Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Linux.com | openSUSE holds public IRC Q&A on Microsoft/Novell deal

"Nat Friedman: That's a good point. Also one thing to consider is indemnification being offered by other companies. So for example, Red Hat and Oracle both claim to offer patent indemnification to their customers. If you are customer A, and you buy Linux from one of those companies, they promise to step in and protect you from any patent lawsuits. But that promise is only for their customers. So if you make a copy of the software and give it to customer B, who did not pay Red Hat or Oracle, the promise does not extend to customer B.

This is similar in concept and in form to the promise Microsoft is making to Novell's customers. So my guess is that GPLv3 will need to be compatible with the existing business practices of all those Linux companies. Hewlett-Packard offers that, too, I believe. "

Sure, Nat. They're similar in the same way that paying someone not to beat you up is similar to paying someone to stop a bully from beating you up.

Nat thinks that GPLv3 needs to take companies into account, and I can understand why he thinks that. It completely misses the point of the GPL, but Richard Stallman hadn't yet given his speech when this little IRC session happened.

Companies don't have to use GPL-licensed software to build their businesses, they can develop closed, proprietary software on their own and keep it locked up if they want to. They choose to use software licensed under the GPL because the terms of the license suit their needs. If the terms of the license no longer suit them, they can choose to continue on with software licensed under terms more friendly to their goals, or they can choose different software.

Maybe I'm just jaded, but there appears to be plenty of spinning going on in this li'l interview...like someone from Novell/openSuSE ("Adrian L") hinting that Ubuntu is actively violating the GPL. Read up.

Monday, November 20, 2006

MacOS X 10.8 - "Liger"

qwertmonkey, you owe me a new keyboard...

Salt Lake Tribune - IBM's Sutor: 'open source' is not at risk

I hope you brought your salt-shaker...you might need a grain or two to make it through this article. Bob Mims begins with a comment or two by IBM's Bob Sutor:

"In the mythical land of "Open Source," an egalitarian, global network of software developers sacrificially contribute programming code to the greater good.

But in today's real world, open source minds and corporate technology giants are finding they need each other to survive and thrive, says Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of Open Standards and Open Source.

We've shown that we can have proprietary software with Linux running on top," Sutor said. "We can have both. There's no religion here; it's just what makes good business sense for us and the open source community."

Well, in the "real world" of Bob Sutor, there appears to be software that the Kernel (Linux) runs on top of...I suppose IBM may have created a bootloader or now-ubiquitous BIOS that I haven't heard of. That's really just me picking a nit, but the other Bob (Mims, the article's author) then proceeds with some more serious misunderstandings...or maybe FUD.

As a follow-up comment to one about IBM contributing various code to open-source projects, Mr. Mims says:

"SCO contends IBM illegally contributed bits of its proprietary Unix code to Linux. IBM denies the allegation, saying it only released applications it already owned, or had been made open source previously."

Well, actually, no. SCO doesn't contend that, although it once did...or didn't...depends on what day, month, and year you're talking about. SCO currently contends that IBM illegally contributed bits of IBM's own to Linux, but that any code developed by anyone anywhere that at one point touched code that SCO purports to own (ownership that Novell disagrees with, by the way...Novell says they never gave SCO the rights it says it has) belongs to SCO.

I know that's hard to make sense of, but it's just about the shortest way to say what the actual issue is in front of the courts (as of today, anyway).

Next, we come to another issue that is usually carefully kept seperate from SCO's litigation:

"Microsoft has been a prime funding source for SCO, but earlier this month stunned open-sourcers by announcing a development pact for Novell's Suse-brand of Linux.

IBM is watching the apparent about-face with interest - and skepticism."

There's just a tiny bit of spin in there. Microsoft did indeed stun "open-sourcers" by announcing a deal with Novell. You might go so far as to say they were momentarily speechless. You might also say that when they found their voices, it wasn't to laud any apparent "about-face", but rather to condemn a blatant attempt to fracture the development efforts of every open-source project simultaneously with threats of patent litigation.

If Bob Sutor of IBM really said that IBM is watching Microsoft's actions with interest, then I would very much like to know what they find interesting. I'd like a chance to make it clear that people in the open source community may share the skepticism (multiplied a million-fold, maybe), but not the interest.

A simple oil change...

...turns into a really bad day

EDIT: Sadly, "linky no worky" anymore :(
Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami? - New York Times

Interesting article...asteroids (big ones) may strike the earth more often than we think...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ballmer on Novell, Linux and patents

I'm far from the first to write on this, but I'm once again in the need of duct tape to keep my head from exploding (as Glen Beck puts it).

There are some insightful comments at the end of that page:

"because only a customer who has Suse Linux actually has paid properly for the use of intellectual property from Microsoft."

I thought suse users had only paid protection money to avoid being sued for unspecified violations of Microsoft's alleged IP. Is he saying that suse customers have actually paid for a licence to use Microsoft's alleged IP? First it isn't a licence, then it is a licence. No wonder everyone is so confused over this. Even Steve can't keep the story straight.

What *is* Steve [Ballmer] saying exactly? Earlier, it was a license, then a covenant, then an agreement. Now Microsoft seems to be saying that it *is* a license. After all, if you pay someone in order to "properly" use (he avoided the word "legally", there, I note) their "intellectual property", what kind of agreement does that sound like?

It sounds a lot like a license, to me, and if it's a license, then Microsoft must consider itself to be the rightful owner of some specific patents or copyrighted material to be found in Linux. I wonder if the agreement spells out what those materials are, exactly? I know that if I was going to pay a premium and face lock-in with a single Linux vendor over a license, I'd want to know what I was paying for. I'd want to know that I wasn't being conned.

Let's get this thing over with, Microsoft. Either sue somebody for infringement, or quit acting like you might. It's put up or shut up time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

PJ, I should've known you were right

So. I am unfortunately no longer in disagreement with you as to the necessity of GPLv3 vs. v2. I was being to optimistic.

I finally and definitively changed my mind today after reading this (which PJ wrote about today. I was hoping for a more intellectual "what-if" situation, in which PJ laid out exactly how a wily corp could take advantage of GPL-licensed software (well, aside from Tivo...that's been talked over already). Unfortunately, instead, I got a maddening series of press releases, statements, and covenants from two corps that quite obviously don't have the best interests of the people who actually create Open Source software at heart.

I am more comfortable than ever with my recent decision to uninstall OpenSUSE from the several machines I had been trying it out on (switched to Ubuntu).

John Dragoon, I hope you get a chance to read this someday and reflect on it.

Here's what John said in an email response to Roger Parloff (responding to Eben Moglen's statements about making changes to GPLv3 to make it obvious that the Novell-Microsoft pact violates it's terms). Comments are inline:


Novell remains committed to its historic agreement with Microsoft regarding Linux and Windows interoperability. This agreement was in direct response to the hundreds of thousands of customers who use both Linux and Windows who simply wanted both operating systems to work well together. Mr Parloff suggests he has discovered similar support from enterprise clients who "just want to be able to use free and proprietary software, to have them interoperate smoothly..."

Hmm...Novell is now the mouthpiece for Linux, apparently. Did those clients say that they didn't care if they had no choice but to use Linux from Novell? All of them? Did you read my note above about uninstalling SUSE specifically because of the recent deal? Know that I'm an IT Consultant who recommends things like versions of operating systems? Know that I will definitely never feel comfortable recommending a Novell product while this deal exists (actually, I'll actively campaign for current, future, and past clients to not use Novell products and/or to replace existing ones).

I'd just as soon install Windows as Novell Linux, and Windows is an easier sell to people who don't know technology.

Our second objective remains the growth of Linux and Open Source. By addressing issues of interoperability, we advantage Linux in the marketplace and in doing so make it a more compelling alternative to UNIX and other operating systems (yes, even including Windows). While Microsoft may believe they are advantaging Windows, we believe in the power of the open source community. In any case, it's called competition and the ultimate winner is the customer. The technical and business collaboration elements of the Novell and Microsoft agreement are the most compelling and valuable agreements from the customer perspective and they will serve to promote open source

You don't grow Linux and Open Source software offerings by alienating the people that write them and telling them they can only do it if they work for free or for Novell. If having to wait longer for interoperability is the price, then so be it. Create a full-blown replacement for MS Exchange that's fairly easy to do basic set up on, add in a free client, and you don't *need* interoperability.

If Novell had something like that to sell, customers wouldn't be clamoring for interoperability, they'd be clamoring for Linux, and if Novell was the big innovator, they'd probably be clamoring for Novell Linux. The power of the Open Source Community is in that such an undertaking is possible, and that Open Source software can be improved by others and incorporated into larger bodies of software. You can't believe in the power of Open Source software and fail to understand how it gets created.

