Friday, June 29, 2001

Reactions to Microsoft Ruling The consensus seems to be that the court upheld abuse of monopoly power, but did not support the breakup remedy. Fair enough. Microsoft is now exposed to state law suits (asking for damages from monopoly rents) but whether any new remedy will redress their repeated abuse of monopoly power is unclear.

It is also clear (but less widely reported) that Microsoft sees the demise of software-as-product, with scarcity created by liscensing, and is moving to software-as-service, with scarcity created through authentication. This strategy places it beyond GPL and opensource, and the only company out there with distribution/connectivity to oppose it in creating an networked authentication infrastructure is Time Warner/AOL.

The structural opposition to this (instead of the commercial opposition) actually comes from shifting the locus of network control back to the edges. Microsoft can either hold all personal information in its central servers, OR customers can hold it all on their nodes at the edge of the network.

RIP Jim Ellis Some sad news today. Usenet creater Jim Ellis passed away yesterday :(. After all but vanishing, Usenet has come back and is the best it has been in years on Google.

Thursday, June 28, 2001

News of the day Here's an article by a Viriginia professor explaining why Microsoft hates the GPL. Unfortunately, he is wrong: he claims that the GPL attacks Microsoft's end-user monopoly, when in fact it attacks Microsoft's product-driven software model (and it's newer authentication-based incarnation). Sheesh. How these guys get to be professors.

Here's an article from the Industry standard that talks about how one Microsoft business uses the GPL after all. Unfortunately, they do not note that Microsoft bought the business not knowing the code was GPL'd. Sheesh. How do these people publish a magazine that people buy?

Oh, and the court decided to overturn Jackson's ruling requiring a Microsoft breakup. Sheesh. How do these people get to be judges? They based their findings on animus toward's Jackson's behavior!

It looks like Microsoft will drop smart tags from Windows XP where they are evil, and instead just keep them in Office XP, where they are merely annoying.

And here's an interview with ESR talking about Microsoft co-opting free-BSD stuff.

Open source goes mainstream Here's an article describing an advanced user installing GNU/linux on his computer. Note how incredibly complicated it is. Also note how heavily users can customize their system, if they know exactly what they're doing. There is no way anything this complicated will ever succeed at a desktop level.

But the ideas behind UNIX--small programs talking to each other through plaintext--can be transfered to the desktop creating a better experience for non-technical users and freeing them from monolithic Windows bloat. "UNIX for the front end" is a philosophical transfer that should bring the PC into the networked environment UNIX grew from, it is not a technical transfer that exposes command line horror to the unsuspecting home user.

More on Microsoft Here's an O'Reilly interview where Microsoft employee Dave Sutz talks about how his company is experimenting with some open-source liscensing models in their new .NET initiative. Microsoft's take on open-source is, of course, quite different from the Free Software Foundation's who beleive that code's value comes in secondary markets built around services, not the primary market of selling the code itself. The GPL makes this distinction in industry model absolutely distinct. These two sides are trying to frame the debate between how should code be developed vs. how should the value in code be captured. Free Software and Open-source are united on how code should be developed, but not on how it's value should be captured. Microsoft is definately opposed to FSF on how it's value should be captured (which is what their business is based on), but is opening up in terms of how code should be developed. More on this soon, and in particular, the way the GPL is forcing the debate.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Clay Shirky on Slashdot Clay has one interesting observation in this interview on Slashdot wheren he said: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an attempt to graft analog economics onto digital data by decree. This will fail [in the long term]. In the short term (next two years) anything might happen.

Digital rights management and authentication is going to be a big issue over the next few years, and it is not clear how other digital services, like Hailstorm, will pan out for the end user.

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

More on the GPL Attorney Dan Ravicher posted this excellent Open-source/ Free software FAQ on slashdot. It is excellent, and I strongly recommend everyone reads it.

I am also becoming more and more impressed by RMS's GPL. In creating the GPL, Stallman created a catalytic mechanism that, more than anything else, is making all software free (like speech). More than all of his prosletyzing, the GPL might be the single, most powerful thing RMS has done to spread his message and ideas. The fact that it can continue to forward his mission, even in ideologically different conditions (ie. open-source movement) shows just how powerful it is.

Newsflash Just pulled this off The Register. It seems that Microsoft may have accidently included some GPL'd code into Windows code, including stuff in WindowsXP. If this is true, it means that someone (the Free Software Foundation probably) may be able to legally force Microsoft to either withdraw Windows (or not distribute it) or release Windows code under the GPL.

Monday, June 25, 2001

Why command line interface can be good
As I wrote on Friday, I am thrilled with my new Web brower Opera's "command line" address bar interface. Instead of going to the Google website and typing in my query, I can just enter "g" and then the search term. The brower will automatically submit this to google, and display the search results.

