30 April 2007

US Patents: Is the Tide Turning?

Maybe I'm an incorrigible optimist, but these look hopeful signs:

The U.S. Supreme Court made it easier to challenge patents for failing to introduce genuine innovations, siding with Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. and dealing a setback to the drug and biotechnology industries.


The decision extends a Supreme Court trend that has put new limits on patent rights. In today's case, the justices heeded arguments from large computer companies and automakers that the lower court test, which centered on the requirement that an invention be "non-obvious," had given too much power to developers of trivial technological improvements.

"Granting patent protection to advances that would occur in the ordinary course without real innovation retards progress," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.

(Via Slashdot.)

All That (Non-DRM'd) Jazz

It's striking that more and more DRM-free sites are starting to achieve prominence - and, one hopes, profitability. Here's another, AllAboutJazz.com, which has a very clever sample system: you can hear all the track, at high quality, but only in 30 second bursts; cunning. But be warned: once you start listening to this stuff, you may have an irresistible urge to buy something from its online shop.... (Via Boing Boing.)

BBC Trust Blows It

The bad news:

we recognise and share the strength of feeling on platform neutrality. We do not consider it practicable to offer catch-up television over the internet on a platform neutral basis immediately. We consider it preferable to allow the BBC to provide value to a majority of users now rather than to wait until full platform neutrality can be achieved before providing catch-up television. We still require platform neutrality for seven-day catch-up television over the internet within a reasonable timeframe, but we have decided not to specify a deadline for achieving this. To counter-balance this, the Trust will take a more active role in holding the Executive to account on the issue by auditing its progress every six months.

Six-monthly audit, eh? Heavy - that's really going to make a difference.

The good news:

In our consultation, members of the public expressed strong feeling in large numbers that seven-day catch-up television over the internet should be available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software. 81 per cent (5,804) said this was very important and a further 5 per cent (355) said it was important. Such was the strength of feeling that respondents did not appreciate, or did not consider it relevant, that the Trust was proposing that the BBC achieves platform neutrality within a specified period. Any period of excluding other operating systems was apparently considered unacceptable by our public respondents.

OK, we lost, but it looks like a lot of us cared enough to act: that's good, not least for the future.

La vida es una lucha.

Of Modules, Atoms and Packages

I commented before that I thought Rufus Pollock's use of the term "atomisation" in the context of open content didn't quite capture what he was after, so I was pleased to find that he's done some more work on the concept and come up with the following interesting refinements:


Atomization denotes the breaking down of a resource such as a piece of software or collection of data into smaller parts (though the word atomic connotes irreducibility it is never clear what the exact irreducible, or optimal, size for a given part is). For example a given software application may be divided up into several components or libraries. Atomization can happen on many levels.

At a very low level when writing software we break thinks down into functions and classes, into different files (modules) and even group together different files. Similarly when creating a dataset in a database we divide things into columns, tables, and groups of inter-related tables.

But such divisions are only visible to the members of that specific project. Anyone else has to get the entire application or entire database to use one particular part of it. Furthermore anyone working on any given part of one of the application or database needs to be aware of, and interact with, anyone else working on it — decentralization is impossible or extremely limited.

Thus, atomization at such a low level is not what we are really concerned with, instead it is with atomization into Packages:


By packaging we mean the process by which a resource is made reusable by the addition of an external interface. The package is therefore the logical unit of distribution and reuse and it is only with packaging that the full power of atomization’s “divide and conquer” comes into play — without it there is still tight coupling between different parts of a given set of resources.

Developing packages is a non-trivial exercise precisely because developing good stable interfaces (usually in the form of a code or knowledge API) is hard. One way to manage this need to provide stability but still remain flexible in terms of future development is to employ versioning. By versioning the package and providing ‘releases’ those who reuse the packaged resource can use a specific (and stable) release while development and changes are made in the ‘trunk’ and become available in later releases. This practice of versioning and releasing is already ubiquitous in software development — so ubiquitous it is practically taken for granted — but is almost unknown in the area of knowledge.

Tricky stuff, but I'm sure it will be worth the effort if the end-result is a practical system for modularisation, since this will allow open content to enjoy many of the evident advantages of open code.

The Caravan Moves On

The dogs are barking on C|net again:

focus on one major problem: Will content companies, such as movie, music and book producers, and those who want to provide them with information technology services, be able to attach Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, a.k.a. Technological Protection Measures (TPM), to programs that are licensed under GPLv3? Since every Linux distribution contains many programs controlled by the Free Software Foundation, this presents no small issue.

Well, since James V. DeLong is "senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation" - Alert! Alert! Weasel word alert! - he would ask that, wouldn't he? I hate to break it to you, James, but DRM is so 2006 (just ask Steve Jobs or EMI): the caravan has moved on.

Google Supports ODF

Well, it already does with its online office suite, but now it lets you search for ODF files and displays converted online:

In addition to HTML files, Google indexes other file types like: PDFs, Microsoft Office files, Shockwave Flash files and more. Google offers you the option to read the HTML (or text) version of the cached file, in case you don't have an application that opens the file.

Google added OpenDocument format to the list of supported documents.

The post has interesting numbers of how many files types are currently found: not many for ODF, currently. It will be interesting to see how things change with time. (Via Bob Sutor.)

Gagging Linus

I seem to recall that Darl McBride, the man behind SCO's suicidal strategy of suing IBM, once received a box of worms as a token of displeasure from someone. I think he would have got rather more than that had this idea gone ahead:

SCO suggested that all parties involved in the litigation be subject to a stipulated gag order. The company then stretched the definition of "involved parties" to include SCO, Columbia Law professor Eben Moglen, OSS advocate Eric Raymond, and Linus Torvalds. "Because of Mr. Torvalds' position in the technology world, his comments about SCO's evidence in this case are given particular weight in industry and popular press," argues the letter from SCO attorney Kevin P. McBride.

Easy Access to IPv6 at Last?

You probably don't realise it, but the Internet is a dinosaur. More specially, the Internet numbering system is palaeolithic, and needs sorting out. Ironically, the solution has been around for years (I first wrote about it nearly a decade ago). It's called IPv6, and instead of the measly 4 billion or so addresses that IPv4 allows (and which are allocated in a particularly arbitrary way), IPv6 will give us


of them, which should keep us going for a while.

And yet we hear little of IPv6 these days. So I was glad to see that down-under they are doing something on this front with the IPv6 for e-Business initiative. As well as scads of useful IPv6 resources, this site also has links to a highly-practical outcome of the Australian project, the memorably-named "Easy Access Device":

The Easy Access Device (EAD) has been developed with the purpose of providing a small businesses (leas than 50 employees) with a simple, easy to use IPv6 Internet access device. The system is designed as a small unit that would be installed in a small business, and connects directly into a DSL, cable or wireless broadband termination unit (typically a modem). The unit provides the basic network services normally required at a small office network boundary for both IPv6 and IPv4 networks.

Apparently it's a PC box running Ubuntu. Providing a cheap solution is probably as good a way as any of moving on from the poor old IPv4.

Behold the Sculpted Prim

Second Life gets an upgrade: sculpted prims.

Q: What is a sculpted prim?

A: A "sculpted prim" is a prim whose shape is determined by a texture - its "sculpt texture". Sculpted prims can create organic shapes that are not currently possible with Second Life's prim system.

Very cool. (Via C|net.)

27 April 2007

Open Source Museum of Open Source Art

You don't normally expect museums to be open source, not least because they are rather keen on preventing visitors from modifying their exhibits. Of course, if the museum and its holdings are purely virtual, then this is less of a problem - you could always undo operations, provided you keep a backup.

And thus was born OSMOSA, the Open Source Museum of Open Source Art, in Second Life; the name comes from the fact the museum can be modified, too. Truth to tell, the idea is rather more interesting than the (virtual) reality, which was rather confused when I visited.

