30 September 2007

OpenOffice.org Extends Itself

One of the great strengths of open source is its extensibility. This might be at the code level, or through self-standing extensions, as with Firefox. So it's really good news - if long overdue - that OpenOffice.org is doing something similar with a formal repository.

29 September 2007

Spreading the Open Access Gospel

Now this is what I call commitment to the OA cause.

Why Patents May Kill You One Day

Time and time again, it's the pharmaceutical industry and their focus on what can they patent (rather than what can be done to improve healthcare) that gets in the way of real improvements that could save lives. The focus on what can be patented, and the games played to extend patents (at great costs) means that money that should be going towards much more useful areas of healthcare get diverted into less useful, but artificially profitable, endeavors. That's what happens when you set up artificial monopolies.

So, tell me again why you are in favour of patents?

28 September 2007

From Extremadura, with Love, to Vietnam

Here's an interesting demonstration of the importance of flagship projects for the open source world:

Una delegación del Gobierno de Vietnam, que se encuentra durante estos días en Extremadura, ha visitado ayer lunes el Nuevo Centro del Conocimiento (NCC) de La Antigua, en Mérida, con el objetivo de conocer la metodología de trabajo que desarrolla el Plan de Alfabetización Tecnológica y Software Libre de Extremadura (PAT).

[A delegation from the Vietnamese Government, which is currently in Extremadura, visited the Nuevo Centro del Conocimiento (NCC) of La Antigua, in Merida, last Monday, with the aim of getting to know the methodology that the Technological Literacy and Free Software Scheme of Extremadura (PAT) is developing.]

Nothing like seeing how free software works at first hand for convincing people. (Via Erwin Tenhumberg, who also links to a story about Vietnam taking the plunge elsewhere with 20,000 OpenOffice.org seats.)

How Gross is That?

I remember well during the fun days of dotcom 1.0 when Bill Gross came up with wacky idea after wacky idea, most of which happily bombed. So I wasn't entirely surprised to see him come out with stuff like this:

We started making only Internet companies because we felt this was an incredible new medium that had unbelievably high gross margins. If you could make a Web site, you could sell something online and you could make margins of 90 percent or higher. When we looked back at the ones that were most and least successful, we realized it had nothing to do with their margins. It had to do with how protectable the idea was. Was there a core intellectual property with which you could differentiate yourself and earn sustainable margins? Because you can make good margins online, but if you can't sustain them, it doesn't mean anything.

So that led us to take another look at all businesses - even companies that make physical products. We had shied away from making anything with atoms; we were all caught up in doing only things with bits. But you can make things with atoms and still have a huge amount of intellectual property in them, where you can earn good margins and protectable margins.

That sounds, well, just gross, really, with its sad little obsession about intellectual monopolies. But reading further on I came across this:

I feel that the biggest disruption that will happen in this century is distributed energy generation. In the past, there was an economy of scale, so you had to build a 1-gigawatt nuclear or coal plant somewhere, and you had to do it far away from people because no one wanted it in their backyard. That was possible because of copper. Only copper could keep that plant far enough away that we wouldn't see it or smell it, and copper could bring those electrons magically into our house. But there's a huge loss by the time the power gets to us - with copper, it's up to 15 percent.

When you can build distributed energy generation on your roof with 10 feet instead of hundreds of miles of copper, you can avoid those huge losses. If you can get lower-cost solar, which we're working on very hard, and if you have the subsidies, all of a sudden it makes sense to have your own power plant on your own roof. Having your own power plant on your roof is just an unbelievable concept that wasn't even possible in the 20th century. It is going to be possible - and necessary - this century if we're going to solve the climate problem.

Spot on. Let's hope this is one Gross idea that succeeds.

One OpenCD Close, Another OpenDisc Opens

One of the great things about free software is that you can create bundles of it to give away. One of the best of these was OpenCD. This, apparently, is no more:

As of today I’m stepping down from TheOpenCD development, of which for the last eighteen months I’ve been the sole developer and general caretaker for the project. It’s not all bad news though - I’m leaving the project to pursue my own open source disc, which I believe will resolve the issues I’ve experienced in my time at the helm1. I’ve been working in the background on the new project, OpenDisc, and it’s now up and running so if you’d like to check it out, visit www.theopendisc.com. Why jump ship on what seems like a perfectly good project?

As this indicates, it's not so much a goodbye as a hello. It's worth reading the whole post, which provides some fascinating insights into the realities of putting together such collections. (Via LWN.net.)

27 September 2007

Brad the Impaler Goes for Google's Jugular

Nice little analysis, there, Brad:

The future of the Internet will be decided by developments in online advertising. Online advertising is rapidly emerging as the fuel that powers the Internet and drives our digital economy. Online advertising is already a $27 billion market. This is projected to double, to $54 billion, in the next four years alone. That is roughly equal to the size of America’s radio and television industries combined.

These changes are not only of tremendous economic importance, but have serious societal implications as well. Online ads will increasingly provide the economic foundation for a free press and for political life more broadly.

Update: Oh, and here's Google's own pitch - which, to my ears, sounds strangely like something that Microsoft could have written....

In Praise of Clotheslines


Today, however, such clotheslines are considered blight. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (September 18, 2007, p.1) reports on how neighborhood associations are cracking down on residents who dare to use the sun to dry their clothes. A typical quote came from a neighbor of one of the offenders. “This bombards the senses,” said one Joan Grundeman, an interior designer in Bend, Oregon. “It can’t possibly increase property values and make people think this is a nice neighborhood.”

At least some people have their priorities straight. Better to bombard Iran and Iraq and keep the laundry out of sight where it belongs.

Hooray for Harvard's OA Heft

This is exactly what leading academic institutions should all be doing:

The Faculty Council, the 18-member governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), advanced a measure yesterday that would make articles written by Harvard professors in scholarly journals available online at no cost.

The proposal would create a system of “open access” whereby the authors could make their work available either on a personal or university Web site for free, according to Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan, who serves on the council.

It would be interesting to see the publishers try to refuse to carry any of these freely-available articles in their journals; at least production costs would be reduced.... (Via Open Access News.)

WIPO Takes Baby Steps Towards the Light

I've noted before that WIPO needs to change to reflect the new realities of sharing content, and not just the sclerotic view of the old intellectual monopolies. There's been a few encouraging signs that WIPO is beginning to understand this, and here's another:

The World Intellectual Property Organization wants to educate you about copyright. Well, not so much you as your 9 to 14-year old children, who are the targets of a new 72-page workbook (PDF) filled with "colorful examples" of copyright law in action. The most surprising thing about the booklet? The fact that it devotes eight pages to coverage of the public domain and other limitations on copyright.

26 September 2007

Googling Google

Great title: "The Googlization of Everything." And open, too. (Via Open Access News.)

The Beginning of the End for the OEM Tax?

I wrote recently about the call to unbundle operating systems from PCs, but without much hope it would ever be heeded. Maybe I was too pessimistic:

The ruling by a French court according to which the manufacturer Acer has to refund the purchase price of the preinstalled software that the notebook buyer in question does not use to the notebook buyer, has been welcomed by proponents of the sale of PCs and notebooks without preinstalled software. In the case that has now been made public the court ruled (PDF file) that Acer, over and above the sum of 30 euros it had previously agreed to pay, was obliged to refund the plaintiff the complete sum he had paid for the software he had subsequently returned.

The total of 311.85 euros of the overall purchase price of the notebook of 599 euros that Acer was forced to pay back was made up of 135.20 euros for Windows XP Home, 60 euros for Microsoft Works, 40.99 euros for PowerDVD, 38.66 euros for Norton Antivirus and 37 euros for NTI CD Maker. On top of that Acer had to pay a further 650 euros in, among other things, legal costs.