In practise, this saves me about 1 second. Not a huge win, you might say. However, when doing work, it is not the raw time that makes a different, but rather the length of uninterrupted worktime where individual productivity really soars (and all the real work gets done). Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister make this point in Peopleware years ago, and of course it is still as true today. Infact, the importance of response time was noted way back in 1968.

When I conduct a search on the Internet, something I do all the time, having that function hardwired into the browser (at the command line level) has made it as thoughtless as exhaling. The way I use the computer is different, and I can squeeze more value from the Web than I ever could before. The future of productivity from computing will be based on this idea: making computers invisible so users can work directly on the data.

Microsoft's evil smart tags Mark Hurst again with a good article on why Microsoft smart tags hurt user-experience online. He also include good links to articles by other columnists. And here's a reasonable explanation of open-source, why it's important, and what to make of its legal ramifications (written by a lawyer for other lawyers). Interestingly enough, the open source community uses some of the legal tricks abused by closed source companies (automatic liscence agreement, liscensing vs. owning) and use that to protect their open software. Just came across something again, the Tanenbaum/Linus "Linux is obsolete" debates. My favorite line: "We are not developing a system [Linux] to take over the OS market, we are just having a good time."

And oh yes, ESR on Microsoft's big lie.

Friday, June 22, 2001

Weekend reading I recommend reading Neal Stephenson's excellent (and long) essay on the power of command line interface. He speaks intelligently about how the experience is more real, but does not mention how, at times, it can be better.

Although many tools exist that try to take the programming out of programming, they solve the wrong problem, and ignore the fact that, often, command line interfaces generate the best experience. Case in point: the Opera browser accepts simple command-line like entries in the address field, entering LETTER $TERM automatically submits the $TERM to the search engine defined by LETTER, where "g" stands for google, "a" stands for altavista etc. So entering

g neal stephenson

would take you to the google results page for "neal stephenson".

Check it out. On Monday, I'll tell you why this is important.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

From the boys over at slashdot Nicholas Petreley claims that Microsoft's attack on the GPL is merely a diversionary tactic to distract the Open Source community from Microsoft's real goal: authentication services. M$'s goal certainly is centered on authentication services, but that has less to do with networked computing and more to do with their perverted interpretation of "software is a service." Authentication is essentially a way to re-introduce scarcity where there is none (digital information) and so essentially revert back to a manufacturing model. The GPL directly attacks that model, and forces the fact that digital goods are not naturally excludable (ie. if I have some code, giving it to you does not preclude me from having it). Read the /. comments here.

Real Internet Marketing TiVo embraced real Internet marketing by supporting the hacker community that likes to tinker with its product. Unfortunately, hackers have figured out how to take the digitally recorded programs out of the box and put them on disc drives, servers, and anywhere else digital bits can reside.

Why is this a problem for TiVo? Because it upsets the networks. If people have access to the programming any point, then what value is the network adding? Interestingly enough, the only value networks were really ever providing was to broadcast advertisers, who appreciated them aggregating audiences (which is why ad-supported TV content has been a successful business model). TiVo's ability to fast-forward through ads AND the fact that it destroyed the notion of "prime time" by allowing customers to see whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, meant that that model was dead.

Fast forward to the future: advertisers will stop interrupting programs with ads and focus on product placement instead. They cease to care how people see their program and infact benefit from people copying it and passing it around. Networks will then have to focus on marketing. Why this future is a long way off: networks will fight it tooth and nail (being clueless, and being backed by an equally clueless legal system). And there is no bandwidth to send programs digitally coming any time soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Why everyone ignores the customer Serving customer needs sounds like a no-brainer. It helps sellers sell, marketers market, and designers design. Companies make more money, customers are happier, products and services improve. So if this is such a win-win proposition, why have I been so continually frusted when I've tried explaining it to people.

Mark Hurst provides a compelling explanation. When companies make decisions, the represented constituents at the table are the marketers, the engineers, the operations folks etc. The customer does not get a seat at the table. He might be invited in one step removed through a clueless consultant or research firm, but those guys are well aware of who's paying the bills and know what's expected from them. Introducing the customer takes power away from the other parties. Marketers can't market like they want to, engineers can't engineer like they want to, and operations folks can't operate they like they want to. Therefore, introducing the customer is a politically destabalizing act that will be resisted by all the existing, vested interests. Being customer-centric disempowers the different departments in an organization because they now have to focus on customer needs, not their own desires.

Focusing on the customer is, of course, what CEOs are for. Too bad most of them have recently focused on pleasing speculators instead. Now that the bubble has burst, you might see a little more through given to serving customer needs. You can bake customer-centricity into a company from the beginning, and these companies will out-compete anything else on the blocks. Customers still ultimately vote with their dollars, so why not let them into the process earlier. Your shareholders (and customers) will thank you.