How Not to Get It, Part 4593

There's a wonderful story in the entertainment industry's local rag, Variety:

Young people prefer to download film and music illegally because they don't think that the biz is capable of giving bang for their buck.

An Edelman survey claims that more than a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.K. and France would download film and music content illegally due to a lack of trust in the entertainment industry.

While technology companies rated highest in Edelman's report on levels of consumer trust among opinion elites, defined as educated, affluent and media informed, in France and the U.K., media and entertainment companies ranked behind only insurance companies in terms of the public's distrust.

What's interesting about this, is not just how much today's yoof really get what's going on - that they are being conned by the entertainment industry in terms of the products they are being offered (DRM, etc.) - but the spin put on all this by the industry and its servants:

"There is good news for the sector in that people do trust the companies to make entertainment content widely and legally available online," Becker said. "Now entertainment companies need to articulate they're providing value for money. I think we are witnessing that evolution."

Good news? Trust the companies?? Evolution??? Don't tell me: black is white, and up is down, too.

26 April 2007

World Intellectual Monopolies Day

This is bad enough:

Each year, WIPO and its Member States celebrate World Intellectual Property Day with activities, events and campaigns. These seek to increase public understanding of what IP really means, and to demonstrate how the IP system fosters not only music, arts and entertainments, but also all the products and technological innovations that help to shape our world.

But these "suggested activities" are positively obscene:

# Mount an essay competition in local schools on simple intellectual property-related themes, such as "How creativity and innovation improve the world".

# Organize a school wide intellectual property day with different awareness building activities for the students (such as invention competition to find the best solution to a common problem, a painting or sketching competition, or presentations by inventors, authors, musicians on their experiences with, or reflections on, the IP system); distribute and exhibit WIPO and materials from the national IP office in schools.

A day celebrating monopolies? While we're at it, why not have a day celebrating passive smoking, or a day celebrating global warming? (Via Michael Geist.)

God Bless Spyware...

...or rather, god bless the Spyware Act currently being pondered in the US. Why, you may ask? How can something as laudable as anti-spyware legislation possibly be relevant to open source? Well, try this for size.

According to the proposals:

it's perfectly OK for basically any vendor you do business with, or maybe thinks you do business with them for that matter, to use any of the deceptive practices the bill prohibits to load spyware on your computer. The company doesn't have to give you notice and it can collect whatever information it thinks necessary to make sure there's no funny business going on. And by the way, another exception provision specifically protects computer manufacturers from any liability for spyware they load on your computer before they send it to you. Of course, the exception for software companies checking to make sure you're an authorized user is the strongest evidence of what this bill is all about. After all, in terms of function, there's not much difference between spyware and DRM.

Of course this stuff only really applies to closed source, because with open source you can (a) find the spyware, and (b) chop it out. Moreover, the concept of an "authorised user" has no meaning - we are all authorised, by definition. Now tell me again why you want to stick with proprietary code....

Nissan Open Sources Its Gizmos

Virtual gizmos, of course:

Nissan will be the first automotive company to provide Second Life residents access to the open-source codes used on the Altima Island contraptions.

(Via Second Life Herald.)

IBM's Virtual Mainframe

It's been an open secret that IBM was working on its own virtual world platform, but details are now beginning to emerge:

IBM said its new "gameframe" system was being designed in collaboration with Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian game developer that is interested in creating a software layer it calls a "bitverse" to support virtual online worlds.

There are already massively multiplayer games that support hundreds of thousands of simultaneous players, but the IBM system will add an unparalleled level of realism to visual interactions, Meyerson said.

He argued that in addition to gaming applications, this kind of technology could be used to enhance the performance and scaleability of existing virtual worlds like Second Life, an Internet-based service that crosses the boundary between online entertainment and workplace collaboration.

Mark Wallace has more information.

Walt is D Man

Although I'm not particularly interested in the kind of consumer stuff he mostly writes about, I do have quite a lot of time for Walt Mossberg, the Grand Old Curmudgeon of computer journalism. So I decided to take a look at his new standalone gig, called All Things D (as in digital). What's most impressive about it is not is clean design, or even its content, but the amazingly scrupulous Ethics Statement:

I don't accept any money, free products, or anything else of value, from the companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I also don't accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I don't serve as a consultant to any companies, or serve on any corporate boards or advisory boards.

I do occasionally take a free t-shirt from these companies, but my wife hates it when I wear them, as she considers them ugly.

I don't own a single share of stock in any of the companies whose products I cover, or any shares in technology-oriented mutual funds. Because of this, I completely missed the giant run-up in tech stocks a few years back, and looked like an idiot. However, when the tech stocks crashed, I looked like a genius. Neither was true.

D man, indeed.

Adobe Flexes Its Open Source Muscles

As regular readers may have noticed, I'm not a big fan of Flash. But news that Adobe is open-sourcing Flex, its development framework for building Flash and Apollo-based applications, is, I suppose, marginally better than being poked in the eye with a sharp stick:

Adobe is announcing plans to open source Flex under the Mozilla Public License (MPL). This includes not only the source to the ActionScript components from the Flex SDK, which have been available in source code form with the SDK since Flex 2 was released, but also includes the Java source code for the ActionScript and MXML compilers, the ActionScript debugger and the core ActionScript libraries from the SDK. The Flex SDK includes all of the components needed to create Flex applications that run in any browser - on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux and on now on the desktop using “Apollo”.

Developers can use the Flex SDK to freely develop and deploy Flex applications using either Adobe Flex Builder or an IDE of their choice.

It looks like my musings have come true rather sooner than I expected.

Wanted for WS-Context: Some Context

Sounds heavy:

OASIS, the international standards consortium, today announced that its members have approved Web Services Context (WS-Context) version 1.0 as an OASIS Standard, a status that signifies the highest level of ratification. WS-Context defines an open framework for supporting coordinated and transactional compositions of multiple Web services applications.

But I wonder whether anyone will use it.

25 April 2007

Quakr, the New Quake?

Well, no, not really: actually, it's much more impressive:

Quakr is a project to build a 3-dimensional world from user contributed photos.

Why OOXML is Like Internet Explorer

So let's get this straight:

What got really interesting was when Yusseri raised the issue of OOXML and why didn't Microsoft just work on ODF in collaboration instead of creating a new, bloated standard. Bill [Hilf]'s answer was quite surprising, as he clarified that the file format (OOXML) was a part of the software and that OOXML and the software (MS Office) are quite inseparable. Ergo, OOXML is an integral and inseparable part of MS Office. That's why they could not adopt ODF as the file format for subsequent versions of MS Office.

Oh, I see. As in Internet Explorer is part of Windows, and quite inseparable - apart from the version of Internet Explorer that came in the Windows Plus! box to add on to the very first version of Windows 95 that was released without Internet Explorer.

All makes sense now.

Two in a Single Stroke

This is cool: further proof not only that patents in general, and software patents in particular are stupid, but that at least some VCs are amoral parasites:

Earlier this year, we wrote about one such fund, Altitude Capital Partners who had quietly invested in Visto, but made it clear that it really only cared about companies who had patents that could be used in lawsuits. John points us to a Forbes article that talks about Altitude and other private equity funds that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars solely to support patent lawsuits. In other words, if you thought things were bad in the past, they're about to get much, much worse. Once again, almost all of these lawsuits aren't about protecting the interests of an inventor at all.

O rose, thou art sick.

EU + IPRED2 = EUdiots

What were they thinking?

The European Parliament today accepted the IP Criminal Measures directive after its first reading in a vote of 374 to 278, and 17 abstentions. It left several unexamined rights in the scope, and threatens to criminalise consumers and incriminate ISPs. Recommendations from an alliance of libraries, consumers and innovators were not followed, although Parliament was clearly divided on several issues.