Not so Much OOo as Oops!

Not from the world of OpenOffice.org, but amusing and relevant:

My favorite example of a "bad document" is one that I saw when I was in my first professional job working in the IT department of a large German furniture manufacturer. Someone from a sales department called me and said that his document breaks completely as soon as he changes two words to a bold face. I could not believe it and thus went upstairs in order to take a look at the issue myself. I also changed the two words to bold and, he was right, the whole document fell apart. For a few seconds I was wondering what was going on. Then I switched on the "view nonprinting characters" feature. There was the problem. The whole document, yes, the whole document, was just one single line of text. Everything including line breaks and tables were implemented using spaces. Thus, for sure, once one part of the document was modified, everything else fell apart.

Open Authentication

Sounds sensible:

The OAuth protocol enables websites or applications (Consumers) to access Protected Resources from a web service (Service Provider) via an API, without requiring Users to disclose their Service Provider credentials to the Consumers. More generally, OAuth creates a freely-implementable and generic methodology for API authentication.

An example use case is allowing printing service printer.example.com (the Consumer), to access private photos stored on photos.example.net (the Service Provider) without requiring Users to provide their photos.example.net credentials to printer.example.com.

(Via O'Reilly Radar.)

25 September 2007

A Very British Takedown

Here's someone who will be looking for a new job, ultimately, I hope. But at least it sounds like he's a nice chap who deserves to get a good one when that day comes:

John Giacobbi, president of Web Sheriff, a British company that has protected music from such artists as Moby, The White Stripes and The Shins, said that not everyone in the sector takes such a hard-line approach to file sharing.

"We're trying to be more civil," Giacobbi said.

Spiffing, old chap, absolutely spiffing. And kudos.

DRM is Dead!

Amazon just killed it with Amazonmp3:

Our files are free of digital rights management (DRM) software, so you can burn your songs to CDs, play them on all your computers, and transfer them to all your devices. Songs are encoded at 256 kbps (learn more), which means you get high audio quality at a manageable file size.

DRM'd music just became unsellable.

Ecosystem Network Effects

One of the most heartening signs of maturity within the open source world - both literally and metaphorically - is the growing number of project tie-ups. The latest is Trolltech, which

has integrated Qt, its flagship C++ based cross-platform development framework, with the popular Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The C++ integration augments the integration currently available for Qt Jambi – a version of Qt for Java development.

This is a network effect, but writ large, at the ecosystem level.

Words of a Woz-Been

"There's always a group of people that wants to undo the forces of industry that have given us so much in terms of wealth, and there's always people who want things to be free," Wozniak said. "The open-source movement starts with those sort of people. But it still has such good points that have nothing to do with whether it's free or not. The idea of developing something and then making your solution known. Spread the information so the world can grow from it."

Hilarious and yet sad. (Via The Inquirer.)

SCO Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

One of the many pleasant knock-on effects of SCO's deliquescence has been some long-overdue crow-eating by high-profile critics of the open source position during that saga. Since I have rigorously vegetarian tendencies when it comes to partaking of that particular dish, I have to admire the, er, guts of Daniel Lyons, who has publicly swallowed his pride and admitted his errors (although, sadly, his potshots at "freetards" in his otherwise wonderful Fake Steve Jobs blog now stick in my craw, for some reason....)

Rob Enderle's case here is more complex. He has written a long and fascinating tale of how he came to do and say what he did and said, but ultimately refuses to apologise for either ("Dan Lyons, me and no apology ). For me, the key paragraph is the following:

Unlike Dan Lyons, who has recently said he was tricked by SCO, I was tricked both by SCO and some Linux supporters who, unintentionally through their nasty behavior and threats, made me see them as the criminals. Nothing I had done gave these people the right to attack my livelihood, threaten my life or the lives of my family, and I still view the folks who engaged in such behavior as criminals.

I too thoroughly repudiate those who, while claiming to be part of the open source community, made any such threats, which were unjustified and unforgivable. But I don't think the word "tricked" is appropriate here. These people did not "trick" Enderle into believing them to be sad sacks: they truly were. But that had nothing to do with the merits of SCO's case.

Aside from SCO's trickery, Enderle made an error of judgment in not believing people like Linus when he said there was no infringing code. The point is, if you examine Linus' track-record - to say nothing of his coding - it was simply inconceivable that large chunks of code had been filched. It was (just about) possible that small parts had been sneaked in by some less-than-scrupulous coders, but given the level of scrutiny the code undergoes, even that was highly unlikely.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fundamental difference between free software and black-box code: one is open - and can be examined by anyone, without signing NDAs - the other is not. The presumption should always be, then, that the former, unlike the latter, has nothing to hide, because it has nowhere to hide it.

Update: ESR says much the same, though with rather more force...

24 September 2007

All 's Well That Ends Well

So Eben didn't get his lawsuit yet - but he does get another victory:

Monsoon Multimedia today announced efforts to fully comply with the GNU General Public License (GPL). Monsoon is in settlement negotiations with BusyBox to resolve the matter and intends to fully comply with all open-source software license requirements. Monsoon will make modified BusyBox source code publicly available on the company web-site at http://www.myhava.com in the coming weeks.

The Everex Effect

Following extensive product testing, Everex had taken the innovative step of including OpenOffice.org software on a range of PCs for sale through the WalMart chain. The eco-friendly range was launched in July, aimed at the US 'back to school' market, with a price tag of just $298.

Conference delegates watched a message from John Lin, General Manager, Everex: "On July 18th 2007, Everex launched its first 'Back to School' PC with OpenOffice.org 2.02 into WalMart stores throughout the United States. The response was fantastic. Not only did Everex receive rave reviews in the media, but consumer interest resulted in a three-fold increase in web traffic to everex.com. Feedback from WalMart was also very positive: they have requested all our future units include OpenOffice.org productivity software. Everex would like to thank everyone involved in OpenOffice.org for their help and support, and congratulations again for providing the world with such a wonderful product."

This is all it needs: for PC vendors to offer systems with OpenOffice.org, and ones identical in every respect except with Microsoft Office instead - for an extra $50 (I'm guessing how much they really pay for Office). Now, that might not seem like a huge saving, but it's big enough to drive millions of people to opt for OpenOffice.org.

PayPal Joins the List

One of the most effective ways of convincing sceptics that open source means business is to reel off some of the household names that depend on it: the Web, Google, Amazon, etc. Well, it seems that we can add another biggie: eBay.

PayPal runs thousands of Linux-based, single-rack-unit servers, which host the company's Web-presentation layer, middleware and user interface. Thompson says he quickly saw the economic, operational and development advantages of open source and Linux technology. He now sees no other way to do it.

(Via Matt Asay.)

Going a Bundle on Unbundling

I can't see this happening, but it's interesting that someone has even raised it:

This paper’s recommendation is that the European Commission should require all desktop and laptop computers sold within the EU to be sold without operating systems.

For two decades, Microsoft has enjoyed monopolistic power in the operating system market. The Competition Commissioner has signalled the desire to see more competition in this sector. Unbundling would foster a competitive market, increase consumer choice and reduce prices.

What Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi Knew

Nice to see algorithms getting some respect:

Algorithms, as closely guarded as state secrets, buy and sell stocks and mortgage-backed securities, sometimes with a dispassionate zeal that crashes markets. Algorithms promise to find the news that fits you, and even your perfect mate. You can’t visit Amazon.com without being confronted with a list of books and other products that the Great Algoritmi recommends.

Its intuitions, of course, are just calculations — given enough time they could be carried out with stones. But when so much data is processed so rapidly, the effect is oracular and almost opaque. Even with a peek at the cybernetic trade secrets, you probably couldn’t unwind the computations.

Maybe; but the point is, they are just calculations. Which is why the idea of patenting any of them - as raw algorithms, business methods, or software - is, er, patently ridiculous.

