\n"; echo $styleSheet; ?>include("http://www.corante.com/admin/header.html"); ?>
Well, nearly, judging from the latest re-org news coming out of Microsoft.
The retiree in this case is Jim Allchin (right), who has been the Windows guru there for years. What struck me was his age, 53.
I'm going to be 51 in January. And I'm launching a start-up.
Seriously, Microsoft is going through the middle-aged crazies, and the solution is in many ways typical. That is, push decision-making down the stack, toward younger managers. Let a hundred flowers bloom and all that.
The other big headline in here is that Ray Ozzie, the former Lotus executive who joined Microsoft last year as a chief technical officer, is being given line responsibilities for what's called the "software-based services" strategy.
Unfortunately, Microsoft's middle-aged trouble goes a little deeper than that.
Skype, like most VOIP companies, is a tax arbitrage play.
The idea is that you avoid the tax costs of telephony by running your voice calls over an Internet connection. As everyone gets broadband, telephone service dies a natural death.
But neither the Bells, nor the governments they feed, are willing to go away quietly. I've written often about how it's done here. But it's done everywhere.
The same day eBay announced it would buy Skype, China started cracking down harder on Skype, and its Internet-Phone version SkypeOut. Unlike the situation with, say, Falun Gong, this is an effort where telephone firms are, not reluctant, but eager co-conspirators.
NOTE: There is an update to this article. Please go here to view it.
Users are reporting that not only doesn't the software work, but they can't back out of it, and can't load older versions, once the upgrade button is pressed. Some complete computer failures have been reported.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility, reported on this to Dave Farber's Interesting-People list today:
I've personally now seen two systems that have fallen into this black
hole -- no working iTunes, no working QuickTime, and attempts to
install older versions (even just of QuickTime) fail miserably, even
after complex (and in some cases dangerous) attempts at cleaning out
the leftover muck. It's really a mess -- reminds me of early DOS
Hopefully this is a short-term problem.
Over at ZDNet, Steve Gillmor (left) has a wonderful commentary that got me thinking about a financial disease, one to which corporations like Microsoft are addicted and by which users like us are burdened.
I call it Upgrade-itis.
The fight has barely begun for control of the new Internet interface, the RSS reader.
NOTE: We were honored to get two important responses to what follows.
Markos Moulitas says he never had an "exclusive" on Cindy Sheehan (I usually reserve the term for the first to get a story, but Sheehan's words have since been on many other blogs) and that there are RSS feeds to Dailykos diaries. (My point is the feeds are separate from the main subscription.)
Nick Bradbury, creator of FeedDemon, wrote to say that FeedDemon inserts no ads in feeds, that those ads are placed by sites. (This may mean the New York Times has a major ad campaign underway, using blogs as delivered by feeds. If you use another reader, let me know if you see Times ads.)
CORRECTION: Upon further investigation, I have learned that the Times ads come from Feedburner.Com, which is in the feed creation-and-management business. So Nick's right.
Please note that the data in parantheses does not question the honesty or truthfulness or veracity of either correspondent's words, but simply describes the responses I gave them, and the thoughts I had in writing this post.
We're always honored here at Mooreslore when newsmakers respond to our posts about them, when they correct what I write or report. Thanks again. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled post.
But already it's getting interesting.
I have written before how publishers have been placing ads in raw RSS feeds. this means my e-mail list of RSS stories is cluttered with "brought to you by" notices. This is on top of the outright advertisements sent as RSS, which if they hit a keyword you like means they're coming right at you.
What's more interesting, perhaps, is what's happening in stand-along RSS readers.
There are many in the market, but the examples here are going to be concerning FeedDemon (logo at left), now owned by Newsgator, which I have been using a few months:
They're both brilliant. They're both A-list bloggers. They're both rich. I've known both for about two decades.
But I think Marc has a vital Clue Joi has missed, about one of the most important trends of our time, the rise of the open source business process.
Here's why I think that.
Joi has put a lot of money into SixApart, which runs Movable Type, which powers this blog. It's good stuff. But it's being left behind because it is, at heart, proprietary. It doesn't interconnect with other software. It isn't modular, scalable, and it can only be improved by the SixApart team.
In other words, it doesn't take advantage of the open source business process, and thus there are whole new worlds it hasn't been able to scale into. It's not a Community Network Service (like Drupal), and it's not a social networking system (like MySpace).
Marc, on the other hand, has just released GoingOn. It's a new engine for digital communities, like MySpace. He launched with Tony Perkins, who will use the system as the new heart of his AlwaysOn network (no relation to my wireless network application idea of the same title).
But Marc also understands that his stuff can't be the be-all and end-all. Let him explain it:
A reporter can make a good living just covering Microsoft.
This is not a good thing.
One fact that attracted me to technology journalism in the first place was its social mobility. I often write about companies I call "Clueless" and find they have disappeared practically before I can get the piece into digital print. Those that are "Clued-in" can also fall quickly, corporate management in this space being much like tightrope walking.
Intense competition makes for rapid evolution. Call this Dana's First Law of Competition. Markets in India and China are intensely competitive. You can't let your guard down for an instant. This is a very good thing.
It's not what human nature wants, of course. As people we want to relax, to enjoy our lives, to set the competition aside sometimes so we can, say, raise our families, get more education, or retire with dignity.
Both Microsoft and the government had opportunities to prevent this, to re-ignite competition. They chose not to take these opportunities.
Bill Gates had one vision for Microsoft, but the company has gone beyond it. He was wise to pass the baton to his majordomo, Steve Ballmer. Ballmer is all sales, all the time, a whirling picture of aggression. (He's also, admittedly, what we call on this blog a Truly Handsome Man (grass don't grow on a busy street) but looks ain't everything.)
Ballmer's vision isn't really about technology. It's about exploiting advantages and making money.
So at Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis (Minneapolis?) we got headlines like these:
This is just one corner of the news Microsoft made last week.
NOTE: That's the royal crown magnolia from mytho-fleurs.com. Like it? It's yours.
A long evening spent reading Lasica's book brought the title to me: King of Irony.
Remember, this is a book. Thus it is subject both to a book's business model and its rights regime.
Want a copy? $25.95 plus tax and (if you buy it online) shipping get it for you. Or wait for it to appear at your local library. Or borrow one from a friend, free. Or wait some months for it to appear in a discount bin, or a remainder lot, or a garage sale. The price you pay is a function is a function of the time you're willing to wait for it.
What can you do with this book? I typed an excerpt today by hand. The length of the excerpt, again, is a function of time, and the cost of my time to produce it, unless I want to string it out a page or two. In that case, technology might be deployed -- a scanner -- plus a few minutes with the scanner's OCR software, some cutting-and-pasting, and voila!
Want to steal some more? Production costs are going to get you. A Xerography process may give you a bound book for just a few dollars, if your order is small. An offset process costs less per book, but the order in that case must be bigger. I guarantee the printer will want to know you're a Wiley fella (or lady) before they take the order.
And we haven't even cracked the cover yet. Easy to see where Lasica's crown comes from.
One reason I (unreasonably) went off on Jamais Cascio is because I'm sickened at how the press generally treats Always On solutions. They only see the threats to civil liberties and tend to demean the potential user base.