The battle is lost, but the war is not yet over:

The fight now moves to the Council of the European Union, where it will be considered by representatives of the national governments of all EU Member States. Several states have started to mount resistance to IPRED2 in recent weeks, with the UK and Holland leading the charge. Europeans worried about their right to innovate, and their ability to live under clear, fair criminal laws must now turn to their own national governments to ensure that IPRED2 doesn't set a terrible precedent for copyright law, and the EU legal process. If the Council disagrees with EuroParl's action -- which we believe is in reach -- IPRED2 would be returned for a second reading. We will be tracking these developments and providing opportunities to act at CopyCrime.eu.

End of an Era

Gasp! Eben's moving on:

More than anything else, however, this is a moment to focus on the new. SFLC is a wonderful place to work, for me and I hope for all my colleagues. Great things are happening that haven’t had enough attention, because everyone has been watching GPLv3. The really innovative work is being done by the other lawyers here. They are refining organizational structures, innovating strategies for setting up “project conservancies”–a new type of shared container for multiple free software projects –which gives those projects administrative and legal advantages with minimal overhead. They are counseling young projects making astonishing new free software that’s going to be rocking business’s world three or four years from now. We’re taking risk out of projects everybody is using or is going to want to use. Helping my colleagues do that work, supporting their growth as they support their clients, is the right thing for me to do right now.

Google Does the Decent Thing

A criticism sometimes levelled at users of open source who make changes to the code but do not distribute it is that they don't give it back to the community (which they are generally perfectly to do, under the GNU GPL, say). So it's good to see one of the highest-profile users of free software, Google, giving back code changes of its own free will. Let's hope others follow suit.

Virtual Mouse Brain is Penguin-Powered

One of GNU/Linux's unique properties is its ability to run on dozens of platforms (whereas Windows runs on precisely one, that of Intel's processors). GNU/Linux can power anything from an embedded processor in a tiny industrial device, through mobile phones, PCs, minicomputers, mainframes right up to massively-parallel supercomputers.

One of these, IBM's Blue Gene/L, has recently been used to model part of a mouse brain in near-real-time. Which means that GNU/Linux has just added a platform, albeit as an emulation. (Via Jamais Cascio.)

24 April 2007

A Different View of Vista

Andrew Watson has done the maths for some of O’Reilly’s books for programmers:

* Windows Vista Annoyances: 704.
* Windows Vista Pocket Reference: 192
* Windows Vista in a Nutshell: 750.
* Linux Kernel in a Nutshell: 198.

That's 704 pages of Vista annoyances, a couple of months after launch: says it all, really.

Open Source at the Centre of the Middle Kingdom?

For those of us the wrong side of the bamboo curtain, it's often hard to tell exactly what's going on in the Middle Kingdom. So this extensive report about open source and intellectual monopoly issues in China is particularly welcome:

Open-source software is receiving a rapid uptake in key developing countries and users, local industries and governments say it offers them market opening, flexibility and lower costs. China, perhaps the biggest potential market, showed last week how much open-source is part of its plans.

The adoption of open-source software is also related to rising interest in open standards, which stems from emerging economies' effort to make global standards-making more favourable to them. Governments and technology companies say that a change in standards which involve underlying patents can mean monopoly markets for patent-holding companies, most of which are usually based in developed countries.

Ars Nova: The Art of Misrepresentation

A nice summary by Rob Weir of Microsoft's increasingly desperate campaign to undermine ODF in every way possible through artful and persistent misrepresentation of the facts. It begins with a real killer opening par:

Tim Anderson has an interesting article up on his ITWriting blog, "Microsoft’s Jean Paoli on the XML document debate". Of course, I treat anything Jean Paoli says on XML with such attention as I usually reserve for listening to the isorhythmic motets of Philippe de Vitry. Like de Vitry, Paoli can be understood on several different levels: What is he saying? And what is he really saying.

23 April 2007

Open Source Hardware

One of the central beliefs at the heart of this blog is that open source ideas can be applied in many other, quite different, fields. But even though the concept of "open source hardware" is bandied around quite freely, it's not entirely clear how hardware can be open.

Try this for an explanation - with pix - which sensibly uses a layer model. (Via Slashdot.)

Making All the Right Connections

This is a tiny footnote to the larger story of the imminent IPRED2 vote, but I think in its own way it's a fine parable about the power of connected people, and of the larger connection that is the Internet.

Although I follow matters concerning European legislation affecting the digital world, and particularly those involving intellectual monopolies, pretty closely, I'd missed exactly when this IPRED2 stuff was about to break.

Luckily, I have a feed from the Open Rights Group, who ran this story warning us about the upcoming vote. As a result, I wrote first this post, and then this one, making pleas for people to write to their MEPs asking them to support amendments to the IPRED2 proposal, or to vote against it completely.

Nothing special in that, you might say. Except that Simon Phipps kindly mentioned me as one of his sources for a post on the subject, also urging people to write to their MEPs. And this, in its turn, was picked up by James Governor.

But the story does not end there. As James relates, within half-an-hour of firing off some emails, he had received a reply - a positive one too - and was impressed. I, too, am deeply impressed by the three replies I have received so far, two positive, and one effectively abstaining.

What this shows is the real power of blogs to get a message out, and to make a difference. More importantly, perhaps, it also shows that emailing MEPs does actually get a response, sometimes rapidly. I find both facts heartening; it gives me hope for the political process and for the possibility that technology can help ordinary citizens engage with it more directly.

That's Torn It

I'm terribly torn again.

This brilliant piece of cyber-conjecture sounds *so* exciting. But do I trust Google enough to put my entire digital life in its hands? And even if I trust Google, do I trust that nice Mr Bush and his warrants?

No, I thought not.

Google and Cultural Genocide

A suprising post from Cult of the Dead Cow about Google and its role in the cultural genocide of the Tibetans:

Ever since Google announced that it would deploy its emasculated server farms into Mainland China, the search giant's collaboration with Chinese censors has been widely criticized by the human rights community, free speech advocates, and the United States Congress. Although Google claims to have consulted with many nameless NGOs before deciding to export its censorship technology to China, it failed to take anyone's advice not to proceed. Google apparently knew better than its critics. Google even took the step of hiring someone from the Council on Foreign Relations to improve its public image with respect to corporate responsibility and geo-strategy. Regardless, Google's arguments for continuing to capitulate to Chinese demands are misplaced, self-serving, and uninformed. They are also a threat to Western security

Pity about that typeface. (Via Boing Boing.)

Second Life Gets Local Governance (a Bit)

One of the unresolved issues for virtual worlds is governance. If, as Second Life appears to do, there is a claim that this is a user-generated world, then it makes sense for users to run the place, too. Moreover, since users certainly pay a tax for the pleasure of living in Second Life, they should arguably have some form of representation. The first baby steps towards this have just been taken:

Many moons back, a portion of Linden’s Community Team developed a project meant to deliver better local Governance control to the grid. What does this mean? Many things. For starters: The Estate Level Abuse program which we’ve been Beta Testing since January. This was a test designed to allow estate owners to receive and resolve their own abuse reports in the method in which they best see fit. No longer subject to Linden’s ideas on how abuse could be handled, estate owners in the test had abuse reports filed on their land sent directly to their email.

IPRED2: Last Chance to Act

If you are a citizen of the European Union:

A coalition of groups representing librarians, consumers' and innovators have come together to support of a series of amendments that would fix the worst parts of the proposed Directive on Criminal Measures aimed at ensuring the enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRED2).

If you live in the EU, contact your MEPs and ask them to support these amendments at the plenary vote in European Parliament on April 24-26, 2007.


Citizendium Update

Larry Sanger's Citizendium project was an interesting experiment in forking Wikipedia, which has now evolved into something else. Here's his full update on where it stands, together with a nice polemic on the "new politics of knowledge."

The Supreme Blog?

