Friday, November 30, 2001

Off topic I've been concerned about an absence of a vocal Islamic left ever since the 9/11 tragedy. This excellent piece suggests it's been buried by the suffocating dominance of the Orientalist critique. ("Orientalism" is a political, cultural, and intellectual system by which the West has for centuries "managed" its relationship with the Islamic world, as laid out in Edward Said's Orientalism.) The article discusses how "Occidontalism", a mirror-image stereotyping of Western culture in the East, is as harmful, yet has remained free from critique. (From Stumbling Tongue.)

Goodeasy for Windows? I don't have a PC so haven't checked this out, but it looks like Radsoft's Extreme Power Tools might be a PC friendly goodeasy type utility. Key quote: The core philosophy of Extreme Power Tools derives from its source and inspiration, UNIX: well defined tools that work well together and increase your power and possibilities, not limit them.

Also, since the creators of Extreme Power Tools are also the users, development stays useful and customer just buy access to that ongoing development. While I'm not sure they use the best pricing strategy for their service, they won't be tempted by the sort of lock-in economics that has crippled Microsoft software.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

FTC looks into software cartels One of the things that's remarkable about Open Source is how many people seem to like it. Indeed, many of its strongest advocates have never contributed a line of code to an OS project. (I don't even run GNU/Linux, just MacOS 9). So I wonder why the FTC has decided to look into the effect of patents and industry cartels on competition. Are they as disgusted as the rest of us with the DoJ's abject capitulation in the Microsoft case? Do they find the DMCA and proposed SSSCA laws repugnant? Do they feel that software patents are intellectually vapid and economically indefensible? In other words, do people at the FTC read slashdot?

WinCE target embedded market Microsoft's embedded Windows flavor (WinCE) has terrible market penetration in the embedded space. So they're trying to listen to customers and let folks test their product in an effort to emulate GNU/Linux-like grassroots support. I'm not sure how many folks realize this, but proprietary single OS companies like Microsoft should always listen to the customers the first time until they build up an installed base. Then the economics of lock-in start up and we get the draconian abuses we're all witnessing in XP. GNU/Linux does not have this problem and must always listen to customers.

Besides, there's no reason hardware vendors should use anything but the most commoditized of OSes in their products, and that mean GNU/Linux.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Quick links Here's a call for Sony to watch it's back, Microsoft is coming and only GNU/Linux can save them. As Microsoft swarms into the home electronics arena, Sony should be nervous, but they don't understand network economics and will continue shooting themselves in the foot (as they have done with PS2 and Aibo).

Also, a judge threw out the Felten case, deciding not to rule on 1)what the DMCA is and 2)whether or not it's unconstitutional. To be honest, the Felten lawsuit hinges on a coercive letter drafted by RIAA thugs in a moment of weakness, but a sympathetic judge could certainly ride a case on it. Eventually the DMCA will be tested for constitutionality, and probably thrown out (at least in part).

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Too small to market One of the nice things about the old Napster was how you could locate impossible to find music on it. Just like you can get anything on eBay, you could find anything on Napster. Since the recording industry cartel has decided to go for tethered downloads (a strategy both expensive in turns of bandwidth, and hateful in terms of customer experience) all those wonderful obscure songs that customers loved but cartel execs couldn't be bothered offering (market too small) will vanish. Lessig has some good insights on how draconian copyright destroys culture.

Microsofts lawyers strike again If only Microsoft had engineers as good as their legal team. Somehow, the Beast managed to convince the Justice Department that a zero-cost penalty that helps them extend their monopoly against the beleagured Apple in the education market is a suitable punishment for illegaly entrenching against other beleagured competitors in the browser market. Something stinks.

Packet switching vs. circuit switching (definition) Some readers tell me they don't know what the difference is between packet and circuit switched networks. Here's a quick overview.

Phones work on circuit switched networks. Like in those old black and white movies where the lady operator pulls those cords to complete a phone call, circuit switched networks establish temporary dedicated lines between sender and receiver. Both sender and receiver are guaranteed some level of quality, and the operator controls the service. The pipes are "smart" and can discriminate between calls (long distance, international, local etc.)