21 September 2007

Eben Gets Busy Over BusyBox

One of the things that Eben Moglen has impressed on me when I've talked to him was that he - and Richard Stallman - have always preferred to negotiate settlements in cases of alleged breaches of the GNU GPL, rather than to rush to litigation. Hitherto, that's always worked, in the US at least. So it's extremely significant that Moglen's SFLC has decided to change tactics:

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today announced that it has filed the first ever U.S. copyright infringement lawsuit based on a violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) on behalf of its clients, two principal developers of BusyBox, against Monsoon Multimedia, Inc. BusyBox is a lightweight set of standard Unix utilities commonly used in embedded systems and is open source software licensed under GPL version 2.

One of the conditions of the GPL is that re-distributors of BusyBox are required to ensure that each downstream recipient is provided access to the source code of the program. On the company's own Web site, Monsoon Multimedia has publicly acknowledged that its products and firmware contain BusyBox. However, it has not provided any recipients with access to the underlying source code, as is required by the GPL.

Clearly something big is afoot, here. Perhaps Moglen thinks the time has come to establish the legal solidity of the GNU GPL once and for all, and that this is the case to do it with. It will certainly be fascinating to see how this plays out.

20 September 2007

Let My Standards Go

It has always seemed something of irony to me that many key standards, essential pre-requisites for open technology, have often required payment before you can access them. Well, it seems that those produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will now be freely available:

Offering standards for free is a significant step for the standards community as well as the wider information and communication technologies (ICT) industry. Now, anyone with Internet access will be able to download one of over 3000 ITU-T Recommendations that underpin most of the world's ICT. The move further demonstrates ITU's commitment to bridging the digital divide by extending the results of its work to the global community.

(Via James Governor's Monkchips.)

eForum Follow-up

While I was at the Westminster eForum last week I had the pleasure of meeting Vic Keegan finally. Vic used to edit the Technology pages on the Guardian, and commissioned a number of features from me for it, but I'd never met up with him until now.

I was pleased to see that he drew on some of the stats mentioned at the forum for his column in today's Guardian, bemoaning the scandalous indifference of the present UK Government towards open source. This, in its turn, has provoked Alan Lord into a fine rant that draws together a number of related threads.

The Answer to Microsoft's Wrong Question

Here's an interesting question, posed by a Microsoft lawyer called Horatio Gutierrez to James Governor:

“If Microsoft can’t bundle an audio player with Windows, why can Nokia bundle a camera with a phone?”

It's interesting because it lays bare the fallacy at the heart of Microsoft's arguments against the current EU anti-trust action, which it claims are a brake on "innovation". It treats the addition of the Windows Media Player as if it were just another feature, like a camera added to a mobile. But it's not.

When Microsoft bundles WMP, it effectively establishes its own proprietary multimedia standards, because of Windows' dominance. When Nokia adds a camera, it is simply offering the same as everyone else - there are no new standards involved. This is what Microsoft conveniently forgets: that everything it produces is proprietary - and that this is problem here, just as it was with Internet Explorer.

To see this, consider the case of Microsoft bundling a standards-based media player - supporting MP3, and OGG, say. See? There's no problem - it's like adding, say, a standards-based camera to a phone. Just like Nokia does.

19 September 2007

A Marriage Made in Geek Heaven

Long-time readers of this blog will now that I'm a big fan of Eclipse, and believe it to be potentially one of the top two or three open source projects ever. A further step towards that position has been taken with the release of the Eclipse PHP Development Tools project:

Eclipse PDT is a set of tools and frameworks that enhance the productivity of developers using PHP, a popular, general-purpose dynamic language that is especially suited for development of web applications and web services. This is the first Eclipse project that targets the large PHP developer community.

“Eclipse has long been enriched by the wide number of programming languages supported” says Mike Milinkovich, general director of the Eclipse organization. “The release of PDT 1.0 is great news as it will allow the estimated 4.5 million PHP developers to begin using Eclipse-based tools and greatly expand the entire Eclipse community.”

PHP developers using PDT will now be able to leverage the large ecosystem of over 1,400 Eclipse plugins. Many PHP developers use a number of different development languages, such as Java and C/C++. They also use development tools for tasks like source code management (SCM), testing, and profiling when building rich internet applications. PDT enables them to use Eclipse to integrate all of these tools into one single development environment.

The best IDE for probably the most popular Web scripting language: what's not to like?

My Kind of (Meta)Place

I'd noted the growing excitement around Raph Koster's new company, Areae, but even I was surprised by the scope of the vision his recently-revealed Metaplace displays:

Our motto is: build anything, play everything, from anywhere. Until now, virtual worlds have all worked like the closed online services from before the internet took off. They had custom clients talking to custom servers, and users couldn't do much of anything to change their experience. We're out to change all of that.

Metaplace is a next-generation virtual worlds platform designed to work the way the Web does. Instead of giant custom clients and huge downloads, Metaplace lets you play the same game on any platform that reads our open client standard. We supply a suite of tools so you can make worlds, and we host servers for you so that anyone can connect and play. And the client could be anywhere on the Web.

And to do this, Koster is building on openness:

we also committed to an open markup standard for our network protocol - anyone can write a client for any platform they want. We decided to use Web standards for everything we could, which is why you can have a game world that is also a website, or use Web data to populate your world. The scripting language (we call it MetaScript, of course) is based on Lua. You get the idea - no "not invented here," no closed proprietary approaches.

The consequences of adopting this approach sound amazing:

We speak Web fluently. Every world is a web server, and every object has a URL. You can script an object so that it feeds RSS, XML, or HTML to a browser. This lets you do things like high score tables, objects that email you, player profile pages right on the player -- whatever you want. Every object can also browse the Web: a chat bot can chatter headlines from an RSS feed, a newspaper with real headlines can sit on your virtual desk, game data could come from real world data... you get the idea.

So I wasn't completely wrong when I wrote that his new project "sounds like a system of interconnected, perhaps standalone virtual worlds to me" - I just underestimated Koster's ambition.... (Via GigaOM.)

18 September 2007

IBM's Symphony Bolsters the ODF Choir

Goodness knows why it has taken so long, but IBM finally seems to have woken up to the fact that throwing all its weight behind ODF is much better than vaguely supporting it:

I.B.M. plans to mount its most ambitious challenge in years to Microsoft’s dominance of personal computer software, by offering free programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

The company is announcing the desktop software, called I.B.M. Lotus Symphony, at an event today in New York. The programs will be available as free downloads from the I.B.M. Web site.


Its offerings are versions of open-source software developed in a consortium called OpenOffice.org. The original code traces its origins to a German company, Star Division, which Sun Microsystems bought in 1999. Sun later made the desktop software, now called StarOffice, an open-source project, in which work and code are freely shared.

I.B.M.’s engineers have been working with OpenOffice technology for some time. But last week, I.B.M. declared that it was formally joining the open-source group, had dedicated 35 full-time programmers to the project and would contribute code to the initiative.

This won't lead to any sudden change in OpenOffice.org's fortunes, but it will add to the growing pressure on Microsoft's Office suite. And as Firefox has shown, constant dripping does indeed wear away the stone.

OOo - Not Presently Supported

As expected, Google has added a presentation capability to its online apps:

Starting today, users can:

* Create and keep presentations in one place on the web that's accessible anytime, from any Internet connected computer.
* Manage, update and share presentations with colleagues by sending them a simple email invitation.
* Edit together online and in real-time, or contribute at different times to the same presentation on the web.
* Present and control slide shows for all viewers over the web, with no special setup required. Chat with viewers in real-time via integrated chat.
* Import existing presentations to get started quickly.
* Quickly publish presentations to the general public or individuals of their choice.