(note the similarity between this power dynamic and that of cross-disciplinary university departments below. At least the connection between customer and company is more direct than that between administration and student in your typical university)

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Design recapitulates Bureaucracy Econ professor Brad DeLong talks about why his interdiscplinary program never gets more funds: funding is determined by faculty, each of whom is mostly closely wedded to their paritcular department. So an interdiciplinary program, because it cuts across departments, never has strong advocates to fight for funding. This is a good example of how the design of an academic program is shaped by its administrative bureucracy, a common problem in the technology world

Bloat is Satan Here's a long memo that supposedly comes from Silicon Graphics that talks about how raging bloat completely killed a recent software release. Addendums at the end of the memo talk about what they're trying to do to fix things.

The problem here is featuritis, solving problems by throwing features at them, instead of focusing on the simplest, most robust, solutions. Any company that has a disciplined focus on software simplicity has a competitive advantage over others, all else being equal. And this does not mean just software companies -- any company that uses software but focuses on technology simplicity will have competitive advantage over its peers. If anyone knows of such companies, drop me a line at

Open source in Industrial Tech In CatB, ESR noted that open-source might not be suitable for high-end industrial apps with narrow applications. However, this excerpt from a German consultant looking at how the Web is changing the engineering world documents and example of where open-source was successful. He gives the example of Open CASCADE and its impact on the development of highly specialized technical and scientific applications.

If you want to see Open CASCADE's cheif rival, the closed CATIA system, check out the Gehry exhibit at the Guggenheim in NYC. He used the system to create his misanthropic buildings.

Monday, June 18, 2001

GPL: a technology of trust Someone on Kuro5hin argues that the GPL is important because open-source runs on the basis of trust and the GPL enforces that trust by baking it into the code. They miss the point: enforcing alturism through trust is only important when the good is scarce like food, not when the good is non-excludable (like software, or ideas). The GPL's true value is that it helps enforce a different element of the open-source culture, fame, that is scarce (ie. not everyone can be famous). My posted response to the article:

Good article.

Nevertheless, trust is not important in a zero scarcity environment. Parasitic community members that take but do not give back are problematic in alturistic societies where the good being traded is limited in some way (ie. food). So, if there is a limited amount of food available, it makes sense that it should be divided amongst those who created the food, and not to parasites.

But with software, one person using another's code does not deprive anyone of that code. Free-riding is *not* a problem with open-source, and so the GPL is not neccessary for open-source to continue.

However, those who create open-source *do* deal in a different limited good -- fame (see HtN). If the GPL somehow helps distribute fame appropriately, then it might be necessary.

Also, please note that just because the GPL may not be necessary does not mean it cannot be useful.

A pointed rant against the idiocy of Dubya's missle defense plans Robert Wright explains why Dubya's missle defense strategy is like "paying someone $100 billion to lock a third-floor window that has a greased ledge and is directly above a pool of alligators and then leaving the door open." Amusing.

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Tim O'Reilly very smart man and technical book publisher, has an interview in the New York Times about open source (subscription needed) and what it means to the Internet. It says something when people like Tim are picked up by the Times.

A dramatically passionate article from a Lawyer Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School, talks about why Microsoft's recent attempts to discredit open source are an attempt to convince small device manufacturers to run on GNU/Linux, not Windows CE. Not sure if this is true, TiVo runs on GNU/Linux with no problems.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Lawyers may oppose UCITA UCITA is a law that tries to remove the zero'th freedom of software. Looks like the bar association may try to oppose it. Good. Lessig can't do all the heavy lifting himself.

Bob Walker is an idiot Here's a column from Slate's Bob Walker, demonstrating why he has no understanding of business or economics (a problem because the plays at being a business journalist). Just to recap -- the purpose of an IPO is to raise as much money for the company as possible. Therefore, it should sell its equity for the highest price the market will bear. Ergo, any increase in price immediately following an IPO is a sign that the IPO price was too low, and that the company has left money on the table. During the Internet era, there was widespread ignorance of business and economics, but with Kraft, it seems as if that's limited to Bob.

Quick call I think that Microsoft is going to buy TiVo since Microsoft has more money than God, and TiVo has patents on the worlds first true Internet appliance and runs on GNU/Linux.

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Stallman's Four Freedoms Richard Stallman (founder of the Free Software Foundation) outlined his four freedoms for software at a recent speech at NYU.

- Freedom Zero is the freedom to run the program for any purpose, any way you like.
- Freedom One is the freedom to help yourself by changing the program to suit your needs.
- Freedom Two is the freedom to help your neighbor by distributing copies of the program.
- Freedom Three is the freedom to help build your community by publishing an improved version so others can get the benefit of your work.