We dealt with the current GPL license (GPL version 2) when we worked on our partnership with Microsoft. We reaffirm that our patent cooperation agreement is compliant with GPLv2. The fact that Mr. Moglen offered no opinion on this question is instructive. As to GPLv3, which is still a work in progress, Novell has supported the Free Software Foundation's pursuit of transparent discussions that surface and address the needs of all relevant constituencies -- customers, developers and vendors. For GPLv3 to be viable and relevant, it will need to address the needs of these constituencies, and Novell maintains that its partnership with Microsoft benefits those constituencies. The GPLv3 efforts should not be turned to a task designed to undo a transaction that will actually promote the enterprise-wide adoption of Linux and one that will best address the computing needs of customers.

Somebody should have told him prior to Wednesday that the GPL doesn't discriminate between "vendors", "customers", and "developers". A user is a user. All users have needs, and all users have the *same* rights under the GPL. They don't get different rights based on who they happen to be in a business relationship with or who they are paying money to.

I was of the opinion before that the GPLv2 was good enough, and generally would have argued along the same lines as Novell. The evident purpose of the agreement at hand, however (trying to scare open source developers away from paying jobs and torpedoing Linux in the process) turned my stomach. The GPLv3 should be written in whatever language is necessary to protect the freedoms it is intended to convey. The enterprise-wide adoption of Linux will happen when it is sufficiently attractive to the enterprise as a whole, not because of a patent deal that attempts to break the existing working environment of Open Source development.

Novell has entered into a transaction with Microsoft that will address a real customer issue: getting heterogeneous IT environments to function better. Novell has been a leader in the open source community; one who has made important technical contributions and one who has been on the forefront of providing legal protection (through indemnification for our customers, our patent pledge, and our co-founding of the Open Invention Network alongside IBM, Sony, Philips, and Red Hat). Novell has contributed more than 10 million lines of code to Linux and the open source community, and we support more than 250 engineers whose full-time job is to develop open source software.

Pardon me, but I believe the Brits would say "p*$$ off". You've made a contribution or two to Linux at Novell, and that's great. In case you hadn't noticed, other companies have as well...other individuals have, too...other companies pay people to work on Linux. Novell is not a "Special contributor" to Linux or Open Source. They may be a large company, and they may have contributed more than some other companies, but that's the point. Open Source works because the little guy *and* the big company can contribute, and the good code is what goes in, regardless of who wrote it.

What was the point of your patent pledge and involvement in the OIN if you signed this agreement with Microsoft? If Microsoft has no valid claim, then why enter into the agreement anyway? Why did patents and control of developers enter into the discussion? I sense a forked tongue.

There are various opinions about the Novell-Microsoft agreement. We continue to believe that by focusing on the needs of the market and the long-term growth of Linux, the agreement will generate the results that Mr. Parloff thought possible last week when he was imagining a more "hopeful era." Our customers hope so, too.

John Dragoon
Senior Vice President - Chief Marketing Officer

Well, I'm certainly glad that Novell has hopeful customers. I'm not one of them, and won't be until the situation drastically changes, but hey, for now (until Microsoft decides to start suing them into bankruptcy (assuming they have a way to do that)) at least there are *other* companies that distribute their own versions of Linux.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We can live without fear of Microsoft lawsuits

So, after I wrote that last post, I learned of a FAQ that Novell has posted. There are a number of relatively unsatisfying answers to those frequently asked questions, and a suprisingly good message buried beneath all of the angst. Let's roll through the first few of them, shall we?

Q1. How is this agreement compatible with Novell's obligations under Section 7 of the GPL?

Our agreement with Microsoft is focused on our customers, and does not include a patent license or covenant not to sue from Microsoft to Novell (or, for that matter, from Novell to Microsoft). Novell's customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft. We have not agreed with Microsoft to any condition that would contradict the conditions of the GPL and we are in full compliance.

Novell's end user customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft for their use of Novell products and services, but these activities are outside the scope of the GPL.

Okay...let's take a very close look at this one. There's a reason they placed it at the beginning of the list (the same reason that it was at the very end of CBR Online's article, IMHO). They want it dismissed quickly.

Novell says that they are not in violation of section 7 of the GPLv2 because they personally don't give their customers an offer of freedom from lawsuits for their use ("use" was not defined, by the way) of SUSE Linux. As another hypothetical exercise, then, let us imagine this...

I purchase a subscription to SUSE Linux from Novell (interestingly, there is no mention so far of openSUSE). Assuming this makes me a "customer" of Novell, my use of the software is just fine with Microsoft.

In the Linux world, it is common for users to take a particular distribution (debian, for example) and modify it or customize it and then re-distribute it as its own distribution. So, hypothetically, if I was a Novell customer, and distributed a modified SUSE Linux distribution named "NoMSTaxLinux" I would be covered by the patent covenant from Microsoft to Novell's customers, since Microsoft's covenant not to sue prevents a lawsuit.

Brad Smith said:

We recognized that we would need to build a bridge that would really respect the needs of both models, both business models, that would respect the intellectual property rights and needs of people and companies in both of these parts of the industry. And we would need to do it in a way that ensured that both of our companies remained in compliance with all of our other licensing and legal obligations, given the varied range of license agreements we were already using, and to some degree subject to in our industry.

To do that one of the things we fashioned was an approach that will ensure, for example, that every customer who purchases a subscription, for example, for SUSE Enterprise Linux, will get not only service and support from Novell, but will get as part of that, in effect, a patent covenant from Microsoft.

Here, things darken a bit, but hang in there, they'll get better. If I purchase a subscription, am I lawsuit-fodder once the subscription runs out? If I download a modified SUSE distro created by a Novell customer, can I be sued?

It's interesting to look at where openLinux specifically fits into the scheme of things. It's not a requirement to get any subscription to use it, and it's still available for download, so am I facing a lawsuit by downloading a copy of Linux from the only distributor that Microsoft has made a deal with? Keep reading...

Let's assume that the worst is true, and openSuse and SUSE with no subscription will get you in trouble. In that case, there *are* restrictions on use because of an agreement entered into by Novell. If I refuse their subscription fee, from Novell's perspective, I am using software that will get me in legal trouble. If I pay the fee, to that specific vendor, I am considered "legal". It's difficult for me to see how that doesn't constitute a restriction on the terms of the GPL. If it *does* constitute a restriction, then Novell's right to distribute goes away, and then we have a whole new legal battle.

That's a lot to write about just a single FAQ answer, but there's plenty more to discuss (just not right now). Suffice it to say that I think Novell's offhand "No, it doesn't violate section 7" is severely lacking...besides which, I'm pretty sure it's moot, now that this FAQ is public...keep reading.

Q2. Why did Novell make this deal with Microsoft? Was Microsoft threatening a lawsuit?
Novell started discussions with Microsoft in order to solve problems for our customers by improving Linux/Windows interoperability in areas like virtualization, heterogeneous server management, and office document compatibility. By securing a commitment from Microsoft to support the use of Linux and open source software, we have allayed any potential concerns for our customers and removed a barrier to enterprise-wide Linux adoption.

There was no threatened litigation.

Again, Microsoft has plenty of programmers...bias aside, pretty darn good ones, too...Microsoft has done the embrace and extend dance plenty of times before (I just found out that they bought sysinternals.com in July, for example). With GPL-licensed software, improvements (like the kind that Microsoft would have to make in order to have really good interoperability between Linux and Windows) have to be given back to the project in the form of source code and under the same terms as the original version. That means that Microsoft can't make money from them.

With the Novell deal, Microsoft gets a steady royalty stream from Novell (who Microsoft is trying to drive everyone to with threats of lawsuits) instead of giving code improvements away for free. It's getting pretty obvious what's driving this decision, and it wasn't patents, it was money. Leave it to Microsoft to figure out a way to try and make money off the backs of thousands of coders working at developing a free alternative to their software.

Q3. Is this agreement an admission that Linux products from Novell infringe Microsoft patents?


Patent concerns did not drive our entry into this agreement. Novell makes no admission that its Linux and open source offerings infringe on any other parties' patents. Our position has not changed as a result of this agreement.

A very revealing answer, really, especially when paired with the ones that precede it in the FAQ list. Here we get to see exactly why you don't have to worry about a lawsuit from Microsoft for using Linux or any of the open-source offerings that Novell distributes, regardless of who you get them from. Novell entered into an agreement that protects their own customers from patent claims by the other party to the agreement, but Novell doesn't believe that its Linux and open source offerings infringe.