The bad - terrible - news is that Google's Presently (as I shall insist on calling it alongside Writely and Spreadly) does *not* support OpenOffice.org's Impress format. This is incredibly stupid, since it perpetuates the idea that Powerpoint is synonymous with presentations, and that there is no other option. Come on, Google, pull that corporate finger out, puh-lease.

Thunderbird Spreads its Wings

I was muttering darkly about Thunderbird's future, and the worrying attitude the Mozilla Foundation seemed to be taking to this key program. Happily, they have got their brains in gear again, and come up with the following wizard plan:

Mozilla today announced a new initiative to stimulate innovation in Internet mail and communications. Mozilla plans to develop Internet communications software based on the Thunderbird product, code and brand. The new initiative also aims to nurture a robust developer ecosystem in order to drive improvements through open source and community innovation, in the tradition of the Firefox web browser.


Mozilla will provide US$3 million seed funding to establish this new company.

Millions of people around the world rely on Thunderbird as their primary mail application. Nothing will change for current Thunderbird users. Mozilla will continue to provide Thunderbird users with regular security and stability updates as it establishes its new initiative, and remains committed to the needs of Thunderbird users.

New York Times Sees the Light and Opens Up

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.


What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

A nice vindication for the "make money by giving it away" approach, and testimony to the power of the Web 2.0 world, driven as it by search engines and user-generated content. (Via Boing Boing.)

Of Cake and Eating It

The Canadian Recording Industry Association this week quietly filed documents in the Federal Court of Appeal that will likely shock many in the industry. CRIA, which spent more than 15 years lobbying for the creation of the private copying levy, is now fighting to eliminate the application of the levy on the Apple iPod since it believes that the Copyright Board of Canada's recent decision to allow a proposed tariff on iPods to proceed "broadens the scope of the private copying exception to avoid making illegal file sharers liable for infringement."

Given that CRIA's members collect millions from the private copying levy, the decision to oppose its expansion may come as a surprise. Yet the move reflects a reality that CRIA has previously been loath to acknowledge - the Copyright Board has developed jurisprudence that provides a strong argument that downloading music on peer-to-peer networks is lawful in Canada.

This is interesting, because it tacitly recognises that imposing a levy effectively gives permission for any kind of private copying - otherwise it would be a case of having your cake and eating it - which is why the CRIA is desperately backtracking.

But I'd turn this around, and say that this equation offers a way to solve all the messy legal squabbles over private copying. Provided the levy on recording media were small enough, it could be spread over everything - tapes, CD-Rs, hard discs, flash - and be a relatively painless way for users to gain the right, enshrined in law, to share and copy anything for private use.

DNA = Don't Need it All

A group of eminent lawyers and scientists is calling for anyone not convicted of a crime to have their details wiped from the DNA database.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said it is "unjustified" to keep people on the National DNA Database when they have not been convicted of any offence.

Some four million DNA samples are on the police's database.

Good to see some sensible thinking in this area; pity the government won't take a blind bit of notice.

17 September 2007

Give Me a "Y", Give Me a "Z": What Do You Get?


Yahoo is set to make yet another acquisition–this time of white-label open-source email provider Zimbra. Sources close to the deal said that the Internet portal will pay $350 million, considerably upwards of its most recent valuation, for the email and calendar provider.

The march of open source continues....

Enclosing the Agricultural Commons

Here's a nasty little threat brewing:

Government ministers have given their backing to a renewed campaign by farmers and industry to introduce genetically modified crops to the UK, the Guardian has learned.

They believe the public will now accept that the technology is vital to the development of higher-yield and hardier food for the world's increasing population and will help produce crops that can be used as biofuels in the fight against climate change.

"GM will come back to the UK; the question is how it comes back, not whether it's coming back," said a senior government source.

Now, I have nothing against genetically-modified organisms as such - after all, selective breeding has been producing modified organisms for the last few millennia. No, what concerns me is this:

The purpose of the crops primarily is to give intellectual property rights to biotech companies. They're fulfilling their purpose perfectly in those terms. But they're not really doing much for the farmer.

Exactly: it's about turning an open, commons-based domain, into a a closed, proprietary one. Not the way to go, and why this new attempt to foist GM crops on the public must fail.

EU: 2, Microsoft, 1

What's most interesting about the European Court of First Instance upholding the European Commission's main actions against Microsoft (striking down one) for abusing its dominant position is the depth of technological understanding it displays. For example, here are the comments on the interoperability issues that are problematic for Samba:

First, the Court confirms that the necessary degree of interoperability required by the Commission is well founded and that there is no inconsistency between that degree of interoperability and the remedy imposed by the Commission.

The Court then observes that the Commission defined interoperability information as a detailed technical description of certain rules of interconnection and interaction that can be used within Windows work group networks to deliver work group services. The Court notes that the Commission emphasised that Microsoft’s abusive refusal to supply concerned only the specifications of certain protocols and not the source code and that it was not its intention to order Microsoft to disclose its source code to its competitors.

The Court also considers that the aim pursued by the Commission is to remove the obstacle for Microsoft’s competitors represented by the insufficient degree of interoperability with the Windows domain architecture, in order to enable those competitors to offer work group server operating systems differing from Microsoft’s on important parameters. In that connection, the Court rejects Microsoft’s claims that the degree of interoperability required by the Commission is intended in reality to enable competing work group server operating systems to function in every respect like a Windows system and, accordingly, to enable Microsoft’s competitors to clone or reproduce its products.

As to the question of the intellectual property rights covering the communication protocols or the specifications, the Court considers that there is no need to adjudicate on that question in order to determine the case. It observes that in adopting the decision the Commission proceeded on the presumption that Microsoft could rely on such rights or, in other words, it considered that it was possible that the refusal at issue was a refusal to grant a licence to a third parties, thus opting for the solution which, according to the case-law, was the most favourable to Microsoft.

As regards the refusal to supply the interoperability information, the Court recalls that, according to the case-law, although undertakings are, as a rule, free to choose their business partners, in certain circumstances a refusal to supply on the part of a dominant undertaking may constitute an abuse of a dominant position. Before a refusal by the holder of an intellectual property right to license a third party to use a product can be characterised as an abuse of a dominant position, three conditions must be satisfied: the refusal must relate to a product or service indispensable to the exercise of an activity on a neighbouring market; the refusal must be of such a kind as to exclude any effective competition on that market; and the refusal must prevent the appearance of a new product for which there is potential consumer demand. Provided that such circumstances are satisfied, the refusal to grant a licence may constitute an abuse of a dominant position unless it is objectively justified.

It's impressive that m'luds grok the difference between the protocols and Microsoft's code that implements them. I half expected them to get their wigs in a twist and buy Microsoft's line that handing over the protocols was the same as handing over the code. Happily, the judges saw through this attempt at muddying the waters, and came out with a well-argued decision that looks likely to withstand Microsoft's inevitable appeal.

BBC: Bill's Broadcasting Corporation

You'd think they'd be a little more subtle about it, wouldn't you?

The BBC has hired another Microsoft executive in a shakeup of its digital media technology teams earlier this week.

The Register has learned that Jon Billings was appointed to a new team responsible for the development of the next generation of the BBC iPlayer earlier this week. He is a former program manager in Microsoft's digital media division.

Why don't they just rename it Bill's Broadcasting Corporation, and end the pretense of independence?

16 September 2007

First Chapter 11, Then Pamela's Book

Hardly unexpected, but good news, anyway:

"We want to assure our customers and partners that they can continue to rely on SCO products, support and services for their business critical operations," said Darl McBride, President and CEO, The SCO Group. "Chapter 11 reorganization provides the Company with an opportunity to protect its assets during this time while focusing on building our future plans."

Er, what future would that be, Darl?

