31 August 2010

What Paul Allen and Larry Ellison Have in Common

At first sight, this extraordinary legal action against most of the digital world's leading lights might seem one of a kind:

Interval Licensing LLC ("Interval"), a Paul G. Allen company, filed a complaint today in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington against major internet search and e-commerce companies alleging that they have infringed on four patents held by Interval. The eleven defendants are AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube.

On Open Enterprise blog.

19 August 2010

Don't be Neutral about Net Neutrality

A little while ago, I noted that Ofcom was seeking input on the subject of Net neutrality. I also promised to post my own submission, which I've included below.

Ofcom has put together a very useful discussion paper [.pdf], and invites comments via an online form. Alternatively, you can send comments directly to traffic.management@ofcom.org.uk. In either case, responses need to be in by 9 September.

On Open Enterprise blog.

16 August 2010

Oracle Scorns Open Source: How to Respond?

This was bound to happen, of course. Things were going too well. At a time when Google is activating 200,000 Android phones a day, and Android has overtaken the iPhone in terms of US market share, Oracle decided to drop the bomb:

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 August 2010

Greed vs. Survival: Which Prevails?

The global environmental catastrophe that we all face is, of course, a typical tragedy of the (analogue) commons. Resources that are held in common like the atmosphere, or water, or fisheries are exploited for short-term gain by powerful players able to push to the front.

But it's often hard to grasp these tragedies because of their vast scale; what we need is something smaller, more human in dimension that pits personal gain against common weal to make obvious what should be the outcome of that struggle if we want to survive as a species. Something like this:

It's hard to imagine a more agriculturally vibrant place than Russia's Pavlovsk Experiment Station near St. Petersburg. The "station," part of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry, really isn't a laboratory at all — it's a global seed vault holding tens of thousands of living, growing plants. As USA Today recently reported, "there are apples from 35 countries, 1,000 varieties of strawberries from 40 countries, black currants from 30 countries, plums from 12 countries and multiple other crops."

And what do they propose to do with that wonder of the seeds commons? This:

Last year, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development transferred the rights to two of Vavilov Research Institute's tracts of land to the Russian Federal Fund of Residential Real Estate. A Russian court will likely rule on Wednesday whether developers can move forward with development plans for the land. If real estate developers succeed, all those thousands of varieties of crops — 90 percent of which are not found anywhere else in the world — will be bulldozed to make way for luxury homes.

In fact:

The fate of the collection at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, which includes more than 70 hectares planted with 5,500 different varieties of apples, pears, cherries, and numerous berry species -- most of which occur nowhere else on Earth and were developed over hundreds of years by farmers in northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia -- was decided in Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court at 10:30 AM, Moscow time.

The result? Send in the bulldozers: who cares about the future of food?

If the proposal seems utterly outrageous, the reasoning behind it is utterly insulting:

the property developers argue that because the station contains a "priceless collection", no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless. In another nod to Kafka, the government's federal fund of residential real estate development has argued that the collection was never registered and thus does not officially exist.

What's particularly galling is that the sums involved are quite small:

the developer, the Housing Development Foundation, would pay 92 million rubles (more than USD $3 million) to acquire a special, five-year leasing license on the 70 hectares. After that five-year period, they'd have the opportunity to own the land outright.

Surely, then, this would be a great way for one of those high-profile modern philanthropists - hello, Bill Gates - to do something amazingly powerful for the world at minimal effective cost to their foundations.

Failing that, little people like you and mean can send a couple of tweets, and sign a petition. That's not much, but sadly it's all we can do to prevent this all-too graspable tragedy of the commons.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

11 August 2010

Linux Foundation Makes Enterprise Open Source Boring

In the early days of free software, the struggle was just to get companies to try this new and rather unconventional approach, without worrying too much about how that happened. That typically meant programs entering by the back door, surreptitiously installed by in-house engineers who understood the virtues of the stuff - and that it was easier to ask for forgiveness after the event than for permission before.

On Open Enterprise blog.

09 August 2010

The Saga of Git: Lightning does Strike Twice

Every now and then, a shiver runs through the Linux community as people realise afresh that the entire edifice has a single point of failure: Linus Torvalds. These episodes usually manifest themselves as concerns about the scalability of said individual – whether he can continue to oversee and manage the amazing distributed development model as it grows ever bigger and more ambitious. To counter those fears it is probably worth looking at what happened as a result of the first – and by far the most frightening - “Linus does not scale” episode, not least because it led to multiple positive outcomes.

On The H Open.

The Dead Microsoft Sketch

The first time I was really impressed by Microsoft was back in the 1980s. I was being given a private demonstration of a hot new program for the Macintosh. I was struck not just by the beta's cool new graphical interface - a clear advance on existing DOS programs like 1-2-3 - but also by the infectious enthusiasm of the Microsoftie showing me around the beta. The program, as you've probably guessed, was Excel; the person doing the demo was Bill Gates.

On Open Enterprise blog.

05 August 2010

Is Google About to Sell the Internet Down the River?

Net neutrality is turning from a boring, irrelevant issue that few people thought about much into one of the key issues for today's Internet. Sadly, that's because a few powerful industry groups in the US have started spending lots of money to bolster their weakening positions in a shifting world, and that means obscure technicalities like Net neutrality become collateral damage in the collective stampede to get to the feeding troughs.

On Open Enterprise blog.

02 August 2010

El Pueblo Unido...

Videos are proving to be a key element in ensuring that policing is fair and honest, as recent events in the UK have demonstrated. But there's a subtlety here that I hadn't realised until reading this:

More worrying is the way in which CCTV is being used by the police. Demonstrator Jake Smith was charged with two counts of violent disorder. These charges were later dropped when Smith's solicitor, Matt Foot, viewed the original CCTV footage and discovered that the police video had been edited to show events out of sequence, at one point implying another man was Smith while omitting footage showing Smith being assaulted by a police officer without provocation.

Considering the potential for abuse of power, the control that the police have had over the use of CCTV is frightening. Foot warns, "We should be both curious and suspicious about how the police use CCTV footage in these cases."

Foot's concern extends to how police have dictated the use of their edited material. Solicitors representing the protesters were told to sign an undertaking by the Met that prevented them sharing their police videos with anyone but their client. This stopped defence solicitors working together to establish a wider picture of the protests and their context. This worked hand in hand with the decision to charge all the protesters individually rather than collectively.

The first point is obvious enough: those charged with offences need to be able to see the *full* video footage that includes the parts used by the police. But the second is just as important: in order to obtain a full, rounded picture of what *really* happened - or a good approximation thereto - people must be able to pool video resources. Both of these need to be enshrined as explicit rights if we are to nip in the bud the tendency for the Boys in Blue to get selective in their editing, and for true justice to be done.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

Can You Make Money from Open Source+Open Data?

One of the interesting trends over the last few months has been the increasing activity in the field of open data. In the UK, this has been given new impetus by the incoming government, which has promised to make much more government data available (although to what extent that will actually happen remains to be seen).

On Open Enterprise blog.

Firefox Loses Market Share Again: Is That a Problem?

Understandably, commentators are getting excited over the fact that according to one survey Internet Explorer has gained browser market share for the second month running. Not only that, but Firefox has lost market share for the third month running. Should Mozilla be worried?

On Open Enterprise blog.