What does that mean, exactly? Does that mean that Novell believes that its Linux and Open Source offerings are substantially different in areas where there are patent concerns? Does it mean exactly the same thing that the agreement says (If you're using Novell Linux, Microsoft says you're kosher)? Does it mean that Novell believes that Linux doesn't infringe any patents, but entered into an agreement that gives its users pointless coverage against lawsuits for some reason?

Because of the word "its" in the FAQ answer (which I'm sure was run by Novell's legal team a few times), I believe that the second of those guesses is correct. It looks *way* too much like an instance of saying something very specific that looks like the opposite of what it says. I need to do some more digging through public statements to see if anyone in Microsoft or Novell has actually said that Novell believes that non-Novell-sourced Linux and open-source code doesn't violate any Microsoft patents.

The upside of that statement, of course, is that it clarifies whether it is safe to use openSUSE (or RedHat or Fedora or pretty much anything else). If Novell's Linux and open-source code doesn't infringe (and they just told the world that it does not), then I should be able to create a distribution from it and do some extremely heavy customization, and redistribute it, and not have to worry about any Microsoft lawsuits. Beyond that, software patents cover processes, not specific code, so other open-source code for the same programs also doesn't infringe.

Novell has just assured me that any such lawsuit would be impossible, since their code infrines no other parties' patents.

On that happy note, I'll call it quits for this article. Whoever releases NoMSTaxLinux, at least give me a mention, okay?

CBR speaks of doom and gloom for Linux...

The headline sounded fair enough:

"Microsoft-Novell peace deal could create two-tier Linux market"

That's true, of course, it *could* do that. I was hoping for a reasoned explanation of how it might, as well, but that seemed to be missing from the article. If you aren't someone who follows the news about Linux and "intellectual property" issues (copyright, patent, etc), reading the article would probably give you the impression that Microsoft has made it known that it has patents that make it illegal for anyone running anything other than SUSE Linux to use their computers.

From the article, we hear the following from Steve Ballmer of Microsoft:

"This does not apply to any forms of Linux other than Novell's SUSE Linux. And if people want to have peace and interoperability, they'll look at Novell's SUSE Linux. If they make other choices, they have all of the compliance and intellectual property issues that are associated with that."

The implication, of course, is that there are numerous and sundry problems related to copyright and/or patent infringement in Linux. The implication raises a number of interesting questions (and has an oh-so-charming resemblance to certain implications against Linux bandied about by another company whose initials rhyme with "SCO").

One has to wonder a few things:

  • What exactly is alleged to be infringing?

  • How widespread is the alleged infringement?

  • When was the alleged infringement discovered?

  • What steps have been taken to protect the copyrights and/or patents from the alleged infringement?

  • Does Novell have a right to distribute code under the GPL if persons that recieve the code cannot distribute it under the terms of the GPL?

Aside from that last question (which is important, and gets a very short mention at the end of the CBR Online article), you might find a common thread. So far as I am aware, Microsoft has not publicly stated any specifics to patents or copyrighted material that is infringed, and Novell hasn't either. I, for one, am extremely curious as to what Novell believes it is protecting its customers from.

I imagine Novell's prospective customers will be curious as well. If some company needs to choose a Linux distribution, and Novell mentions their patent covenant with Microsoft as an advantage, then I would imagine that a discussion of what (specifically) is being offered would be in order.

Here's a hypothetical situation for you. Suppose that Novell and Microsoft enter into an agreement wherein Microsoft says "hey, do a cross-licensing deal with us...well, more like a patent covenant, but we'll throw some business at you when people want Linux and you can make sure you have a version that somehow works better than others with Microsoft software (wink, wink) and we'll threaten to sue anybody that uses any other distribution...what do you say?". Suppose that Novell replies "Hmm...not much downside. We don't have to sue anybody, we get to be an important OS vendor again, and we get lock-in? Let's do the deal."

Of course, that hypothetical situation may well be far removed from reality, but then again, it might not. Regardless, after a hypothetical situation like that, we must consider a real concern that was raised (but not given much attention in the article). CBR Online reported the following:

"...the Free Software Foundation's general counsel, Eben Moglen, has reportedly stated that it could therefore be a violation of the GNU General Public License.

While admitting that he was yet to see the terms of the agreement, Moglen postulated that it could fall foul of section seven of the GPL, which requires distributors to pass on the right to distribute software without additional permission."

Section 7 of the GPLv2 says exactly this:

"If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

If any portion of this section is held invalid or unenforceable under any particular circumstance, the balance of the section is intended to apply and the section as a whole is intended to apply in other circumstances.

It is not the purpose of this section to induce you to infringe any patents or other property right claims or to contest validity of any such claims; this section has the sole purpose of protecting the integrity of the free software distribution system, which is implemented by public license practices. Many people have made generous contributions to the wide range of software distributed through that system in reliance on consistent application of that system; it is up to the author/donor to decide if he or she is willing to distribute software through any other system and a licensee cannot impose that choice.

This section is intended to make thoroughly clear what is believed to be a consequence of the rest of this License."

That first paragraph is important, I think, in this deal for Novell. I'm not sure if they fully understand the implications of what it says. I *am* fairly sure that Microsoft understands it, since they managed to insulate themselves nicely from having to deal with it...they are not, after all, creating their own Linux distribution (which they could very well have done, as long as they complied with the terms of the GPL).

What I suspect is afoot here is some maneuvering by Microsoft to turn Novell (who is a company with a very successful Linux Distribution) against the rest of the Linux community and sow a bumper crop of FUD around Linux itself. If SUSE remains successful, Microsoft gets to watch a proprietary Linux rise. If SUSE tanks, Microsoft has left open its litigation path (assuming it has something to actually litigate).

Microsoft doesn't need to work with Novell on Linux/Windows interoperability. The code is right out there for anyone to see, on the Linux side, and has been for a decade and a half. Microsoft has its own developers that I'm sure are capable of looking at assembly code and C and APIs and figuring out how to interoperate with them. There's the WINE project that has made great strides in getting Windows apps to run on Linux, and SAMBA that has tried hard to make heterogeneous Linux/Windows networks a reality. So, If Microsoft doesn't *need* to work with Novell and enter into a patent covenant, one is left to wonder...what exactly are they *really* trying to do.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I have been having a small back-and forth with PJ (Groklaw's supreme goddess, long may she reign) over just how bad the Microsoft-Novell deal is.

In case you hadn't heard, Microsoft and Novell entered into a patent covenant agreement in which each vows not to sue the other over the use of certain patents that either party might have rights to.

One interesting thing to note is that the technology Novell is "protecting" with this covenant is Linux (which Novell doesn't own).

To me, this is all about the serious mistake that Novell just made and the backlash they're going to feel. Thousands of open-source devlopers who have contributed enough code to give Novell a Network Operating System capable of competing with Windows just got told that none of that matters, but thanks, and now Novell is safe.

Microsoft is only offering protection to Novell as a distributor of open-source software, which means that they can, if they so choose, begin arraying lawsuits against various and sundry linux distributors. I think that if you look around, you can find in the neighborhood of 400 diffrent distributions, large and small ( linux.org gave me 431, including unmaintained projects).

That's a lot of lawsuits, not that I don't think Microsoft's legal department is up to the task. The largest single commercial software maker in the world has ample lawyers.

So, let's imagine a world in which pretty much every linux distributor is facing a lawsuit, or several lawsuits, over patent claims and s faced with having to stop distributing. That's bad...really bad.

I admit that thinking about that makes me a bit ill, and I'm not at all happy with Novell or Microsoft at the moment.

Thinking about that, though, got me thinking about how the players in this little saga are currently reacting, are likely to react in the near future, and how they will likely react to those reactions.

Microsoft, for its part, is probably rubbing its proverbial hands with glee. They now have leverage to use to try to squash Linux (aside from what Novell puts out).

Novell is feeling good, listening to all the right people tell them that they made a good move and thinking that they now have a serious edge in the world of Linux.

Open Source and Free Software developers are swearing silently between clenched jaws and trying to understand how Novell could have done something so monumentally horrible.

That's current reactions, so now we head to the near future. The FLOSS community has put countless hours of work into a huge volume of software that runs on everything from umstick-sized single-purpose computers to massive compute clusters to standard desktop PCs. As someone who has written software before, I can say with a fair bit of certainty that I'd be less than pleased to hear that the code that *I* helped create could now only be distributed by a single company, and that 99.9% of the people I had hoped would be able to likewise contribute to it would not be allowed to help out the way I had from now on. There are a bunch of pissed-off developers out there right now, and they like to work together.

