefits from "network effects" - the virality and interconnectedness of the web.

That's all well and fine, but there's "open" and there's "open". For example, I for one have not forgotten this:

We want to make iPlayer work on all operating systems including open source ones like Fedora and I am confident we'll make good progress on this before the end of the year.

Looking forward to that missing download option, Erik....

OpenOffice.org Breaks Records Everywhere

All around the world, it seems, people just can't get enough of this amazing free office suite, which is now turning in serious market shares in some countries. For, example, according to this report, there are now 12 million users in Brazil, representing fully 25% of the entire office market there. Meanwhile, plucky little Italy has notched up 4 million downloads in the last 12 months (that's downloads, not users, but still impressive)....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Marvellous Mr. arXiv

Paul Ginsparg is one of the key players in the world of open access. Indeed, he was practising it online before it even had a name, when he set up the arXiv preprint server (originally known simply by its address "xxx.lanl.gov"), which has just celebrated its half-millionth deposit:

arXiv is the primary daily information source for hundreds of thousands of researchers in many areas of physics and related fields. Its users include the world's most prominent researchers in science, including 53 Physics Nobel Laureates, 31 Fields Medalists and 55 MacArthur Fellows, as well as people in countries with limited access to scientific materials. The famously reclusive Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman posted the proof for the 100-year-old Poincare Conjecture solely in arXiv.

Journalists also use the repository extensively to prepare articles for the general public about newly released scientific results. It has long stood at the forefront of the open-access movement and served as the model for many other initiatives, including the National Institute of Health?fs PubMedCentral repository, and the many institutional DSpace repositories. arXiv is currently ranked the No. 1 repository in the world by the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.

"arXiv began its operations before the World Wide Web, search engines, online commerce and all the rest, but nonetheless anticipated many components of current 'Web 2.0' methodology," said Cornell professor Paul Ginsparg, arXiv's creator. "It continues to play a leading role at the forefront of new models for scientific communication."

Given his pivotal role in the open access, it's good that Ginsparg has expanded on that rather compressed history of his work in a fascinating romp through both the creation of arXiv and his own personal experience of the nascent Internet and Web.

Here's a few of the highlights:

I first used e-mail on the original ARPANET — a predecessor of the Internet — during my freshman year at Harvard University in 1973, while my more business-minded classmates Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, the future Microsoft bosses, were already plotting ahead to ensure that our class would have the largest average net worth of any undergraduate year ever.


At the Aspen Center for Physics, in Colorado, in the summer of 1991, a stray comment from a physicist, concerned about e-mailed articles overrunning his disk allocation while travelling, suggested to me the creation of a centralized automated repository and alerting system, which would send full texts only on demand. That solution would also democratize the exchange of information, levelling the aforementioned research playing field, both internally within institutions and globally for all with network access.

Thus was born xxx.lanl.gov, initially an e-mail/FTP server.


In the autumn of 1992, a colleague at CERN e-mailed me: “Q: do you know the world-wide-web program?” I did not, but quickly installed WorldWideWeb.app, coincidentally written by Tim Berners-Lee for the same NeXT computer that I was using, and with whom I began to exchange e-mails. Later that autumn, I used it to help beta-test the first US Web server, set up by the library at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center for use by the high-energy physics community.


That sceptical attitude regarding the potential efficacy of full-text searching carried over to my own website’s treatment of crawlers as unwanted nuisances. Seemingly out-of-control and anonymously run crawls sometimes resulted in overly vociferous complaints to network administrators from the offending domain. I was recently reminded of a long-forgotten incident involving test crawls from some unmemorably named stanford.edu-hosted machines in mid-1996, when both Sergey Brin and Larry Page graciously went out of their way to apologize to me in person at Google headquarters for their deeds all those years ago.


no legislation is required to encourage users to post videos to YouTube, whose incentive of instant gratification comes through making personal content publicly available (which parallels with the scholarly benefit of voluntary participation in the incipient version of arXiv in 1991.)

Fascinating tales from a fascinating life.

Microsoft's OOXML Endgame Revealed?

One of the mysteries concerning Microsoft's attempts to deal with the threat ODF poses to its stranglehold on the office suite sector is why some of its employees are making statements like that quoted here....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Googling the Genome

We're getting close:

The cost of determining a person’s complete genetic blueprint is about to plummet again — to $5,000.

That is the price that a start-up company called Complete Genomics says it will start charging next year for determining the sequence of the genetic code that makes up the DNA in one set of human chromosomes. The company is set to announce its plans on Monday.