As ever, the most thorough analysis of all this is at Groklaw. Now that we've reached Chapter 11 for SCO, Pam's book on the subject can't be far behind....

14 September 2007

Let Us Now Praise Filezilla

FTP doesn't get much respect these days, when most people equate the Internet with the Web. But for uploads and offline storage, you can't beat FTP. And that means you need a good client. Filezilla is my preference, not least because it's cross-platform (well GNU/Linux and Windows) - a must for me. I recommend it highly.

Here's a rare interview with Tim Kosse, the bloke behind it, and someone who deserves to be better known for his generous contribution to the software commons. Thanks, mate.

Telling the Ordnance Survey to Get Lost

Ordnance Survey is trying to get Web 2.0 hip:

explore is a new beta application from Ordnance Survey, allowing you to create and share your routes with the world, and join in with ones that already exist. Find out more about explore.

As this is a new application we need your help to build up the content. Please submit your routes and make explore a useful and exciting tool for all our users.

So it wants to tap into user-generated content. Which would be fine, were it not for the fact it doesn't play fair: its maps, funded directly by taxpayers, and often drawing on information provided by local authorities, also funded by taxpayers, aren't made freely available to those self-same taxpayers (ever heard of open access, chaps?). Why should people contribute to an enclosed commons? This is our data: free it, and then we'll make it soar.

Bottom line: ignore this until the Ordnance Survey (and its masters in the UK Government that lay down how the service must operate) get a real clue. (Via Ogle Earth.)

13 September 2007

Wood Wide Web is Collaborative

Apparently. (Via Boing Boing.)

Fair Use Worth More Than Copyright

Fair use (fair dealing in the UK) is the Cinderella in the world of intellectual monopolies. Some brazen monopolists have even gone so far as to claim that fair use is not a right.

Against this background, it's good to see some US research that not only recognises the vital contribution fair use makes to society, but puts a value on it:

This report has sought to measure the footprint of fair use on the U.S. economy. It has considered not only the core fair use industries, but also the suppliers of goods and services to the fair use core and major users.

The research indicates that the industries benefiting from fair use and other limitations and exceptions make a large and growing contribution to the U.S. economy. The fair use economy in 2006 accounted for $4.5 trillion in revenues and $2.2 billion in value added, roughly 16.2 percent of U.S. GDP. It employed more than 17 million people and supported a payroll of $1.2 trillion. It generated $194 billion in exports and rapid productivity growth.

These figures are particularly important in the context of the inflated claims of various content organisations like the RIAA and MPAA with respect to losses caused by unauthorised copying. In fact those losses - and the combined contribution of copyright-based industries - are dwarfed by the scale of the fair use world.

Time for Cinderella to marry the prince. (Via Slashdot.)

The Ultimate Steal - or the Ultimate Fire-Sale?

Beginning Sept. 12, Microsoft will launch a special Web-based promotion exclusively for students called The Ultimate Steal. Students who are actively enrolled at eligible educational institutions will be able to acquire Office Ultimate 2007 via the Web at the low student price of US$59.95. Calling this promotion "The Ultimate Steal" is spot on when you consider that this is a savings of over 90 percent of the retail price of Office Ultimate 2007. The retail price is what students might think they would have to pay, when much lower pricing such as this has been available to students for many years.

Outside of the US, a one-year subscription license will also be offered for £12.95/€ 18.00/C$22.00 in addition to the perpetual license. The Ultimate Steal promotion will expire on April 30, 2008.

Not that Microsoft is worried about Google Docs and OpenOffice.org, you understand.

It's Magic without Intellectual Monopolies


Intellectual property scholars have begun to explore the curious dynamics of IP's negative spaces, areas in which IP law offers scant protection for innovators, but where innovation nevertheless seems to thrive. Such negative spaces pose a puzzle for the traditional theory of IP, which holds that IP law is necessary to create incentives for innovation.

This paper presents a study of one such negative space which has so far garnered some curiosity but little sustained attention - the world of performing magicians. This paper argues that idiosyncratic dynamics among magicians make traditional copyright, patent, and trade secret law ill-suited to protecting magicians' most valuable intellectual property. Yet, the paper further argues that the magic community has developed its own set of unique IP norms which effectively operate in law's absence. The paper details the structure of these informal norms that protect the creation, dissemination, and performance of magic tricks. The paper also discusses broader implications for IP theory, suggesting that a norm-based approach may offer a promising explanation for the puzzling persistence of some of IP's negative spaces.

Westminster eForum: Sermon of the Day

No posting yesterday, since I was up at the Westminster eForum talking about open source (now, there's a surprise), along with a few core open-type people like Mark Taylor, Alan Cox and Becky Hogge. However, sadly few Westminster-type people were there whose ear could be bent; mostly it was just preaching to the choir. Here's my sermon:

I have had the privilege of writing about free software and open source for over 12 years now. I say privilege for at least two reasons.

First, the people I have met and interviewed in this world have been pretty extraordinary - and certainly very different in many respects from those I have encountered elsewhere in computing. In particular, they are driven by something that can only be called a passion for writing great programs, and a deeply-held belief that these should be made available as widely as possible.

The second reason my time covering this area has been such a privilege is that the ideas underpinning open source have turned out to be deep and far-reaching. This wasn't really clear a decade ago - certainly not to me - when the idea of writing software collaboratively across the Internet, and then giving it away, was so radical that many people thought it would either fizzle out completely, or remain a kind weird, beard-and-sandles niche.

But today, open source has entered the mainstream: most of the Internet runs on free software; companies like Google depend on it, and more and more governments are deploying it - well, outside the UK, at least. And as open source has become almost commonplace in certain sectors of computing, it has also become clear that this is not just about software. It is about a profound shift that is beginning to make its presence felt elsewhere.

For example, most people know of Wikipedia, which is created collaboratively across the Internet, and made freely available to all - in other words, an open source encyclopaedia. The fact that there are now over two million entries - and that's just the English-language version - shows just what that approach can achieve outside software.

Most people have heard of the Human Genome Project, but not many realise that the reason it succeeded - and prevented US companies from patenting huge swathes of our DNA - was that it was conducted collaboratively, across the Internet, and that its results were placed in the public domain immediately, as a matter of policy. In other words, it applied the open source methodology to genomics.

Less well-known, perhaps, is open access. Here the idea is that the scientific and academic research funded by the taxpayer should be freely available online for anyone to read, and for other scientists to use and to build on. Not an unreasonable wish, you would have thought, and yet one that is being fought fiercely by certain large - and highly-profitable - scientific publishers. The similarity of the idea to software collaboration is evident, and indeed the open access pioneers were directly inspired by open source.

There are other examples, but my allotted time is running out, and we can perhaps explore this area in the question and answer session - or indeed anytime afterwards (you can Google me for contact details). The main point I'd like to leave with you is this: that open source is not about computers, it's about people. It's about how we create, how we share, and how we live and work together in the age of the Internet.

So, far from being some minor technical issue, of interest only to a few anoraks, open source and the larger ideas behind it are, in fact, absolutely central to the way society, democracy and government will function in the 21st century. What we are discussing today is just the beginning.

11 September 2007

Open Designs

Although Web pages are usually regarded as content, there can be a fair amount of code behind them too in the form of scripting and cascading style sheets (CSS). This means that there is a need for shared code in these areas, and the Open Design community aims to help out on the CSS side.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that the majority of stylesheets there use a Creative Commons licence, rather than the GNU GPL, say: this suggests people think of the code more as a form of content in this context. (Via James Tyrrell.)

The Story of Our Lives

TechCrunch notes the rise of a new class of services:

part blogging, part genealogy and part something unique. They are focused on the very long term - getting and then keeping customers for decades, and encouraging friends and especially family members to join, too. Once they’re hooked, they’ve spent so much time building content that they are very unlikely to ever leave.