After Jamais (rightfully) went after me I began looking for an article illustrating this point. It didn't take long to find one. (And the picture at right is from that very story.)
Here it is. It's a piece by Thomas Ricker of EnGadget on what are some really nifty Always On applications in the medical field.
He gets it all down, the fear of "Big Brother watching you" and the outright contempt for the infants, parents and older folks who might need this stuff.
Given all the deaths from SIDS I would think parents would love a mattress that could warn you before your child dies. Given the ravages caregivers face with Alzheimers (not to mention patients), a network of motion sensors telling you when you really need to help grandma (and when you don't) sounds like a very, very good thing indeed.
Most PC users have been conditioned, over time, into conserving disk space. This is true even though most of us have tons more disk space than we really need.
We're not used to thinking in terms of conservation of memory, taking programs out of memory that aren't doing us good and, in fact, may be doing us harm. (Yes, you Mac users can go to sleep now.)
I was in for a surprise. Two surprises, actually.
More after the break.
The 1990s were all about the Internet. (The picture is from a great site called i-Learnt, for teachers interested in technology.)
This decade is all about gadgets.
Digital cameras, musical phones, PSPs, iPods -- these are the things that define our time. While they can be connected to networks their functions are mainly those of clients.
In some ways it's a "back to the future" time for technology. We haven't had such a client-driven decade since the 1970s, when it was all about the PC.
In some ways this was inevitable. The major network trend is wireless, so we need a new class of unwired clients.
But in some ways this was not inevitable. If we had more robust local connectivities than the present 1.5 Mbps downloads (that's the normal local speed limit) we would have many more opportunities to create networked applications.
One of my continuing themes is the World of Always On, with wireless networking as a platform, running applications that use data from your daily life.
But before we get there we all have to become network managers. In today's issue I consider that question.
I'm a network manager. (MG-Soft of Slovenia makes products for network managers. That's their mascot, Mr. Monet, at left.)
It's not that I want to be. I'm a homeowner. My kids have PCs. My wife and I have PCs. Some years ago a friend ran wires among the rooms so everyone could share my DSL line.
There are now millions of us network managers. Recently I sat on my porch, opened my laptop, and learned that three of my five immediate neighbors now have WiFi networking in their homes. The signals were faint, but my copy of Windows found them all as soon as I booted-up. And the nearest of the three was totally unsecured. If I had larceny in my heart I could have entered my neighbor's network, used their bandwidth, even prowled around in their PCs looking for porn, passwords or blackmail material. (Fortunately for them, I'm a very nice person.)
The other two neighbors had nets which, like mine, are protected by long identifiers, input once, which validate valid PCs. One even had encryption on their system (very nice). The neighbors on the unprotected net insisted later they had the same system I do, but I suspect they haven't taken time to activate the security features.
The point is that wireless networks make many of us network managers, and Always On applications will make most of us network managers. We're not qualified for the work. We may never be qualified. Those who do become qualified become that way as I did recently, in extremis.
I'm generally all in favor of anything to fight spam. And regular readers of this space will recall how much I like my own anti-spam tool, Mailwasher from FireTrust.
But this pissed me off.
UPDATE: After posting this I learned the spam database I'm about to describe is not necessary for Mailwasher to work. My complaint here is solely regarding issues of marketing and notice. Mailwasher remains my anti-spam solution of choice.
The latest version of the product, Version 5.0 to be precise, supports a company spam datebase, called FirstAlert! This is a commendable thing, on balance.
But in order to pay for maintaining this database, FireTrust has changed its business model. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Essentially they're going to a subscription model built around FirstAlert!
I was asked to download the "upgrade" to Mailwasher, by FireTrust, roughly a week ago. I did so. It's now a $37 product but, if you want to maintain your own POP3 mailbox and a public e-mail address, it's a necessity. Upgrading was transparent, easy-peasy.
Suddenly this morning I get a pop-up, inside Mailwasher, reading "your subscription to FirstAlert has expired," with a link to renew. The link goes to a page inside the FireTrust site, and they want $9.95 for the subscription. The page doesn't indicate how long this "subscription" lasts.
Because of the way in which this was done, it can look to a consumer like a classic bait-and-switch. I bought this thing just last week and now you want MORE money?
Fortunately it's very easy for FireTrust to fix this:
"Dad, the Internet's broken again."
update I finally surrendered in this case and renewed my daughter's antiviral, for $55. I would rather have her choose when to make the Linux switch. The anti-viral did, finally, get rid of all the malware, although we lost a second evening to it and she wound up writing her last paper on my own machine.
Actually it had been breaking for some time, I learned. My lovely daughter is a big fan of Fanfiction.Net, a site where kids are allowed to post their own stories based on popular characters. (Think Harry Potter meets the Three Stooges.)
It's a harmless avocation but it comes with a price. Fanfiction is filled, absolutely filled, with spyware and malware. Ad pop-ups were filling her screen, and no matter how many I clicked away (even if the browser was turned off) more appeared. She had been running an anti-spyware program, but it had not been updated. And her anti-viral had just expired.
The solution seemed simple enough. Her anti-spyware program was updated and deployed. But here's a dirty secret of our time. Most adware today is no different from a virus.
All the tricks of the virus creep were deployed to keep crap like eZula infesting my girl's PC. Copies were hidden in memory, in the restore directory, in directories under program files. (None had ever asked permission, nor told her what it would do.)
When I deployed Spybot in normal boot, the spyware was so thick (download this, click here) the program actually stopped -- the pop-ups and demands to download more garbage were a primeval forest. When deployed in "safe mode," there were several "problems" that couldn't be eliminated. Re-boot and start Spybot again? Well, dozens more spy-virii popped up during the re-boot.
But wait, there's more.
Some time in the next month the copyright world may (or may not) reel from the Supreme Court's decision in the Grokster case.
The facts on their face are as favorable as the plaintiffs can make them. Grokster is all about making money for itself off the property of others. Its business model is to sell ads, including adware (sometimes a polite word for spyware and malware). It hoses both sides of every transaction. And the software really does little more than a good FTP server (with an automated database) would.
The vast majority of Grokster's use is driven by hoarding. People fear losing access to the music they love (or might love). So they load up, until they have gigs-and-gigs of it they have to haul around. (Thanks to Moore's Law of storage this gets lighter and less expensive over time, but it still has to be kept.)
The hoarding in turn is driven by the industry's threats. Threats of rising prices. Threats of lawsuits. Threats of copy-protected CDs.
The market solution to the facts is already in the pipeline. Many have proposed the idea of taxing people for unlimited access to the industry's wares and in fact schemes like Yahoo's Music Unlimited work just that way. Pay the "tax" (which starts at $5/month but could go up subject to negotiations with the industry) and download all you want. No need to hoard. Stop paying and all your files magically disappear. (The genie is found in Microsoft's DRM.)
More on the jump.
I have not written much about Voice Over IP in this space because I'm not an expert in it. (Yes, I hear you say, this never stopped you before.)
Actually I didn't think I had anything original to add to the conversation. I still don't. But I want to point you to someone who does.
That someone is Tom Evslin (left). Evslin recently completed a wonderful series on the economics, politics, past and future of VOIP, on his blog, which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in this area.
