CyberTech Rambler

February 27, 2006

Digital Caste System

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:07 pm

Well, its official, there are eight versions of Windows Vista. Those living outside the EU are really very “unlucky” as you only have six versions to play with.

Everyone knows there is a “Digital Divide”, something everyone agrees that we have to eliminate. However, are we sowing the seed for a “Digital Caste System” where users are grated according to what they can afford?

There is a very thin line between “buying only what you need” and “buying what you can afford”. The difference is important, as it is a question of “consumer choice” vs “manufacturer’s greed”.

If one can afford all editions, then choosing which edition you purchase is merely an exercise in “choice”.

However, if some editions are not available to you because you cannot afford it then your rights to choose is going to be limited. If the functionality of the software diminished according to the choice you make and there is no way to regain the functionalities through alternative means, it means you are segregatted according to a Caste System. Like a Caste system, what you can or cannot do is not determined by nature but another person, meaning that person impose his view onto you. Like a social caste system, the worst thing in such a digital caste system is that the worst scenario is not that you only have one edition to chose from, but when you cannot afford any.

Put this in a proprietory software context, it means manufacturers create different versions of software with different capabilities. Some capabilites are denied to you because you cannot pay for it. If you do not want to pay, there is no legal way of gaining the capabilities you need. Worst, the manufacturer is prepared to let you die.

Is there a caste system in Free/Open Source Software? Some argues RedHat, SuSE and other vendors do exercise some form of caste system. But the crucial difference is that if you are willing to put the effort into it, you can create, in most case, a functionally-complete replacement, i.e., replicate the capabilities their software provides even if you do not want to pay them.

Operating system is the bedrock of computers. Creating a digital caste system at this level is a very bad thing. With Windows, Microsoft can afford to eliminate the worst aspect of the digital caste system, i.e., denying access, if it choose to but obviously decided not to.

I would had like to use the term “Digital Apartheid” because it is a stronger word but the word Apartheid conjure the image of only two tier while in a Caste system, you have multiple tiers.

Back to Window Vista…

As mentioned in a previous post, what a management nightmare! Look at the problem the IT department will be facing:

  1. [From Joe User] (Before purchasing)
    1. (If you are lucky) Which version of Vista should I get?
    2. Why is there so many version of Vista and what is the difference — A big explaination of the difference among the different editions follow the conversation.
    3. But,… I want this computer from XXX. It only comes with VistaA edition, you say I should get VistaB, can I still but this computer? How about upgradiing later?
  2. [From Joe User] (After purchasing, IT support headache in italics)
    1. (even after you advise him to not to get a particular version) Please get my computer to work with the company system… Telling him to get lost is not always an option, e.g., when he is your boss and you value you job.
    2. Can I do this, or that with this or that software??? Yes, this is a common support question. But start to imagine that the answer to this question depends on the Operating System Edition
    3. [IT support] Which version of Vista are you using? [User] I don’t know? Here we go again: Go to Start, click ….
  3. [IT Tech] Manual says PC1 to 1000 does automatic update, PC 1001 to PC 1999 needs manual reboot. PC 2000 to 2999 needs to be updated manually before reboot…. Damn, where is the sticker identifying this computer?
  4. “Dear Sir/Madam, Thank you for your letter. I am afraid that you have to upgrade to NNN edition as our software depends on function only available in that edition. I am sorry but there is no refund because it is your duty as the purchaser to check that you satisfy the System Requirement. Sincerely, tech support”

Finally, from the article:

“”We don’t want customers to be forced into buying something that isn’t going to meet all their needs,” said Barry Goffe, Microsoft’s director of Windows client product management.”

Mr Goffe, stop pretending that you know my needs for my computer are coz you don’t!

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February 25, 2006

Using AntiTrust to force Microsoft to adopt ODF?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:38 pm

In one of his blog post, Andy Updegrove suggests that ECIS is using anti-trust action in Europe to force Microsoft to adopt OpenDocumentFormat. This, however, is not my reading of the Antitrust Complain. If it is, it is bound to fail and it is not a good thing for EU to force Microsoft to do.