Nicely viral, obviously, but what really interests me is the potential of making all of this information freely available across the Net, rather than just locking it in silos (as I imagine much will be). Imagine an intelligent spider, searching, sifting and correlating the information: it would allow a tapestry of life to be spun across the entire planet (or at least those parts using such sites). Tricky privacy issues, of course....

10 September 2007

Writing the Book on Open Documentation

One of the things I really like about Matt Asay's blog is its total candour, which extends to handing out what most companies would regard as confidential business information:

the vast majority of our deals are fed by two direct sources: those who read our documentation and those who actually download and try our Enterprise code. Now, we also know that most of these people first start with our Community code (and often evaluate it for months, reading documentation and visiting our website in the meantime).

What does this mean? It means that if our demand generation software is telling us that someone has both read documentation and evaluated Enterprise, the odds of them buying support from Alfresco are huge. We want to be calling that prospect immediately.

But it also means that documentation is a huge opportunity for open-source companies to drive sales. Documentation is often treated as the shabby cousin of software development, but it is really the essential link between development and dollars. It's hard to motivate good documentation.

The other lesson I'd draw from this is that open source (and selling it) is far less about the code than you might think. Similarly, I'd say that open content, for example, is not just about the raw words, images or the sounds, but very much the "documentation" - that is, the packaging/service - that you provide around it, too.

IBM Goes to Work in the (Open)Office

Some might say about time, too:

The OpenOffice.org community today announced that IBM will be joining the community to collaborate on the development of OpenOffice.org software. IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of OpenOffice.org. Besides working with the community on the free productivity suite's software, IBM will also leverage OpenOffice.org technology in its products.

Good news, nonetheless, and likely to drive the uptake of OpenOffice.org yet further and faster.

OpenSim Update

Things are moving on with the open source virtual world based on Second Life, it seems:

Eager programmers had already begun open source work on the viewer in April of 2006, ahead of Linden’s move to formally put the viewer into the open source domain in January of this year. Now, as Linden Lab prepares to take the Second Life server code open source, the company is once again finding its timeline challenged by an open source community that doesn’t want to wait.

About 300 servers have installed Frisby’s open source Second Life server code, called OpenSim. DeepGrid, a network Frisby manages, has 20 OpenSim regions running on a near continual basis. While there’s no centralized inventory server, meaning that an avatar on DeepGrid can’t take objects from one region into another, users can cross region boundaries seamlessly, experiencing no disruption as their client connects to servers on opposite sides of the world. Another similar network, called OSGrid, connects ten regions.

Elsevier's Elephant in the Room

By some measures, the medical publishing world has met the advent of the Internet with a shrug, sticking to its time-honored revenue model of charging high subscription fees for specialized journals that often attract few, if any, advertisements.

But now Reed Elsevier, which publishes more than 400 medical and scientific journals, is trying an experiment that stands this model on its head. Over the weekend it introduced a Web portal, www.OncologySTAT.com, that gives doctors free access to the latest articles from 100 of its own pricey medical journals and that plans to sell advertisements against the content.

Well, imagine that. Strange, that the NYT doesn't even mention open access in this context. I suppose they considered it, but decided that it couldn't possibly be that my old employer Reed Elsevier is desperately trying to find a way to fight back against that tricky open stuff....

Living La Web 2.0 Vida

This is interesting: a collection of Web 2.0 apps that provide practically all the functionality you need. What makes this particularly pertinent for me is that I am increasingly moving in this direction.

In fact, I live almost totally online these days - not least since several of my machines have shown a distinct desire to pop their clogs. The exceptions are a few cross-platform apps like Firefox (obviously) and OpenOffice.org: using these lets me switch seamlessly from proper operating systems (like Ubuntu, my GNU/Linux flavour of the month), to "other" systems, which will remain nameless, and thus become machine independent. (Via Webware.)

09 September 2007

Open Sourcing the Singularity

Fab post of a presentation made yesterday by Jamais Cascio at the disconcertingly-named Singularity Summit (what - does it all fold up into a black hole at the end, or something?). Here's the punchline/punchpar:

My preferred pathway would be to "open source" the singularity, to bring in the eyes and minds of millions of collaborators to examine and co-create the relevant software and models, seeking out flaws and making the code more broadly reflective of a variety of interests. Such a proposal is not without risks. Accidents will happen, and there will always be those few who wish to do others harm. But the same is true in a world of proprietary interests and abundant secrecy, and those are precisely the conditions that can make effective responses to looming disasters difficult. With an open approach, you have millions of people who know how dangerous technologies work, know the risks that they hold, and are committed to helping to detect, defend and respond to crises. That these are, in Bill Joy's term, "knowledge-enabled" dangers means that knowledge also enables our defense; knowledge, in turn, grows faster as it becomes more widespread. This is not simply speculation; we've seen time and again, from digital security to the global response to SARS, that open access to information-laden risks ultimately makes them more manageable.

It's true, he's said it before, but maybe not so eloquently.

Firefox Hit 400 Million Downloads

This is worth quoting at length:

On November 9th, 2004, you all started a movement. Spread Firefox, supported by tens of thousands of contributors, took just 99 days to deliver 25 million downloads of Firefox to a world of people desperate for a better Web -- a Web that didn't overwhelm them with pop-ups, a Web that didn't infect their systems with viruses and spyware, a Web that was fun again, simply put, a Web that worked.

In less than six months, you all doubled that number to 50 million downloads, turned open source into a household word and reasserted the supremacy of choice and simplicity.

It took the Spread Firefox global community of activists only one year to reach the 100 million downloads mark and to let the world know that innovation was alive again on the Web.

And just one year ago you all helped to double that number again, to 200 million downloads. More than 50,000 of you, with Spread Firefox buttons and banners, not only helped Firefox achieve an amazing download milestone, but you all helped to make Firefox one of the world's most recognized and respected brands.

Today, you all have done it once again. With your amazing efforts, Firefox has reached 400 million downloads and demonstrated that not even the world's most powerful companies can keep people from a better, safer, and faster Web experience. You all, the grass roots and the heart of the Firefox movement, have helped hundreds of millions of people find that better, safer, and faster Web.

Even though these are downloads, not installed versions, it's still important to note that the rate at which people are trying out or upgrading Firefox is accelerating: 100 million in one year, 200 million in two years, but 400 million in three years. It will be interesting - and indicative - to see what happens in a year's time.

Glimmer of Hope for US Patent System

A small step towards patent sanity has been taken:

The House approved the most sweeping changes to United States patent law in more than half a century on Friday in a victory for computer companies like Microsoft and finance companies like Goldman Sachs.


The measure passed by the House would change the rules at the Patent and Trademark Office so patents would go to the first person to file an application, not necessarily the first inventor. That would limit years-long disputes over who was the first to invent new technology and would bring the United States in line with other countries’ patent rules. It would also allow third parties to introduce evidence against applications and would create a system, called post-grant opposition, to challenge new patents.

In litigation, it would limit where patent suits could be filed so that cases are not concentrated in court districts deemed favorable to plaintiffs, create a new way to calculate damages to reflect the contribution of the invention to the overall product and allow immediate appeals of court rulings on the interpretation of patent terms while cases are proceeding.

07 September 2007

Mobile Linux Goes East

There's an interesting graphic in this story, which shows how very different the smartphone market is around the world - and how big Linux is in China and Japan.

Why Open Source is Different

When you read the following, bear in mind it's written by someone who is running one of the most important - and successful - open source projects, Mozilla:

I few months ago I hurt my shoulder on the trapeze. Well, falling off the trapeze, actually. And it's probably more like 4 months ago, but who's counting? It wasn't a bad fall or a bad injury. My rotator cuff muscles complained and my arm ached for weeks. But still it counted as an irritating setback rather than a scary or serious injury.