Evslin calls this year a "flipping point" driven bythe mass distribution of VOIP software. It's not really free although, once you have your set-up, each call carries no incremental cost. The market battle between Skype and Vonage are driven by Metcalfe's Law, control of end points. Evslin offers the best explanation I've yet seen of Skype and its business model, which is rapidly evolving into an alternative phone network.
I have one suggestion.
Short answer. No.
It can be, of course.
When journalists blog, when we ask hard questions, dig for facts, and take mistakes seriously, well then yes journalism can happen on a blog. (Cartoon from Cox and Forkum.com,)
But a blog can be a diary. If you invite just a few people to post, and those same people are all who can read it, a blog is groupware.
A blog can be a community. Let a lot of people offer posts, organize the comments, add polls and ratings.
And that is not all, oh no, that is not all...
In The Lost Point, I wrote that Google risked being outmanuevered because it didn't pay proper attention to Blogger.
Today Duncan Riley of The Blog Herald goes further. He says the game is already over, that Microsoft won, that the field is consolidating into the three big portal players so Movable Type needs to sell out to Yahoo, quick.
Riley is right as far as he goes.
But if you click below, we'll go a bit further.
Sun's plan to release Solaris under its CDDL open source license got a boost yesterday with an endorsement by...The SCO Group? (This cute Linux penguin keychain from Promotion Potion doubles as a stress ball.)
"We have seen what Sun plans to do with OpenSolaris and we have no problem with it," is the way eWeek's Steven Vaughan-Nichols quoted SCO's Darl McBride in a conference call yesterday.
The question is, with friends like these, does Sun need enemies?
It's beginning to look like the SCO-IBM case won't make it to the finish line, an end to discovery and summary judgement.
SCO's sponsors are blowing up. Literally.
Maureen O'Gara (left), whose name is like fingers rubbing a balloon to most in the open source community, and is regularly accused by them of being an SCO shill, reported last month that both Ray Noorda's daughter and another executive with Canopy Group, SCO's largest owner, committed suicide.
More telling, perhaps, was her reference to SCO itself, a company she has regularly defended on teleconferences. She called it "the infamous SCO Group."
When your shark-jumper jumps ship, who's left?
The real news from last month is that Canopy's position in SCO has transferred to former Canopy CEO Ralph Yarro, who chairs the SCO board. When the former VC leaves his firm and becomes your CEO, you've got no net below you and (most likely) no new money coming in the door.
SCO could use new money, because when it finally delivered its financial results for fiscal 2004 (on April Fool's Day no less) it had a net loss of $23.3 million on revenue of $42.8 million, against profits of $5.4 million and $79.2 million in revenue. Why? Because sales of licenses to Linux users totaled just $809,000, down from $25.8 million in 2003.
How can this be bad news for open source?
Simple. If SCO fails to make it to the end of discovery, the judge in the case can't set a precedent that will keep others from trying the same con.
Eric Rice (left), responding to Dana's Law of Content, asked a real good question yesterday:
And who will be the ultimate judge of what is and is not good and compelling?
The short answer is you would. Not you, Eric. You. The person reading this. And you. And you.
The biggest problem blogging faces right now is it's hard to find the good stuff. Oh, much of the good stuff does get found. And, of course, what constitutes good stuff is all in the eye of the beholder.
What do we do about this?
Writing in his personal blog, Carmack said he was intrigued when his wife got him a new phone with a color screen.
His post about the project is an excellent primer not only on the inside of game design, but the creative process at work.
Thanks to Joystiq for pointing it out.
The Gibson Safety Dance, named for sci-fi author William Gibson, involves companies changing their software simply to keep other programs from accessing it.
It's increasingly common. We've seen it in Instant Messaging, we saw it recently with Microsoft Office, and now we're seeing it with Apple's iTunes.
Jan Johansen, the Norwegian programmer who wrote DeCSS so he could play DVDs under Linux, has entered the fray with a program that breaks the iTunes DRM so Linux users can buy them from the Apple store. Apple's response has been to change the software and keep this from happening.
Remember a week or so ago when I wrote about how someone had cracked their iPod's DRM to stick Linux in there?
Well, Novell has released a version of Linux that loves that environment.
Silicon.Com reports that SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 (SUSE is now owned by Novell) includes automatic recognition and support for the Apple iPod.
Wind River is continuing its slow march toward the computing mainstream. (The illustration, from the Wind River site, shows the engagement model the company follows with its customers in producing products. It's careful and complicated.)
It's easy for someone to criticize Wind River's strategy as an attempt to maintain proprietary control in a world of open source, but the fact is there are opportunities here for the Always On world that need to be explained, and then seized.
Fact is Wind River's VxWorks is the leading RTOS out there. RTOS stands for Real Time Operating System, folks. An RTOS is used to make a device, not a system. You find RTOS's in things like your stereo, and your TV remote. What the device can do is strictly defined, and strictly limited. Your interaction with the device is also defined and limited.
An RTOS is not a robust, scalable, modular operating system like, say, Linux. And over the last few years, Wind River has been creeping into your world. VxWorks is used in most of your common WiFi gateways. This limits what they can do. They become "point" solutions. You can't run applications directly off a gateway, only off one of the PCs it's attached to.
Now, slowly, this is changing.
I don't always agree with Nicolas Negroponte (right), but he made a point in Korea recently that really makes sense.
This is true for hardware, for software, and for services. Future hardware designs must make it easy to connect, hands-free. Software must have intuitive user interfaces, as simple as speech. Services need to be spur-of-the-moment.
A lot of the mobile services I see today violate these principles big-time. They're based on Web interfaces, and thus have a limited time horizon. The key is to get inside the phone, so you're bought as soon as the customer thinks of buying.
Google's Desktop Search is out of beta and available for download. (Going Gold is a phrase from "back in the day" when software ready to be release would be put onto a "gold" master for reproduction and shipping.)
The final version adds support for the text in PDF files, and meta data from music, video and picture files. System requirements are Windows XP or Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and above, 500 MBytes of disk space, 128 MBytes of RAM, and a 400 MHz processor.
But wait, there's more.
Jan Johansen became infamous because he wanted a Linux-based DVD player. Nils Schneider merely wanted the iPod to be all it could be.
In order to get a Linux DVD player, Johansen hacked the standard DVD encryption scheme with a program called DeCSS. The result was one of the biggest legal hassles of our time.
Schneider, 17, has now managed to get Linux working on his iPod by hacking its Digital Rights Management (DRM) system , according to New Scientist magazine.
Johansen's program, of course, had a lawful purpose, the creation of a Linux DVD player. But in order to do that he broke the copyright act. Schneider's program also has a lawful purpose, namely to run Linux on the iPod. But to do that he got through the iPod's DRM system, which in theory could let the iPod run any file at all.
But it's how Schneider did it I found most intriguing.
Sony released its Walkman phone yesterday.
It is what it is, a phone with a half-gigabyte of storage in it, enough room for about 500 songs.
Those songs are subject to Sony's DRM, just as iPod songs are subject to Apple's. Both now face the wrath of France because their DRM schemes are incompatible. Unfortunately for France, another unit of the government had previously ruled the link between its proprietary format and its iTunes store is OK so this is going nowhere.
