30 June 2006

Eclipse Advances by Backing Up

Eclipse began life as a Java development platform at IBM that was meant to, er, eclipse Sun's NetBeans tools. Today, it is turning into a kind of total development environment for everything. The latest proof of this is Aperi, an open source project for managing storage devices and the networks on which they reside.

Update: The Reg has some good detailed analysis here.

The Monster Arrives

Bruce - the other Bruce - says: "We've warned you for a decade". More precisely:

Now the monster has finally arrived: attacks against Open Source developers by patent holders, big and small. One is a lawsuit against Red Hat for the use of the principle of Object Relational Mapping used in Hibernate, a popular component of enterprise Java applications everywhere. The other attack is on an individual Open Source developer for his model railroad software.

Bruce has been known to annoy people both within and without the open source community, but there's no doubting his credentials. Read the rest of his article for the full details of what's happening and what the larger threats are.

Haugland on ODF and Tube Tops

With postings like this, how can Microsoft Office ever hope to prevail?

SCOing, SCOing, SCOne

IANAL, but it seems to me that this judgement, lovingly typed in by Pamela Jones at Groklaw, is a pretty serious blow to SCO's case against IBM. And it wasn't looking very healthy before.

The real killer seems to me to be the following passage, brilliant and witty at the same time:

SCO’s arguments are akin to SCO telling IBM sorry we are not going to tell you what you did wrong because you already know. SCO received substantial code from IBM pursuant to the court’s orders as mentioned supra. Further, SCO brought this action against IBM and under the Federal Rules, and the court’s orders, SCO was required to disclose in detail what it feels IBM misappropriated. Given the amount of code that SCO has received in discovery the court finds it inexcusable that SCO is in essence still not placing all the details on the table. Certainly if an individual was stopped and accused of shoplifting after walking out of Neiman Marcus they would expect to be eventually told what they allegedly stole. It would be absurd for an officer to tell the accused that “you know what you stole I’m not telling.” Or, to simply hand the accused individual a catalog of Neiman Marcus’ entire inventory and say “its in there somewhere, you figure it out.”

Hard to believe that people were seriously talking about the SCO lawsuit as the end of Openness As We Know It.

29 June 2006

UK Gets Open Access Brownie Points

Stevan Harnad, the OA Archivangelist himself, has given the UK a Bravo! for the Research Council UK's decision to let individual funding councils decide for themselves whether or not to mandate OA self-archiving. As he says:

Although we had rather hoped for a more concerted consensus from Research Councils UK (RCUK), nevertheless, with three out of the eight councils mandating Open Access Self-Archiving, one strongly encouraging it, and four not yet decided, that is still enough to restore the UK's commanding lead in worldwide OA Policy today.

(Via Open Access News.)

Pootling Away

As I've pointed out before, one of free software's great strengths is that it can serve smaller markets that proprietary systems can't be bothered with. So it's good to find that there is some free software specifically designed to help with the process of translating the wordy bits of programs into new languages.

The overall project is known by the dull moniker of translate.sourceforge.net, but is redeemed by the splendidly-named Pootle portal to facilitate the process. More about Pootle and related projects at Wordforge can be found here.

LiMux Läuft

The City of Munich's decision to migrate to free software was one of the banner victories of the open source world. For this reason, a lot of people - no names, no packdrill, Steve - have a vested interest in seeing it fail, preferably dramatically.

And certainly, things have not gone entirely smoothly for the LiMux project: for example, there was the business about European software patents that slowed things down. But things are still moving: as the deputy Lady Mayor of Munich put it: "LiMux läuft" - LiMux is running (in all senses).

Now, there's more sniping, this time in the Senate administration of Berlin (a little inter-city rivalry, or something more?). Anyway, Munich is resolute in its defence of the project, and Heise Online has a good summary of the current state of play there.

Checking Out Google Checkout

I've not used Google Checkout, launched today, in anger yet, but I've no reason to think that it won't do what it says on the tin. There are, however, a couple of things that strike me.

The first is pretty obvious: by adding this facility to let signed-up Googlers - people who probably already use Gmail and Google a lot - pay by using this system, the company is going to know even more about what you are doing, potentially at least.

Even if the company never joins the dots together, we've already seen that the US Government wants to get its mitts on all that yummy data for its own nefarious purposes. Similarly, lawyers are bound to try to gain access to all kinds of incriminating evidence this cross-linked data will provide.

Secondly, and less obviously, perhaps, is he fact that Google is entering even further into Microsoft territory here. As the press release puts it:

Google Checkout helps merchants streamline the checkout process and also works with Google's advertising program, AdWords, so merchants can attract more customers and increase sales. The Google Checkout icon on AdWords advertisements makes it easier for shoppers to find Google Checkout stores when they search. Once shoppers buy with Google Checkout, AdWords advertisers can also process all or a portion of their sales for free. For every $1 merchants spend on AdWords, they can process $10 in sales through Google Checkout at no charge.

In other words, Google is using the power that it has gained through the success of AdWords to help cross-promote the acceptance of Google Checkout. When Microsoft does this kind of thing, the world squawks: perhaps it's time to do the same with Google.

Update: Om Malik has some interesting thoughts on what this all means.

28 June 2006

Use, Re-use and Abuse

A PLoS blog post provides some examples of the Creative Commons' Attribution Licence being used in anger. The idea here, of course, is that you are free to re-use material licensed in this way - if you give proper attribution. The blog lists a few examples of saints who do - and one sinner who doesn't.

Naming and shaming is an important way to police this kind of (ab)use, and should be a routine part of the way the Attribution Licence is used.

Why Open WiFi Security Isn't a Problem

In a study of almost 2,500 access points in Indianapolis, presented at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security at the University of Cambridge on Monday, researchers found that 46 percent were not running any form of encryption.

But the article this comes from goes on to quote several sensible comments on this fact, including one from the ever-dependable Bruce:

security expert Bruce Schneier argued that as long as people's devices were secure, having a secured network was unnecessary.

"I have a completely open Wi-Fi network," Schneier told ZDNet UK. "Firstly, I don't care if my neighbors are using my network. Secondly, I've protected my computers. Thirdly, it's polite. When people come over they can use it."

There are also wise words from Microsoft's chief privacy adviser for Europe, Caspar Bowden:

"If you do want to secure your network, look at end-to-end solutions rather than some of the dodgy crypto around like WEP," Bowden said. "There's only one thing worse than no security, and that's a false sense of security," he added.

Amen to that.

More Kudos to Auntie

Another sign that at least some people at the BBC get it.

There's a good post by Paul Mason about user-generated versions of sporting events (I gather there's something of the kind going on somewhere at the moment). He points out that all sorts of content are starting to turn up on YouTube. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Other spin-off coverage is the rise of the montage-to-music genre of football imagery to make a point. This excellent lament by a S Korea fan of their trouncing by Switzerland is a case in point....though because it is composed of copyright images you will have to click thru to it rather than running it on this site...

This treads a fine line: it doesn't directly take on the copyright thugs, but it certainly doesn't condemn what's going on either. Obviously, a high-profile institution like the BBC has to be careful, but this sensible, moderate approach augurs well for the future. (Via TechDirt.)

27 June 2006

Welcome to the CodePlex

Talking of chasing tail-lights, I see that Microsoft has followed up shared source, its not-quite-open-source initiative with the CodePlex, a kind of milk-and-water SourceForge. (Via Matthew Aslett.)