Who knew that there was a blog about the US Supreme Court? And it seems that there are some interesting things happening there in the field of patents:

the Supreme Court has taken three patent cases just this Term, the most in modern history (at least to my recollection). In an era when the Court's docket has been steadily declining, as I have highlighted in previous posts, what do you think explains the Supreme Court's sudden interest in patent cases, an area over which it has no special subject matter expertise? One obvious explanation is that the Court is trying to rein in what it might view as a rogue Federal Circuit, but I believe that there might be something more there.

(Via Against Monopoly.)

20 April 2007

BeThere? I'd Rather BeSquare

I've sometimes been vaguely tempted by BeThere's promises of "up to 24 Meg download" speeds. No more, if this is how it treats someone pointing out a serious vulnerability in its operations:

A 21-year-old college student in London had his internet service terminated and was threatened with legal action after publishing details of a critical vulnerability that can compromise the security of the ISP's subscribers.

BeThere took the retaliatory action four weeks after subscriber Sid Karunaratne demonstrated how the ISP's broadband routers can be remotely accessed by anyone curious enough to look for several poorly concealed backdoors. The hack makes it trivial to telnet into a modem and sniff users' VPN credentials, modify DNS settings and carry out other nefarious acts.

Here's a simple explanation: if someone exploits your vulnerability, they are crackers and deserve punishing; if someone points out your vulnerability so you can fix it and protect yourself, they are hackers and deserve rewarding. (Via TechDirt.)

The Blog is the New Resume

Pretty much . (Via ContentBlogger.)

Google Web History: Fantastically...What?

This looks really cool:

Web History: All the web sites you visit, at your fingertips.

* View your web activity.
* Search the full text of pages you've visited.
* Get personalized search results and more.

But frankly, I'm far too frightened to install it. The idea of not just giving all this data to Google (based in the US, remember, with that nice Mr. Bush in charge), but authorising it to track my every move online....Nein Danke. (Via Vecosys.)

19 April 2007

Open Scientific Communication

Not exactly the snappiest name for a blog (they probably wanted to use something witty like "opendotdotdot", but it was taken). Nonetheless the eponymous blog is welcome:

This blog was set up by members of the Euroscience working group on Open Access chaired by Hélène Bosc. Euroscience is a grass-roots organisation open to research professionals, science administrators, policy-makers, teachers, PhD students, post-docs, engineers, industrialists, and in general to any citizen interested in science and technology and its links with society. It represents European scientists of all disciplines (including social sciences and the humanities), in the public sector, universities, research institutes as well as business and industry.

This blogs covers subjects that are wider than just open access to scientific papers, ranging from open acces archiving to open licensing and terms of use.

I do wonder about that domain name, though.... (Via Open Access News.)

Thunderbird 2

There was always something rather exciting about Thunderbird 2 that the other Thunderbirds were unable to match. Perhaps it was that interchangeable pod thing, which fitted inside inside the outer frame, that lent it an extensibility and thus unpredictability the others lacked.

Anyway, Thunderbird 2 (Mozilla's email program) has landed and is very cool.

Feisty Fawn Goes to Java (or Vice Versa)

Simon Phipps writes:

The news is that a full Java developer stack with tools is available from today in the Multiverse repository for Ubuntu 7.04 (that's Feisty Fawn). It includes JDK 5 and 6, the Glassfish Java EE server, the NetBeans development environment and the Java DB database. From today, Ubuntu becomes a first-class Java developer platform (just like Solaris Express already is). That also makes deployment easy - having Glassfish or Java DB as a dependency becomes almost trivial.

Not One God: No God

A strange post here from the usually perceptive James Governor:

One of my current hobby horses is that we the industry needs to move beyond good vs evil, manichaen black vs white, beyond the single answer to a problem. Our monoetheism does us no favours. A more polytheistic sense, of using the right tools for the job, and being in mastery, bringing a more distributed spirituality into our technology saturated lives. And document formats seems an obvious place for that kind of thinking. One true format? What do we need that for and what god are we worshipping? What are the problems we’re trying to solve?

Well, how about breaking lock-in in the Office market? How about trying to create a level playing-field so there are lots of solutions - not just one, as now (that's monotheism)? How about creating a truly open standard that is not controlled by one company, and that can grow according to the needs and desires of users?

And saying, well, let's have two standards, doesn't cut it for purely pragmatic reasons. Unless Microsoft's monopoly on the desktop is broken, it will continue; unless ODF becomes the single, global, open standard, Microsoft's pretend open standards will continue to exert their vice-like grip on the market, sustained through sheer inertia from a time when there was no alternative. Now there is.

ODF in itself is nothing special, except that it is truly open, and backed now by enough users and companies to be viable. Its main function is to create the conditions for competition and network effects to kick in. It is not so much a god that has to be worshipped, as a landscape in which things can be built.

Not one god, not two gods, but no gods.

Intellectual Monopoly Enforcement Directive

Doesn't sound so good like that, does it? Perhaps that's why they dress it up as the Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive, which sounds so much cosier. But the fact is, bad things are about to happen in Europe on this front:

IPRED2 – the EU’s second intellectual property enforcement directive – is going to the vote at the EU Parliament next week. If it passes in its current form, “aiding, abetting, or inciting” copyright infringement on a “commercial scale” in the EU will become a crime. What’s more, it will be the first time the EU will force countries to impose minimal criminal sanctions – this is normally left up to the discretion of member states.

If you're a citizen of the European Union - and remember, that includes all you Romanians, Bulgarians out there, too - please write to your MEP and point out how bad this legislation as currently drafted it (contact UK MEPs here). Aside from bolstering intellectual monopolies, it will also threaten free software development.

Microsoft Embraces (Nearly) Free Software

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is using a speech in Beijing to unveil a new low-cost bundle of Office and Windows, one of several new initiatives aimed at getting PCs into the hands of more people in emerging markets.

The software maker will offer the $3 Student Innovation Suite to governments that agree to directly purchase PCs for students to use in their schoolwork and at home.

I've always been surprised Microsoft hasn't done this before, since it was fighting a losing battle against completely free software in developing countries. But aside from its competitive aspect, there's one that interests me more.

Microsoft is gradually reducing the perceived price of its software to zero. Apart from the difficulties this will cause it in those markets where it is still charging hundreds of dollars, it also means that the move to open sourcing its code, and literally giving it away, comes one step closer. It'll happen, mark my words.

Microsoft's Men in Black

"It was like the movie 'Men in Black,'" says Rep. Homan. "Three Microsoft lobbyists, all wearing black suits."

Another lobbyist (unaffiliated with Microsoft) who would speak only "on background" laughed at the "Men in Black" description. "I know those guys," he said. "They even wear sunglasses like in that movie. They are the 'Men in Black' of Florida lobbying, for sure."

A legislative staff employee who would lose his job if he were quoted here by name said, "By the time those lobbyists were done talking, it sounded like ODF (Open Document Format, the free and open format used by OpenOffice.org and other free software) was proprietary and the Microsoft format was the open and free one."

Two other legislative employees (who must also remain anonymous) told Linux.com that the Microsoft lobbyists implied that elected representatives who voted against Microsoft's interests might have a little more trouble raising campaign funds than they would if they helped the IT giant achieve its Florida goals.

Amusing as this might seem, it's pretty serious, if true - and there's no reason to disbelieve it. Moreover, I think it will come back to bite Microsoft. This is not the way a corporation should act - and a further sign that Microsoft is deeply worried.

ODF: The Croation Domino Falls


17 April 2007

GapingVoid, or Gaping Void?

This, at first sight, is just sad. But maybe it's actually interesting: to see whether someone who apparently got it, and now clearly doesn't get it, does finally get it.

Open Source Demand Generation

Is there nothing that free software can't do?:

LoopFuse is the enterprise-grade open source alternative to demand generation, offering marketing and sales organizations the ability to generate leads from their website, lead nurturing capabilities, and full CRM integration with most major vendors. LoopFuse also offers the capability to measure ROI within marketing and sales department initiatives.