And the Walkman phone is going nowhere in the market.
It's time for the IM wars to return.
The main feature of this market battle over the years hasn't been features, but alliances. As a result the world has divided into two warring camps, that of AOL and that of Microsoft.
Both are making moves again. This time they're going in two different directions. AOL is aiming at a bigger user base, Microsoft is aiming straight at the wallet.
(By the way, that PHP pinup girl comes from a Lithuanian PHP tool maker.)
Then I took a look at the recent output of this blog. All recent stories here carry the .php extension. They're no longer HTML. The output is still readable by any browser as an HTML file, they're just not written with a pure HTML tool.
The real news, however, is much bigger.
We're seeing nothing less than a mainframe revolution.
Giants fall all the time. In an earlier item today I mentioned one such fallen giant, the playwright Arthur Miller.
Computing also has giants, and we're all diminished when one of them falls. As Jef Raskin has fallen.
Jef, who died of cancer recently at 61, will be remembered as the "father of the Macintosh." He gave the project its name, and he pushed it within Apple.
But he was much, much more.
There's nothing journalists like better than a good old fashioned catfight. (The animated gif catfight is from Supah.Com. I guess you can send it to friends as a postcard.)
And in tech journalism today it doesn't get any better than Pamela Jones vs. Maureen O'Gara.
Jones edits Groklaw, the free community blog which has covered the open source revolution's legal defense so expertly. Her stuff is so good that SCO talked about putting together a rival site, called Prosco.Net, last year. (As of this writing that site is still empty.) Jones is so ethical she actually quit a really good job to stay on the beat, writing "money is nice, but integrity is everything." (I think I'm in love.)
O'Gara edits the $195/year LinuxGram newsletter. She writes fast, tight, "insider-type" stuff, with tabloid headlines like "Ray Noorda's Competence in Question." She learned her trade at CMP, and calls her company G2 Computer Intelligence.
Conflict was natural because of their differing styles. Jones is careful and shy to the point of near-invisibility. She writes like a lawyer. O'Gara is brassy and bold and uses the rest of the press as her PR machine. She writes like a journalist.
What got the feud rolling was a stunt O'Gara pulled before the court in the case of SCO vs. IBM. She filed her own motion to unseal the records, then did a story on her heroic act.
Newspaper companies do this all the time. They fight to unseal records of criminal trials or government decisions, writing a series of stories on the filings and the reaction. But Jones didn't like O'Gara's headline, nor the attitude in her story which was (to say the least) self-congratulatory.
No hostility there. Maybe a little around the edges, oozing out? Leapin' Lizards, Batman, the heroine action figure who apparently wishes to Take the Open Source Movement Down singlehandedly is none other than Maureen O'Gara, who is asking the Utah court to unseal all the sealed records:
As the legislative season swings into high gear, spyware is high on the agenda.
Some 14 states are looking at bills specifically aimed at spyware. Utah is on its second go-round, having had an earlier bill tossed by the courts.
But speakers at the VJOLT Symposium last weekend agreed that spyware bills are wrong. Instead of going after the means by which privacy is stolen, strengthen the privacy laws so they cover what bad spyware does.
In it he argued against any specific laws for cyberspace, saying standards of "meat space" law should be sufficient to deal with problems that look unique.
After writing (briefly) about Google's Keyhole I decided to try the free review.
The software licenses for $30/year, $600/year for professionals, but anyone can download it for a two-week free trial. So I tried it. There should be a screenshot over there to the left, but the e-mail system on the software doesn't work with Outlook Express...I guess you'll have to get your own.
Microsoft may have as little as a year to take command of the mobile phone platform, or the opportunity will be lost. (Image from Petrified Truth.)
At the 3GSM conference in Cannes, France, they gave it their best shot.
The mobile broadband business is at what Gandalf called "the pause before the plunge." Enough equipment has been deployed so broadband can be advertised. The time has come to define the experience and see if any money can be made from it.
Middleware was a very big buzzword a few years ago. (Image from the Southern Regional Development Center.)
By middleware, vendors meant software that let people below take advantage of resources above. Queries that delivered reports to managers on how stores were doing, or that placed real corporate data into neat little graphs.
But every organization of any size is based on human middleware. School principals are human middleware. Store managers are human middleware. Party committeemen are human middleware.
These people sit between the decision-makers at the top and those who carry out orders on the bottom. When we like them we call them "sir" or "ma'am." When we want to disparage them we call them bureaucrats.
America has the greatest bureaucracies in the world. We have done more for our human middleware than people in other societies. (Try getting your driver's license renewed in Mumbai if you don't believe me.)
But we can do much, much better.
Software can be part of that solution, but it's only a part.
I love the Brits. (But I love everyone.)
As executives, Brits have developed this wonderful, pugnacious, straight-talking chip-on-the-shoulder attitude in our time. It's a kind of "oh yeah, sez you" that owes more to soccer yobs than fox hunting.
And for a journalist it's great fun.
Think of it as a LAN on a chip. Not just the network itself, but the computers on the network and, to some extent, the people behind the computers as well. (The illustration is from the first section of Blatchford's report.)
Software programs on the chip, called apulets, portion work out among the computing sections, then recompile the results, the way an editor does at a newspaper desk. (Only without the coffee and the yelling and the pressure or the beer after work for a job well done.)
The result is true multi-tasking. As good as some teenagers, who will listen to music, watch TV, and gab on the phone while allegedly doing their homework, and still get As. (You know who you are.)
The best thing, though, is that this thing scales. You have 8 cells on the chip now. You can have more.
I'm no electrical engineer. I just went to school with some fine ones and picked up some of the lingo by osmosis. But it does seem to me that the "dual core" ideas Intel has committed to are merely extended here, in a way very consistent with Moore's Law.
The key point Moore missed (because it wasn't relevant to the paper, hadn't been discovered, and don't you dare criticize Mr. Moore for this) is that the exponential improvements he saw in silicon fabrication apply elsewhere. As I've written many times here, they apply to fiber, they apply to storage, to optical storage, to radios.
And now, for the first time, they may apply to chip design.
A few more points:
Ever since the Web was spun I've been looking for a better way to track the news.
I have created some in my time. I launched the Interactive Age Daily for CMP. I created the A-Clue.Com weekly newsletter.I like to think this blog helps.
But the raw material I use has changed constantly. Maybe that's a good thing, because some of my value as a journalist lies in my ability to dig through this raw material and give you the good stuff.
The full story, by Spamhaus' Steve Linford (below) was distributed online today. It charges that MCI knowingly hosts Send-Safe.Com, which sells a spam virus that takes over innocent computers and turns them into spam-sending proxies. Linford tracked Send-Safe to a Russian, Ruslan Ibragimov. Linford estimates MCI earns $5 million/year from its work supporting spammers.
The theft of broadband-connected PCs by viruses, mainly Send Safe and another Russian-made program, Alexey Panov's Direct Mail Sender ("DMS"), is responsible for 90% of the spam coming into AOL and other major ISPs, Linford charged.