Horror vs. Horror: A Study in Contrasts

As TechDirt notes, it's rather curious that not one but two articles about Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures should appear almost simultaneously. One is in BusinessWeek Online, and the other in Fortune.

Both tell the frightening story of Intellectual Ventures (IV) that I've commented on before. What's interesting here is the study in contrasts that the two features offer. It's worth reading both, just to make your flesh creep.

The Fortune piece is better, because it has a real nugget:

Microsoft confirms to FORTUNE that it is putting $76 million into IV: $36 million as an equity investment and $40 million for the right to use IV's inventions, with an option to invest an additional $40 million later.

This is an important fact, because it shows why Intellectual Ventures is likely to become the twofold bane of the open source world - because patents are problematic in general, and because it will be convenient for Myhrvold's ex-boss.

Any Port in a Hurricane

Microsoft has a guilty secret: Windows runs on very hardware platforms. GNU/Linux, by contrast, is a port monster: if it's digital, someone, somewhere, has probably done a port. But even I was impressed to find that GNU/Linux has been ported to a hurricane simulator....

26 June 2006

SuSE on a Stick

Computer Weekly (disclaimer: in a parallel universe, I used to write for this a lot) reports on a SUSE Linux Enterprise training course contained on a portable USB drive.

What's most interesting about this is that it presages a future when everything is on a stick - Knoppix DVDs, the complete works of Telemann, everything that we now buy on CDs and transfer to a hard disc. In fact, one day, people will laugh at the idea of putting valuable data on thin discs coated in magnetic powder spinning at high speeds - rather as we do at the idea of mercury delay lines. (via LWN.net.)

Taiwan Gets Ready

Here's an interesting twist on government requirements:

The Central Trust of China, Taiwan's government procurement agency, has commissioned the Taipei Computer Association (TCA) to ensure that bids from PC vendors include equipment that are compatible with Linux.

Now, at the moment this only requires hardware to be certified as compatible; but there's little point mandating this particular kind of hardware if you're never going to use it....

Ain't That the Trout

A lovely story told by Solveig Haugland that provides insight into the real reason people don't all switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, and how to overcome it. (Fab artwork, too.)


Groklaw has a short interview with RMS. Nothing really new, but the following is well put:

this is an interesting example of the difference between Free Software and Open Source. Some people promote what they call "Open Source DRM". Now, recall the difference in fundamental values between Free Software and Open Source. In Free Software, our values are freedom and community. We want to be part of a community of free people. Whereas, in Open Source, they talk about making powerful, reliable software and they promote a development model. Now, for us, the question of how a program is developed is a secondary issue. I mean, if some models work better than others, fine -- use them. But that's not what's really important to Free Software, to people who value -- who support the Free Software movement and value freedom.

So, there are people who say that they could apply that development model to developing software designed to restrict us. And maybe it's true; maybe if people study and share and collaborate in developing software designed to take away our freedom, it might become more powerful and reliable in taking away our freedom. But that's a bad thing. That's evil. It's -- in spirit, it's similar to collaborative development of a virus. If something is evil, we don't want it to be done well. We want it to be done as badly as possible.

(Via Slashdot.)

25 June 2006

Microsoft's WinFS: Not Pining for the Fjords

"Chasing tail-lights": that's all free software ever does, according to Microsoftie Jim Allchin. Open source never innovates, you see, it only copies. Unlike Microsoft, the paradigmatic Great Innovator.

Take WinFS. A truly interesting idea, for reasons this Microsoft introduction makes plain (no, really). It was announced as part of the great, innovative vision for Longhorn/Vista, but as the note at the top of the page in the previous link warns:

UPDATE: In spite of what may be stated in this content, "WinFS" is not a feature that will come with the Longhorn operating system. However, "WinFS" will be available on the Windows platform at some future date, which is why this article continues to be provided for your information.

Ah, well, never mind. At least that innovative feature will be available on the Windows platform at some future date.

Or maybe not. This blog posting by the WinFS team essentially says WinFS is not deceased, it is merely pining for the fjords. Most of those commenting are unimpressed by this innovative way of looking at things.

This one is representative:

Wow. Talk about spin.

I'm normally a pretty strong supporter of MS, but I don't hesitate to lay into them when they deserves it. This blog posting is pure spin. WinFS is dead.

Or to put it another way:

This WinFS is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late WinFS. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace, if you hadn't nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies! It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-WinFS!

Maybe Microsoft could chase open source's tail-lights instead - if it bought some binoculars....

Update: Jack Schofield has written a good history of the rise and fall of WinFS.

Not With a Bang But a Whimper

Could Paul Maritz be the emblematic man of early 21st century computing? I know, I know, it seems unlikely at first sight, but remember that Maritz was one of the archetypal Mr Microsofts during the latter's heyday. He was also part of a vast wave of defections as it became clear which way the wind was blowing.

Which is what makes his new company, PI Corporation, particularly interesting. Its premise?

The PC and the "GUI" interface of the 1980’s and 1990’s made it possible for tens of millions of people to author and manage documents. But with the spread of the Internet, the number of items of information users need to deal with has increased dramatically. The established metaphors and tools for dealing with this mass of information are starting to creak and groan. Just look at the average persons “inbox”.

We're routinely dealing with thousands of items of personal information - documents, email messages, web pages, calendar items, contacts, pictures, etc. The folder, desktop and drag-and-drop metaphors are no longer up to the task.


we believe that users should have their PI always available to them, wherever they are and whatever device they are using.

PI accomplishes this allowing information to be replicated across machines and devices, freeing the user from being dependent on a single device.

Sounds to me like Paul has rather gone off Windows and PCs. Instead, he seems to like Net-based distributed architectures. Note, too, how Windows and GNU/Linux are mentioned in the same breath, as are IE and Firefox - because the end-user platform doesn't really matter anymore.

Maybe he's on to something.

24 June 2006

Publishing in the Age of Openness

OpenBusiness has an interesting interview with one of the Economist's technology corresponents. He has some sensible things to say, for example on copyright:

What is needed is balance, and clearly we need to redraw the scales in favor of encouraging the new creativity that technology enables — with an open-business approach in mind. Only a fool would stand against the crashing tides. It’s hard to see the protections granted to incumbent content industries as anything other than anachronistic privileges and economic protectionism. It certainly doesn’t help matters that they’re suing everyone and lobbying legislatures to strengthen their rights, even though it holds back incredible public creativity.

and on peer production:

Online, with no physical space constraints, entries can expand indefinitely. Take that, and add to it that peer-production tends to be cumulative, and the result is there is a tendency for things to grow, but little editing function to condense it into a more useful form. There is a great value not just in completeness but being concise — maps are drawn at scale rather than actual size for a reason.

Self, note: be concise.

Openness and Randomness

A wonderful dotty Tory story.

The Conservatives in the European Parliament are worried about the INSPIRE directive. As you may recall, this will allow public access to geospatical data.

Good thing, you might say. Not according to the Euro-Tory Geoffrey Van Orden:

I am very concerned that, in spite of Conservative opposition (not supported by the wider EPP-ED Group), the Parliament has passed amendments that allow for unlimited public access to certain spatial data including oceanographic survey data.

From this it would be possible to identify trends in sea areas that are being surveyed and the timescales involved. Analysis of such information over time could lead to conclusions about naval patrol routes. This has clear implications for the safety of Royal Navy vessels, including the nuclear deterrent force.