The Internet works on packet switched networks. A message is broken into packets, and each packet gets an address of where it should end up. Each packet then makes its way through any number of different nodes, each one sending it one step closer to its destination. Eventually, all the packets end up where they were supposed to be and are reassembled into the original message. Nothing is guaranteed, packets can get lost. The pipes are dumb, all they do is move the packet along, they don't know what's in it, and all packets are equal (this is the "end to end" principle).

Circuit switched networks allow the carrier to control how people use the network. Packet switched networks (currently) allow people to do whatever they want on the ends. Lots of stuff runs over the internet, including web pages, email, IM, streaming video, files etc.

Carriers (phone companies, cable companies etc.) hate packet switching because it does not allow them to control what people do they way circuit switching does. They are trying to come up with a way to make packet switching more like circuit switching, so they can control the network again and veto innovation at the ends.

eBay is run by its customers It will be a happy world where companies are run by customers. Customers know what they need better than anyone else, and the Net lets companies integrate entirely with their customer base (if they're brave enough). Open Source started this trend, where the consumers of code were also the producers: result--the best software on earth was grown on and distributed through the Net. Amazon has always been a customer centric company also, encouraging lists, negative reviews, and ratings. I also see this happening in the comic book world, an industry with no advertising to speak of except what's online. Since Yahoo!'s bills are not paid by its customers, their service quality has declined with bigger, more obnoxious ads. Here's a good article showing how eBay lets itself be run by its customers.

Sane XBox GNU/Linux strategy It's ironic that a proprietary software maker (Microsoft) uses GNU/Linux better than a hardware company (Sony) to increase the value of its offering. XBox owners can play against each other using a GNU/Linux application that links multiple consoles. This increases the value of the XBox so Microsoft won't try to kill it (until they roll out their own networking service). Compare this to Sony, who is engaging in legal action against their most loyal Aibo ($850) customers. Instead of focusing on maximizing the value of their product, Sony is obsessed with controlling it completely. Free Aibo software increases the value of the Aibo at no cost to Sony. Trying to shut it down shows how utterly out of touch they are.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

More Microsoft lies In this article, Zac Woodall, an Microsoft engineer, says
"We of course have a policy on GPL code: we can't look at it. What is the reason for this? Well, in my read of the GPL it states that if a work includes GPL code, or is derived from GPL code, then the GPL applies to the aggregate work. And it is very hard to discern between which ideas are completely yours, and which are influenced by code you have seen in the past. What this means is that by incorporating, or possibly even reading GPL code, you are placing your own IP in jeopardy. It seems to me that anyone producing commercial code should be very careful about the implications of the GPL on their dev processes."

Zac should read the GPL again. Such restrictions on use only apply to Microsoft code, where reading it makes you liable for any implementation of any features you ever write for the rest of your life. Software patents work the same way by shutting down innovation entirely. OTOH, the GPL does not require you to sell your soul if you look at the code, Microsoft's licenses do.

Veto on innovation When I worked at Monitor, some consultants there were talking about why quality-of-service over IP would be a good thing. Strategy consultants are generally clueless about technology, and Monitor was no exception. The problem with differentiating between packets is that it encodes our current ideas about future uses of the network into the network itself. So if actual future uses (Napster, ICQ, Hotmail, eGroups, Amazon, open source) turn out to be different from imagined future uses (interactive TV, piped content, video conferencing) society is out of luck, the network will not allow innovation at the ends. The Internet's end-to-end principle enshrines the right to innovate, a fact which is utterly lost on legislators, but well understood by the cable cartel and record industry oligopoly.

Akamai, or any local caching service, is an interesting challenge to the above. Online, it does matter where packets come from because nearby packets come faster than far away packets. An AT&T researcher I spoke with disliked local caching because it violates packet transparency, but I think it's OK to have local networks where end-to-end is violated so long as this is not forced on every user. So the US government can build a secure private network if they want. The cable/telephone monopoly over domestic broadband means these providers should not be allowed to violate the end-to-end principle.