Why is it bound to fail? Because if found guity, the correct remedy is not to force Microsoft to support one format or another, but to force Microsoft to open up its own formats. (Since newer versions of Microsoft Office products is going to use MS Office XML, it means openning up the legacy formats, e.g. .doc.) Forcing it to support other formats raises a lot of questions (whose format? for one), does not solve the problem completely as specified in the complain (access to data stored by MS format) and may be unfair to Microsoft because it is forced to do work (conversion filters etc) that are by common sense, the jobs of its competitors.

It is not a good thing for EU to do because it is simply the wrong solution and send the wrong message. Wrong solution coz it does not solve the problem in the complain as detail above, and wrong message because it means companies can force competitors to adopt their formats or way of doing things.

February 24, 2006

A lesson on how not to do a presentation!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:38 pm

I finish watching the video recording of WSIS Tunis’ Panel Discussion – Is Free/Open Source Software the Answer? (note: please use the theora video files, I am experiencing problems with the .mp4 version) and found some interesting pointers about how (not) to do a presentation.

Specifically, I want to contrast the presentation of Robert Kramer, Vice President of Public Policy at CompTIA against other speakers. As a note to readers, he is the only “dissenting” voice in the Panel. The text of his speech is that “Free/Open Source Software is not the only way to develop software”. However, reading between the lines, especially focussing on the statistics part, he is actually arguing that “Proprietory Software is the way to develop software”.

This post, however, is not about his position on the topic It is fair to say that because he is the only “dissenting” voice in the Panel, he is going to have a hard time, but the way the speech is delivered and the way the contents are presented did not help his cause.

First, mannerism. He is not delivering a speech. He is reading from the computer screen. Minimal eye contact with audience. Part of the reason is that his speech is a classic, badly written American Style speech focus too heavily on statistics, e.g., XX% of American finds internet a dangerous place. His speech is pepperred with statistics and the need to orally deliver the numbers means he have to read the screen carefully. However, by focusing too much on the screen and not the audience, he looks too much like a paid salaryman doing what is required of him, showing none of the enthusism and heart felt conviction displayed by other panellists. For all I know, he could be delivering another speech extolling the virtual of “Home Pizza Delivery” tomorow the same way he did in this discussion.

Secondly, there is too much statistical fact in his speech. Put a side the fact that statistics can be easily manipulated, having statistics is one way of putting your audience off. How many people can actually digests the statistical fact while at the same time listening and understanding what the speaker is trying to deliver.

Obviously, the statistics are meant to be evidence that support the speaker’s argument. However, in that speech, I am not sure what argument he is trying to put forward.

Take it in contrast with the speech of Ambassador Louis-Dominique Ouedraogo, Inspector, UN Joint Inspection Unit. Ambassador Ouedraogo’s speech is organized like that of Mr Kramer. He has to explain his role and function. Ditto of his organization. When doing so, he was reading from the computer, but as I said, this is understandable. However, when he moved into the topic of interest, he starts to keep eye contact with his audience and deliver his viewpoint with the conviction one expects from someone who believe in what he says.

Normally, peppering one’s speech with statistics is a sign that the speaker cannot support his viewpoint, hence he is trying to drown it in statistics. Whether this is the case here, I leave it to you.

February 23, 2006

Eight different versions of Window Vista?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:10 am

There is a piece of news on the net saying that Microsoft plans to release not one, not two but eight different versions of Vista, its next generation operating system.

This, as far as I can see, is a big operating system management nightmare in the making. With XP Home and XP Professional, we already see confusion. At work, we have to ensure different research group buys the correct copy of XP (XP Professional). With eight different versions, our nightmare just increased four folds.