Because LoopFuse is built on best-of-breed open source technologies, scalability and reliability are assured. Leveraging the open source community also allows us to have much lower costs than our competitors and faster-paced innovation, which our customers and partners ultimately benefit from.


That's user-created content to you. A big, rather dry, but useful report on said. (Via Michael Geist.)

The Tragedy of the Bumblebee Commons

We don't often think of bumblebees as forming a commons, but there's a clear tragedy caused by selfish exploitation going on here:

Several UK bumblebee species are heading inexorably for extinction, scientists have claimed, part of a process caused by "pesticides and agricultural intensification" which could have a "devastating knock-on effect on agriculture".

Not so much flight of the bumblebee as plight of the bumblebee.

McNealy Calls for Merger of ODF and UOF

Readers of this blog may recall mentions of the third document format, China's UOF (click on UOF tag below for more on the subject). Well, here's an interesting idea from Sun's Scott McNealy: merge UOF with ODF.

Europe Against Software Patents

See, it's not just me. (Via Against Monopoly).

Flash: Now With Improved Evilness

I've always said that Flash was turning the Internet into television, and now here's the final proof I was right:

But the big seller for Adobe is the ability to include in Flash movies so-called digital rights management (DRM) - allowing copyright holders to require the viewing of adverts, or restrict copying.

"Adobe has created the first way for media companies to release video content, secure in the knowledge that advertising goes with it," James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research said.

Content publishers are promised "better ways to deliver, monetize, brand, track and protect video content".

Interesting, of course, that no benefits for the user are mentioned here.

Pure evil.

16 April 2007


I. Am. Gobsmacked. (Via Techcrunch.)

Open Web Initiative

What is Open Web?

Open Web is a collection of technologies and standards that enable individuals to disclose their identity, feeds, activities, friends, and social networks, while preserving their ownership over this information and enabling them to keep their privacy.

What is NOT Open Web?

Anything that is proprietary, locked in in format or provider is NOT Open Web. Open Web is about open, extensible, and license free standards.

In short this is a collection of technologies and open standards that enable individuals to disclose their identity, feeds, activities, friends, and social networks, while preserving their ownership over this information and enabling them to keep their privacy.

Sounds good to me. (Via Vecosys.)

Microsoft Sees the (Silver)Light

I suppose I ought to approve of Microsoft's new Silverlight:

Microsoft Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications (RIAs) for the Web.

In other words a Flash-killer. Well, maybe not, but at least it might nudge Adobe into opening up their technology. And how about this for progress:

Silverlight will support all major browsers on both Mac OS X and on Windows. Particular care is being taken to account for differences in platform and browser capabilities to ensure a consistent experience including experiences on FireFox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

OK, it's not quite GNU/Linux support, but Firefox at least seems to have made an impression.

This is the Way the World (of Copyright) Ends...

...not with a bang, but a whimper:

YouTube may be best known for showing video clips from its users of hamsters’ pratfalls or attempts to don as many T-shirts as possible. Starting today, it will also become an easy way to view content from Al Jazeera English, the English-language version of the Qatar-based television news station.

Now, some may not be happy with Al Jazeera's viewpoint (me, I like diversity), but here's a strange thing. Points of view that run counter to Al Jazeera's are likely to be thin on the ground online. Why? Because those that produce them will use copyright law to pursue anyone posting them to YouTube.

Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as the US Government realises that its blind support of copyright maximalism places the US viewpoint at a disadvantage globally?

No, I suppose not.

Funk That Macaque

Since I let my Science subscription lapse some time ago (not enough hours in the day, alas), it didn't occur to me that the recently-published Macaque genome might be available online. But in a nod to open access, Science has put together a special online collection around the subject.

The Macaque is important because it's only the third primate genome to be sequenced - the other two being the chimpanzee and humans. Its sequencing will allow all kinds of genomic triangulation to be performed to work who did what first in terms of genes and suchlike. It's also important because it represents at least one more such primate that we've managed to sequence before driving to extinction (hello gorilla, goodbye gorilla....)

Warning: Common-Sense Attack!

Look out - the UK Government (or parts of it) are suffering an attack of common-sense:

President George W Bush's concept of a "war on terror" has given strength to terrorists by making them feel part of something bigger, Hilary Benn will say.

The international development secretary will tell a meeting in New York the phrase gives a shared identity to small groups with widely differing aims.

And Mr Benn, a candidate for Labour's deputy leadership, will confirm that UK officials will stop using the term.

The White House coined the phrase after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Mr Benn will say: "In the UK, we do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone.

It will be interesting to see what happen when Tony "Poodle" Blair finally deigns to move on.

Making Music, Making Money

I've written about this idea before, but it's good to see further evidence that you can make plenty of money from music without worrying about fans copying your songs:

Sweaty rock gigs and hippy festivals have given way to a golden age of live music in the UK.


"Live music is the ultimate experience. It's not bootleggable, you can't replicate it, you can't steal it, and you can't mimic that experience of actually standing at a gig - the roar of the crowd, the smell of the greasepaint."

RIAA, are you listening?

15 April 2007

From Open Source to Open Sewing

Nice: someone else who really gets it:

"Ours is an open-source approach to the sewing patterns," Abousteit said. "We removed copyright restrictions and actually encourage people to make money selling their improved versions over our own Web site."

The only requirement for people to use modified Burda patterns is to acknowledge the company as the source.

Removing copyright restrictions from the patterns that made Burda Moden money and fame was a move that required approval from Hubert Burda.

"Instead of opposing the removal of copyright," Burda "drew a parallel between sewing patterns and the music industry," she said. "He said we should not make the same mistakes as record companies did with copy restrictions."

So how do they make money? Easy - offer added-value:

The site gives away sewing patterns that can be printed on A4 paper which then must be taped together. For about $4 people can download a pattern that can be printed on a single large sheet on printers available at most print shops.

(Via Paidcontent.org.)

Jyte's the Ticket

Short of a time sink or two? Try Jyte. (Via eightbar.)

Thunderbirds Are... Synched!

I'm a big fan of Thunderbird, so details of how to synch up its emerging Lightning calendar extension to Google Calendar is big news for me. Here's a handy step-by-step guide.

Fidei Defensor: Oh, Look, Another One

A little while back, I wrote about the amazing coincidence that two very similar articles defending Microsoft against the European Commission had been published a few days apart. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across yet another one:

If there were truly a demand for options other than the Microsoft operating system, companies would not hesitate to specialize in meeting this demand. On the contrary, if Microsoft retains a "dominant position," it is because it offers today's best alternative in consumers' eyes.

I won't even bother refuting the arguments of the article (exercise left to the reader), since the writer either doesn't understand the issues of technological lock-in (APIs, anyone?), or pretends not to. What interests me more is who exactly is behind this third defence.

The author comes from the Institut economique Molinari, which at least has the virtues of avoiding obvious weasel words like "innovation" or "competition". But a closer examination of the Institut reveals some interesting positions.

Take this one, for example:

il faut réaliser qu’il faut de l’énergie pour se protéger des aléas climatiques, froids ou chauds, et qu’un individu qui peut en déployer beaucoup est sûrement mieux protégé qu’un individu qui n’a que peu d’outils, de capital, de ressources pour s’adapter. L’économiste Julian Simon souligne que si l’énergie devenait extrêmement bon marché, il serait probablement possible d’irriguer et de cultiver les zones désertiques. Il est par conséquent évident que nous pouvons aussi nous adapter face à un climat plus chaud ou à une augmentation du niveau des océans.

The incredible logic seems to run like this. Rather than trying to do something about global warming, which might mean - quel horreur! - cutting back on that lovely black stuff, we should actually increase our dependence on oil and use it to irrigate the desert areas created by global warming. Of course, that will raise temperatures even more, creating even more deserts, but the solution is simply to use even more oil. Clever, huh?

As far as I can tell, there are no statements on the website about who funds this Institut. Of course, it couldn't possibly be someone like, say, oil companies? No, surely not. Equally, I presume that Microsoft has made no donations, directly or indirectly. The spirited defence of that company's actions is obviously offered pro bono publico - just like the desert irrigation scheme.