Novell, while basking in the glow of its recent foolishness, will start to realize slowly that if the FLOSS community can't write code under the terms they decided to write it under, they probably won't continue to do it, at least not most of them, or at least not in the manner they have used up until November 2nd. With no developers to improve, create, extend, and innovate Linux and GNU software, Novell will have to do all of its own work (a point I'm sure the FLOSS community will make abundantly clear). So, soon, Novell will have to realize that unless it's ready to compete on its own, head-to-head, against Microsoft, it's not going to be a rosy future.

Microsoft, noticing that Novell is turning a bit green around the gills, will probably seize upon it's easy-out clause in the license agreement and sue Novell (hey, they must have thought there were patent problems in Linux, or they wouldn't have signed the agreement, right). The achilles heel that Microsoft keeps getting cut by is antitust issues, and while suing a single distributor might not raise immediate alarm bells, doing so against Linux distributors en masse would probably be enough to get the DOJ involved.

Just ideas of what *might* happen, mind you. I'm ever the optimist, and often hat means I'm blindsided by the dirty tricks that get played, but I don't think Novell or Microsoft truly realize the magnitude of what has just happened, or how bad it can be to have a collectively brilliant, determined, and meticulous foe actively engaged in derailing your efforts. The FLOSS community is that and more, and I have the feeling that it will soon be apparent that these two old-line software companies have just bitten off more than they can chew.

hope this cloud has a silver lining.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Okay, PJ, our first disagreement

PJ said (in part):

"...I thought I'd point that out, in case any of you think the future for Linux would be so great if we could just have the "freedom" to allow proprietary codecs and drivers or let vendors close rights off with hardware. Please remember that the Unix folks tried that semi-proprietary route already, thinking it would increase profits and market share, and it failed miserably. For you "pragmatists" who say there's nothing wrong with closed, proprietary software, here's what's wrong with it: people don't want it. If you give them a choice, they'll choose open every time. They wanted Unix until it stopped being open, and then the market declined precipitously. End users like open. Why wouldn't we? It gives us the opportunity to modify the software to do exactly what we want individually, as opposed to what some vendor guesses the largest group of its customers probably wants..."

This comment is a sidenote to a comment in the article PJ is quoting from, and it's important because of the current discussion about GPLv3.

If you're reading this, you're probably either family or somebody who already knows about the debate. On the off-chance that you are unfamiliar with the details, here's a synopsis:

  • The FSF (Free Software Foundation) is working on version 3 of it's GPL Public license

  • The Linux Kernel maintainers generally prefer the current version (GPLv2)

  • The FSF is viewing things as idealists, and do not want patent legislation or other legal trickery to hinder the effectiveness of their license in ensuring the freedom of people who use software

  • The kernel maintainers are viewing things as pragmatists, and do not want the new license to hinder their ability to write code that may include software designed to limit the way that it may be used

I'm sure I will be corrected if I have that substantially wrong, but that (to me, at least) seems to be the crux of the issue. The FSF stands for freedom to use software, and the kernel maintainers desire a license that permits more freedom for the developers of the software it covers.

I greatly value PJ's insight, determination, and hard work, and she has made me pay *much* more attention to what software licenses say (I opted not to test drive several pieces of software because of that newfound attention, as a matter of fact). I think, though, that in this case, I'm more in the kernel maintainers' camp.

Obviously, GPLv2 has server the Open Source development community well...that's why they continue to use it. It ensures that people can freely use their code, makes sure that it doesn't get stolen outright, and helps drive development resources towards popular projects.

There is a very real problem in software patents (mainly that they exist), and it does need to be addressed. Likewise, there is a very real problem of anti-circumvention and anti-piracy software that makes criminals out of hackers (via the DMCA and its brethren). The freedom to tinker has a long and glorious history of expression in both the hardware and software worlds. I don't think that the kernel maintainers want to see that freedom go away any more than the FSF does.

So, now we come to the disagreements...PJ says:

"...I thought I'd point that out, in case any of you think the future for Linux would be so great if we could just have the "freedom" to allow proprietary codecs and drivers or let vendors close rights off with hardware..."

I don't see proprietary drivers or codecs as being the thing that fractures Linux. The problem that the UNIX vendors that are being referred to were having stemmed from not having compatible UNIXes and demanding vendor support for all of them. True, it benefits many if hardware vendors open their drivers and APIs, but it's the kind of decision that is driven by the market, and if present signs of uptake in Linux on the desktop (Ubuntu, anyone?) are any indication, many hardware vendors are about to lumber in that direction.

Hardware implementations of rights management (trusted computing, etc) are just plain evil, but unless there's effective education for the masses that actually *reaches* people, no one will think it's important until it's too late. We'll all be running whatever version of Windows we're told to. GPLv3 works fine for Linux users, but unless they're in the majority, it doesn't prevent those hardware restriction systems from creeping into being ubiquitous.

It's too early for GPLv3 to solve that problem...Linux has to be *far* more widespread in use for it to be effective at stopping it.

For you "pragmatists" who say there's nothing wrong with closed, proprietary software, here's what's wrong with it: people don't want it. If you give them a choice, they'll choose open every time. They wanted Unix until it stopped being open, and then the market declined precipitously. End users like open. Why wouldn't we? It gives us the opportunity to modify the software to do exactly what we want individually, as opposed to what some vendor guesses the largest group of its customers probably wants.

I think there's a small bit of irritation clouding the most valuable parsing of the pragmatists view. Making a statement that there's nothing wrong with proprietary software does not mean that the person making that statement believes it's the best way to make software, or even a good idea. That statement (again, to me) means that the person saying it doesn't care whether people are allowed to make proprietary software. The reason that it's okay is pretty much exactly what PJ said after the second comma. People *don't* want it. They *do* like open. It *does* give us opportunity without having to depend on a vendor's whim.

Here is one place that I actually see the far edges of free vs. closed meet, in that by taking the GPL that extra step, you prevent certain uses, improvements, changes, and contributions from being made. It's that perverse side of freedom that permits people to create something that denigrates the framework that enables them in the first place.

That's about all I can stand to write, and I feel all the worse for having to have said it, but it's out there. PJ, I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive me, or (better yet) to convince me that I'm mistaken...lord knows you've done it before.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Launchy: The Open Source Keystroke Launcher for Windows

I am going to install this on every Windows machine I have access to. Hit [ALT]+[SPACE] and start typing the first few letters of a filename, program, shortcut, web favorite, etc, and see it magically appear in a list and hit enter.

I'm about to delete all of my quick launch icons and desktop shortcuts because I don't need them anymore. Probably the most useful productivity enhancement software I've seen in 10 years, and it's free (although I'll donate a few bucks in appreciation...it's just too cool).

It's only a matter of time before this becomes a bundled app with every OS you might encounter.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Telecom tax imposed in 1898 finally ends | CNET News.com

...speaking of the Federal Excise Tax (read my last entry for reference), it looks like action is finally being taken to end the tax that's been supporting the Spanish-American war for 100 years ;)

Evidently, there's still part of it in place (leaves you wondering why they didn't decide to repeal all of it together, eh?), but it looks like it's finally going to go away. One less thing to complain about on my phone bill.

Why Net Neutrality matters...

The issue that the article above discusses is not often cited in discussions on net neutrality...it's kind of a huge secret of sorts.

Look at your phone bill (cell, land, whatever), and find the line that says "FUSF Fee" or "Federal Service Cost Recovery Fee" or some other trivial deviation from those two, and you will see exactly where the money you are (still) paying to the telcos for *real* broadband access comes from.

Everyone pays this fee...it's optional, and the telcos don't have to charge it (they don't pay it back to the government, it's not a tax, although we could discuss the Federal Excise Tax, as well). Imagine how much money that is over the space of the past 14 years.

So, not only are you getting charged for noexistent 40MBps internet connectivity that should be mostly rollede-out right now, and not only are you already paying for your connection to the internet, and not only are the operators of the websites that you visit paying for *their* connections to the internet, the telcos want to charge us all one more time for the data that moves across these already paid-for connections.

Getting angry yet? I sure hope so...

Monday, July 31, 2006

StarLogo TNG

Two of the things I'm interested in rolled together in one: free stuff, and 3d modeling

Friday, July 28, 2006

13 Great Firefox Extensions for Web Professionals

I plan on checking out IE Tab and HTML Validator very soon...that would cut dev time on my pages a lot.