Here's the nut graph:
MCI Worldcom not only knows very well they are hosting the Send Safe spam operation, MCI's executives know send-safe.com uses the MCI network to sell and distribute the illegal Send Safe proxy hijacking bulk mailer, yet MCI has been providing service to send-safe.com for more than a year.
Want this made a little more explicit? Read on.
Mainline spam software publishers have added a new worm to their product that not only turns PCs into spam zombies, but runs that spam through the zombies' e-mail server. This on top of an "industry" that already costs legitimate businesses $22 billion.
The result is spam that looks like it's coming from a legitimate address, and despite all the warnings most people still don't update their anti-virals so as to prevent this kind of infection.
Version 1.0 of Microsoft's new MSN Search is up. No thumbs up, more like a hand palm down, waggling a bit. (This is the closest I could come to that, from Gerhard Schaber's thesis on computer hand gesture recognition.)
MSN Search is not bad, for a Google clone. That's cruel and wrong. It's not a clone, because there is just a ton of stuff missing. Newsgroups are missing, shopping is missing, a directory is missing (although Google itself now hides that behind a "more" button.) Yes, Yahoo is better.
What you get are Web, images, and news. The main news page (previously seen at their MSNBC site) only lists one story, then adds the word "similar" which leads to a limited search of official and licensed media. They're using Moreover to get behind some registration firewalls.
But let's talk about the search itself.
Has Microsoft, and its ecosystem, built planned obsolescence into PCs so as to force upgrades?
I know this is tinfoil hat territory, but hear me out. (The tinfoil hat on the left is being modeled by Elizabeth Kramer of Pleasantville, NY, daughter of the blogger Kathlyn Kramer.)
In theory the MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) of all PC hardware extends not years but decades. There is no theoretical reason for an old machine to stop working, and refuse repair.
Yet that's just what is happening here.
It started a year ago. My 6 year old Windows 98 machine started acting up, refusing to boot, and Scandisk just wouldn't complete. A big part of the problem, I concluded, was the Norton security system I had installed.
But PCs were cheap so I changed it out. I got me a new Windows XP set-up for about half the price I'd paid for the original box back in 1998, and felt like I'd gotten off cheap.
This is the kind of story that warms the cockles, and hopefully makes today's Friday dog blogging feature make some sense. (Dogs are colorblind.)
It goes by the name of the Eyeborg (Adam's an inventor, not a marketer). It takes a picture of the scene with a digital camera, then translates the colors to sound with a computer program.
Best of all, the first one cost under $100 (well 50 pounds) to make.
But here's the really cool part.
One big difference between IBM and Microsoft today is that, while both are filled with "high bandwidth" people, those at IBM seem to have a greater creative freedom.
This presses all kinds of buttons for me. I'm a Wolfram fan. I like open source (and IBM is still rumored to be working on an open source JDK). I like music. I love the link between science and art. And the idea of an engineer learning to play music (or tap dance) is also attractive. Something else to think about is how Reiners pushed most of his links into a resources sub-head at the bottom of the story.
Now where does this take us?
Gary Wolf has a piece at Wired which had me shaking my head for some time.
Several folks have pointed me to it. It's an imagined memo, dated three years into the future, after Linus Torvalds has supposedly gone to work for Mr. Bill Gates.
The idea behind the imagined memo, something I've written about extensively recently over at ZDNet's Open Source, is based upon building a Linux desktop suite. Wolf's point, apparently, is that Microsoft moving to Windows isn't that far-fetched, that Steve Ballmer doesn't get it, and that Gates has the imagination to listen to the market rather than the yes-men in Redmond.
Well, yeah. But so what? Ain't gonna happen.
I wrote this for the GreaterDemocracyblog, but I'm also posting it here, because I can.
The software you have on your PC determines what you can do with it. The software a campaign or political movement uses reflects what it can do.
The biggest mistake Howard Dean made in his 2004 campaign wasnt his attacks on Gephardt, and it wasnt the scream. It was his softwares failure to scale the intimacy, to give the 1 millionth, or 10 millionth, campaign participant the same features, and the same sense of belonging, given the 10th and 100th.
Throughout the campaign, and even to this day, Dean and his Democracy for America have relied on Movable Type as their interface with supporters. MT is a good product, but its interactivity is limited. You enter an item on the blog, and comments flow from it in a straight line.
A "blogger" named "Oscar" has dozens of blogs on Blogger, which seem to have no purpose other than to to churn out spam. (Like the image? It's from Rhetorica, which was talking at the time about comment spam.)
Blogger does have some fine features for the spammer. You can set it to e-mail everyone on a list whenever the blog is updated. So if you're a "master spammer" all the little spammers get the updated script simultaneously.
New entries also act as "RSS spam," as in this example, "Oscar's" cell phone "blog."
Google, which owns Blogger, is either blind or willfully complicit to what's going on here. (I'm guessing blind. It's a big virtual world out there, and Google does try to get things right.)
The more significant point is that what's going on is the systematic destruction of RSS as a medium for conveying thought. Already it's becoming impossible to maintain a "keyword" RSS feed. By that I mean that if I tell Newsgator, "send me everything on cellular," I'm going to get a lot of junk, not just from Oscar, but from direct sales sites, resume sites, and "wrap" sites, which place their ads around other sites' content and broadcast it via RSS. (What I need, Newsgator, is a way to create keyword-searches while at the same time blacklisting specific URLs -- then I wouldn't be able to write items like this one.)
But that is not all, oh no, that is not all. Because wherever crooks go unmolested, honest businesses are going to follow.
Guillaume Tena of Harvard is being threatened with the charms of a French jail cell for having written-up a list of flaws in a French anti-viral product three years ago.
Tegam International, which makes something called Viguard, called Tena a "terrorist" after he published his analysis of their product in March 2002 and a French court is apparently dumb enough to take the claim seriously.
Now, Tena's no angel. Tegam says he was once a virus writer himself, credited with (among other things) Happy99, the first e-mail virus. But, they admit, he went straight and is now on the side of the angels. (This assumes, of course, that there are angels at Harvard.)
UPDATE: Tena writes to say that reports he's a virus writer are false, that they were started by Tegem and picked up by the media without questioning it. "Cite a credible source if you have one," Tena writes. "This article is now on the web for eternity. Please do something about it."
I have no independent source, other than press reports, to indicate Tena has so much as a parking ticket to his name. Absent evidence, I shouldn't spread rumors, so this is being reposted with my apologies.
So why should angels (or Yalies) support him?
To the State Department.
Brazil isn't going to open source because they hate Windows, or Gates. They're going toward open source for rational, even reasonable reasons. With open source, Brazilians control their own code base. With Windows, Gates does.
The Six Apart-LiveJournal merger is not a roll-up.
Roll-ups happen when there is an established way to make money at something. No one has really found a way to make a reliable dollar from blogging.
Not that people aren't trying. There are tons of new blogging programs out there, tons of new file types to blog, tons of new blogs (of course) and tons of new paradigms.
It's an industry in the process of discovering itself.
Here's the short-form. Roll-ups are about money. Without money, mergers are about people.
From reading the statements of the principals, this merger is what I call a "team-building" exercise. The VCs behind Six Apart (the company that owns Movable Type) are trying to build a winning team. That's one of them over there to the left, Joi Ito.
