CyberTech Rambler

April 30, 2010

Microsoft went for Google’s soft belly

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:04 am

You can say it is a punch below the belt. What you cannot say is that you don’t expect it.

Google probably did not want to sign anything with Microsoft over Android. Microsoft did not want to sue Google because it knows that Google will put up a fight. Therefore it went for its soft belly: The manufacturer of Google’s phone – HTC.

You know the deal is only between HTC and Microsoft and Google is not indirectly involved, otherwise it would had made sure Microsoft’s press release would not had mentioned Android. I am sure the contract is above board and is probably along the line of MS-Novell’s agreement if need be.

One thing stands out in the press release: It says Android Mobile Platform, not Android Operating System. That distinction is probably lost on mos people, but not us techies. The Android Mobile Platform covers more than the operating system. It includes the keyboard, joystick and other part of the mobile phone. Google only supply the Operating System, so it is conceivable that the patents Microsoft is claiming infringement on is not about the Operating System. Knowing Microsoft, this is probably how the patent agreement is phrased to avoid getting Google involved.

April 28, 2010

Apple is harrassing Jason Chen to try to deter others from doing the same again [Updated]

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:52 am

Will it work? Not a bit.

This is an interesting tuck-of-war. It is clear from Wired.com description of what happened, it is also a carefully orchestrated one. Both sides knows the score. From Gizmodo side it is clear that lawyers were involved and both Gizmodo and the finder were carefully briefed. Do you really believe Jason Chen (the editor who wrote the article zero) is surprised that his house is raided? (Excluding the fact that they broke his door and the time of search), or he just so happen to leave a printout of his email conversation with his lawyer about journalist shield law near his computer? (See end of this article)? Or for that matter, the finder’s roommate knows that he/she should just slam the door on Apple’s investigators when they turn up to request to look around? Finally, the effort the finder took to try to ‘return’ the phone to Apple is too elaborate. I would just leave it with the bar staff. Failing that and if Apple had ignored my effort to contact them, I will simply post it back to them (without putting any stamps on, but with a note saying ‘iPhone 4G’).

From Apple’s side they know really well that Gizmodo is going to make a song and dance on whatever action they take as soon as they saw Chen’s article? Wanting to have a look around is just a pretext. The role of the investigators  is to intimidate the finder by sending him the oldest message in the book: I know where you live.

What I am really puzzled is why the law enforcement agencies acted the way they did. First, they would be negligence to not notice that Chen is a journalist and the shielding law is very likely to apply to him. While getting a warrant and execute it immediately is not unusual, especially if they think evidence might be destroyed or lost, the fact that the warrant explicitly disallowed night search shows that the judge did not think there is such urgency. I don’t know what constitute a night search. It is also possible that the door was broken down because the police wanted entry before the allowed time for ‘day search’ expires. The police could had called Gizmodo and Chen would had happily preserved the evidence but point them to his lawyer. The accusation on the net is that the police waited for there to be nobody at home and break in to avoid Chen raising the ‘Shield Law’ issue when they serve him the warrant. I am going to give the police department the benefit of doubt that they acted without influence from either party.

As for the computing equipment seized. Trust me when I say all confidential information not relating to the article has been forensically erased. They were expecting it. I do believe, however, that Gizmodo’s lawyer has kept an image of the original hard drive which it will produce in court if there is a subpoena.

Personally, I believe Apple felt that it was forced to act. They tried to bury the story by ignoring any rumour, but Chen’s article forced their hand and they felt that they have to act as heavy-handedly as they did.

Biggest loser? Apple. It dug itself a bigger hole. It is not going to stop anyone tipping technology site, and the whole thing is ballooning far bigger than technology website. It brought in discussion from other sites about journalist protection. People that did not know the iPhon 4G had leaked will know it now and will search for information on it.

Second biggest loser is law enforcement agency. At best, they did not do their homework to find out more about the target of the search. The insinuation that they are colluding with big business, whether warranted or not, is not going to enhance their reputation

Biggest winner? Jason Chen. I never heard of him. I did read his article. Saw his picture on the video box but did not play the video then promptly forgotten about him. Now that image of him is firmly burned into my mind (but still haven’t seen the video). It is just the break and explosure he needs for a brighter career prospect.