14 April 2007

Open Sensor Data

Imagine a world full of sensors, tasting, testing and reading. Imagine a world where all that data were completely open, to be used freely by anyone, for any purpose. It's coming:

the sensors will grab weather data like temperature, rainfall and wind speeds, but eventually the project designers plan to integrate such things as pollution detectors and traffic monitors.

What's new about the system, known as CitySense, is that the sensor information will be entirely open to the public over the Web. And people anywhere can sign up for a slot to run experiments on the network.

So while a local doctor could check whether an asthma patient lives in a neighborhood with high levels of dangerous particulates, another researcher could use the system to model, say, how temperature and air pressure vary over short distances in an urban environment.

Where in the World Are You?

Talking of Google's growing power:

Once again ... the average person has NO idea they are now going to have even more records kept of every place they have marked or annotated, and when they did it. Google continues to gather even more information about you ... who you are ... what you do ... where you do.

(Via weaverluke.)

Google + DoubleClick = GoogleClick

One consequence of Google's rather expensive acquisition of DoubleClick is that it turns the company from a search engine that sells ads into an advertising company that happens to have a search engine.

During Web 1.0, the accepted wisdom was that online advertising would never be viable as a revenue stream - the "real" money would have to come from somewhere else, such as subs or content purchased through micropayments. It will be interesting to see how things develop during Web 3.0...

13 April 2007

Virtually All Virtual Worlds

Well, nearly all of them:

What follows is a measurement of comparability with Second Life. By naming these priorities “Onder’s Big Three”, I’m taking ownership of the fact that what follows is purely my opinion. The big three pivotal points of SL-likeness:

1. Real money must move in and out of the “virtual” economy freely. RMT (Real-Money Trading) is designed in, not forbidden by TOS.
2. Users must be able to create unique content and retain ownership over it. Things like scripting and accepting uploads are important here. Multimedia is a bonus. We must be able to control the rights to our content.
3. The world must be persistent, and the users able to change it. Residents like being able to build the world themselves, and don’t need somebody stepping in and erasing their work.

In any case, it's a handy list with some nice videos to give a feel for each world. (Via Raph Koster.)

Open Source Motivation

Well, strictly speaking, it's about the motivation of those in open source:

Open source software has enabled large system integrators to increase their profits through cost savings and reach more customers due to flexible pricing. This has upset existing ecosystems and shuffled structural relationships, resulting in the emergence of firms providing consulting services to open source projects. This new breed of service firm in turn lives or dies by its ability to recruit and retain appropriate talent.

For such talent, in particular for software developers, life has become more difficult and exciting at once. Developers face new career prospects and paths, since their formal position in an open source project, in addition to their experience and capabilities, determines their value to an employer. Economically rational developers strive to become committers to high-profile open source projects to further their careers, which in turn generates more recognition, independence, and job security.

Nothing startlingly new, but some nice graphs. (Via Slashdot.)

12 April 2007

Recognising Google's True Character

It's easy to become apprehensive about the massive and growing power of Google. After all, its operating plan is essentially to know everything about everything that happens online - and, as a consequence, offline. I certainly share those concerns, but it's also important to note the company continues to make moves that contribute to the free software commons.

The latest one is pretty cool:

We're happy to announce the OCRopus OCR Project, a Google-sponsored project to develop advanced OCR technologies in the IUPR research group, headed by Prof. Thomas Breuel at the DFKI (German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Kaiserslautern, Germany).

The goal of the project is to advance the state of the art in optical character recognition and related technologies, and to deliver a high quality OCR system suitable for document conversions, electronic libraries, vision impaired users, historical document analysis, and general desktop use. In addition, we are structuring the system in such a way that it will be easy to reuse by other researchers in the field.

Just as important is the choice of base platform:

We are initially targeting Linux x86 and x86/64 and are developing under Ubuntu 6.10. The code should be easily portable to other Linux distributions and other platforms. If you're interested in taking responsibility for another platform, please let us know.

OCR is an area where free software is still lagging somewhat compared to proprietary code: Google's latest gift to the community is therefore highly welcome - even if ultimately it will help it know even more about documents and hence us. (Via Matt Asay).

No (Wo)man is a (Genomic) Island

Biofinformatics is wonderful when it comes to elucidating the structure of genomes. But it can also be applied in other, rather less laudable ways, to allow likely matches to be found on DNA databases even when no DNA sample has been given, thanks to

statistical techniques which match DNA on the database to relatives, according to Dr Pounder, a privacy law specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. These techniques use the genetic fact that an individual's DNA sample is related to the DNA of close family members.

Given enough computing power, we are all family. No (wo)man is a (genomic) island.

Searching for an Answer

It was the arrival of the first-generation search engines like Yahoo and Lycos in the mid-1990s that turned a collection of disparate online data into a usable source of information. Today, Google's pivotal role in online activity is even more pronounced.

So it's no surprise that people are working on search engines for Second Life - the thinking being that once you can find anything there, it will be even more useful as a tool. But in virtual worlds, it's not so simple:

Second Life isn't the same as the World Wide Web (at least in how its users perceive it), and probably shouldn't be treated the same way as web pages, routinely scanned by search-engine bots. I'm pretty sure that Linden Lab would prefer to that Second Life be as permeable and open as the WWW, but it's got to take a definitive step in this direction. Currently, there is no true public data in Second Life: Linden Lab owns the data comprising the world, including user avatars and objects. On the other hand, the company's Terms of Service indicate that invasions of privacy are prohibited (section 4.1). I don't understand how user-privacy even exists in a world owned by one private entity. Any shift in resident privacy-expectations Second Life is ultimately up to Linden Lab, which hasn't seemed to have decided whether Second Life is a country or an internet--whether it is a government presiding over population of residents, or a service-provider to hundreds of thousands of users.

The problem is that most people put stuff on the Web because they want others to find it: there is a conscious act of exposing stuff there. In Second Life, people (naively) assume that it's "like" real life, in the sense that virtual objects are private unless explicitly exposed. Alas, no: anything in Second Life is just data, and as such susceptible to being farmed by search bots. As the post above points out, people must now decide now much privacy needs to be built into the system. Where the dividing line should be drawn between private and public in the virtual world is not at all obvious.

11 April 2007

Driving DRM into the Ground

Here's a wonderfully Gallic solution to DRM. Don't fight it, just tie it up with Byzantine bureaucracy that makes it totally unworkable:

On Friday was inaugurated the French regulatory body in charge of ensuring that DRMs (Digital Rights Management) are made compatible and do not prevent users of copyrighted work to benefit from copyright exceptions . If successful, this DRM watchdog, the first of its kind in the world, might become a model in dealing with problems raised by DRMs.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Security in Numbers (105, to be Precise)

One of the oldest canards is that open source can't be secure, because crackers are able to see the source code and exploit it. Good to see a journal dedicated to security doesn't buy it:

Open source applications make their source code publicly available for any user to download, compile and execute. This makes it possible for developers to modify different aspects of the program to their needs. However, it also makes it extremely easy for malicious coders to find and use exploits in the software against unsuspecting users.

To prevent this from happening, open source software employs some of the highest forms of security around, and when it comes to open source security applications, that bar is set even higher. After all what good would a network firewall or intrusion detection system be if a user were able to penetrate the system because of an exploit in the source code?

It follows this up with a handy list of 105 open source security apps (although I'm not quite sure if all are pure free software, or whether some just run on things like GNU/Linux). Anyway, a useful starting point.

09 April 2007

A Loony Idea

From his office in Nevada, entrepreneur Dennis Hope has spawned a multi-million-dollar property business selling plots of lunar real estate at $20 (£10) an acre.


These are "truly unowned lands", he says. "We're doing exactly what our forefathers did when they came to the New World from the European continent."