Let me explain.
For the last year I've been harping here on the subject of Always On.
The idea is that you have a wireless network based on a scalable, robust operating system that can power real, extensible applications for home automation, security, medical monitoring, home inventory, and more.
As I wrote I often came back to Motorola and its CEO, Ed Zander. They would be the perfect outfit to do this, I wrote.
Little did I know (until now) but they did. A year ago.
It's called the MS1000.
The product was introduced at last year's CES, and re-introduced at various vertical market shows during the year. It's based on Linux, responds to OSGi standards, and creates an 802.11g network on which applications can then be built.
At this year's CES show, Motorola is pushing a home security solution based on the device, with 10 new peripherals like cameras and motion sensors that can be easily set-up with the network in place, along with a service offering called ShellGenie.
Previously the company bought Premise, which has been involved in IP-based home control since 1999, and pushed a version of the same thing called the Media Station for moving entertainment around the home.
What should Motorola do now? Well, the platform is pretty dependent on having a home PC. The MS1000 could use space for slots so needed programs could be added as program modules. They need to look at medical and home inventory markets, not just entertainment and security.
But they've made an excellent start. And from here on out everyone else is playing catch-up.
Oh, and one more thing...
When my lovely wife took her present job, many years ago, she said she was happy to be working with programs that actually did something.
She works in transaction processing. Back then each time her program ran her company made a nickel. It's a service business.
The point today is she was way ahead of her time. Still is. Let me explain.
Over the weekend C|Net ran a story indicating the Mozilla Foundation hopes to add calendaring functions to its Thunderbird e-mail client (right), turning an open source Outlook Express clone into something more like Microsoft Outlook.
What follows is pure speculation, but this could make Firefox the big story of 2005, and beyond.
What I like to call Moore's Law of Training sustains Microsoft's software monopoly.
Of course, there is no such thing. That's the point. Learning to use anything new is a bear. You need a lot of motivation to make a change, and you know you're going to lose time from your work while you make that change.
Given this fact, it's amazing anyone ever changes anything at all.
Which leads me to a story....
You can end software piracy pretty quickly by making the software dependent on a service subscription.
That's the Clue delivered by Half-Life recently, and other game makers all the time. (Picture is from the BBC story.)
As the BBC reported, Valve (which makes the game) decided to cut-off 20,000 users who were using pirated versions of the underlying software. It knew who to cut off because it made all users authenticate their copies through its online version, called Steam, and that process could identify which keys weren't valid, or were copied.
I first came up with the line above about four years ago, soon after I got my first software firewall, from ZoneAlarm.
Nothing has happened since to change my mind, except to make the call more urgent.
USA Today's test of a half-dozen "honeypot" computers, left unprotected with broadband connections, should be required reeading. It's gone from threat to certainty that your computer will be turned into a spambot zombie if you don't have a firewall.
The situation is so dire I had to change my mind on something.
Stephen Wolfram is one of the most amazing people of our time.
He is known to the lay person, if at all, for a program called Mathematica, which has done as much for the acceleration of change as Moore's Law itself.
By boiling down what you can do with mathematics into a computer program, Mathematica freed science from waiting on mathematics to analyze data. The program helps you devise formulae that work, so the results you get are proven. When people would say "it's not rocket science" they were often referring to the combination of math and science required to launch a rocket. Now, thanks to Wolfram, even rocket science isn't rocket science anymore.
Not only that, but Mathematica made Wolfram's Wolfram Research a going concern, a real business. It freed him from the demands of academe. He truly became the elephant that could tap dance. (He's no Gates, but he's pretty good at it.)
Still, as they always say, what have you done for me lately?
Something quite amazing, actually.
The news came out in one of those late Friday afternoon press releases by which Administrations like to bury bad news. But this in fact very good news.
As the FCC itself noted in its press release:
Software defined radios can change the frequency range, modulation type or output power of a radio device without making changes to hardware components. This programmable capacity permits radios to be highly adaptable to changing needs, protocols and environments.
A new trend has emerged, thanks to Hollywood.
Hardware you already purchased is having its performance degraded, remotely, through "software updates."
Specifically I'm talking here of the iPod and TiVo. Both companies have shipped, or announced plans to ship, "patches" that actually reduce performance, that take away features you already bought, and that you might be using and enjoying.
All this is being done in the name of "fighting piracy" but I wonder whether Hollywood hasn't just jumped the shark on DRM.
While searching for stories on Open Source (for our new ZDNet blog) I came upon a conference in New Delhi where 200 engineers from around Asia shared experiences on speech synthesis and recognition.
It was the speech of Dayanidhi Maran (right), India's IT Minister, that first attracted my attention. He wanted applications in all India's languages, not just the "majors" like Hindi, Tamil, and English. And he wanted this to be open source.
But it was the conference itself I found most fascinating.
Has "the fat lady sung" for Opera, the Norwegian Web browser?
Opera's parent company reported a wide loss for its last quarter. Internet Explorer is losing share, but the share is being lost to Firefox, not Opera.
The question is no longer, do we need an alternative browser? The question is, do we need another browser company?
One point often missed in the rush to Voice Over IP is how it leaves us all at the mercy of software companies playing games with standards.
For instance. Most Voice Over IP products are fairly standard. The telephone industry's VoIP efforts will all be fairly interoperable.
The exception is Skype. And guess who dominates the market.
Right now this is no big deal. It's trivial to load two VoIP programs on a PC, and to use the one the person you're calling prefers.
But this is about to change.
There have been several claims on the title of "first mobile virus" during the year. Our first contestant turned out to be a copy protection feature. The second, it turned out, was harmless.
Now we have a "winner," a Russian trojan aimed at phones called Delf-HA. This claim, too, may be open to dispute. The payload itself goes to PCs, which then call Russian mobile numbers and send those phones SMS spam.
But it is becoming clear that firms like Symantec, which are readying versions of their anti-viral tools for mobiles, are no longer just playing on false fears. Whether their stuff works or not will, of course, remain open to testing.
A big highlight of the Accelerating Change conference at Stanford last weekend was a demonstration by Linden Labs of Second Life. (The image is from Second Life's Web site, meant to explain the game.) It is, as its home page notes, "a 3D digital world imagined, created and owned by its Residents."
Second Life lives in a server rack somewhere in San Francisco. Each server represents 16 acres of virtual space, where users' avatars can live, work and play. So far there are about 500, but 10 more are added each week. Think of it as Everquest without the plot.
In Second Life the users own what they create. It's a simple concept, but one that is extremely hard to implement. For instance, the demonstrator couldn't pass around any of the work done in Second Life because Second Life doesn't own it. Thus, he couldn't sign the conference's standard release form, which lets the organizers have rights to what's shown.
After all the rumors about Google bringing out its own browser (Google FUD, who knew?) we finally found out what software the gnomes were creating over at Google Labs (where the future is being made today).
It's Google Desktop.
Google Desktop is an application (currently only for high-end Windows machines with 128 Mbytes of memory) that turns Google's search algorithms loose on your home PC.
It takes just a minute or two (on a broadband connection) to download it, and the installation takes care of itself. Then you need to wait several hours (you get to use your PC during this time) while Google Desktop indexes everythong you have.