Such a price would represent another step toward the long-sought goal of the “$1,000 genome.” At that price point it might become commonplace for people to obtain their entire DNA sequences, giving them information on what diseases they might be predisposed to or what drugs would work best for them.

05 October 2008

What a Nasty Piece of Work is...

...that Sarkozy chap:

Nicolas Sarkozy announced yesterday that he faxed on Friday evening to the President of the Commission (news piece in French), Jose-Manuel Barroso, and asked him to reject the Bono/Cohn-Bendit/Roithova amendment recently adopted by 88% of the voting Members of the European Parliament. Such an initiative from Mr. Sarkozy is testimony to his deep concern: the College (the Commission as a whole) does not seem to be ready to reject the amendment. As I already analyzed, this amendment did not modify the orientation of the Commission proposal, it only provided a needed reminder of some fundamental rights and needs of due process in face of tentatives from a few interest groups and the French presidency to weaken them.

Can't have any of that revolutionary democracy stuff in Europe, can we Sarko old boy....?

Update: Take that, Sarko.

03 October 2008

Not That Vista Isn't Selling...

...or anything:

"As more customers make the move to Windows Vista, we want to make sure that they are making that transition with confidence and that it is as smooth as possible," Microsoft said. "Providing downgrade media for a few more months is part of that commitment, as is the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program, which provides one-on-one, customized support for our small-business customers."

"Downgrade media"...ha!

More Feedback from Number 10

Those e-petition replies just keep on coming.

In response to the following:

“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.”

That nice Mr Brown says:

The Government recently published a consultation document on unlawful Peer-to-Peer (P2P) filesharing, which intends to gather views on proposals for a co-operative approach between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and rights holders to address the issue of P2P file-sharing technology, used for the illegal exchange of copyright material.

Unfortunately, much of the media reports around this issue have been incorrect. There are no proposals to make ISPs liable for the content that travels across their networks. Nor are there proposals for ISPs to monitor customer activity for illegal downloading, or to enforce a “3 strikes” policy.

Instead, we are focusing on an approach that:

· educates consumers and citizens about the importance of recognising and rewarding content and the dangers of unlawful downloading;
· encourages the content and telecoms industries to concentrate on ensuring that content is made available to consumers in a variety of attractive packages; and
· takes action to ensure that where file sharing still happens people are made aware of the unlawful nature of their actions and effective mechanisms for dealing with repeat offenders are identified.

The consultation closes on 30th October 2008 and anyone with an interest in these issues is welcome to respond. The consultation can be found at: http://www.berr.gov.uk/consultations/page47141.html

I'll be writing more about the consultation in due course.

Haggling in the Bazaar

As open source becomes more widely used, people have started exploring how and why its approach to developing software works so well. The pioneering analysis here is Eric Raymond's Cathedral and the Bazaar, but that was largely describing a prelapsarian world of free software with little commercialisation. An intriguing question is how the bazaar functions in the corrupting presence of serious dosh....

On Open Enterprise blog.

02 October 2008

Chinesepod's Milestone

Today marks a milestone for the innovative language-learning site Chinesepod: it has published its 1000th Mandarin lesson. Those not familiar with the Chinesepod phenomenon will be surprised to learn that the lesson, like the other 999, is freely available: for Mr. Chinesepod, the Shanghai-based Dubliner Ken Carroll, is a connoisseur of the Web 2.0 world. He understands that in the digital age, the secret to making money is to give away the entry-level stuff to attract interest and build a vibrant community, and then to make money by offering premium content to people who are already know the value of your free resources.

Chinesepod's methods have been widely copied, something that Carroll, to his credit, is remarkably relaxed about. In any case, the Chinesepod family has already grown to include a Frenchpod, Spanishpod and Italianpod, with Russian, Arabic and German versions in the works.

Carroll obviously understands that its not the basic idea - of using downloadable lessons, interactive resources and message boards - that counts, but the execution. Speaking as one of the many tens of thousands of poddies who eagerly await their daily ration of digital Chinese, French, Spanish and Italian, I can attest to the fact that Carroll and his superb team certainly deliver.

Indeed, looking back over the last 1000 lessons, I'd go so far as to say that it's not so much that Chinesepod has *passed* a milestone, but that it *is* a milestone in language learning. Here's to the next 1000, Ken.

High Priority Free Software Projects

One of the criticisms of free software is that certain classes of applications are missing. Interestingly, the FSF agrees, up to a point, and has put together what it calls its "high-priority projects list":

The FSF high-priority projects list serves to foster the development of projects that are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software and free software operating systems. The projects on our list are neither run, controlled, nor maintained by the FSF, but are supported entirely by the individuals in the free software community. Our list helps guide volunteers and supporters to projects where their skills can be utilized, whether they be in coding, graphic design, writing, or activism. We hope that you can find a project here where your skill, energy, and time can be put to good use.