Have a good Thanksgiving! I may not be posting again until next week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Sony needs a clue The Playstation emulator, Bleem is dead. Whatever its business propects, Sony killed it off with numerous lawsuits. This was a bad strategy since Sony sells consoles at a loss and makes money off games--anything that increases the number of available consoles (and hence games sold) increases overall profitability. Sony's obsession with control demonstrates they don't understand network economics, and hence the economics of their major business unit. A worrying display of cluelessness.

This same cluelessness marks their GNU/Linux strategy. Sony's offering a GNU/Linux kit for the PS2 that lets users turn their boxes into a cheap server. Since Sony loses money on each box it sells, letting folks turn it into a server (and not buy games for it) makes no business sense. With Microsoft willing to lose $1B on its Xbox, these elementary strategic mistakes don't bode well for Sony.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Apple, the multi OS company Had a *great* chat with Steve Rychly today, Apple's Higher Education Regional Manager for the Chicago area. Some key insights:
1) Apple's shift to a BSD back-end is a *major* strategic shift for the company. They've essentially become the computer to own for users who want a UNIX command prompt and full Office-compatiblity.
2) Apple's tiny market-share means they've become a multi OS company by necessity. Their consulting group will install any other vendor's services, if that's what the customer needs.

The tech world is splitting between single OS (Sun, Microsoft) and multi OS vendors (IBM, Apple). Unless .NET is wildly successful, multi OS vendors will win. (I also learned from a Microsoft rep that the company used to do focus groups and things, but abandoned all of that in about '96. She claimed they're starting that up again.)

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Xbox unleashed Microsoft released its Xbox today. To date, it's the only Microsoft product that doesn't try to leverage its desktop monopoly, and it'll probably fail until it does.

This marks Microsoft's strategy into the "digital lifestyle" space, an area Sony and Apple have made their own from the consumer electronics and PC end respectively. Microsoft will find it difficult to involve hardware manufacturers in its quest to own all digital devices because 1)hardwares been utterly commoditized and has no money for R&D and 2)there isn't tight hardware integration to make everything work in the PC world. My guess is that Microsoft will enter the electronic home through government mandated digital rights infrastructure, not popular consumer goods. Look for Xbox 2 that only plays industry approved DVDs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

City Desk Fog Creek's City Desk sounds like a product built sensibly off user behavior. In designing the web publishing system, Joel
- Avoided a web-based application (can't do good GUIs over the web)
- Used the right tool for the right task (use databases for databases, not XML)
- Assumed people couldn't control the server (they usually can't)
- Built for Windows only (no brainer--everyone has it)
- Made it really easy to use
I don't know how the product will do against competitors, like Grey Matter, UserLand, or even Blogger (the system I use), but there's probably a space for an easy-to-use desktop web publishing tool on Windows. Until Microsoft bundles a version and kills the space.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Eclipse License IBM's using something they call the "Common Public License" for Eclipse. It seems more in the spirit of the X license than the GPL as it does not seem to transfer to derivative works, nor does it mandate access to source code. IANAL, so please feel free to set me straight. I'm surprised at how little interest there's been on IBM's licensing strategy, as it seems pretty critical to how they hope to grow their services business model. The only advantage to releasing this toolkit is to boost WebSphere development, but why not just offer it as a free SDK?
Thanks to SSchwartz for the pointer.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Chat with John Wolpert IBM's John Wolpert came to University of Chicago today to talk about their Extreme Blue internship gig. He was a really nice and impressive guy, even though he misattributed "grok" ;)

He had insightful things to say about internal business innovation. As someone who's worked on business innovation in three different environments, many of his insights rang true. In particular, he noted how "innovation boxes" based on internal ideas fail, something I saw firsthand at Monitor's "business innovation" spin-off, Marketspace.

He also pointed out that openness was critical. Orphaned ideas at IBM were simply shared with the outside world, something that gave them a new lease on life and made them be taken more seriously internally. Monitor (Marketspace's parent company) was very bad at openness. DE Shaw (another place I worked that tried to innovate new businesses) was also incredibly secretive.