In hindsight, I can see that this fall was exactly like the last time I did something scary and fell to the net. In both cases the underlying problem had been identified by the instructors repeatedly. In both cases I understood I should fix the problem. But in neither case did I understand that fixing the problem was a safety issue.

In this case the manoeuver is known as an "uprise." it's a move where one starts out hanging on to and below the trapeze bar and ends up with one's hips resting on top of the bar. The clearest video of an uprise I found of an uprise is actually a woman I fly with, although this video was taken in sunny outdoor southern California and not in the old warehouse where I fly. Here's a dark, harder to see video of an uprise by a classmate of mine in the facility where I fly. In both these videos the flyer is wearing safety lines; these allow the instructor to help the flyer if something goes wrong.

This is not your parents' CEO. Indeed, her actual job title is Chief Lizard Wrangler.

06 September 2007

e-Postcard from Number 10

Ooh, look: an email from that nice man at Number 10 about my signing the petition against the Windows-only iPlayer:

The Government set up the BBC Trust to represent the interests of licence fee payers, and to ensure good governance of the BBC. The BBC Trust has responsibility for ensuring that the correct degree of scrutiny is given to all proposals from the BBC Executive for new services (such as the iPlayer) and any significant changes to existing services. To fulfill this duty, the Trust conducted a Public Value Test on the BBC Executive's proposals to launch new on-demand services, including BBC iPlayer. This included a public consultation and a market impact assessment by Ofcom. In the case of the iPlayer, following the consultation, the Trust noted the strong public demand for the service to be available on a variety of operating systems. The BBC Trust made it a condition of approval for the BBC's on-demand services that the iPlayer is available to users of a range of operating systems, and has given a commitment that it will ensure that the BBC meets this demand as soon as possible. They will measure the BBC's progress on this every six months and publish the findings.

Oh, so that's alright, then.

Bad Amazon, Naughty Amazon

So, Amazon's getting into the ebook business; that's nice. But:

Amazon isn’t supporting the industry’s open standard around eBooks. Instead they are using their own proprietary format from Mobipocket, a company they acquired in 2005

Bad, bad Amazon.

Enter the Open Komodo Dragon

I've always been struck by how little known the company ActiveState is, given that it's worked with many open source languages such as JavaScript, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby and Tcl. Now it's opening up its multi-platform, multi-language IDE:

With the Open Komodo Project, the focus is on dynamic languages and the open web. Open Komodo is developed on top of many open source technologies including Mozilla, Python, and Scintilla. The primary development technologies used include XUL, JavaScript, Python, and C/C++. The Open Komodo platform will be entirely open source and licensed under the same terms as Firefox: Mozilla Public License (MPL), GNU General Public License (GPL), and GNU Lesser Public License (LGPL).

The Open Komodo Project aims to create a full-featured web development tool for client-side web development integrated with Firefox, Mozilla's free, open source web browser, and based on the award-winning Komodo IDE. This new tool, codenamed Komodo Snapdragon, will be developed in collaboration with the open source community.

Sounds good, particularly the integration with Firefox.

05 September 2007

Open Social Web: A Bill of Rights for Users

Authored by Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington
September 4, 2007

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

* Ownership of their own personal information, including:
o their own profile data
o the list of people they are connected to
o the activity stream of content they create;
* Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
* Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

* Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
* Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
* Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
* Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

(Via eHub.)

MPAA Jets in To Spread Some Cinematic Fantasy

When are these people going to get a clue?

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) president Dan Glickman is today lobbying UK film minister Margaret Hodge, advisers to prime minister Gordon Brown and the UK Film Council to make camcorder recording in cinemas a criminal offence, FT.com reports.

I have no time for idiots who try to record films in cinemas - but they aren't the problem. As Michael Geist noted, when he was rebutting a similar attempt to force stupid laws on Canada, earlier research has shown it's mostly the film industry itself that is to blame:

77% of these samples appear to have been leaked by industry insiders. Most of our samples appeared on file sharing networks prior to their official consumer DVD release date. Indeed, of the movies that had been released on DVD as of the time of our study, only 5% first appeared after their DVD release date on a web site that indexes file sharing networks, indicating that consumer DVD copying currently represents a relatively minor factor compared with insider leaks.

Criminalising the use of camcorders will simply be one more stupid piece of legislation, one more thing the police and legal system don't need, and one more paranoid response to a non-problem.

So MPAA, do us all a favour: save your fantasy world-views for the silver screen.

Is Silverlight for GNU/Linux Moonshine?

Hm, don't know what to think about this:

Over the last few months we've been working to enable Silverlight support on Linux, and today we are announcing a formal partnership with Novell to provide a great Silverlight implementation for Linux. Microsoft will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100% compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called "Moonlight".

Moonlight will run on all Linux distributions, and support FireFox, Konqueror, and Opera browsers. Moonlight will support both the JavaScript programming model available in Silverlight 1.0, as well as the full .NET programming model we will enable in Silverlight 1.1.

I suppose it depends on how open the specification is - and whether it's just OOXML by any other name....

Anyone any thoughts?

Microsoft Loves Openness

Well, some openness:

BioMed Central, the world’s largest publisher of peer-reviewed, open access research journals, is pleased to announce that Microsoft Research has agreed to be the premium sponsor of the BioMed Central Research Awards for 2007. The BioMed Central Research Awards, which began accepting nominations in late July, recognize excellence in research that has been made universally accessible by open access publication in one of the publisher’s 180 journals.

"Microsoft’s External Research group is proud to be a sponsor of the BioMed Central Research Awards and feel it is important to recognize excellence in research," said Lee Dirks, director, scholarly communications, Microsoft Research. "We are very supportive of the open science movement and recognize that open access publication is an important component of overall scholarly communications."

It may only be promoting open science and open access at the moment, but I predict Microsoft will one day love open source just as much. (Via Open Access News.)

Chalk One Up for Larry & Co.

Nice little victory here for Larry Lessig and friends in their fight to defend the shrinking public domain in the US:

The 10th Circuit decided our appeal in Golan v. Gonzales today. In a unanimous vote, the Court held that the "traditional contours of copyright protection" described in Eldred as the trigger for First Amendment review extend beyond the two "traditional First Amendment safeguards" mentioned by the Court in that case. It thus remanded the case to the District Court to evaluate section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (“URAA”) under the First Amendment, which removed material from the public domain.

This is a very big victory. The government had argued in this case, and in related cases, that the only First Amendment review of a copyright act possible was if Congress changed either fair use or erased the idea/expression dichotomy. We, by contrast, have argued consistently that in addition to those two, Eldred requires First Amendment review when Congress changes the "traditional contours of copyright protection." In Golan, the issue is a statute that removes work from the public domain. In a related case now on cert to the Supreme Court, Kahle v. Gonzales, the issue is Congress's change from an opt-in system of copyright to an opt-out system of copyright. That too, we have argued, is a change in a "traditional contour of copyright protection." Under the 10th Circuit's rule, it should merit 1st Amendment review as well.

Pebble on the cairn. Good luck with the next one.

04 September 2007

How Orange Can Become the Apple of Our Eye

Orange has repackaged some of its services for telecommuting workers into a portfolio called "Open Office."

And yet it doesn't think this might be confused with a certain office suite of a similar name:

A spokesman for Orange UK said that the telecommunications company's use of the name "Open Office" should not create any confusion because it did not refer to a software package, and the term was not yet a registered trademark in the U.K.

Well, maybe not, but how about this: as a gesture of goodwill, why doesn't Orange start offering links to (the other) OpenOffice.org on its site? It will cost it nothing, avoid confusion, and earn it plenty of brownie points with the free software world. Heck, it could even hook up its Open Office with users' PCs running copies of OpenOffice.org. What's not to like?