So from this we may deduce that naval patrol routes are completely predictable - if they were random, they'd be no problem. But since there are plenty of people who already have access to geospatial mapping data - the Americans,the Russians, the Chinese (presumably) - this also means that they know exactly where Her Majesty's Ships are (including the nuclear deterrent force.)

So, Geoff, rather than complaining about the openness of this geospatial data, wouldn't it be better to campaign for the Royal Navy to introduce a little randomness into its routes?

23 June 2006

Genome, Transcriptome, Proteome...Variome?

It's early days yet, but somebody's hoping to put together a database of all human gene variations, dubbed the "Human Variome Project". One intriguing comment:

The HVP also needs an estimated US$60 million over five years - and it is not yet clear where that money will come from, though web giant Google has said it is interested in providing some funds

Whoops, there's that Googling the genome meme again....

Uncommon Nonsense on the iCommons

Originally I was going to leave this article on iCommons and the global digital commons alone, since it doesn't really deserve Margaret's "oxygen of publicity", but upon re-reading parts of it, I feel that some of the crasser assertions shouldn't go unchallenged.

For example:

The Creative Commons project is a curiously inverted attempt to use a private property regime to reproduce a "common" (understood, for me at least, as a non-owned culturally shared space of culture, knowledge or ideas). Put another way, Creative Commons seems to be attempting to create a shared public resource through a clever bit of tweaking of copyright, without the messy and difficult problems of educating citizens to the important of a public domain (or "common" good).

Well, actually it's just doing what Stallman did with the GNU GPL 20 years ago: if you understand the GPL, you understand what the Creative Commons is trying to do, and how.


In one way this raises questions about to what extent national states' sovereign control of their intellectual property law can be transcended in this way. It raises important questions about how this project might be perceived as a threat to the national interest of any single state. Will governments be happy to watch their cultural products seep away into an American founded "common" or will they legislate to make Creative Commons type projects illegal or regulated?

The idea of the commons is well-nigh universal concept that has only been lost in recent years; moreover, by definition, it's for everyone: it doesn't take away, it gives. "[I]ntellectual property law", on the other hand, of whatever "sovereign nation", nearly always takes away, because it simply defines the intellectual monopolies it grants.

Or even:

There may also be concern from a western perspective about the leaking out of protective national spheres of certain technologies and knowledges (issues raised by encryption software or GNU /Linux giving a technological boon to software development skills in China, for example).

I'm speechless: so we're worried about all those nasty furriners getting all this dangerous high-techy stuff like encryption (which they have already) or even - Heaven forfend! - that these Chinese devils might learn to program.

There, I knew I shouldn't have given it that blast of oxygen.

ODF: the Belgian Domino Falls

And another one:

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is to be the standard format for exchanging documents within the government, according to a proposal that is expected to be approved by Belgium's Council of Ministers on Friday. The plan increases the pressure from governments worldwide on Microsoft to embrace open standards.

Update: And maybe India too, one day?

Open Source History and Wikipedia

At times it seems that discussions about Wikipedia generate more heat than light. Even the supposedly objective comparison of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica made by Nature has descended into an ugly scholars' brawl. So it is something of a surprise - and a blissfully pleasant one at that - to come across a discussion of Wikipedia that is insightful, fair, well-written and downright fascinating.

The essay in question is called "Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past", and it's written by Roy Rosenzweig, Professor of History and New Media at George Mason University.

The essay is long, but it is well-worth reading all the way through its detailed comparison of Wikipedia and conventional reference works (there's a fine summary at the The Institute for the Future of the Book if you really need it). One of its shrewdest observations is the following:

Overall, writing is the Achilles’ heel of Wikipedia. Committees rarely write well, and Wikipedia entries often have a choppy quality that results from the stringing together of sentences or paragraphs written by different people. Some Wikipedians contribute their services as editors and polish the prose of different articles. But they seem less numerous than other types of volunteers. Few truly gifted writers volunteer for Wikipedia.

This piece stands as simply the best writing on Wikipedia yet. (Via Openpedia.org.)

Just Do It, Larry

Larry Ellison has been teasing about coming out with his own GNU/Linux distribution for a while, and he's at it again. This time, he makes a good point:

Observing that Linux is free to anybody and that the current Linux distributions don't own their IP, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said that Oracle could just go and take Linux, and support it better than anyone else and become the "number one distributor."

Do it, Larry, just do it: at best, you might just succeed; at worst, it will be an educational process for you.

The Case of Felten's Felt Collar

Ed Felten is one of the original geek heroes, for reasons this TechDirt post explains. Such a hero, it seems, that he's high on the content industry's hit-list as the Man Who Knew Too Much. Now they are trying to re-write history and cast him in a different light, as Tim Lee has spotted.

The revisionism comes from one of those institutes whose name is entirely made up of misleadingly neutral terms - "Policy Innovation", in this case. This is generally a clear sign that it is anything but neutral, and usually funded by those with vested interests in the field it covers.

I can't find any information on the site about where the money comes from: maybe it's done out of pure love of intellectual monopolies and unbridled capitalism.

The Geek God Who Didn't Matter

Some nicely provocative journalism from Business 2.0. Alongside the dull and entirely predictable list of "50 people who matter" is the infinitely more interesting "10 people who don't matter". And who should we find amongst them but that nice Mr. Torvalds.

And in a way, it's true. As I wrote in Rebel Code five years ago:

Linus is unique because he was able to serve as a focal point for ... advances to come together to create a complete methodology that is now central to the continuing success of the open source movement and that offers the first plausible alternative to the current - and creaking model of software development. But Linus is also replaceable because of this methodology, which allows programming and architectural decisions to be relegated to specialised circles of experts; and thanks to this methodology even his leadership style - that of power wielded in subservience to the user base - can be distributed more widely.

Why the Open Management Consortium Matters

You wouldn't expect something with as grey a name as the Open Management Consortium (OMC) to be hugely important. True, it deals with a crucial area, that of systems and network management. But the real interest lies elsewhere.

For probably the first time, an extensive group of open source companies are consciously joining together to address a new market. To the six original members of the group, many others are being added. Most of these, it is true, are quite small, but some are increasingly well-known names in their own right - for example, Hyperic, which only recently converted to open source.

These moves matter because they suggest that open source is passing to the next level, where individual companies stop acting alone and start working together to offer complete solutions that are otherwise only available from established proprietary behemoths. I predict that this "OMC model" will become increasingly widespread in the world of open source enterprise software.

Redeeming Flash with Fjax

I hate Flash. But just suppose it were possible to use it for something else, other than mindless, TV-style animations.

Enter Fjax. Ignore the buzzword overload - "Fjax is the lightweight, cross-browser, rapid-development methodology for Ajax-style web 2.0 development" - and you find its real purpose is to redeem Flash:

Fjax, short for Flash/JavaScript/and Asynchronous XML, is about using Flash as an invisible parsing engine to seamlessly deliver XML-based pure (x)HTML content interactively to browsers, all on the client-side. The kicker is that Fjax typically weighs in at a tenth of the size of normal Ajax solutions.

Keeping it simple (the http://www.fjax.net website runs on less than 65 lines of Fjax code - weighing only 4 total kilobytes!) means quick, light-weight code that is easily editable. Since the XML parsing happens in Flash, 90% of the redundant browser-specific code in a typical Ajax application completely disappears! And unlike the other Flash and Ajax integration projects out there, the outcome of Fjax is not Flash and (x)HTML, but a pure (x)HTML experience (which could contain an integrated visual Flash experience, but that isn’t required).