QDB: Quote #4753

The most simple solution to the problem of rampant stupidity I've heard yet...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Multi-Touch Interaction Research

Several of these ideas remind me of the big touchscreen that Tom Cruise's character used in Minority Report:

Check it out...I think there's something for almost everyone to find interesting.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Net Neutrality Brain Freze....

Senator Ted Stephens (R-Alaska) explains why it took so long for his internet to get sent the other day (courtesy of 27B Stroke 6 on wired.com)...

This is certainly an enlightening article. I understand a great deal about the level of knowledge that this particular senator has about how the internet works (and how internet e-mail works. and the fact that internet e-mail is not the internet...).

Okay, so let's get to some deconstruction, shall we?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

So, an "internet" was sent by Senator Stephens' staff and apparently didn't arrive in the senator's inbox until (a day or two?) later.

Why did it take so long?  DNS problems?  An overburdened mail server with a very full queue?  A 5 megabyte powerpoint attachment in the mail message he was expecting?  Downloading mail over a dial-up connection?

Nope.  It simply got tangled up in the "commercial" internet.

That's not true, of course, but it *is* important.  It is important because either the senator seriously doesn't understand how internet email works (and what can slow it down so that it is not delivered until one or more days after it is sent), or he is making an argument that deliberately misstates the situation, or both.

He mentions that real-world businesses deliver DVDs to you, but it costs money, and that an online delivery would be free.  I don't know about the senator, but I'm pretty sure I have to pay my phone company every month for the privilege of connecting to the internet.  I suppose that he might not have to worry about that (perhaps he gets a discounted rate from his telecom company somehow?), but every other person connected to the internet does.

THAT is the most important point of all.  You pay for internet access.  So do I.  So do the companies that own and operate websites that we visit.  *Everyone* is paying for the data that is transmitted and recieved in every connection.  It's possible (not likely, but possible) that we are being undercharged, but the myth that there is no cost to have video content delivered via an internet connection is fiction.  It costs both the sender and the recipient because they pay for their internet connections.

My guess, and this is nothing more than a guess, is that someone explained (very patiently) to the senator how to tell people that the internet is a big old pipe that is getting clogged up by certain undesirable things...

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time. [?]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

"They" apparently want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet, and the senator believes that doing so not only constitutes some sort of invasion, but that there is no cost for delivering said vast amount of information.

We've already swatted awway the whole "no charge" argument (and haven't even touched on the fact that you and I are already paying extra to help our poor put-upon telecom companies pay for and deploy new infrastructure), so let's discuss what the internet might be reasonably compared to.

The internet is not a series of tubes, it is a network, and a fairly complex network, at that.  The internet is most decidely not a truck.  I'm pretty sure nobody has said that the internet is a truck...or a car, or a bicycle (that would be SCO talking about Linux, but I digress).  The internet is a network of networks (hence the name).  Multiple paths connect from one point to other points.  Information can be routed around slow or malfunctioning points in the network and still reach its destination.

As a practical example of what happens when you send a lot of information across the internet (well, a big chunk of information), pick a friend who doesn't mind, and send him or her a large file via e-mail.  While the e-mail is being sent, try to use your web browser and visit a website or two (I highly reccommend http://www.groklaw.net).  Your web browser will slow down, but it won't stop working completely.  It and your mail program will share the available bandwidth.

The same thing happens on the internet when multiple people are using a connection.  A bigger file doesn't suddenly take up all of some metaphorical pipe, it shares the amount of bandwidth equally with whatever else is being sent or recieved (unless the company in charge of the network can decide how fast particular types of traffic or particular sources or destinations can send and recieve data).

Basically, Senator Stephens is explaining the opposite of the truth, which is just baffling to me.  Allowing a two-tiered (or many-tiered) internet could, indeed, place us in an irritating situation where some content squeezes other traffic down to a trickle.  If you really want to see what slow internet traffic looks like, then opting to abandon Net Neutrality will definitely accomplish that.

Let telecom companies decide what traffic goes at what speed, and they'll be giving 90% of their spanking new 40GB backbone bandwidth to internet TV (commercials = revenue) and the rest to everything else (and even then, slowing down or blocking connections to customers from non-paying internet sites).  I pay for an internet connection, period.  I'm not paying for AT&Tnet, I just want to get online and not be hindered once I'm there.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can't afford getting delayed by other people.

Actually, no, that's not why.  The reason the DoD has a seperate network to use is that they can't afford to have the typical problems that plague the public internet affect their operation.  The internet has become a piece of critical infrastructure for the DoD, and security controls using the public internet were just not feasible to implement and maintain.

The reason the DoD has their own dedicated circuits is for better performance, true, but they had that before, the change they made was primarily to insulate their systems from attack, and secondly to improve performance.

The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a viloation of net neutraility that hits you and me.

That is, indeed, a concept.  I prefer the concept where we take proactive steps to ensure that our internet providers can't purposely degrade our service without our consent.

Maybe you have to be a senator in Alaska to understand the alternate point of view and consider it fair, and maybe the honorable Sen. Stephenson has Net Neutrality brain freeze.  Either way, if Net Netrality fails, we could all be left out in the cold.

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Inside Nathan Myhrvold's Mysterious New Idea Machine

The uber-patent-troll? This is a very important article for anyone who invents things...especially so, if those inventions are a source of income. There is so much that is disturbing in this article, including the attitude of Mr. Myhrvold regarding ensuring fairness in the patenting process, that it deserves additional comment.

As soon as I get a free hour today, I'll put a few thoughts out there on the subject.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Top 100 Network Security Tools

I've probably used about a third of these, and I can see quite a few more that I will definitely use to ensure the integrity of a network or two. Have to make sure they're as buttoned-up as possible.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Polymathematics: No, I'm Sorry, It Does.

This is an interesting item, if only because it has drug a very large number of self-professed (and denial-laden) non-math geeks out of the woodwork to complain about a simple concept. That concept is that .9 (nine repeating to infinity) = 1

The author starts out with a very elegant proof using algebra, which a lot of people will understand, and then follows it up with what I think is probably the most graspable explanation:

1/3 = .33333...

2/3 = .66666...

.33333... + .66666... = .99999...

Now, if 1/3 + 2/3 adds up to .9, and 1/3 + 2/3 adds up to 1, an infinite geometric series represented as .9 equals one.

I think that the typical naysayer is having difficulty with the concept that the infinite series doesn't end when you get tired of writing 9's, and that the number itself doesn't change just because you write more of them. Whether you write a single "9" or two million of them, the number is the same, .9 is exactly the same number as .99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999, which is the same number as 1.

It's easy enough to miss thinking of it that way, though, so it quickly becomes obvious why there are a lot of people out there that have problems with the amount of imagination required to really "get" certain mathematical concepts, and why it takes a dedicated, persistent, and imaginative teacher to explain things like this.

This article has been linked to on digg.com, and the conversation thread has grown large enough to seriously slow down my browser when I try to read the page.

I have to admit that I'm pretty discouraged by the number of people absolutely denying that it can be possible (There's a warning at the top of the page that people are reporting that the information in the article is untrue!), but then again, math was always a subject that I liked, especially when I am shown something so obvious that I would intuitively argue with, if not shown a proof.

I'd like to give a heartfelt "Thank you" to Mr. Anonymous who decided to share his experience in the classroom and managed to extend it to the rest of the world.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

Get ready for a newer, slower internet...

Well, there you have it. Apparently, the enemy has congress firml in its pocket. It becomes obvious that those representatives who were quoted on the "No" side of the equation misunderstand things as they apply to the consumers of internet access.

Rep. Lamar Smith said:

They say let the government dictate [a vibrant internet]...I urge my colleagues to reject government regulation of the Internet.

That's the spin necessary to justify voting no, and if it were a completely fair statement, I'd be okay with it. However, as someone who both connects to numerous websites and creates content that other people access, I see things in precisely the opposite direction.

I purchase a connection to the internet from SBC/ATT. I am not purchasing a connection to a list of preferred websites, I'm buying an internet connection, period. At the point that some bits of data begin to be provided more quickly than other bits, I have a problem, because my internet connection is being purposely degraded. Small wonder that yesterday, AT&T announced plans to quadruple their backbone speed. They're probably rubbing their hands together with glee at the idea of being able to hoarde 30GBPS of speed for private data (IPTV, anyone?) and leave 10GBPS for less lucrative traffic.

Throw into the mix the fact that I have already paid for a good part of the infrastructure improvements currently in place, and we begin to look skeptically at the whole "no more government regulation" bit. It's fine to have government regulations allowing telecom companies to charge "federal cost recovery" fees, but not to require that the infrastructure paid for by those fees (by you and me) carry all traffic without prejudice or deference? Something smells in that equation.