"Truly unowned" as in "truly, a commons owned collectively by the native American tribes that were living there for thousands of years"?

Sheesh, when will they learn?

Coincidence? I Don't Think So....

Last week I noted a highly partial piece of writing that leapt to Microsoft's defence over its dispute with European Commission. And what do we have here? Why, a highly partial piece of writing that leaps to Microsoft's defence over its dispute with European Commission:

the Commission alleges that Microsoft has established "unreasonable" prices for its protocol licensing of its server technology in Europe. The Commission characterizes Microsoft's proprietary server software protocols, which is protected by patent, copyright and trade secret law, as containing "virtually no innovation." The Commission then remarkably concludes that everyone in the industry, nonetheless, "needs" Microsoft's protocols, and that Microsoft should provide them "royalty-free." What the EC demands in the end is that Microsoft make its intellectual property available to its competitors for free.

Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yes:

The heart of the commission's theory, to quote its press release, is that "there is no significant innovation in the interoperability information" supplied by Microsoft and "hence the prices proposed by Microsoft are unreasonable." On this basis, the assertion is that Microsoft may charge only a nominal fee for the 10,000 pages of technical documentation it has provided and may face fines of up to 2 million to 3 million euros a day if the company does not yield.

The commission is silent on some inconvenient truths. European and U.S. patent offices have awarded Microsoft 36 patents for the technology in these interoperability protocols, and the company has an additional 37 pending applications being reviewed by patent offices around the world.

In order for technology to be patentable, it must be novel, "non-obvious," and make a technical contribution—in short, it must be innovative. What's more, trade secrets and knowhow also are valuable intellectual property, valued independently of their patentable character and protected by law and precedent internationally and in the EU. Indeed, the World Trade Organization's TRIPS agreement, to which all EU 27 member states are bound, expressly protects undisclosed information as a form of intellectual property, different from but co-equal with patents.

Uncanny: it's almost as if they were part of a concerted campaign, or something.

What's in a Name? Why Gaim Became Pidgin

The multi-platform IM program Gaim is one of the must-have open source tools. Even though its technology has been great, it's had big problems with its name:

Many years ago when this project was first started, it was called "GTK+ AOL Instant Messenger." AOL naturally complained, and Mark Spencer changed the name to "Gaim." AOL was appeased, and no one really ever heard of it because there were very few users back then.

A few years later AOL trademarked "AIM," and started referring to their IM services using that name. They complained. The issue was brought up on Slashdot, and the Gaim developers at the time got some legal support. That legal support advised that the ongoing discussions with AOL be kept confidential until fully settled, and so it remained. The public thought the issue had gone away then. It sorta did, in that AOL stopped responding to Gaim's legal support for a while.

Our legal support has changed several times, and each group of lawyers have recommended silence & secrecy. Around the time of Gaim's first 2.0.0 beta, AOL came back into our lives in a very strong way, this time threatening to sue Sean.

The result is a definitive change of name from Gaim to Pidgin - rather apt, as this Wikipedia article explains.

08 April 2007

Coastline as Commons

It's catching on:

Walkers are to be given the "right to roam" around the entire coastline of Britain, under government proposals.


Mr Miliband told the Independent on Sunday: "England's coastline is a national treasure. It should be the birthright of every citizen.

06 April 2007

Where in the World is GeoRSS?

A Slashdot post reveals the precise geographical location of my ignorance about GeoRSS:

Geographically Encoded Objects for RSS feeds

This site describes a number of ways to encode location in RSS feeds. As RSS becomes more and more prevalent as a way to publish and share information, it becomes increasingly important that location is described in an interoperable manner so that applications can request, aggregate, share and map geographically tagged feeds.

To avoid the fragmentation of language that has occurred in RSS and other Web information encoding efforts, we have created this site to promote a relatively small number of encodings that meet the needs of a wide range of communities. By building these encodings on a common information model, we hope to promote interoperability and "upwards-compatibility" across encodings.

This is apparently a standard supported by the Open Geospatial Consortium, although, alas, its openness is limited in extent:

Q: Does OGC promote free software and free data?

A: No. OGC promotes the development and use of consensus-derived publicly available and open specifications that enable different geospatial systems (commercial or public domain or open source) to interoperate. For example, OpenGIS Specifications can be used to geospatially enable interoperable Web based applications and portals. These applications or portals can provide either free or available-for-fee services and data that are widely available to Web users.

Vittoria! - Piccola ma Bella

A small but perfectly-formed victory from the Associazione per il Software Libero:

On february the 21st 2006 the Italian Ministry of Work and Social Politics - Department of Technological Innovation published in the Official Journal of the Italian Republic n. 43 a call for tenders for the supply of an amount of Euro 4.539.184,55 of Microsoft software licenses.

This call for tenders allowed to participate only resellers qualified by Microsoft as "Large Account Resellers": just 11 Italian companies comply with this.

According to Italian law, before buying software Public Administrations have to compare all available options, including free software.

In this case such evaluation was omitted and free competition principles were violated: just resellers of one company's products were allowed to compete.

For this reason "Associazione per il Software Libero" decided to appeal this call for tenders before the court (Regional Administrative Tribunal of Lazio-Rome) filing case n. 3838/2006.

Press Release

There is no need to wait for the final decision in the case promoted by the Associazione per il Software Libero against the Ministry of Work and Social Politics before the Administrative Tribunal of Lazio Region appealing the call for tenders for the supply of Microsoft software licenses.

The Ministry withdrawn the call for tenders with act of annullment.


Microsoft is Losing the Battle...and Losing It

Microsoft must be either really desperate or desperately out of touch with both reality and the prevailing perceptions of its actions if it can allow one of its apologists to write stuff like this:

With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, I thought the days of property expropriation in Europe were over. Now I wonder, following the European Commission's latest policy twist in its interminable case against Microsoft.

To say nothing of this:

This is not a dispute about the goal of interoperability, as such. At the limit, Microsoft's detractors and many of its competitors would only be satisfied with disclosures that allowed them to clone its software outright, free of charge. Formally, of course, this is not on the table. But the unilateral voiding of standard intellectual property rights, coupled with nominal royalties for a company's innovation and knowhow, are a close approximation.

Well, no, actually: it is all about interoperability. People want access to the APIs - the surface of the black box - so that the innards can be recreated using completely different code, not "cloned".

What's heartening is the generally intelligent level of comments on what is a sadly unsubtle piece of puffery.

05 April 2007

Microsoft Begs the World to Beg; I Beg to Differ

It would have been more appropriate had this come out on April 1st:

If you agree that Open XML should be approved as an ISO standard please sign this petition, which we will send to the Chairman of the British Standards Institute to demonstrate broad support for this initiative in the UK.

Yours faithfully,

Nick McGrath
Director of Platform Strategy
Microsoft Ltd

This is basically trying to strong-arm the BSI into supporting Microsoft's pseudo-standard by soliciting the public's help through the following statements:

• Ecma Open XML was developed through the collaborative efforts of leading companies such as Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the US Library of Congress.
• Ecma Open XML is backward compatible with billions of archived documents held by the private and public sectors.
• Any company can freely implement and develop innovative products using Ecma Open XML
• Ecma Open XML enables interoperability, accommodates multiple languages and cultures, and supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices.

So, let's just take a look at some of these, shall we?

First, note that Microsoft Open XML has suddenly morphed into that terribly neutral and official-looking Ecma Open XML: who could possibly have anything against that?

• Ecma Open XML was developed through the collaborative efforts of leading companies such as Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the US Library of Congress.

It would be interesting to see what proportion of the code these contributed. I'd bet it was something like 99.99% Microsoft's work. This was why it was foolish for institutions like the British Library to lend their name: it was bound to be hijacked in this way.

• Ecma Open XML is backward compatible with billions of archived documents held by the private and public sectors.