Using Flash to produce ordinary, non-Flash Web content more efficiently: utterly brilliant. God knows what their business model is, though. (Via eHub.)

PLoS Blog Blogs on Bloggers

I was giving the PLoS bloggers some grief over the absence of any postings about the financial situation there - not so much because I think the latter is serious (I don't - I'm with Jan Velterop on this), more that one of the great things about blogs is that they permit very rapid responses.

Chris Surridge Mark Patterson has now addressed this issue. Several other posts show that he his colleague, Chris Surridge, is keeping a close eye on the blogosphere, and beginning to respond more quickly to comments on other blogs. Given the path that PLoS ONE seems to be taking, this kind of awareness and interaction will be absolutely crucial to its success.

It's also good to see some technical details of PLoS ONE emerging - and that everything is resolutely open source.

22 June 2006

Novell in Trobell

As Oscar Wilde might have said, "To lose one CxO may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness."

The news that both the CEO and CFO have been booted out at Novell is a Bad Sign. Much as I cheered Novell's decision to jump on the open source bandwagon, in my heart of hearts, I feared that it was going to end in tears.

Remember, Novell refused to adopt TCP/IP for many years, as it tried to defend its proprietary IPX/SPX. Just how wrong can you be?

Stolen's a Strong Word, a Wrong Word

Interesting point in this Computerworld blog posting:

If you read way down to the bottom of a Wall Street Journal interview with Bill Gates that ran yesterday, you'll discover that the Microsoft executive admitted to watching pirated movies on the Internet.

Unfortunately, Wall Street Journal is subscribers only. But the key exchange was the following:

WSJ: But those were stolen, correct?

Gates: Stolen's a strong word. It's copyrighted content that the owner wasn't paid for. So yes.

Yes, stolen is a strong word - and the wrong word. Nobody lost anything when Gates viewed those YouTube videos. On the contrary, those who produced that content gained something hugely valuable: the attention of the richest man in the world. Gates was actually giving, not taking, and he was right not to accept the WSJ's simplistic description.

This exchange alone shows why most thinking about copyright and its so-called infringement is wrong-headed, and why this whole area needs to be re-thought in the light for the digital age. Alas, the blog posting's analysis gets it completely the wrong way round. (Via Digg.)

Dzongkhalinux - a Himalayan Operating System

Somehow I missed this post on LWN.net about the launch of Dzongkhalinux. Dzongkha, in case you are wondering, is the national language of Bhutan, and a language from the Sino-Tibetan family. As the article explains:

Recent laws in the country have enforced the use of the national language in all official events and all official communication. Therefore, even though all the (free for everybody) education system is bilingual in English/Dzongkha, it is very important for the country to be able to use the Dzongkha language on computers.

After a quite deceptive attempt with Microsoft to include support for Dzongkha in Microsoft operating systems ($523,000 have been thrown in this attempt), the Ministry of Information and Communication launched the DzongkhaLinux project 2.5 years ago.

And it's not just a truly Himalayan operating system (in all senses), since the project has also produced

a complete set of Dzongkha-localised applications, namely the Gnome environment, the OpenOffice suite, the Mozilla web browser, the Evolution mail reader and GAIM as instant messaging application.

This illustrates a number of points.

First, that Microsoft just doesn't care about smaller markets. Second, that open source really is about giving users the freedom to do what they need to do. And third, that there are good open source applications covering all the main areas these days.

There's more about the project here, and even a glimpse of a suitably monkish Tux, swathed in scarlet robes; there's the same information on the Bhutan-based Department of Information Technology site (just love that URL - http://www.dit.gov.bt/), but the connection's understandably slow, and probably best left clear.

There doesn't seem to be a direct link to the Bhutanese distro (again, probably just as well in terms of leaving the connection free); I suppose while I'm waiting for a torrent, I could always start learning Dzongkha....

Hot Under the Collar

A fascinating piece about the insane way air-conditioning has become an indispensable part of people's lives. This is mostly in the U.S., but the economic and social dynamics that are driving what happens there will soon apply in places like China and India.

One terrible irony: thanks to global warming, people are using more air-conditioning; which burns more fuel; which causes more global warming....

Shining Light on Eclipse

I've noted before the importance of Eclipse, "open source's best-kept secret". Here's something useful: an IBM recommended online reading list to get up to speed on the subject. (Via LXer).

Royal Society Wises Up - a Bit

A little while back I wrote in fairly unflattering terms about the Royal Society's attitude to open access. Things seem to have shifted somewhat since then:

The Royal Society today (21 June 2006) launched a trial of an open access' journal service, which will allow people to read new scientific papers free of charge immediately after they are published on the web. The new service offers authors the opportunity to pay a fee to have their paper made freely available on the web immediately if it is accepted for publication by any Royal Society journal. The first paper to be published under the new service appears on the Royal Society's website today.

That's good, although the pricing structure is sufficiently high as to discourage most people from taking this option. And despite what the press release says, I can't find the first OA article on the Web site: I've looked moderately hard, and after 13 years of Web-life, I'm not unskilled at finding stuff online.

So the move is probably more useful for pro-OA propaganda purposes than anything else; in particular, it may help some of the other important decisions that are due to be made on mandating open access, for example, those in the UK and Europe. (Via Open Access News.)

21 June 2006

Undermining the Case for Long Film Copyrights

One of the arguments given for protecting films with long terms of copyrights is that they are very costly to make, and so film producers require long periods for full payback. It is certainly true that many films are obscenely expensive today, but whether they need to be is another matter.

For those, like me, who argue that films will become progressively cheaper to make as technology advances (and open source software takes over), without any substantial loss in perceived quality, an article in the Washington Post provides some useful ammunition.

According to the story:

Chris Moukarbel was intrigued by director Oliver Stone's latest project, a $60 million movie to be released this summer about two police officers rescued from the rubble of the twin towers.

But as a 28-year-old filmmaker, Moukarbel wanted to do more than simply watch Stone's "World Trade Center." He decided to create his own version -- using a bootleg copy of the screenplay and Yale University student actors -- and offer it free on the Internet.


According to its lawsuit, which was filed Friday, the studio is afraid that people will see the student film on the Internet and confuse it with the big-time Hollywood version set to hit 1,500 screens on Aug. 9 and backed up with a $40 million marketing campaign.

Well, if that's the case, it can only be because you don't actually need to spend $60 million to make such a film. So it looks like Hollywood is digging itself into a fine hole here. (Via Techdirt.)

Linuxcare Lives - or Does It?

A few months ago I interviewed Dave Sifry, CEO of Technorati. Doing so brought back memories of the previous time I'd interviewed him, when he was CTO of Linuxcare.

The idea behind Linuxcare was a good one: to act as a 24x7 support service for all the main free software programs - and thus plug what many saw as the big gap in the open source offering for corporates. It was a great idea, and they had some great people, but the company crashed and burned for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with that idea, in one of the more spectacular crashes of the dotcom meltdown.

Given this history, I was amazed to learn that Linuxcare lives on, as a company now called Levanta. Or rather, reading the BusinessWeek story on the latter, it seems that Linuxcare has gradually morphed into something else:

Levanta sells a box that connects to all of a company's Linux servers. The customer's software and applications actually run through that box, not individually on each server. That means that if a server crashes, there's a backup for that data. Or, if administrators need to switch an application from a test server to a more reliable one, it's just a few mouse clicks away.