I know that the first time I note any serious speed difference in sites I normally frequent, I will be complaining and possibly changing service providers (not sure if I'll have a choice).

I'm not surprised at the results of the vote, but I am definitely discouraged, both at the percentages of yes vs. no and at the lack of respect that our representatives are paying to the citizens they are supposed to represent.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bye-bye Fair-use? It's not just section 115 you have to worry about...

Ahh, lobbyists. One individual commented that the proposed bill in the article above is coming from Howard Berman. There is nothing to indicate that he is about to propose such a bill on his official house.gov web page, but he does make some comments on a similar subject (Section 114, as a matter of fact) on May 11th in the House.

It's your typical "The music industry is in trouble, piracy is killing them, let's make it harder for people to legally copy music." speech, but coming from a congressperson, it's disquieting.

Among other things, he says:

People are consuming more music than ever. Yet the music industry is in crisis. The total value for the music industry at retail declined from $14.5 billion in 1999 to $12.1 billion in 2004. In March 2005 alone, 243 million songs were downloaded from illicit peer-to-peer services (NPD Musicwatch).

Okay, so now he's sufficiently framed peer-to-peer services (illicit ones...that would be *all* of them that didn't charge money or track every transfer, if fair-use is not maintained) as the culprit...

Our Founding Fathers recognized that in order for America to be at the forefront of creativity they must support and incentivize musicians to pursue their art by providing necessary protection to these original works to produce a return on investment in those works.

Really? Is *that* what copyright is all about...controlling the legal right to copy a given work? Now I understand.

...we must remember that copyright owners cannot negotiate a fair market price for their works in the marketplace for digital radio, and cannot withhold access to their works as leverage in the marketplace to negotiate for necessary content protection on digital radio.

Umm, what? They can't? They seem to be able to do it with analog radio, and people have been taping recordings from AM and FM stations for years and years. Is he trying to say that "Copyright Owners" (the RIAA/MPAA and its members, I suppose) have a poor business model, or that changing an analog signal to digital somehow makes things horrible for them?

While I am encouraged by the many options, I am concerned that certain features of the new devices turn radio, or performance services, into distribution services. This increased functionality may cause the unintended consequence of bypassing the typical marketplace distribution channels by allowing the consumer to turn broadcasts into downloads. This utility enables consumers to create an unlicensed music library without paying the artist.

Now here's a tiny blip of truth working its way through to the surface. The interested parties Rep. Berman is speaking for are concerned that any digital distribution services they may offer will be preempted by people downloading everything digitally.

The problem with trying to make this argument with a straight face begins with audio cassette tapes, carries forward to Video Cassettes (Sony Betamax, anyone), and continues with recordable CD and DVD media. I suppose you could take it back father than that, if you count performance art, but I think the currently discussed issue is pre-recorded works.

If audio tape was fine, recordable CD's were fine, videotape was fine, and recordable DVD was fine, why the apparent change of heart? What has fundamentally changed to make a new broadcast medium so objectionable, when its predecessors were not?

The bill also requires that licensees use reasonably available technology to prevent copying of the transmission to prevent against third party ``stream-ripping''--the use of tools created by third parties that captures the stream, and then disaggregates the songs for storage in a manner that substitutes for a sale. However, any content protection system must allow for reasonable recording. Most notably the bill allows for all manual consumer recording to the extent such recording is consistent with fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

If I remember correctly, a well-spoken woman who is responsible for one of my favorite websites has talked about this before (last two paragraphs).

So, since the copyright holder's rights are subject to certain limitations, and repeated efforts to ignore those limitations have been problematic, change the law, I suppose.

Berman says over and over again that the bill "attempts to strike a balance" between protecting musicians (I'm sure he means copyright holders, since the musicians rarely retain copyright anymore) and supporting new technologies.

That's the wrong thing to balance against. You want the balance to be between the copyright holder and the listener...the person who purchased a copy of the music and the right to listen to it and make sure that they have a backup copy of the media. Nice try, though.

Friday, June 02, 2006

United States Patent: 5860074 - Is this what Adobe's mad at Microsoft About?

So I mentioned in my last post that The XPS documents were mostly 2-dimensional, but included layers. Adobe mentions a number of patents that are licensed royalty-free and non-exclusive for use in PDF viewers and publishing software, and one that *can't* be used in software that "consumes and/or interprets PDF files".

I guess that means that the lone patent there can't be used in a program that translates PDF files into something else. That's the best I can make of it.

I think it means that you can have a royalty-free license for use in developing a program that makes spec-compliant PDF files, but it has to only *make* PDF files, but not import, open, or display them. I'm trying to see if I can get Adobe to make that clear, but I'm pretty much nobody, so don't hold your breath.

So, that would mean that without a paid-for license, Microsoft would have to only develop a converter for Office, or would have to make it so that Office could not open existing PDF files, but only create new ones (or, of course, make an office suite that used PDF as its only file format).

I haven't seen that Word 2007 (beta 2) can open PDF files, which seems consistent with what the license seems to say, so I'm not quite sure what the trouble is. This article seems to say that Microsoft is dropping support for allowing saving to either PDF or XPS by removing the PDF option, although it will still be available as a downloadble patch.

For Vista, their decision is even less clear, since there was an option to save in XPS, but not PDF. Microsoft has decided to allow OEMs to drop some support for saving files in XPS format.

Microsoft even says (per the linked article above) that adding PDF-saving support was on solid legal ground, so the big mystery is still just that, a big mystery.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

...a bit more on Microsoft file formats:

So, inquisitive guy that I am, I decided to do a little bit of digging around to see how exactly OpenXML relates to the Windows operating system. I initially looked for stuff about OpenXML and Windows Vista, but came up a bit short.

Searching about for OpenXML and Longhorn, however, bore some fruit. Apparently, there's a less-talked-about, but similar format designed specifically for Longhorn called "Metro" (the question being asked is about OpenXML):

Q. Is this the same thing as Microsoft Windows Metro?

A. No. Office XML Formats use some of the conventions described in the Windows Metro Specification, however, the formats are different in several important ways. Metro is a paginated, fixed document format introduced for Microsoft Windows Longhorn. The Office XML Formats are fully editable file formats for Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office Excel, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. While they share similarities in their use of XML and ZIP compression, they are different in file format design and intended usage.

Hmm...interesting. I'd never heard of "Metro" before, but apparently it is a cousin to OpenXML. The next question/answer pair on that page is:

Q. Do Windows Metro and Office XML Formats have the same archiving features?

A. No. While both formats utilize XML and ZIP, they are designed with different purposes in mind. Metro is a layout-focused document format being introduced by Windows Longhorn to allow customers to effortlessly create, share, print, and archive documents. Office XML Formats are new default file formats that will be used specifically in Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft Office Excel, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint to enable more rapid creation of documents from disparate data sources, facilitating document assembly as well as data-mining scenarios.

They don't mention specifically what types of documents you're supposed to be able to effortlessly create here, but then, this is a page talking about OpenXML, not Metro. Time for some more digging:

Along with its new look, Vista is introducing a new Microsoft document format, XPS (XML Paper Specification). Documents created with XPS can be shared with people who don't have the originating application but do have an XPS viewer; Microsoft showed an XPS document being viewed in Internet Explorer. While not nearly as full featured as Adobe's popular PDF format, XPS is intended primarily to speed up and improve the quality of printing.

So, XPS (formerly known as Metro) seems to be Microsoft's way of removing Adobe's hold on easy-to-share documents...that's an awful lot of trouble to go through to preempt PDF, dontcha think? Well, I suppose coupled with OpenXML, it covers everything. No need to use non-Microsoft file formats for any type of document at that point.

There is a place where you can download samples to look at, and as someone who does a fair bit of programming on Windows machines, I was inclined to take a peek.

Unfortunately, in order to download the documents, you must agree not to give any part of the materials to anyone else, which, I suppose, would include posting snippets of them on a blog, so you'll have to go look at them yourself. There does not, however, seem to be any prohibition against discussing the files, so I'll do that. If you want details, you'll have to look yourself.

Basically, all of the XPS/Metro examples are 2-dimensional (well, some have layers, but that's not exactly 3-D). So, going back to Microsoft's Vista app showcase, we look at Right Hemisphere and what they are bringing to the mix.

If you look here, you'll find some details about "Deep Publish" and "Deep View", which are software plug-ins designed to work with Acrobat and Office to allow you to publish, view, and interact with 3-D content within those applications:

Deep Publish™ At A Glance

Right Hemisphere's Deep Publish lets you easily publish, view, and share 2D and 3D graphics using Microsoft™ PowerPoint™, Word™, Excel™ and Adobe® Acrobat®.