But how does it work?
IBM has decided to make some of its key speech technology open source. (That's an old Kurzweil AI poster found at Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company that could be important in what follows after the jump.)
This is great news, and they're doing it for all the right reasons. The following quote, from a New York Times story on the decision, could have been written by Linus Torvalds himself:
"We're trying to spur the industry around open standards to get more and more speech application development," said Steven A. Mills, the senior vice president in charge of I.B.M.'s software business. "Our code contribution is about getting that ecosystem going. If that happens, we think it will bring more business opportunities to I.B.M."
The BBC reports on a series of events meant to boost Open Source software held recently throughout East Asia. (That's Linus Torvalds himself, from 2003, as pictured in the BBC story.)
The events, held on August 28, were organized by the UN's International Open Source Network (IOSN) and were called the first annual Software Freedom Day.
Of course the Linux operating system was featured, but so were applications like OpenOffice, the Mozilla web browser and e-mail project, mySQL database and the Apache web server.
Click through for the stuff that's really giving Gates the willies:
Why is anyone surprised, let alone outraged, by Microsoft's announcement that its "Longhorn" version of Windows will be short key features? (The shorthorn pictured was originally a cigar label, and went for $75 at this fine online store.)
They've been doing this for 20 years. They announce something great, they back off key claims, then they ship something lousy that gradually becomes acceptable.
This has been true since Windows started.
The power of Windows lies in your ability to create and market profitable applications using it.
Yes, there's a limit. Once Microsoft decides it wants your market, your cost of defending the market will likely exceed any incremental sales from that effort.
But Linux lacks Windows' ability to make software profitable. And that is why Windows, not Linux, will lead the next evolution in cellular equipment.
SSEYO has announced miniMIXA, an audio mixer for Windows smartphones.
As part of the roll-out a Reading, England arts festival will use it this weekend to mix what is being played on-the-fly..
This could do to the cell phone market what programs like Musicmatch did to PCs.
The impact could be massive. Ringtones could be created at concerts, and sold right after the show. On the other hand, concert-goers could potentially bootleg the same concert and offer better mixes, free, within hours after the show.
This leads to Dana's Law of Creativity Software.
The cheaper it is, the more people can use it, and the lower the premium paid for poor results.
If you want to see what this thing is capable of, check out these sample mixes for yourself. Or, if you don't have a Windows cell phone, get a taste for the technology by downloading Sseyo's PC plug-in.
I have been rather unkind to Robert Cringely over the years. It was nothing personal. I just had some disagreements.
The story is on the U.S. sentencing guidelines, and a study showing they wouldn't work which was performed, then buried in 1982. Had the results of this scientific study been accepted, rather than rejected for political reasons, he writes, hundreds of thousands of people might be out of prison, contributing to society, and crime might indeed be lower.
But read the piece yourself and make your own decision. As writing, I want to point to this snap ending:
There's a lot of talk now about quickie "computer degree mills" like Northface, a for-profit school that aims to turn ordinary people into computer geeks within 28 months, at a cost of about $60,000.
I believe Northface could be a very good thing indeed, if it were offering master's degrees instead of a bachelor's. Once someone has learned all they can at a B.A. or B.S. level, a graduate program focused on a chosen profession can deliver someone with both skills and flexibility. You don't see doctors or lawyers going straight to their profession from high school. Why should first-rate computer experts be any different?
I have to question the motives of the big corporations backing this play -- Microsoft and IBM among them. They need leaders, not drones, and if you cut off general education at high school, then go directly into professional training, you're left with someone who lacks flexibility. They'll be good for maybe 10 years, then you dump them and get someone with a newer skill set.
My view, however, is based on personal experience, and the best computer programmer I know.
I happen to know her intimately.
The New York Times has reviewed the new Danger cell phone, under the name of T-Mobile, the cellular operator that will offer it this fall. (The illustration comes from the Times' story.)
The new device carries the name Sidekick II, and the Times likes it.
I don't. Here's why.
You almost never hear from IBM anymore, except once a quarter when they announce record earnings.
It's time they got some proper respect. It's time they got their props. (Image from the BBC.)
This year IBM will bring in $4.66 in profit for each share of common stock, currently worth about $85. It has sales of almost $93 BILLION per year now, and brings $8 billion of that to the bottom line. (By contrast Microsoft, which claims it has run out of ideas, has one-third the sales, albeit nearly the same level of profit.)
Ah, yes, you say, but what has IBM done for me lately?
It's a lack of entrepreneurs.
Microsoft hires smart people, who have good ideas. But Microsoft has just one entrepreneur. His name is Bill Gates. Everyone else is a manager.
This is why Microsoft is looking more and more like IBM. This is precisely what happened to IBM itself, as Tom Watson Jr. exhausted his Last Big Idea (the IBM 360), suffered some heart problems (he recovered), and left the company in 1971, aged 55.
IBM, in the 1970s, became bureaucratic, it became backward-looking, it devoted itself wholly to the interests of its big customers. It became vulnerable to the first kid to come along with a Clue.
How can Microsoft solve its mid-life crisis?
Dan Bricklin, as usual, has it exactly right.
Last week was a test. It was not a final exam.
Charles Cooper was among those quick to call the Boston blogging experiment a failure, based mainly on the fact that some bloggers failed to perform as journalists, while some journalists given blogging tools did rather well.
That's not the point. I'm going to have to repeat a great truth here, and I expect Cooper to finally "get it."
I am no fan of Instant Messaging (IM). I find it both useless and horribly proprietary.
We have all read about the problems with software updates. (The image is from an Italian outfit which needs to read this story closely.)
They're not always done. They identify vulnerabilities hackers then exploit.
Well here's another problem, for those system admistrators who follow good update procedures.
Updates are making Windows systems incompatible. And this means big problems for Windows developers.
Bill Gates turns 50 next year. (So do I, but let's not get into that.)
In many ways both Gates and Microsoft seem to be heading into middle age. And that's not good for anyone.
Tim O'Reilly could have been a lot of things on the Internet. (The image is from the HollandSentinel.Com.)
He could have dominated it. A decade ago his Global Network Navigator was THE place to start every Internet session. Launched in 1993 it was the Web's first real home.
Of course, the Web outgrew it very quickly, and Tim had to decide where he wanted to fit into what would quickly become a whole new World. So he sold GNN to AOL, in 1995, and remained true to himself, as publisher of esoteric technology books with woodcuts of animals on their covers.
Since then, of course, O'Reilly & Associates has become an important brand for technical types who need a deep, honest understanding of a language, a protocol, or an Internet technology.
And O'Reilly himself has continued to speak out on things that interest him.
First, it's true. My dear wife is a programmer and morale is down at her place. There's real fear out there. There's fear of India, but more than that, fear of being replaced by someone younger and cheaper.
"Do you know they don't even call themselves programmres?" she asked me one night. "Now they're developers."
Google is trying to reclaim the high ground in add-in software through redefinition.
But whatever its own motives, others are using the same concept in far more sinister ways. They push pop-up ads that block others' sites. They steal data on your Internet usage and sell it. Or they hide what malware inside their packages.