I can't help feeling that an outfit that has changed its management, name and product isn't really the outfit I knew those years back. And so, for me, this strange, zombie-like resurrection is more of an end than a beginning.

Microsoft's GNU/Linux Gnasher is now Ex

Some of you may remember the Microsoftie Martin Taylor, who had the unenviable job of arguing Microsoft's corner against open source a few years back. Well, he is now an ex-Microsoftie. Or as his official bio puts its tersely:

Martin Taylor is no longer with Microsoft.

(Via PaidContent.org.)

MS Does CC

Microsoft has released an add-in that enables you to embed Creative Commons licences directly into Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents. As Larry Lessig is quoted as saying:

This is important to us because a huge amount of creative work is created inside the Office platform. Having a simple way to add Creative Commons licenses obviously helps us spread those licenses much more broadly.

To Microsoft's credit, this is not the first time that it has supported Creative Commons. When the latter was short of cash recently, Microsoft coughed up $25,000 - hardly a huge sum for the company, but laudable, nonetheless. (Via C|net.)

20 June 2006

One of the Digital Commons

OpenDemocracy has a piece called "Free culture and the internet: a new semiotic democracy". Apart from the obfuscatory title, it's quite good. It's basically about open content, which it calls "the digital commons". This isn't quite right: it's a digital commons, since there are lots of them these days - open source, open access, etc.

The article is written by Elizabeth Stark, who's a board member of the international student organisation Freeculture.org. The latter is new to me, and has an interesting background:

FreeCulture.org is a diverse, non-partisan group of students and young people who are working to get their peers involved in the free culture movement. Launched in April 2004 at Swarthmore College, FreeCulture.org has helped establish student groups at colleges and universities across the United States. Today, FreeCulture.org chapters exist at over 30 colleges, from Maine to California, with many more getting started around the world.

FreeCulture.org was founded by two Swarthmore students after they sued voting-machine manufacturer Diebold for abusing copyright law in 2003. Named after the book Free Culture by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, FreeCulture.org is part of a growing movement, with roots in the free software / open source community, media activists, creative artists and writers, and civil libertarians. Groups with which FreeCulture.org has collaborated include Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Downhill Battle.

Dosh Probs and the PLoS Blog

Nature has as story that reports (doubtless with a certain satisfaction) on some looming financial probs at PLoS. As Nature also notes:

PLoS will next month hike the charge for publishing in its journals from US$1,500 per article to as much as $2,500

in an effort to staunch some of the likely losses (though even with the "hike", it's still a bargain).

As far as I can tell, there's no comment yet from the PLoS blog on these matters. Here's a hint, chaps: that's what blogs are for.... (Via Open Access News.)

Update: There's now a comment.

TechDirt's Cleansing Power

You won't learn much new here about the pathetically bent and dirty minds of the MPAA and RIAA, but you will emerge oddly cleansed by the sheer power of the prose. Complimenti, Carlo.

A Study in Stupidity

I am constantly amazed at how many people do not get what net neutrality is about. Cunningly, the telecoms companies frame this in terms of providing "superior" services for certain classes of data traffic - conveniently skating over the fact that creating a first class inevitably demotes everyone else to second class or worse.

The key point about network neutrality is that it ensures a level playing-field - a commons, no less, open to all - and does not attempt to second-guess the intentions of those who will exploit that commons. Those who fight against it forget all the history of the Internet - how none of the services that run across it was planned, but was simply able to take the basic infrastructure for granted.

This is not rocket science; and yet we can still have nominally insightful people writing stuff like this:

there's a huge analytical leap between preventing patently anticompetitive conduct and having the government tell operators how to manage their networks in the name of network neutrality. Unfortunately, as election politics loom large, many in Congress are ignoring this important distinction. They instead are seeking to rush through legislation that would essentially commoditize the Internet into a "stupid" network, without understanding the potential adverse consequences.

A commoditised, stupid network that gets out of the way is precisely what we want, for reasons that this excellent essay explains:

This ability to "just do it" liberates huge amounts of innovative energy. If I have a Stupid Network and I get an idea for a communications application, I just write it. Then I send it to my buddy, and my buddy can install it, too. If we both like it, we can send it to more people. If people really like it, then maybe we can charge for it - or even start our own company. Yahoo!

Or Google, or Amazon or eBay.

There are no "adverse consequences" if that stupidity is implemented in a technical sense. Equally, this is not a question of "having the government tell operators how to manage their networks": all they know - and all they need to know - is that every IP packet must be treated the same. It's a simple engineering-based condition. To say - or indeed ask for - anything else is just, well, stupid.

Pass the Sugar(CRM), Please

Some interesting figures on the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) sector in this item, which seems to predict rocky times ahead for Oracle. Well, I certainly concur with that, but there's a name that is conspicuous by absence in this analysis: SugarCRM.

Why is it important, given that it is currently way behind the leaders? SugarCRM is different from the others, because it's open source. This means that all those good dynamics of the open source world are starting to kick in, in terms of cost, in terms of customer loyalty and in terms of development. And as I've said before, you just can't buy open source companies as you might something like Siebel or PeopleSoft, and this poses a big problem not just to Oracle, but SAP and Microsoft too.

And if you don't believe me, you might care to look at BusinessWeek's thoughts on the matter: its analysis is not as bullish, but is strikingly upbeat.

Closing the Censorship Loop

Censorship is nothing new: ever since there has been power, it has feared knowledge. The trouble is, as people become more dependent on online information, it gets easier to censor, as well as easier to find out information. It all depends on the structure of information access.

That's what makes this story about the LA Times censoring the Internet feed into its newsroom deeply troubling. Since the censorship will naturally block out lots of uncomfortable things - like censorship - this closes the loop, at least in that environment. Journalists there might not even know that they don't know about something.

Let's just hope that the LA Times journalists have lots of fast Internet connections at home, and that they do plenty of Web wandering to find out alternative points of view.

Wireless Meshes and Net Neutrality

The recent brouhaha over net neutrality has emphasised how important it is to have a completely independent way of accessing the Internet. The obvious approach would be to use a wireless mesh: linking thousands of disparate wireless networks together to create a larger, wide-area coverage. TechDirt has an interesting meditation on this idea, pointing out that there are various obstacles to be overcome.

Nobody said it would be easy.

19 June 2006

Craigslist: the Open Source Company

The Wall Street Journal has a good story on Craigslist:

One industry analyst has estimated that Craigslist could generate 20 times that $25 million just by posting a couple of ads on each of its pages. If the estimate is to be believed, that's half a billion dollars a year being left on the table. What kind of company turns up its nose at $500 million?

Well, an open source kind of company. And try this:

"It's unrealistic to say, but -- imagine our entire U.S. workforce deployed in units of 20. Each unit of 20 is running a business that tens of millions of people are getting enormous amounts of value out of each month. What kind of world would that be?"

An open source kind of world, perhaps. (Via Slashdot.)

Microsoft's Other Monopoly

I've often wondered about this.

Hakon Wium Lie, chief technology officer of Opera Software, has a positively wonderful post about "Microsoft's forgotten monopoly":

The story of how Microsoft used its monopoly in operating systems to acquire a dominant position in office applications and browsers has often been told. But there's another Microsoft monopoly that's rarely mentioned, even though most of us see it every day--right in front of our eyes.