Open Standards Behind Closed Doors

This isn't right:

The British Standards Institution has sent its response to the International Organization for Standardization on the subject of whether Microsoft Office Open XML should be certified with the ISO, but has refused to say whether it voted "yes," "no" or "abstain."

Well, excuse me: how can we be dealing with open standards here when everything is done behind closed doors? Unless the process itself is completely transparent, there can be no confidence in the outcome.

Beyond the particulars of OOXML, this is something we need to sort out for the future, as truly open standards become increasingly central to computing - and the incentive for diluting them correspondingly greater.

Update: Apparently, to their credit, they voted against. But I'd still like more transparency.

Microsoft Spins Negative OOXML Result

Classic Microsoft press release here on the OOXML decision under the upbeat heading "Strong Global Support for Open XML as It Enters Final Phase of ISO Standards Process":

Today the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the results of the preliminary ballot to participating National Body members for the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (Ecma 376 Office Open XML file formats) ratification process. The results show that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of all qualified votes, stated their support for ratification of Open XML. Along with their votes, the National Bodies also provided invaluable technical comments designed to improve the specification. Many of the remaining ISO members stated that they will support Open XML after their comments are addressed during the final phase of the process, which is expected to close in March 2008.

Sounds almost like a "yes" - but note: no mention of the crucial "P" votes, and even the 74 percent is insufficient according to ISO rules:

Although no date has been formally set, the final tally is likely to take place in March 2008. ISO/IEC requires that at least 75 percent of all "yes" or "no" votes (qualified votes) and at least two-thirds of "P" members that vote "yes" or "no" support ratification of a format in the Fast Track process.

So we'll take that as a "no", then?

More analysis once we get all the details of how people voted, and how many comments there are, which together will show just how much of a "non" it was. One thing is certain: now begins the real work to make sure that the vote in March is fair and not bought.

Chinese Whispers

Here's another billion reasons why DRM'd music downloads will die out - and why copyright law will need to be rewritten:

Like millions of other young Chinese, he downloads them for free using Baidu.com (BIDU ), the country's biggest search engine. Baidu makes it so easy—just hit the MP3 tab on the home page, type in the name of the song, and click. What's more, Zhu doesn't believe he and his friends are doing anything wrong. "I think it's a problem with the law, not with us users," he says.

The Right to Roam and the Right to Read

Peter Murray-Rust has been coming out with some cracking posts recently. First, there was the charming story of OUP demanding that he pay $48 to use his own paper, whose copyright he holds, and which is CC-licensed, for teaching purposes.

Now he has a wonderful post contrasting the legally-enshrined right of public access to the wilderness to the lack of a right of public access to academic papers.

Philip Rosedale 1.5

If you ever wondered what happened to that nice Mr Rosedale, here's an update.

Note to SELF: Free Educational Material

Hot off tomorrow's press - the launch of Science, Education and Learning in Freedom (SELF):

SELF is an international project aiming to provide a platform for the collaborative sharing and creation of free educational and training materials on Free Software and Open Standards.

Of course this begs the question, What is free education material? To which SELF's answer is:

There are few existing definitions on what is Free Documentation, and almost no discussion of what is Free Educational Material, both of which have comparable roles in the SELF project. The most significant contribution to this debate has probably been made by the Open Access movement, in particular the Berlin Declaration but also by the Creative Commons project, which has initiated a debate about various levels of freedom in the field.

Based on their work and the principle of erring on the side of freedom, for the scope of SELF, Free Educational Material and Documentation are defined as follows:


Unlimited use for any purpose

Similar to the first freedom defining Free Software, there must be no limitation on the use of the material. In order to qualify as Free, it must in particular permit use in commercial training activities.



It must be possible to change the material so it can be translated, improved and kept up-to-date, as well as to enable collaboration and creation of new, combined materials.



It must be possible to distribute the materials in original, modified, and combined forms. It must be at the choice of the individual distributor to do this with or without a fee.

This definition should be strong enough as to not exclude SELF from the future Free Educational Material community, regardless of the details and outcome of its constituting definition.

What's (Open) Source for the Goose...

A report suggesting that the Chinese military has hacked into German government computers could have a negative impact on the prospects in Western markets of Chinese equipment vendors Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063 - message board; Hong Kong: 0763), believes an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort .


"The ability of Huawei and ZTE to participate in, let alone win, telecom infrastructure tenders in the Western hemisphere may have lessened considerably following last week's shock report," writes Lindberg in a research note issued Monday. "It could trigger a return to national security clearance when it comes to procurement of telecom networks," he adds.

OK, so this may be pure paranoia, not least because it's not clear that the alleged Chinese spyware has anything to do with the Chinese telecom equipment.

But there's a more general principle: if it ain't open, you don't know what's going on, so all this kind of stuff could be going on, unbeknownst to you. Of course, it also applies to Chinese procurement as well, which is one reason why I think open source is bound to win out there, as elsewhere.

After all, if you are a (paranoid) government flunky, do you really want to risk national security (and your post) on that black box? No, I thought not. (Via GigaOm.)

The Man from the BBC Speaketh

I've been pretty critical of many aspects of the BBC's online activities, not least its dratted Windows-only, DRM'd iPlayer. But in the interests of fairness I think I should point out this very good interview with the man responsible, Ashley Highfield, in the new UK version of PaidContent.

I still don't agree with the man, but he gives reasonable answers to the main questions, which are hard but fair. Kudos, too, to PaidContent for making both the interview recording and transcript available, and releasing the latter under a CC licence. This shows that it, at least, understands the new dynamics of the online content world. Good luck with the launch.

03 September 2007

Koolu: Very Cool

Not hot, but definitely cool. (Via Eddie Bleasdale and his interesting new Trusted Computing Project - no, not that one....)

Open Source Darkstar...

...is here (and not just promised.) Well done chaps, nonetheless.

Open Science Means Open Source

The need for open access and open data in science seems obvious enough - even enough some persist in denying it. But as science becomes increasingly digital, with ever-greater dependence on computers and software, there is another aspect, as Nature Methods has recognised (but some months back - I've only just caught this):

The minimum level of disclosure that Nature Methods requires depends on how central the software is to the paper. If a software program is the focus of the report, we expect the programming code to be made available. Without the code, the software—and thus the paper—would become a black box of little use to the scientific community. In many papers, however, the software is only an ancillary part of the method, and the focus is on the methodological approach or an insight gained from it.

In these cases, releasing the code may not be a requirement for publication, but such custom-developed software will often be as important for the replication of the procedure as plasmids or mutant cell lines. We therefore insist that software or algorithms be made available to readers in a usable form. The guiding principle is that enough information must be provided so that users can reproduce the procedure and use the method in their own research at reasonable cost—both monetary and in terms of labor.

However, the editorial rightly points out that releasing the code as open source has huge advantages:

Some authors who favor the highest degree of transparency and sharing for their software elect to develop their programs in an open-source environment. By doing so, the authors not only provide accessibility and transparency, they also allow the community to build upon their own developments and make continuous improvements to the tool. Open-source software has become extremely popular in various fields. In microscopy, for example, image analysis software tends to be modular, and users benefit from the flexibility of being able to replace some modules with others in an open-source framework. Despite the tremendous added value of open source, other authors prefer to release a compiled version of their program, so as to protect commercial interests tied to sophisticated custom-designed software. This option is not optimal because it turns the program into a black box, but it may be acceptable if the operations performed by the software are sufficiently clear.

Although it is probably appropriate that Nature Methods, given its focus, should be the first to articulate this issue, it is important to appreciate that its logic applies to all scientific publishing where computers are involved. Without open source, there can be no open science - the only kind that is worthy of the name. (Belatedly via Flags and Lollipops.)