Friday, November 09, 2001

HP/Compaq unravels HP was the original garage start-up and founded Silicon Valley. It's strong culture is rejecting the Compaq merger Fiorina cooked up. Just as well, it was clearly a move of weakness and will do little to address the problems either company faces. Compaq can't make cheap computer like Dell or big iron like IBM, and HP clearly has no clue where its future lies (being the only big company without even a Open Source response, never mind strategy). My money's on the merger being called off and Carly sacked. I heard her speak at Stanford in May and she seemed like a good person, but right now she's just destroying shareholder value and the HP way. Time to go.

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Single vs. Multi OS companies Flipping through today's (11/8/01) Wall Street Journal Marketplace section I saw two remarkable full page ads. The first was by Sun, stating "If you ask IBM, e-business is complicated and hard...with their closed complex systems, they control it all. Which means you'll pay--and pay--for their monopoly on service." IBM's ad was about "myths and facts about Linux in the enterprise" and discussed how GNU/Linux was well supported, would do the job, and cut costs.

Sun lied in its ads. IBM's GNU/Linux platform is anything but closed, anything but only controlled by IBM, and anything but a viable base for monopoly services. In fact, what Sun was describing was its own Solaris platform, or Microsoft's Windows platform. It's pretty natural for the fragmented server market to consolidate around GNU/Linux, a platform without a platform vendor, which is bad news for Sun. Microsoft's desktop monopoly insulates it from this competitive threat.

EFF defends MusicNet The EFF is defending MusicNet, a popular file-swapping company, from a law suit by the RIAA and Hollywood. This case is unlike Napster because MusicNet operates no centralized servers, so this suit is clearly against a technology platform, not a behavior. MusicNet should win the suit and the publishing industry should restrict future legal efforts against individual users who are breaking copyright law.

Red Hat Installer A nice article by Mark Pilgrim on making the Red Hat installer easier to use. In particular, he points out the difference between being goal based and task based, and also what decisions the user should make and which should be hidden from them. (Via WebWord)

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

ARRRGH! Here's the rub! Stuff like this make me crazy. Hilary Rosen admits "This is an industry of advances, not royalties. A record company executive once said to me: 'If an artist of mine gets a royalty, I haven't done my job at negotiation time." If there are advances, it doesn't matter how stuff gets traded afterwards, the artist simply gets their advance directly from their audience before releasing work. As a matter of fact, widespread distribution now directly benefits the artist. Michael Lewis wrote about this in Next. If artists can get an advance directly from the audience, then royalities don't matter, the RIAA doesn't matter, digital rights management doesn't matter, and the people actually adding value (artists) get paid better than what they're getting now. Everything works.

Lies, damn lies, and the RIAA. Hilary Rosen, RIAA boss, recently spoke at the O' Reilly Peer to Peer and Web Services Conference. Here are comments on her speech.

It is the songwriters' and the artists' and the producers and the record company' s job to create that music, bring it to life and to market, and it is RIAA' s job to protect it once it gets there.

It is not the producer or the record company's role in life to bring artists' music to the marketplace. The artist should be free to pick whichever channel suits him best, which may or may not be the recording industry. The RIAA's concerns are less about artists being rewarded and more about their role as gatekeepers to distribution channels. The abusive licensing practices they're cooking up through PressPlay and Duet, as well as codec licensing policies make that pretty clear.

The first is that, for new business models that take advantage of changing technology to flourish, we have to support a legitimate licensing structure. Why would artists and record companies continue to invest heart, soul and money into new digital opportunities when they have no hope of return for their effort?

All of the legislative effort by the RIAA has been against business models that threaten them. "Why would artists and record companies...invest in digital opportunities when they have no hope of return?" -- they have no need to, there are hundreds of techies and VCs willing to invest all the money that market needs. The recording industry does not need to be part of the online music investment community.

Some have argued for government intervention. I think that would be ill advised. The pace of the marketplace is too fast to accommodate such regulation. And who would want to dictate a "one-size fits all" business model? The proposals being circulated for legislative action would stifle innovation, competition and consumer choice.

This is rich coming from a group that practically wrote the DMCA and SSSCA. The truth of the matter is that the RIAA will lobby to extend its own power.

Technology development and innovation might not have been left to the consumer electronics and IT industries as it was by the recording industry in the 80's, leaving our companies less than fully operational on that level when the wave of new opportunities hit again in the early 90's.