Microsoft's fonts are used to display most Web pages on the planet. Even Linux and Mac users, who often have fled Windows to avoid dependence on Microsoft, read most of their content using Microsoft fonts.

His solution?

The time has come to break the Microsoft monopoly on fonts. This is easier than it sounds. There are thousands of font families on the Web--I call them Web fonts--that are freely available for anyone to use.


Just as the visual appearance of the Web changed dramatically when images were introduced by Mosaic in 1993, the Web can change yet again if browsers start supporting Web fonts. I believe it will benefit everyone on the Web.

Except, perhaps, the monopolist.

The Great Blog Carnival of the Vanities

Blogs are by their nature interactive and cross-referential. Their posts are often about other blog posts, and they encourage comments, which are then commented on, and may link to other blogs. But there is little in the way of formal structures gathering them together. Little, that is, apart from the blog carnival.

I first came across this concept when I took part in one - Tangled Bank number 51, to be precise. Carnivals are essentially self-selected groups of blog posts, submitted by the authors to a site that acts as a host for a particular topic. The host may be fixed or rotating. But the end-result is the same: a thought-provoking collection of items on a theme.

A good example that I came across today is the carnival Mendel's Garden, hosted at "The force that through..." (great blog name, Dylan). I especially liked the RNAi introduction that was included in the carnival, but then that's me all over.

If you want to find out more about carnivals, there's a whole site devoted to them. According to a page there, one of the first blog carnivals was called, appropriately enough, "Carnival of the Vanities". Alas, it seems to have slipped through the wormholes of cyberspace, but you can catch a glimpse of it frozen in time thanks to the Internet Archive.

Deliciously Open

It may be heretical to admit it, but I'm not a big user of bookmarks, either online or offline. Certainly, I have my del.icio.us account, but I find that this blog is a better place to dump my bookmarks (sorry, gentle reader).

Nonetheless, if you're going to use bookmarks, you may as well use an open bookmarking service like MarkaBoo. The man behind it is really trying:

My other number one priority tomorrow will be to get the seal of approval on a more conventional open source license. Right now I’m really only tossing around three possibilities: Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (dropping the non-commercial requirement), the GPL (de-facto open source standard), or just pulling out all the stops and going with the MIT license. What do you think?

Good question: which do you prefer? (Via TechCrunch.)

Wikis: the New Blogs?

It's interesting how more companies are hoping that wikis are the new blogs. Mr Wikipedia himself was an early player here, with his Wikia. Now here comes Wetpaint (where do they get these names?). TechCrunch reckons that:

The service is incredibly easy to use (Jotspot comes close, but isn’t as mass-user friendly) - and it may bring a much larger audience to wikis than are currently comfortable using them.

I can see why blogs have taken off: it's vanity writing - a chance for the world to enjoy your wit and wisdom. But wikis are almost anti-vanity, since you let people scribble all over your precious masterpiece. Can't see it being so big, myself.

Flashiness Beats Reality

Bad news according to this story: Flash has jumped ahead of Real to become the number 2 video format (after Microsoft's Windows Media). The rise of Flash is particularly tiresome given that there are good open alternatives like Theora and OpenLaszlo.

Podcasters of the World, Unite!

I'm no huge fan of the poddy world (with notable exceptions), which I think is something of a fad, currently; but I certainly wouldn't want it to disappear. So it's good to see the podcasters getting together to fight the underhand WIPO moves I've reported on before. Good luck podboys and podgirls. (Via Boing Boing and Blogger News Network.)

The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons

So through bribes the Japanese have bought the passage of a shameful resolution that flies in the face of science and commonsense. They argue that since whales are more plentiful, they can be hunted. But the only reason whales are more plentiful is because they have not been hunted for 20 years: start hunting them again, and they will be forced to extinction, and there will be no whales for hunting - or anything else.

There's a name for this: it's called the Tragedy of the Commons, and was articulated more than 30 years ago in a famous essay by Garrett Hardin. Basically, it says that selfish use of a common resource leads to the loss of that resource - exactly as Japan seems hell-bent on proving. If the commercial whaling ban is indeed lifted, history will rightly judge them and their allies - including, surprisingly, the previously civilised Denmark - harshly.

18 June 2006

The Commons: a Matter of Life or Death

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

An estimated 24% of the global disease burden and 23% of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors.

In other words, the health of the environmental commons and of mankind are inextricably linked.

As WHO says:

These findings have important policy implications, because the environmental risk factors that were studied largely can be modified by established, cost-effective interventions. The interventions promote equity by benefiting everyone in the society, while addressing the needs of those most at risk.

Textop: Mashups and Strong Collaboration

Larry Sanger is beginning to emerge as one of the key players in the open content scene. As I've written before, he played an important, if disputed, role in the creation of Wikipedia. Currently, he is one of the driving forces behind the Digital Universe project.

I notice that he now has a blog (subtitle: "Constructing the Digital Universe"), which looks like it could become a must-read for those interested in the world of open content. Take, for example, this post about something called Textop, or the Text Outline Project. There is a summary of the project, as well as a more detailed explanation. This looks fascinating, and consists of several projects:

# The Collation Project, the flagship, will analyze various public domain works studied by scholars (e.g., Classics and history of philosophy) into approximately paragraph-sized chunks, summarize them, and place these chunks into a single outline. Each node of the outline will not have more than, say, a half-dozen chunks, so the outline will be constantly expanding. This will provide a single reference point for comparing the detailed content of scholarly works from throughout history and eventually, it is to be hoped, more recent works as well.

# The Analytical Dictionary Project will sort dictionary definitions and much other lexicographical data not by word but by concept, discussing and distinguishing the senses of words, introducing idioms and jargon, etc., all as part of the Collation Project's outline.

# The Debate Guide Project will describe the dialectical landscape, that is, it will provide fair but in-depth briefs on all sides of controversial issues, perennial and contemporary, academic and popular. The results will be located in the Collation Project's outline.

# The Event Summary Project will provide summaries of events or "stories," aggregating information from news articles and other sources and presenting it in the most neutral possible fashion. Event summaries will be appended to the end of the chronological portion of the Collation Project's outline.

The first of these, the Collation Project, is furthest along. Basically, it seems to be about chunking online texts for the purposes of overlaying extra information - a mashup, in effect. There's a sample screenshot of how this might work in practice.

What's interesting about this Textop project is the attempt to go down a level: that is, to produce not just texts, but a kind of Semantic Web within texts, with information about textual subunits. It's ambitious, but certainly worthwhile.

And I like Sanger's concept of "strong collaboration":

Strong, or radical, collaboration is crucially different from old-fashioned collaboration. Many people who have not worked much with open source software, or with Wikipedia, do not realize this.

Building on this idea, he has a couple of provocative suggestions:

First, speaking to the open source and open content community: I ask you to imagine if the Establishment were to use the methods and principles (including shared ownership and freedom) that you champion. Just imagine what fantastic results would come of that. Imagine that, and then ask yourselves what you can do, perhaps what in your processes and attitudes you can change, to help see to it traditional information producers adopt the really productive parts of your culture. And bear in mind that they love the efficiency collaborative systems display, and they aren't in principle opposed to freedom and openness.

Second, speaking to traditional information producers (including academics): imagine a world, after a new collaborative revolution, in which massive amounts of reliable information, nothing like today's Internet, is available free for all. Isn't that something you would want to use your influence to get behind, if it were possible? If such incredibly useful information resources might very well be created with low overhead, then isn't it worth it, at least as an experiment, to jettison top-down assignment and individual authorship, and to explore the creative possibilities of modest business models necessary to support the modest overhead? It may or may not make you rich; but it might well make the world rich in a way it has never been before.