Some of the most important projects on our list are replacement projects. These projects are important because they address areas where users are continually being seduced into using non-free software by the lack of an adequate free replacement.

If you're interested - and maybe want to contribute - here's the list:

1. Gnash — the free software Flash player
2. Coreboot — the campaign for a free BIOS
3. Free software replacement for Skype
4. Membership and donor transaction and contact system
5. Free software video editing software
6. Free Google Earth Replacement
7. gNewSense — The all free software GNU/Linux operating system
8. GNU Octave — free software Matlab replacement
9. Replacement for OpenDWG libraries
10. Reversible Debugging in GDB
11. Free software drivers for network routers

Any others that you'd add? (Via linux.com.)

Norwegians Get the Blues

A little while back I noted a provocative call from IBM for standards bodies to do better – a clear reference to the ISO's handling of OOXML. Here are some other people who are clearly very unhappy with the same: 13 members of the Norwegian technical committee that actually took part in the process....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Don't "Think of the Children" - Just *Think*

More insane authoritarian urges from the present UK government:

Shortly after the launch meeting of the UKCCIS, Culture and Media Secretary, Andy Burnham, was heard to remark: "We have to start talking more seriously about standards and regulation on the internet.

"I don't think it is impossible that before you download something there is a symbol or wording which tells you what's in that content. If you have a clip that is downloaded a million times then that is akin to broadcasting.

"It doesn't seem over-burdensome for these to be regulated."

Which just goes to show how much *you* know about the Internet, sunshine. As The Reg points out:

These are either the words of someone who hasn’t the first idea how user-generated content works – or alternatively, a man with a very sinister plan indeed. YouTube alone is estimated to generate ten hours of new content every minute. Similar ratios are to be found on other popular user-driven sites.

Censorship, here we come....

Update: And a very nice skewering from Bill Thompson on the subject here.

01 October 2008

CeBIT Opens Up

Years ago, when I was a real journalist, I used to dread going to CeBIT. Then, as now, it was an insanely large exhibition that only Euro anoraks could love, as they went round endless halls filled with printer cables and such-like, scribbling things excitedly in their catalogues....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Opening OpenPandora's Box of Openness

After the open source mobile from Android we have the open source game platform from OpenPandora:

* ARM® Cortex™-A8 600Mhz+ CPU running Linux
* 430-MHz TMS320C64x+™ DSP Core
* PowerVR SGX OpenGL 2.0 ES compliant 3D hardware
* 800x480 4.3" 16.7 million colours touchscreen LCD
* Wifi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth & High Speed USB 2.0 Host
* Dual SDHC card slots & SVideo TV output
* Dual Analogue and Digital gaming controls
* 43 button QWERTY and numeric keypad
* Around 10+ Hours battery life

Yours, apparently, for around 200 quid.

Strange News from the New Frontier

If you're interested in Xinjiang and its uighurs - and everyone should be - don't miss these extraordinary goings-on.

Respect, Nathive

In the world of closed-source software, it's hard to get a project going in a sector with established players. Since everything must be built from scratch - no building on the work of others *here* - it requires considerable financial backing.

Of course, that's not the case with free software, where the archetypal person in a bedroom can just start hacking for the sheer love of it - like this, for example:

Unfortunately I do not have much help... in fact I'm not a Gnu/Linux Expert, I'm not a superstar programmer, Simply one day I promised myself to do this, life is something strange... Born in 1985, like FSF, I became Gnu/Linux user in 2007 (never too late) and this is my first C program. I love to learn!

I would like to form a working group and continue learning more and more quickly.

The project is Nathive:

Nathive is a libre software image editor, similar to Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint or The GIMP, but focusing on usability, logic and provide a smooth learning curve for everyone. The project run over Gnome desktop and everyone can colaborate in it with code, translations or ideas.

The project is in alpha phase, so it is an incomplete work, the intention is to achieve progressively a professional graphic editor without giving up the initial usability. It's a made from scratch code, with C programming language and GTK+, simple, lightweight, easy to install and use.

I particularly liked the first statement of the following:

Nathive Philosophy

* Show respect and gratitude to GIMP community.
* First make it easy, then make it powerfull.
* The user don't need to see every options all time.
* If it seems absolutely absurd, might work.
* Everything should be obvious.

Respect and gratitude begets the same.... Good luck, Nathive.