With Deep Publish you can:

  • Publish 2D and 3D graphics in Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat

  • View and interact with 2D and 3D graphics in Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and/or
    on the Web

  • Easily share 2D and 3D graphics

Designed for non-engineering professionals, Deep Publish leverages industry standard desktop applications and eliminates the need for engineering involvement whenever complex 2D and 3D product graphics are needed.

Ala "Stac Technologies' stacker data compression software, Microsoft saw an existing application that did something they wanted to do (and maybe *needed* to do, since they appear to have angered the folks at Adobe), and brought them on-board. It's not clear what the relationship is, right now, or whether Microsoft will be making a technology purchase (most documents created these days are decidedly 2-dimensional), but this appears to be a good way to cover a hole in capability.

You may ask why this would even be necessary, and OpenDocument's ISO-approved "dr3d" namespace might be a good reason why. OpenOffice Draw can already create 3-D objects, which are saved natively in ODF format (Click "View -> Toolbars -> 3D Toolbar", if you can't figure out how to add 3D shapes...I'd never done it before).

So, here we have a situation that may well be only at the beginning of the "heated discussion" stage. Microsoft, proprietary software vendor, and creator of innumerable file formats, has a past history of adding proprietary extensions to existing standards.

To boot, Adobe is apparently not all that happy with something (XPS, maybe?) about the way Microsoft is including PDF support in Microsoft Office 2007. That might cause some trouble for the integration they propose to give Vista users with the help of Right Hemisphere.

Prohibitions in what is allowable licensing-wise in present and future versions of ODF would seem to prevent Microsoft from taking control of the standard and putting up barriers to implementation for other software vendors (I'm checking on that, to be sure), so the only real angle Microsoft can pursue right now is dominance through a new, compelling, ubiquitous file format that people prefer to the alternatives.

As long as ODF exists as a universal standard, however, that march to dominance will be a long, challenging, and possibly fruitless path. If I had to bet on it, I'd say that you can expect quite a bit of spin from Microsoft in the near future about any percieved issues with anything ODF-related.

My money is on ODF in this fight, but you can bet Microsoft will come out swinging.

See Windows Vista...all your base are belong to us...

I was reading Digg, and noticed an article about a showcase of 3rd-party apps for Windows Vista. I was curious, so I took a peek...lots of clips of programs with Tom Skerrit narrating.

Anyway, if you visit the link above (http://www.seewindowsvista.com/ skip the intro, not much point in it), click on "Turning Information into Action", and then scroll down on the list of clips on the right.

The second-to-last clip is titled "Right Hemisphere - Proprietary format? No problem!"

The clip talks about taking data from proprietary formats (they are specifically talking about CAD, in this example), and making them available to "anyone, anywhere, on any platform".

I couldn't help but think that perhaps Microsoft's OpenXML is about much more than MS Office, and that they may be trying to position it as the new de facto (proprietary...ironic, eh) format for document exchange. If there is new graphics capability in Vista that this new uber-CAD-format makes use of, perhaps all of the posturing about OpenXML being the best has more importance in Microsoft's grand design than they have been letting on.

Internet Explorer gained Microsoft a lot in the market by its inclusion in Windows, and making OpenXML an automatically-supported format in Windows (to whatever extent) *could* do a lot to gain them back market share...if there wasn't a robust, capable, complete, and ISO-approved alternative in the form of OpenDocument Format.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Download details: Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar Beta

I always wondered what the Javascript Console/DOM inspector cousin of Firefox was for IE...now I know. Handy tool

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Keep track of your senators, etc...

YouTube - Aids HIV Bayer

Bayer pulls AIDS-infected blood products in the US and sells them overseas??? This video is from early April, has anyone heard anything about this since then? I know this is the first I had heard of it.

I'll take it with a grain of salt, *but* Bayer executives overseas have already been in legal trouble over it, so I'd imagine there is truth to this story...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

WSJ.com - Should the Net Be Neutral?

This is going to be more than a one-sentence entry, just because I actually have a strong (and informed) opinion on the issue.

Mike McCurry is the spokesperson for the group I will hereafter (in this entry) call "the enemy". He has some ideas about net neutrality, and possibly some knowledge about it's opposite...hard to tell from the article.

Craig Newmark, while very knowledgeable about the subject at hand, gets derailed from making a stronger case by some heartfelt (and not misplaced) emotion.

Here's my take on what *should* have been mentioned in this tete-a-tete

The following comes straight from Mr. McCurry's mouth:

...The current Internet is creaky and will suffer congestion if we don't invest in improvements. The network operators prepared to make those investments need to get a return and one way is to charge a premium for managing huge bandwidth content differently. Face it, most users trying to get video want packets of video data to assemble differently than regular email content...

Personal outrage aside, there is the beginning of the bizarre argument the telcos keep making hidden here.

When the telecom companies start talking about the internet being "creaky" and "needing improvement", what they're saying is "we want more money to put in faster pipes". Astonishingly enough, although they collect money every month from their customers (broadband, dial-up, and dedicated internet-access customers) for the services they offer, *and* for the FUSF (or FCRF, or whatever acronym they choose to use containing "Federal" and "Fee"), which is something they "may" charge us all to offset the cost of...drum roll...putting in place network infrastructure.

They're already charging everyone twice, and not only do they want to add a third revenue source (mafia-like...pay up or we slow down your internet) from websites, they have been adding a fourth source by charging broadband users extra money to open up all of the ports (or un-cap recently capped speeds) on their purchased internet connections. Innovation in billing is something telecom companies are historically excellent at.

The issue of whether users want video on demand or telnet or IRC isn't the point here. The enemy could just as easily do some QOS (quality-of-service) magic on those types of transfers as they could upgrade infrastructure. Actually, they already are, as a number of frustrated Vonage internet phone users have discovered. Bastardry at it's finest.

Yes, Mr. McCurry ticked me off, and it's obvious that he's talking in weasel-words (to me, anyway).

Mr. Newmark said:

So, to preserve the level playing field, we need to prevent the powerful from paying people for special privileges. We're NOT talking about regulation, we're talking about preserving democracy.

Mr. Newmark, I would wager, is a crusader for democracy and member of the EFF and other good stuff like that. His statement puts him very much on the side of the little guy, which is fine, just not as helpful as a more pointed rebuttal would have been.

I think he misses a really good opportunity here to frame the disagreement. I don't think the issue of powerful vs. weak is the pivotal issue in the Net Neutrality debate. I think the pivotal issue is freedom vs. restriction.

The enemy owns much of the infrastructure we use to communicate, and they see a way to make money. They don't care about connection speeds unless it's in relation to how much the profit margin goes up at a certain cost-per-node-per-MBPS. They want to make money and show their shareholders that they're good at doing it so they get *more* shareholders.

I get that. Fine. I like free enterprise and capitalism, and all the opportunity that it allows. What I don't get, or enjoy the idea of one bit, which Mr. McCurry mentions, is why they would want to purposely degrade connectivity:

It looks to me that companies are rushing to provide faster connections for Internet users, not looking how they can slow someone down (which would be a nutty thing to do from a business perspective.) Where is the problem that needs to be solved?

He's completely incorrect on this point. I guess maybe it's not obvious to everyone, but to a customer that just paid X dollars for an internet connection, if Google (who has stated it will not pay any telco or ISP for "higher tier" status) comes up slow, that means their connection to the internet is "slow". That's what the enemy wants, of course...they can use that perception to create fear on the part of websites that serve a lot of data to web-surfers and try and cow them into paying the extortion money. It's a huge bargaining chip that they are hoping will help to hold at bay the razor-thin margins they're afraid of.

The enemy *could* charge it's customers more, which would be pretty straightforward, but that would make it look like they were picking on the little guy, instead of the mighty Google, regardless of the fact that the little guy will end up paying for it anyway.

The apparently difficult-to-find (for Mr. McCurry) "problem that needs to be solved" is that of the telecoms continually trying to charge more money for the exact same service. They could build their own search engines that don't suck, video libraries that don't suck, etc, etc, and not have to worry about all that nasty cross-peer bandwidth usage that has caused irritation.

The whole thing is ridiculous, and I blame Cogent and Level 3 for getting all of this started.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Telegraph | News | The truth about global warming - it's the Sun that's to blame

The good news is: Global warming is probably not all our fault. The bad news is: Nobody thought to install a dimmer switch on the sun.