Well, quite.

17 June 2006

Will Geo Data Get Inspired and Go Open?

According to this post by Rufus Pollock, the INSPIRE proposal, the European Commission Directive on European Spatial Data Infrastucture, just might make European geo-spatial data available to the public for free.

I'm sure there's plenty of scope for things to go pear-shaped, and this isn't an area I know anything about, so I've no idea what the dynamics are. But at least there's hope. The place to find out whether that hope is realised or crushed is Public Geo Data. (Via Open Access News.)

Wengo: Open Source VoIP

One of the potential obstacles to adopting open source is the absence of important or even critical applications. A case in point is VoIP. Although, to its credit, Skype offers a client for GNU/Linux, it's not open source. So what do you do if you really need VoIP but also want to follow the path of light?

Enter Wengo, which not only offers the client, but makes all of the code available under the GPL. I've no idea what the VoIP is like, but Wengo is certainly doing the right thing as far as the software is concerned. (Via LXer and Free Software Magazine.)

Spread OpenOffice.org

A little while back I was calling for a spread of the SpreadFirefox meme. It looks like someone is now doing something along these lines with this attempt to spread the use of OpenOffice.org among New Yorkers.

16 June 2006

The Balinese Commons

Well, this sounds like paradise: a conference about the commons taking place in Bali. As the press release puts it (no direct link because of the retrogressive use of frames):

Bali itself is a prime example of commons institutions. The subaks, or traditional irrigation systems have been built and managed by farmers that have lasted over centuries. Even the cultural heritage of the island--seen in the dance, music, and art - is a treasured commons.

Well, quite: kecak as commons, the gamelan as commons, wayang kulit as commons.... (Via On The Commons.)

OpenSolaris: Yes, And?

I'm as big a fan as the next geek of companies opening their code. So kudos to Sun for doing that with its Solaris operating system. But I can't help feeling that this move was about, oh, ten years too late. The stats after one year - 33,000 downloads (no, there are no zeros missing) - seem to confirm this. But I wish the OpenSolaris project well, nonetheless.

What's in a Name?

Digital Rights Network is reporting that as far as the dreaded broadcast treaty is concerned, the EU says protection can only go up. Well, of course, if something is protected, it must be good, so we should increase it.

Now try this: the EU says the monopoly can only be extended. Doesn't sound so good, does it? Monopolies are bad, and so should be decreased. Amazing what a change of terminology can do.

Why Analysts are a Waste of Skin, Part II


Wanted: Visual Search Engine

Most people know about Google Images - the second element on the main Google search page. But it doesn't really find images that match the search string: it finds images that are near text that matches the string. Searching for images qua images is much harder.

Which makes this blog entry about Riya's future intentions in this respect intriguing. I've written about Riya a couple of times: but this move, if it happens, and if it works, is really the big one we've been waiting for. There's some interesting background to the move here. (Via TechCrunch.)

The Decline and Fall of the Microsoft Empire

The announcement that Bill Gates will "transition out of a day-to-day role" at Microsoft is no great shock: he was gradually inching in that direction. But once he has gone, and Steve Ballmer is left completely on his own, things are likely to go downhill pretty fast.

After all, Ballmer is not a man of vision (Gates may often have had the wrong vision, but at least he had one). He's a salesman. As this article suggests, he may well go soon too. That would leave the company even more adrift: it would simply become a huge, hugely-successful, convicted monopolist, adrift in a world very different from the one that it exploited so successfully.

The acme of the Microsoft empire was August 24, 1995, when Windows 95 was launched. Since then, it's been sliding. Soon it'll tank.

Update: It seems that Scoble has some related thoughts, together with a nice graph of the plunging share price.

The GNU and "L"-ephant in the Room

Nearly a great piece in The New York Times about Google's vertiginous expansion of its hardware platform:

Today even the closest Google watchers have lost precise count of how big the system is. The best guess is that Google now has more than 450,000 servers spread over at least 25 locations around the world.

Great, except for the fact that it misses out one key piece of information: that nearly all of those servers are running GNU/Linux. Kinda relevant, don't you think, John, baby?

Open Mobile Linux Platform

The success of GNU/Linux as a server operating system is well known. It's lack of success on the desktop is exaggerated. But what many tend to forget is that GNU/Linux is increasingly widely deployed in everyday devices - music players and mobile phones. Indeed, the overall use in such devices probably exceeds its appearance elsewhere.

Further proof of the importance of this sector - if any were needed - is provided by the creation of "the world's first global, open [GNU/]Linux-based software platform for mobile devices" as the press release puts it. And it has some serious support: Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and Vodafone.

A Review of Open Peer Review

I've mentioned before the idea of going beyond open access, which generally employs traditional peer review of papers, to a totally open peer review system. One attempt to implement this is Biology Direct.

The chief movers behind this journal - Eugene Koonin, David Lipman, Ros Dignon and Laura Landweber - have now written an interesting commentary on the first six months' experience. They speak of "cautious optimism about the Biology Direct model". The piece forms part of Nature's continuing examination of peer review and its place in the modern scientific world.

14 June 2006

Google, Wal-Mart and the Commons

It's funny how sometimes it all just comes together.

A few days ago, I was quoting approvingly an analysis of how the prices of cheap food at places like Wal-Mart do not reflect the true costs - in terms of damage to the environment, local economies, small farmers etc. And now here is the deeply incomprehensible, but clearly perceptive Umair with some cognate thoughts about Google, its business model and PageRank (inspired by Scott Karp's interesting but depressing posting on linkfarms):

But, of course, there's a loser in this game - there must be, since no attention value is created, but attention is being exchanged. In the end, it's consumers, and, to a much smaller extent, advertisers. Consumers pay by spending attention to which returns are essentially zero, and advertisers pay with clicks whose propensity to consume isn't very high (but not many of them will be so interested in that for another couple of years).

Put another way, It is the expected value of attention of consumers which PageRank is supposed to, somewhat accurately, compute. But as long as there's no real competition in search (and let's be honest - there really isn't), Google can keep shifting the costs of this arbitrage on to consumers.

As Scott puts it, "the media business has been reduced to pure transaction". That's a brilliant statement - he's exactly right. In fact, his statement parallels Mark Pincus's very nice analogy from a few months back - Google as Wal-Mart. The dynamics are very much the same: scale economies are achieved by shifting costs elsewhere; at the expense of consumers, quality, etc.

This naturally led me to the original Google as Wal-Mart posting:

in fact, google feels a like walmart today. once the excitement over trying out their latest release wears off we are left with the realization that they are going to ultimately put the corner grocer (being craigslist) out of business, and suck value out of an economy not add back. and while it's a beautiful day here in san francisco, it's a sad one for me to see a company with so much promise to help the world, primarily focus on helping itself.

do we really want this form of capitalism? where companies like msft, walmart and now google pacman up industries, turning founders into billionaires who then hopefully make big philanthropic donations back to the community. is this sustainable capitalism? yes we live in a free market and yes we can choose how to come together as ants. united we stand, divided we work for google and walmart.

(Lack of capital letters not mine).

And of course, it all fits together, it all makes sense. Commons sense, of course.