Gizmodo’s win is smaller than Chen. It has the publicity it wanted,  but that publicity is tainted a bit by whether their behaviour is ethical. Wired hints that they were offered the story but declined it. [Update 30 April 2010: In a follow up article , Wired confirmed that the email did not come from the finder] MobileCrunch publicly stated that they were not sure of the legality of how the phone was obtained and I don’t think that is because it is a sore loser. It appears the some pictures went to Engadget which peddled the story just like any ‘leak’ story. However, Gizmodo decided to do the full monty by buying the unit.

April 21, 2010

Oracle made ODF plugin for MS Office a commercial only product

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:12 am

SUN has been known to be a company that is not good at commercializing products. With Oracle, the opposite is true. When Oracle purchased SUN, I was waiting to see how Oracle commercializes SUN’s product. I know it will be interesting.

We have some small little things happening here and there, e.g., no longer shipping CDs for free. However, those are more precisely described as cost-cutting rather than commercialization.

Now we have one, and it is quite a bold one. Oracle is charging for ODF plugin for MSOffice. I am surprised by the move. We know that ODF is competing with OOXML for heart and mind of office productivity suite users. An ODF plugin for MSOffice is one of the important weapon the ODF camp has. Charging for it will reduced the number of copies of installed ODF plugin on MSOffice which is not a good move to promote a format by making it as ubiquitious as possible.

Initially I was wondering whether this means ODF is getting traction and Oracle felt that it is mature enough to sustain commercialization of MSOffice ODF plugin. My experience, however, is this is definitely not the case. In my work, I rarely encounters OOXML or ODF documents, we have a lot of old fashion .doc documents going around. For most people with MSOffice 2007, they still find problems sending .docx document. The workaround instituted is to send documents in PDF instead. In the long run, however, I think everyone will move to OOXML purely on the inertial of MSOffice and we will see a big uproar when MSOffice drops .doc finally. Will people move to ODF? I don’t know and I am not betting on it.

Then, in the reference article, one point jumped out. The ODF plugin works for older versions of MSOffice. The argument goes that people who crinched to MSOffice 2003 and below will have a modern format to extend the life of their product. Is this true? Possibly. MSOffice 2000 and 2003 is good enough for standard office documents for a considerable time to come. But does using ODF really extends the life of  the product? Why would I bother to switch away from .doc?

I think the most likely reason for charging for the ODF plugin is MS Office 2007 has lousy ODF support. Presumably SUN (now Oracle) did a better job at ODF support. This makes Oracle’s ODF plugin a premium product and Oracle sees an opportunity to make money out of it. I see it like PDF support in MSOffice. You have PDF export shipped as standard in MSOffice 2007. However, I think you can buy plugins that allow you to open and edit PDF document and there is quite a lot of people who will pay good money for it.

Therefore, I think Oracle’s ODF plugin is aimed more at people who wants ODF support in Microsoft Office 2007 and above.

April 19, 2010

TurboHercules case: The more we dig, the more hollow the claims

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:30 am

TurboHercules and Florian Mueller accuses IBM on going back on its pledge not to assert patent infringement on open source software  by claiming TurboHercules infringes two patents in the list of patents included in the pledge.

Brian Profitt, my favorite Tech writer, has the best article on an overview of the event and his conclusion that IBM had not done what TurboHercules and Mueller had accused it of doing is shared by me. PJ, as usual, has the best links in her article about the subject. However, I must note that her article concentrate too heavily on ‘holiness’ of GPL and give the impression that IBM is free to sue any company and other open source software  as long as it leaves Free Software alone, which in my opinion irrelevant (The GPL bit) and wrong (free to sue any company and non-Free software).