All this infects the credibility of every software vendor, including Google.
But can Google really turn things around?
My sainted bride is working at home today, but I have a secret about her. (The genius is to the left in this picture, the hack writer to the right.)
She's brilliant. Really. Not only can she program in COBOL, Assembler, and anything else you want to throw at her, she can explain what she's doing, and what her programs are doing, in clear, concise English. She understands not just how her programs work, but how they can work better. (She types fast, too.)
This makes her, in terms of the software business, a quintessential American. That's the conclusion of a recent MIT research report on software development, which indicates that America still holds its lead in this area. (Warning. That's a big honking PDF file in the last link.)
(We'll now pause while some in the crowd thump chests and shout U.S.A.! at one another very loudly.)
The soap opera known as SCO vs. Linux is about to reach its climax. (SCO also stands for Soap Creek Outfitters, makers of fine bath products.)
The ending, however, will be quiet, hidden, and seem anti-climactic.
The Register reports that BayStar Capital, which was Microsoft's "beard" in putting SCO Group up to this legal mess, is quietly buying up others' interest in SCO and preparing a takeover.
The result of the takeover, I predict, is that the legal war will quietly go away.
History may record the Sun-Microsoft agreement as just the first in a series of dominoes that finally brought peace to the software business. (The image, by the way, is from an exhibit of patches at the Vietnam Helicopter War Museum.)
How else can one interpret news that BayStar Capital has called in its loan to SCO, whose lawsuits are threatening the open source movement by claiming full ownership and control of Linux?
Just remember where that money came from.
Let me refresh your memory:
Yes indeed, says Dan O'Dowd of Green Hill Systems.
O'Dowd went on an extended anti-Linux rant at the Net-Centric Operations Industry Forum in McLean, Virginia, which was covered by EE Times.
Here's the money quote. "If Linux is compromised, our defenses could be disabled, spied upon or commandeered. Everyday new code is added to Linux in Russia, China and elsewhere throughout the world. Everyday that code is incorporated into our command, control, communications and weapons systems. This must stop."
I don't know whether this is true or not, but before you take it at face value learn the rest of the story.
It was a big win for Microsoft, but also a big win for innovation generally. (The cartoon is by Terry Fletcher of England, who draws for several magazines and is also editor-publisher of Brittania Magazine.)
Eolas' patent on web browser plug-ins has been tossed by a committee of the U.S. Patent Office.
Hopefully there will be a trend emerging. When you over-reach in your patent claims, you're going to lose your rights. Too many patents have been used by lawyers as kudgels against others' innovations over the last years, on behalf of clients who did nothing in the marketplace.
I'm in the market for a new computer.
For career reasons, it needs to be a Windows machine.
Of course it will need an operating system. Since I need Windows, that means $146.75 for Windows XP Pro. Office Depot sells Office 2003 for about $400.
See the tipping point? The hardware costs $484, the absolute minimum Microsoft software needed for it to run costs $546.75.
Yes, you can reduce this cost. You can run Linux and Star Office if you like. But if you're a serious office user you run Office. It's your ante into the business game.
This is an important tipping point. There is no Moore's Law of software. If we're to progress further, there needs to be.
But there can't be with Microsoft. Microsoft can't reduce its prices because, frankly, it can't reduce its costs. There are not just coders and support people to feed, but vice presidents, product managers, lawyers, marketers, executives, and shareholders to consider.
As a result of this progress has essentially halted. The only way Microsoft has found to push things along, even a little bit, has been to subsidize some of its users. If you're buying for a school or university, or a big corporation, you won't pay those prices I quoted -- you will pay much less. (Of course you'll pay those costs on all PCs you have, even those that run Linux.) This sustains the monopoly, but it doesn't feed the bottom line the way individual users or small businesses can (and must).
Still, what if a PC didn't run Office? What if it just ran, say, the Windows kernel, with a new class of hardware-based applications running on top of it? Then your home might, in fact, have 10 or 20 or more PCs inside it, networked, running the heat and the lights and the security and who-knows-what, with maybe one copy of XP and one of Office, as part of a central control. Perhaps this $600 in software might be rented, made a part of your online bill, just like the services that need attachment to the greater Internet on those other 10-20 PCs?
The point is there are ways this can work. There are ways out of the box. First one to find them wins the future.
News.Com has a big feature today on a phony issue -- the dilemma supposedly facing open source about how they will make a living. (The diagram at right is courtesy of a Cal-Berkeley lecture on gem formation.)
It's a phony dilemma because many companies, like Novell, are under the mistaken belief that they sell a product. They never did. Software licenses have always been written so that no one "buys" any software package. The original reason was because software broke, and software companies didn't want to be liable. Later, under Microsoft, this changed to a "subscription" model -- you don't buy anything, you rent it.
The fact is that the government classifies software as a service. This is the key point.
In a complex system there are many layers of software, and as more people have banged on them the bottom layers have become very stable indeed. This is especially true of kernels, the operating system instruction sets that define what you can do with the operating system and how you can do it. The current Linux kernel is very stable. So, believe it or not, is the Windows kernel, and the Macintosh kernel is also rock-solid.
Licensing a kernel, then, based on a fear it will break, or trying to get paid for it again-and-again, under a subscription, is silly. This is a product. Whether it has a price on it is irrelevant. Its incremental value, based on how easily software is copied, is zero anyway.
Above this we have the operating system, which implements what the kernel can do. This can be very stable. Linux is very stable. This may not be stable at all. Windows is not stable. Buyer beware.
Above that are stacked a host of applications, many of them in layers. As applications age, as they're tested in the marketplace, most gain a measure of stability. The incremental cost of maintaining them falls toward zero.
But there are two things that are never worth nothing in the world of software. One is the inspiration needed to come up with new things for software to do, to create the initial design and the first implementation. The other is the grunt work needed to slowly make existing products stable.
This is where the real money is.
It doesn't matter at this point whether your software is written under the General Public License (GPL) of GNU-Linux, the less-restrictive BSD license, or the you-can't-see-the-code Windows license. It's the design and implementation of something new that costs the big money, with continuing payments necessary to maintain the software as it becomes stable. The more copies there are, the more people paying this freight, the faster these costs can go down, but they are real enough. And customers will find a way to pay them.
My best analogy is to that of a volcano. The lower layers are fairly stable, although if someone comes up with a great innovation you might get another path toward profit (as in the illustration). It's the gems that emerge from the surface, and the lava bubbling from underneath itself, that require energy (money) to produce and maintain.
IBM is a wildly-profitable company. The company has annual sales of nearly $90 billion, and last year divided $7.61 billion in income to its common shareholders. (That's IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. under the "Think" sign at left, from Ed Thelan's Web site.)
IBM has committed itself to Linux. IBM is forging its entire identity around Linux solutions.
IBM is not stupid. Sometimes it is outmanuevered, sometimes it is bureaucratic, sometimes it is even Clueless, but the company is not stupid.
IBM sees that the value of Linux comes in creating solutions, in the labor needed for system integration, making stuff work, and keeping it working. This is a business model with legs.
IBM has been around since 1915, and its predecessor companies are even older.
If IBM sees a business model in Linux, I won't disagree. Neither should you.