Repairing Windows XP in Eight Commands - Guide - Short-Media

Geek knowledge...learn you some.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Remote control alarm clock project.

Yeah, maybe it's pointless, but it looks like fun :)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Backdoor flaws found in Diebold e-voting machines

Umm...can you say "not good"? Not one, not two, but *three* security backdoors were found in two of Diebold's voting-machine models' software.

"What they're proposing as a vulnerability is actually a functionality of the system. Instead of recognizing the advantages of the technology, we keep ringing up 'what if' scenarios that serve no purpose other than to confuse and in some instances frighten voters."

I know it's silly to hope that he's joking, but that's just plain stupid. A voting machine is supposed to enable people to record their vote in an election and provide a degree of certainty that the ballots have not been tampered with.

I fail to understand how publicly unknown backdoors to the software controlling these systems...systems that do not maintain an auditable hard-copy paper trail...can be called "functionality of the system". If there is a mechanism (or, say, three of them) by which someone may gain access to the operation of the voting machines other than by normal user or administrative controls, that's a *break* in the functionality of the system.

I suppose you can still request an absentee ballot, if your county insists on using either of these flawed models, but I agree with the author of the article...the machines should be recalled and never used again.

Lactic Acid Is Not Muscles' Foe, It's Fuel - New York Times

Well, who knew...I like it when someone starts with a fresh view and helps us all gain new insight.

My biggest problem with this is that it's going to make one of my favorite movies hard to watch...if you've seen "A few Good Men" a few times, you know that the marine who dies dies of acute lactic acidosis...not sure if that pans out anymore.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

YouTube - Some girl playing Super Mario Galaxy

Yeah, I'm a Nintendo fanboy...so what? Between this game and the Avatar, I'll be having fun with the kids playing on a Nintendo Wii next year...

ScienceDaily: How Drug Binds To Neurons To Stop Drunken Symptoms Of Alcohol

Future advertisement: "Coffee is SOOOOO old-school. Just take a drunk-no-more pill and you can safely drive home..."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

Web Developer's Handbook: developing web-sites, exploring imagination | CSS, Color Tools, SEO, Usability etc.

Need to know something web-related? Look here...

Kid's Programming Language : Learning is best when learning is fun!

"Math is Boring"...well, maybe, if you're trying to figure out how far apart mary and steve are after 30 minutes of travelling at some certain speed. Then again, if you're trying to figure out if your star destroyer's lazer is going to hit its target, maybe it's not too bad.

Programming can be fun. Video games are quite often fun...bring the two together and let your kid learn the Kid's Programming Language (KPL). Worst-case scenario, you end up with someone in the family that can fix the computer...best case scenario, your kid becomes the richest person in the world.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

This guy thinks pro-global-warming scientists are bullying him.

I don't know enough about the science to say whether his argument is valid, but it makes sense at face value. Grain of salt, and all that...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chizumatic - Too many words about The Matrix

Interesting ideas...I'd like to hear the directors' commentary about this guy's take on things...

Friday, February 10, 2006

15 Seconds : ASP.NET Mixed Mode Authentication

A bit more on the same subject I just mentioned...

Mixing Forms and Windows Security in ASP.NET

Took me a while to find even this...it's not exactly a walkthrough, but good info, just the same.

quiet american

Field recordings of many things in vietnam...life on audio tape.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Telecom company troubles...

I don't often editorialize, but I'm going to do so today.

A few months back, I read all about a certain disagreement between a couple of ISP's (Level 3 and Cogent) over internet traffic going from one network to another.

A few weeks ago, we started hearing noises about ISP's charging "content providers" (that's potentially anbody on the internet, by the way, not just Google) for traffic coming from their sites to the ISP's customers.

Today, I read a story about FTTP (Fiber-To-The-Premises). I had already been thinking about the first two items and how they are related, and after this new blip on my radar today, there seems to be a general undercurrent that's identifiable in all three cases.

Before I get to that, though, lets look at each story and what it says to the public.

Story 1 - Cogent VS. Level 3

Cogent: A medium-sized ISP that relies on peering with top-tier ISP's to get bandwidth to people who pay them money. Level-3: A top-tier ISP that owns a lot of fiber, and is struggling to stay financially sound.

The stated issue? Cogent is sending too much data over Level-3's network, and making it unprofitable for them to continue peering.

Story 2 - Verizon/Bellsouth VS. Internet content providers

Verizon/Bellsouth: ISPs who have a large customer base connected to the internet, and making daily use of those connections. Content Providers: Various companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, NBC, AOL, etc, etc, etc...any website on the internet) that have sites on the internet that nodes on the internet can connect to and get information from.

The stated issue? Customers of the ISPs are getting large amounts of information from various content providers, and the ISPs think that the content providers should pay for some of that.

Story 3 - Telcos VS. everyone

Telcos (Verizon, SBC, Qwest, Bellsouth): Companies that provide telephone and/or internet service to locations in the US.

Everyone: Just what it says. Well, everyone that pays taxes.

The stated issue? In the early 1990's, telcos said that they would roll out fiber connections to individual residences and businesses, providing ubiquitous high-speed access in the USA, in exchange for latitude on pricing regulations, restrictions on competition, and dispensations. They haven't done it yet.

Okay, so now what?

The first two are easy enough to connect. ISPs want to charge both their customers and the customers of other ISPs for data that traverses their networks. Classic double-dipping.

The third story is a bit different, in that they are not asking publicly, but they are asking to double-dip, just the same.

I think that perhaps the ISPs and telcos (which are becoming more and more synonymous) are suffering from a mindset held over from the days of Ma Bell. A mindset in which they own everything, control everything, and get income from everything that happens involving their systems or equipment. But more than that, they are in a position that makes the prospect of directly charging their customers a price that pays for the services they need to offer a very unattractive one.

We start with Story three, which comes first (and last) chronologically. Promises made...they'll do great things...everyone loves the idea. Reality sets in...it costs money to do...competition still exists...dispensations are not enough to offset the cost of rolling out the program and operating the network. A plan is formed...delay the roll-out...keep the idea alive and hope that the agreement is forgotten.

Forgetting the agreement, in 1991 terms, is a simple task compared to what it takes today. Use some influence on a few media outlets, have a little talk with a few key congressmen, and spin things into a second round of promises. Today, however, the realities of the network (the one that we have to use in lieu of the one promised) and the internet that it enables make that forgetfulness effectively impossible. SCO knows a lot about the collective memory of the internet, and I think that the telcos are already beginning to learn. That brings us to the logical next step and Story One.

Okay, we can't make people forget, so how do we rectify the situation? Find money to pay for it, obviously. Asking the customers for more money is the last avenue to explore, so what is most opposite the customer...what helps us and not our competition? Ask our competitors to pay us. Level-3, while not one of the baby bells, itself, provided a useful example to the bells as to what happens in that situation.

Customers are affected, and ask questions. Breach of contract, deliberate degradation of services, Terms-of-service, lawsuits...there's little upside to disrupting all or part of a service that your customers pay for and doing so deliberately. That pretty much removes option two, which is good for you and I, since it prevents a balkanization of the internet in the US. That takes us to the next step, and Story Two

We can't make people forget, and we can't charge our competitors, so maybe we can cut down on the amount of traffic we have to handle, or make money from "excessive" traffic. How do we do this? Charge website operators that have large amounts of traffic. Our customers are unaffected monetarily, and we can just say "look, that data crosses our network, so they should have to pay some of the cost". This, of course, is still playing itself out, but I think that they'll find (as in the Level-3/Cogent fiasco) that customers are not made happier by the deliberate degradation of services that they already pay for.

So now...

you're either thinking this is interesting or ridiculous. I hope you think it's interesting. More interesting yet is what happens next. If customers don't clamor loudly about slow websites from those content providers that don't pay, then we have a de-facto tiered internet, rather than the peer-to-peer network that was designed decades ago. I'll leave the ruminations on what that means for us all to others who are already talking about it.

If customers do make noise about it, then we've effectively backed the baby bells into a corner. The only places that they can adjust things are expenditures and income. They can fire people, sell assets, or do the unspeakable...they can raise rates.

Of course, there is one very last option. If none of those things is going to work...they're running lean, raising rates will lose them customers, and selling assets just helps the competition, they can grovel. They can go to congress with their hat in their hand and tell us all the story of how best intentions never materialized into fiber networks. They can explain to congress, Bruce Kushnick, the IRS, and the FTC, what happened, how sorry they are, and how much more they need from us in order to make good on their promise.

I don't know what will happen...I'm not a fortune-teller, but whatever happens, I'm sure that we're in for something interesting.