Now that the storm had passed and the smoke had cleared, we see that there is no substance in the claim. Ironically, the best evidence is from TurboHercules itself, its publication of the correspondence trail between it and IBM shows that the mention of the two patents were taken out-of-context. Excerpt of IBM’s 11 March letter:

“According to your own statements, your product emulates significant portions of IBM’s proprietary instruction set architecture and IBM has many patents that would, therefore, be infringed. For illustration, I enclose with this letter a non-exhaustive list of IBM u.S. patents that protect innovative elements of IBM’s mainframe architecture and that IBM believes will be infringed by an emulator covering those elements. For your information, the enclosed list also includes a non-exhaustive list of relevant IBM u .s. published patent applications. Apart from concerns about unauthorized use of proprietary IBM information by one or more TurboHercules contributors, IBM therefore has substantial concerns about infringement of patented IBM technology.”

Excluding the last sentence, this is the most quoted passage in the letter. I do not believe this IBM letter has not been seen by its legal department. Therefore, any omission/inclusion is carefully crafted by wordsmiths in the legal department. I included the last sentence because IBM said the infringement might be made by TurboHercules contributors, not Hercules (the open source software) contributor. While we can expect overlaps in contributor pool of TurboHercules and Hercules, they are not one and the same. Therefore, any infringement allegation is not targeted at open source, but the company TurboHercules. Moreover, the letter mentions emulator in general and is not referring to the Hercules emulator specifically. One can argue that Hercules does infringe the two patents, but is cured by the open source pledge.

Furthermore, if you dig into the history of the correspondence, TurboHercules is asking IBM for licenses to run IBM’s mainframe OS on Intel hardware which IBM declined. The correspondence is always about TurboHercules and IBM. The Hercules project is only mentioned in passing as background to the request in the first letter.  Discussions between the two parties had moved on from that to what TurboHercules wants to do. Therefore I do not think it is fair to drag Hercules project back to the fray because when IBM drafted the letter that mentioned the two patents, it is likely that it is no longer refers to the Hercules project.

It is, however, true that IBM could had avoided the whole thing by not referring to the two patents. Since the list is ‘non-exhaustive’ after all, omitting the two from the list of 170+ will not make any difference.

It is clear to me that TurboHercules has been asking for something that IBM refuses to give. As a result, it was out on a campaign to get IBM to change it mind. This is part of the negative part of the campaign to achieve this. I am giving TurboHercules the benefit of doubt in deciding that the EC complain is not part of the negative campaigning.

April 16, 2010

OOXML Strict standard is DEAD

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:31 pm

OK, may be a bit too melodramatic. The correct phrase is ‘OOXML Strict standard is _irrelevant_’. However, frankly, I do not see the difference.

Why is it irrelevent? Full support, i.e., read/write is not going to be with us anytime soon. This is confirmed by Dough Mahugh, in response to Alex Brown’s criticism. TheRegister’s report put Microsoft’s Office release as every three years, and since we have yet to see Office 2010, this means the earliest we see full is 2014. That is after giving Microsoft the benefit of delivering Office 15 ahead of schedule. [The code name 15 suggests to me the intented release year might be 2015].

At that time, OOXML strict standard, as enshrined in the 2008 standard, is for all intent and purposes, irrelevant. Movement in document formats will make it obsolete by then and thus, nobody will want to work with that standard any more. It is very possible, in a couple of years, we start seeing videos routinely being embedded in digital documents. Me, for example, had been joking with PhD students that since they now create the thesis using a computer, they should think about embedding videos describing what they had done, instead of spending countless paragraphs describing what happened.

I know a standard is in trouble when McHugh tried to pull in irrelevant stuff in the response. For example, he claims to give us a peek into Microsoft’s roadmap for Office. This is an attempt to sweeten us up before giving us the bad news. News flash! Nobody cares what Office’s road map is… and quite a number of people can see through the artificial sweetener that is the bogus ‘privileged’ peek.

As for supporting Strict Format in read-only, that does not cut the mustard. Part of the purpose of having a documented format is to permit bi-directional data exchange. A lot of open source software can read but not write OOXML. I dislike and disagree with this step. Therefore you should not be surprised that I do not think read-only support is good enough for MSOffice either.