A Pox on Your Genomic Knowledge

Why is the Guardian (disclosure: yeah, lots of my stuff there, too) running this story - on the front page - about one of its journos ordering and receiving some partial sequences of the smallpox virus? This story already broke in 2002, when someone did the same thing for the polio virus - except that they went even further, and produced a complete pathogen.

And frankly, it wasn't even much of story then. After all, once you know the digital genome of an organism, it's just a matter of engineering to produce the analogue instantiation (a mathematician writes).

Oz Anti-DMCA Battle Begins

One of the most pernicious knock-on effects of the DMCA is that US is exporting it to other lands - notably through trade agreements. Australia is a case in point: thanks to the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement it is forced to enact "anti-circumvention" laws.

As this page from Linux Australia explains, worse may be in store:

Some large business interests are pressing for the government to restrict legitimate access to digital material, even though the treaty does not require us to do so.

The battle in Australia has begun: maybe we should follow suit and try to roll back some of the more inequitable elements of the EUCD.

Stallman and French PM in Argy-Bargy Shock

A great story: RMS took a petition of 165,000 signatures against the French equivalent of the DCMA to the official residence of the French Prime Minister, since the latter (strangely) refused to grant him an audience. There followed a bit of physical argy-bargy - don't miss the pix.

Great quote from a French version of the story:

Frederic Couchet, de la FSF France, aussi déçu qu'excédé, évoque illico la différence de traitement « entre la réception Bill Gates en chef d'Etat par le président de la République et celle de Richard Stallman par le chef de la sécurité de Matignon ». Stallman croit avoir l'explication : « Gates est l'empereur, nous ne sommes que des citoyens », lâche-t-il calmement.

Life would be so boring without RMS.

Open Source is More Secure - Official

Well, almost. At least the statement comes from someone who should know what he's talking about. Raimund Genes is chief technical officer for anti-malware at the anti-virus vendor Trend Micro, and this is what he had to say:

"Open source is more secure. Period. ... More people control the code base; they can react immediately to vulnerabilities; and open source doesn't have so much of a problem with legacy code because of the number of distributions."

Genes said open-source developers "openly talk about security," so patches are "immediate--as soon as something happens," whereas proprietary vendors with closed code have to rely purely on their own resources to push patches out.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft responds to this. I predict some heavy leaning will ensue....

Re-Joyce: Lessig is on the Case

Here's a fine demonstration of why copyright last too long.

The grandson of James Joyce is apparently deeply unhelpful when it comes to giving permission for extracts from his ancestor's works and letters to be used by academics. In other words, copyright - which is meant to promote learning and all other good things - is directly responsible for impeding the advancement of knowledge.

Now, this is just the kind of thing that gets Larry Lessig riled, so he has decided to fight the good fight on behalf of scholars the world over.

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project has filed a law suit against Stephen Joyce, who claims the right to control access to the papers and letters of James Joyce.

And he adds this interesting comment:

This is the first in what we expect will be a series of cases defending the boundaries of fair use. Stay tuned.

(Via Ars Technica.)

Update: Wow: and now the Steinbecks are at it, too.

13 June 2006

Creative Commons Hits 140 Million

That's the latest estimate of total number of items released under a CC licence. Talk about an idea whose time has come....

The Great IP FUD

As if further proof were needed what a slippery and dangerous concept "intellectual property" - "IP" - is, read this article. Under the innocuous - and misleading - headline "Can Windows and Linux Learn to Play Nice?", Bob Muglia, the senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, serves up the following choice Microsoftian views:

"Open source is a way of building software and, in its most basic sense, there is nothing incompatible [between] the concept of open source and commercial software. But the GPL has an inherent incompatibility that is, to my knowledge, impossible to overcome..."

A commercial company has to build intellectual property, while the GPL, by its very nature, does not allow intellectual property to be built, making the two approaches fundamentally incompatible, Muglia said.

Well, no, Bob, I think you're a little confused here.

A commercial company doesn't have to build intellectual property: it may choose to, it may not. It may choose to sell services, for example, and be jolly successful at that: IBM derives around $40 billion a year from services, and IP doesn't enter it (although it does elsewhere in the company's activities).

And the GPL, "by its very nature" not only allows intellectual property to be built, but actually depends on it: as I've written before, the GPL works thanks to copyright. In other words, the GPL depends on what is called "IP" (though neither I nor RMS like the term).

So, I'm afraid, Bob, that you are wrong on both counts. Your argument falls to pieces, and the whole eWeek interview emerges as yet another attempt to FUD-muddy the waters - to portray the GPL as that big, bad IP wolf driven to eat up all the innocent little commercial Red Riding Hoods.

Oh, and by the way, notice the subtle trick in the generous concession that "there is nothing incompatible [between] the concept of open source and commercial software" - as if open source and commercial software were somehow on different planets. Well, what about Red Hat's products, or SuSE's: are they commercial or are they open source? Answer: they're both. It's a false opposition that Muglia is trying to set up.

Amusingly, this was an approach that one of the top Microsoft bods in the UK tried with me a few years back, when I was "invited in" to "chat" about open source (i.e. have my brain picked for any useful ploys that might be used against open source). One of the first phrases that came out of the Microsoftie's mouth was something about "non-commercial" software - by which he meant open source. So, I was naturally forced to give him a hard time and point out that the implicit distinction he was making was false, and that our conversation would be a short one if we couldn't clear that up.

Unfortunately, it looks like Microsoft is still peddling this particular sophistry.

It's Apache, But Not as We Know It

From the "Because it's there" department: Nokia has ported the Apache Web server to the Symbian mobile phone platform.

Some of the thinking behind the move:

As a mobile phone contains quite a lot of personal data it is easy to semi-automatically generate a personal home page. And contrary to websites in general, a website on a mobile phone always has its "administrator" nearby and he or she can even participate in the content generation. For instance, we have created a web-application that prompts the phone owner to take a picture, which subsequently is returned as a JPG. That is, on a personal device the website can be interactive.

Further, that a website becomes mobile implies that certain properties of websites that hitherto have been mostly meaningless now need to be taken into account. As long as a website resides on a stationary server the physical location of that server lacks meaning, because it will never change. With a mobile website it does change and it is meaningful as the content that is shared may depend upon the current location and context. For instance, if you browse to a mobile website and ask the "administrator" to take a picture, the image you get depends upon the location of the website. Current search engines that update their indexes rather rarely may need modifications to be able to cope with the dynamism introduced by mobile websites.


We believe that being able to run a globally accessible personal website on your mobile phone has the potential of changing the Internet landscape. If every mobile phone or even every smartphone initially, is equipped with a webserver then very quickly most websites will reside on mobile phones. That is bound to have some impact not only on how mobile phones are perceived but also on how the web evolves.

(Via Technocrat.net.)

Of Bloggregation and Blortals

An interesting trend reported here:

Science Blogs, the compilation of science and health blogs run by Seed Magazine, has added 25 new blogs to their collection, which now features a total of 44 science voices.

Is this aggregation of related blogs into blog portals (blortals?) the next online publishing wave?

The Snake is Winding up the Tree

This story about the Berlin Senate opposing the call by the Berlin Parliament for a complete migration to GNU/Linux is so serpentine, and the battle between what seems a prelapsarian innocence and the forces of a wily cynicism so epic - nay, biblical - that I really have no idea what is going on.

To say nothing of the closing comments:

"The snake is winding up the tree," some are murmuring. After "three months of work by highly paid officials and external experts," the result is "not worth the paper it is printed on."

Er, right.