Sorry, Nick, that's a bug, not a feature: backward compatibility has led to elephantiasis in the documentation - all 6000 pages of it - which makes it effectively unusable for anyone except Microsoft. What a coincidence.

• Any company can freely implement and develop innovative products using Ecma Open XML

See the previous comment. And oh yes, we know that Microsoft really loves to share its proprietary standards: just ask the European Commission, or Novell, for example.

• Ecma Open XML enables interoperability, accommodates multiple languages and cultures, and supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices.

Er, interoperability with what - itself? There will never be a full independent implementation of Microsoft's file format (see above, again). Or perhaps Nick was thinking of interoperability with other XML-based office standards: unfortunately, the way those 6000 pages define Microsoft's format, true interoperability seems a merely theoretical prospect. And note the cunning last line - "supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices" - which implies that this is something special. That was true in the past, but things move on, Nick, and ODF offers it too, now.

Given the fact that the company emphasises how keen it is to respond to users' wishes, what I want to know is why there isn't somewhere where we can petition Microsoft to drop its format entirely, and simply switch to the real open office standard, OpenDocument Format, which more and more governments and companies are supporting.

Now that's something I'd sit up and beg for. (Via The Reg.)

What's in a Name?

This is a seriously bad move:

Online fantasy world "Second Life" will soon introduce the virtual equivalent of vanity plates, allowing residents to customize their characters' first and last names.

"Second Life" spokesman Alex Yenni said the feature, likely to cost $100 up front and $50 a year, would debut by the end of the year.

Domain squatting is bad enough: at least there it's something abstract like a Web site. But if someone steals your real name in a virtual world and, shall we say, besmirches it, there's no way you can prove in-world it's not "really" you, no way to reverse the damage to your reputation both in-world and beyond. And as we know, in the Web 2.0 world, reputation is everything.

If Linden Lab is stupid enough to bring this in, it can mean only one thing: that it is really hard-up for dosh. For the first time, I have my doubts about its long-term survival.

All A-Twitter About Twittervision

I am not a Twitterer, but I am the sad kind of person who enjoys watching defragmentation utilities as they bring order to my hard disc chaos. So it's perhaps no surprise that I find Twittervision utterly engrossing:

What is Twittervision?
A real-time geographic visualization of posts to Twitter. Samuel Morse, meet Carl Jung.

What makes Twittervision so compelling for me is that it is like eavesdropping on the whole world, as random thoughts bubble up hither and thither. It's also an extremely cool mashup, as Twitter posts pop up in their respective geographic positions, and the world-map shifts constantly in a vain attempt to keep up.

Wonderful (via Virtual China.)

More News About Neuf

Last year, I wrote about the interesting idea of offering a nearly-free computer as an extra to a broadband connection. Inevitably, the "Easy Neuf" was based on GNU/Linux - how else could you afford to do this kind of project? Now the International Herald Tribune has caught up with the story, and offers some more details, as well as a picture of the very 60s-looking beast:

"The choice of open source was both for price and motivation," Charrier said. "We pay no licensing fee for the software, and engineers feel motivated to work on a new kind of project that helps the open-source community."

The choice has been hailed by April, an advocacy group for free and open-source software. "This is the first time that a company offers open-source software in a mass consumption product that has a help desk to assist customers," said Benjamin Drieu, treasurer of April, who also works for a company involved in the Neuf project.

"Normally, only programmers have the confidence to use open source, so this could change the perception of free software."

The suite of open-source software on the Easy Neuf includes the Firefox browser, Abiword word processor and the Gnumeric spreadsheet program.

Microsoft Welcomes Openness and Standards

Here are some wise words on EMI's move to sell its entire catalogue without DRM:

Reindorp said the move could help Microsoft's effort, loosening the tight bonds between the iTunes store and the iPod.

"This does open things up a little bit," Reindorp said. "It potentially makes the competition more on a device-to-device or service-to-service basis. It will force the various services to really innovate."

Hmmm: now that's interesting. Microsoft reckons that opening things up is a good thing, because it will help it fight Apple on the basis of innovation. So how about if we "opened up" office formats, by opting for the vendor-neutral ODF?

04 April 2007

Oh: And I Thought IBM Got It

One of the key moments in the rise of open source was IBM's announcement on 10 January 2000 that it would be supporting GNU/Linux across all its hardware. This seal of approval from Big Blue suddenly made free software respectable.

A the time of writing Rebel Code, I spoke to several people from IBM, all of whom seemed really clued up about the deeper implications of open source, how and why it worked, and how companies could work with it and benefit from it. I was really impressed.

And now I read this:

"At some point you become so shrill and beyond what's required that you lose the audience and the audience moves on to something else," he said.

"We'll have to see what finally evolves through the [GPL] process, it's going through an update and the Free Software Foundation has a particular view of free software. Free software is a wonderful thing but there's also a business model."

"We think there are other licensing techniques, the Apache license and others are somewhat less onerous. We use them ourselves. We don't use the GPL for reasons of its restrictions," Mills said.

That was Steve Mills, as in IBM Software General Manager. Seems like the message hasn't quite got through there, Steve. Pity: I obviously need to revise my view of IBM.

SCO: This Time It's Personal...

...and pathetic.

When a company starts harassing someone in this way, you can tell they've given up hope. On the basis of what's happened so far, I don't expect the management of SCO to be ashamed, but I do wonder what the lawyers involved see when they look in the mirror.

Open Genomics, Closed Minds

One of the great things about open genomics - or bioinformatics if you prefer its traditional name - is that it provides a completely objective resolution of all sorts of emotional disputes.

For example, by feeding genomic sequences of various organisms into a computer program, you can produce a tree of life that is remarkably similar to the ones proposed by traditional evolutionary biology. But in this case, there is no subjective judgement: just pure number crunching (although it's worth noting that the trees vary according to the depth of the calculations, so this is not absolute knowledge, only an ever-closer approximation thereto).

Another case in point is the closeness of the relationship between the great apes and humans. Indeed, it is only human arrogance that allows that kind of distinction to be made: a computer would lump them all together on the basis of their DNA.

Against this background, it's surprising how much we naked apes cling to our difference from the hairy kinds: perhaps it makes us feel a little better in the face of the genocide that we are waging against them. However, it looks like things here might be changing at last:

He recognises himself in the mirror, plays hide-and-seek and breaks into fits of giggles when tickled. He is also our closest evolutionary cousin.

A group of world leading primatologists argue that this is proof enough that Hiasl, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, deserves to be treated like a human. In a test case in Austria, campaigners are seeking to ditch the 'species barrier' and have taken Hiasl's case to court. If Hiasl is granted human status - and the rights that go with it - it will signal a victory for other primate species and unleash a wave of similar cases.


One of their central arguments will be that a chimpanzee's DNA is 96-98.4 per cent similar to that of humans - closer than the relationship between donkeys and horses.

Sadly, there's a terrible race here: which will we see first - apes recognised as near-equals, or apes razed from the face of the earth? (Via Slashdot.)

European Patents: Not So Obvious

Here's a depressing little document:

Patents are a driving force for promoting innovation, growth and competitiveness.

It is suggested, moreover, that there is a correlation between the use of intellectual property rights and good innovation performance.

Mind you, given that this is a product of Charlie "Microsoft is my darling" McCreevy, it's little wonder that it's full of such arrant nonsense.

It's (Open) Party Time!

For anyone in Swinging London 2.0 next Wednesday, the place to be is the Open Rights Group party:

It will be a night of public domain and openly licensed music, remixed visuals and free culture goodie bags, with an uber-geek raffle which includes the opportunity to be written in to Cory Doctorow's next book, or receive a signed keyboard from our patron Neil Gaiman. Danny O'Brien, who founded the ORG pledge, will be speaking.

And if you were wondering,

The Open Rights Group is a new and fast-growing NGO focused on raising awareness of issues such as privacy, identity, data protection, access to knowledge and copyright reform.

All things that are likely to be dear to readers of these pages.