Stallman went on to say that the first freedom was called freedom "zero" because it was pretty inconceivable that any program would not give you that. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Microsoft is doing through their new liscensing product activiation scheme. Appalling.

Software stagnation A New York Times article mentions that software productivity has stagnated in recent years. This is old news of course, but one should not expect much from the feckless rag that is the Times. The following (humor) piece explains the real reason why software has been getting no better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Microsoft Ascendent Salon's Andrew Leanard hits the nail on the head and catalogues Microsoft's most recent abuses of its desktop monopoly. He ends on a hopeful note -- that somehow, Microsoft will become so extortionate and evil that people will start using open source (the only model that can resist the Windows monopoly) and do what the government has neither the guts or brains to do itself. Of course, this may not happen in any of our natural lives. Junior doesn't use computers, so he doesn't care.

Just for fun MH passed along this very amusing cartoon on the state of the Internet industry.

Software as a service vs. Rented software Offering software as a service promises to improve the appaling quality that people currently put up with in the technology they use. Unfortunately, Microsoft's government-sanctioned monopoly, and a general technology mindset that sets out to take as much power from consumers as possible is creating a situation where when customers buy something, they have not really bought it, and the "service" provider can remove or alter their product in any way they see fit.

Monday, June 11, 2001

The low art of celebrity profiles Steve Johnson writes about a half-fake bio of REM's lead singer, Michael Stipe, that appeared in Esquire. He writes how celebrity bios have become so braindead, that you might as well make them up anyway. Here is the Johnson piece, and you can check out the Esquire bio in question here. (thanks to EM for the tip.)

Suck and Feed go down Very sadly, old-school content sites and have gone down. With no way of earning money, I'm sort of surprised they lasted as long as they did.

Not sure what to make of this And I'm not sure who is skewering. I think everyone. Anyway, just for fun, check out this online comic about fundamentalist christians. (thanks to EM for the tip)

Thursday, June 07, 2001

Fix for Napster The record industry and courts have shut down Napster. Decentralized alternatives (such as gnutella) ignored the customer experience of their application and ended up with something largely unusuable, and therefore largely ignored. The new Napster the RIAA develops is probably going to be as unusable as Gnutella, so mp3 trading will be returned to hard to find warez sites where it lived before.

One way to make a usable Napster artists will be OK with (although RIAA may not) is to have Napster work exactly as it does, but require a subscription fee to stop the program automatically chopping off the back 50% of the download. This eliminates onerous encryption and rights management software (which takes ownership away from users and gives it to industry cartels) and maintains individual ownership of real mp3s, not some castrato facsimile. If users don't want to pay, the service becomes essentially a marketing device where folks can hear samples of new songs. And it keeps mp3 distribution (through email and other channels) limited to the level of tape swapping, which is reasonable and should fall under fair use provisions. Money from subscription can be distributed to artists or labels as appropriate. And the whole things runs on the simple, usable, Napster front end, backed up by the simple, usable, Napster backend database.

Will it happen? Nah.

Dubya's money trail George Bush is busy generating kickbacks for the rich organizations that gave him money during the campaign. In the Third World, this is known as bribery, and reported as such in the press. The US press though, braindead and gullible, avoids examining the facts and lacks the courage to call lies lies. Maybe journalism school ate their brain.

Tuesday, June 05, 2001

How Tog made a small fortune (out of a large one) A very funny article from Apple interface guru, Bruce Tognazzini, on how the world conspired to seperate him from the large fortune he made in the early days of Apple. Thanks for sharing Tog!

Honestly, I feel bad that someone who did so much to improve the lives of others wasn't able to hang on to all of his reward. But it need not happen again, Tog has many useful pointers.

Monday, June 04, 2001

The best service wins on the Web A clipping from Brad DeLong's site saying that the best online service wins.

Saturday, June 02, 2001

Microsoft Uber Alles (again) Here's a satiric essay from Ubersoft outlining Microsoft's policies.

Response to Clay's post Here's more thinking on how the open source community should approach HailStorm.

Friday, June 01, 2001

Message from Tim O'Reilly As anyone who has used any of the excellent O'Reilly technical books, Tim and the company he has built epitomizes smart, involved businesses that bring together companies and customers in valuable conversations. This is what he has to say about Clay Shirky's analysis of Microsoft's HailStorm project:

Clay Shirky has a very interesting article on Hailstorm on, at

He looks especially at how MS mixes decentralization and open access on the client side with strong control of third party development and user data. He explains how we should think of it as an authentication-centric, rather than hardware-centric system.

I'm the publisher of, but I'm just speaking as a reader when I say that this is one of the most insightful technology- as-business-strategy analyses I've ever read. And it's very topical, since the development of the next generation "internet operating system" is one of the key computer industry battlegrounds right now.

The issues that Clay talks about should be very much on the minds ofopen source and free software developers and business leaders.