And here you have it. The recording industry hates the interactivity and ability to share that techies built during the 80s and 90s. This is about control.

The problem with peer to peer is not the technology, but how it is used.

And companies are free to prosecute law breakers under existing laws. Software has dealt with this problem for decades. Piracy was always a cost (like taxes) for the recording industry, and now that cost has increased. It might have increased so much that that way of business is no longer profitable, just as making shoes by hand is no longer feasible. But different business models with different cost structures should be allowed to compete in the marketplace. Society does not need to serve the recording industry. Here are old articles I wrote on this topic:

Business model competition7/12/01: Napster court decision restricts competition between business models based on information sharing and information control.

Clue to publishers: you're selling experiences, not content7/27/01: Argues that publishers are unprepared for the business consequences of digital data because they remain fixated on selling content, instead of realizing that they should be selling experiences.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Update to DoJ sellout Some states have not settled, so it looks like the settlement may not go through. Good. Also, here's why the settlement would kill Samba, and a more general analysis by The Register.

Fine print in DoJ sellout There are so many "get-out-of-jail-free" clauses in the Microsoft settlement that it's hard to list them all. Here are a couple:
- Section J 1 (Prohibited Conduct)
"No provision of this Final Judgment shall: 1.Require Microsoft to document, disclose or license to third parties:

(a) portions of APIs or Documentation or portions or layers of Communications Protocols the disclosure of which would compromise the security of anti-piracy, anti-virus, software licensing, digital rights management, encryption or authentication systems, including without limitation, keys, authorization tokens or enforcement criteria;

or (b) any API, interface or other information related to any Microsoft product if lawfully directed not to do so by a governmental agency of competent jurisdiction."

As we all know, all of Microsoft is moving towards one big DRM/authentication system, which effectively means that every API in the platform can be kept from third parties.

And if that wasn't enough, another clause states "the software code that comprises a Windows Operating System Product shall be determined by Microsoft in its sole discretion" meaning Microsoft can use its desktop monopoly to destroy any competitor at will.

Microsoft will use these government protections to tie the desktop browser closely to servers, take over the Internet, and tax everything using its DRM/authentication system.

Monday, November 05, 2001

Software Ghandi Cisco posts a Linus Torvalds interview where he says " There’s this myth that I did it because I wanted to be the Mahatma Gandhi of whatever. The 1990s." It's ironic because there is a Mahatma Ghandi of software--Richard Stallman. When I met Stallman recently, it was clear that he cared nothing for the material world and was single mindedly focused on liberating software. In fact, Linus's contribution to the world, GNU/Linux, is mostly GNU (which Stallman wrote).

Big Blue free more software IBM is releasing $40M of software to the open source world. They don't say which license they're using. If anyone knows, please email me at (include URL please)

Friday, November 02, 2001

Microsoft Triumphant, Consumers and Tech Industry lose The business-cuddly Bush administration gave Microsoft carte-blanche to continue illegally abusing its monopoly position to cripple the technology market and stifle true innovation. Realists among us knew this was coming months ago, but some of the hopeful are still crushed. A pity. So its more "business" as usual from the Beast of Redmond. Read the real story here (funny).

Winterspeak on Slashdot Glad to see my interview with Michael Olson made it on Slashdot. Check it the thread.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Some good news The California appelate court struck down the injunction by the Copy Control Association that blocked Jon Johansen's DeCSS DVD descrambler on First Ammendment grounds. Courts that know the difference between source and object code are a Good Thing :).

RMS, GNU/Linux goes to Hollywood, and Houellebecq I was fortunate enough to chat with Richard Stallman last night when he came to speak at the University of Chicago. I'll write that up here soon.

Slate has a long article about GNU/Linux taking over the graphics heavy lifting that SGI used to do. It has interesting points about amortizing hardware cost across fewer movies, and how the industry has come together to develop the software base they need. Most of GNU/Linux's graphics heavy lifting to date has been for Quake.

(Off topic) Finally, here's a hilarious article about French bomb-thrower Michael Houellebecq. My personal favorite line: "After receiving death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, Houellebecq is now living in a Parisian safe house with his pet corgi, Clement, and is forbidden to leave France except under armed guard." Thanks to CD for the links.