I am very unhappy about this outcome. This, however, has nothing to do with my dislike of OOXML. Rather, I see so much wasted effort to create the strict standard which nobody will be using. Not only did ISO wasted time and effort, so do people in Microsoft who worked on separating the conjoined twins what was the rejected draft standard. Worse, it raised false hope for third parties developers of OOXML who are hoping to be able to use the ‘strict’ format to simplify their work.

In summary, it is a disgusting (but not unexpected) outcome.

April 6, 2010

Too early to say whether MS abandoned OOXML Strict

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:35 pm

Now, this is a post you expect from Rob Weir, but instead, it came from Alex Brown.

The timing is not coincidence. Alex Brown definitely timed it to be very close to the second anniversary of ISO OOXML approval, especially if we take into account the Easter Holiday period in UK (2 Apr to  5 Apr) and the fact that quite a few schools release their kids on Thursday (1st Apr). I am of course presuming Alex has kids duty to attend to and 31st March is his last date of posting.

The essence is that Microsoft Office 2010 fails to use ISO OOXML Strict standard but instead, used the transitional standard.

Everyone who read this blog knows that I am not a fan of OOXML.However, I must say, it is too early to complain that Microsoft itself does not use the ‘Strict’ version of OOXML. [Judging from this comment, Alex agrees ] I did managed to read between the lines and know that Alex’s intention was to nudge Microsoft towards implementing ‘Strict’ conformance as soon as possible. I know it is two years already, and it is frustrating that, after two years, it appears that there is no movement at all towards ‘Strict’ standard compliance. To tell the truth, if we find out that there no movement/commitment of MS part, we must take Jason Matusow and Brian Jones out for a public spanking.

I also see his frustration: On a personal/professional level, it means his company cannot start relying on MS Office having  ‘strict’ conformance to sell products and thus have to prepare one version for ‘transitional’ and another for ‘strict’. On a purely professional level, being the converner of the standardization process, it is frustrating to see once’s effort, and the effort of the committee to bring OOXML from ECMA over to ISO not bearing the fruits that it promise. I am sure people from both sides of the debate knows that a lot of effort had been made by the committee to bring OOXML into ISO.

I know ISO can only set standards and vendors/community at large then decide for themselves whether to follow the standard or not. Therefore, any people working on standard committee must know that their work can, at the end of the day, equate to zero. That is the risk committee members are taking. Nobody likes it, but if that is the case, one just have to grin and bear it.

My initial reaction was to suggest that Alex Brown has the option of kicking Microsoft into high gear by threatening to remove ‘transitional’ from the next standard, say in 3 years time. Then I realized that would had been futile. Microsoft simply has to declare itself not going to confirm with the new standard.

Does this means MS abandoned OOXML? Far from it. The initial push was the results of MS fearing that MSOffice will lose out to competition over the issue of ISO certification. Now that the goal is achieved, one would expects the pace to slow down, may be grinding to a halt sometime. Sure, MS will attend regular ECMA/ISO meetings on OOXML, but it would probably send only lower ranking officers and does not contribute much to either committees. That is, until the next time MS needs ECMA/ISO. When will it happens? I think in 5 years time. That is when formats evolves so much that it needs ECMA/ISO blesssings on the next major enhancement. Will it then implements the Strict format? I don’t know. We need to see how much kicking ECMA/ISO can muster to get it through. At the meantime, ISO OOXML will keep diverging from MS OOXML.

Can we accuse MS of going its own way? Not this time. If there were support behind OOXML, Microsoft need not go it alone. Now that we see there is no support we cannot make the argument that MS going it alone with a straight face as there are no other choice. That strategy haven’t failed yet. And if you are planning to sell products that has to interoperate with MS OOXML, then you don’t have a choice but to follow MS OOXML development, however slowly or however it diverge from ISO OOXML. That is life and you made your bet already.

Actually, I think you will find people that are quitely grad that Microsoft haven’t gone to ‘strict’ standard. That way, they can postpone their work to support the ‘strict’ standard. I am sure they are praying that that is going to be ‘forever’.

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