I am sure as far as Microsoft’s business plans is concern, it make sense to provide multiple versions of the same thing, each targetting different pocket size. Technically, it is difficult to maintain¬† eight separate versions. If it is Microsoft’s intention to allow customization of Vista to suit individual needs, why not throw everything into a bin and allow OEMs others to pick-and-mix the software they want. Of course, the pick-and-mix system used by Linux is a good candidate, but might not be suitable for Microsoft for various (technically) legitimate reasons. May be it should take a leaf out from how Matlab is distributed: A core software platform, with extensions (Toolboxes in Matlab speak) that can be purchased separately.

February 22, 2006

Trading Standard gets upset over free software

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:56 pm

There is one amusing story about UK Trading Standards (the body in charge of enforcing trade-related regulations) gets upset over Mozilla Foundation because anyone can distribute its software for a fee. In partcular, I like the following response from Trading Standards:

If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted.”

First of all, lets not be too harsh on the officer who made this comment. We should thank the officer for treating enforcement of copyrights equally across Free and Proprietory Software. Since Free Software cannot afford to finance outfit like Business Software Association to enforce its IP, we are more dependent on the good will of law enforcement officiers then proprietory software. It is great to see that they do take the trouble to protect our IP interest.
But, I would had thought that Trading Standards will be very happy that Mozilla just reduced their workload by making sales of copied versions of Mozilla software. Apparently, the situation is opposite.

I can see how a mixture of free and proprietory software in the market makes Trading Standard’s advice to business over software licensing more complicated then if there were only one type of software available. Then again, if there were only one type of software available, there is no need for Trading Standards to give any advice, is there? If I were a trading standard officier, I would be extremely happy to be able to advise businesses that they have the option of using free software if they do not want to pay for software.

However, I cannot understand how does Mozilla or other free softwares can make it “practically impossible” to enforce anti-piracy in UK. No doubt it means more work for the enforcement officers when sorting out non-infringing software from infringing software. However, isn’t that a routine work? The fact that the Trading Standard Officer decided to contact Mozilla Foundation before taking action shows that it is indeed routine work. Even in a pirate nest it is extremely likely to find non-infringing software. Mixture of legal/illegal software is usually the case with¬† most business outfit, even if the business outfit is using proprietory software only.

There is no doubt some retraining of Trading Standard Officers is needed to educate them about Free Software. However, it is part of routine updating of Trading Standard Officiers’ knowledge.

All in all, this case prove that besides explaining free software to the masses, it is also necessary to educate Law Enforcement about Free Software.

OfficeLive showing Microsoft at its best: Combining Technology with Business

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:49 pm

OfficeLive is now out for beta testing. On its homepage, it is showcasing what Microsoft is good at: Combining technology with business.

I like the business model of OfficeLive. Clear, concise and workable. It offers a basic service for free and charge for premium services. I like the fact that it is upfront about what it is offering and at what cost. All too often, you see vendors offering services for free during beta, then charge you when they decided that their product is mature enough and do not need you as guinea pig any more. This always leave a bad taste in my mouth. I am glad that Microsoft sees this is not a good practice.

From the preview, it is clear that unlike other Microsoft’s offerings, Microsoft put some thoughts into how OfficeLive is going to be offerred. It does not give you the feel that it is simply another ragtag mixed of software, created in a hurry in response to a threat (Microsoft Virtual Earth) and badly done (example).
The only downside is that for this beta, it requires IE to work. This dependency on IE is turning me off. Besides being obvious attempt to force people to use IE, it make it looks like Microsoft is finding it hard to turn away from old practices of keeping everything in house and reminds me that Microsoft is not a company that can be trusted. I hope that like WindowsLive, it is simply a temporary measure. With WindowsLive, I can see why Microsoft would, by necessity, needs to create a site that works on IE initially than expand to other browsers coz they are just starting to learn play nice. With OfficeLive, I cannot see the need to create a first version for IE, then rework it for all browsers. This is simply unnecessary extra work. If this is their strategy, it does not give me great confidence in the company on the issue of provide access from different browsers on equal footing.

OfficeLive is capable of setting a new benchmark for office collaboration and is potentially a huge stick for Microsoft to whip OpenOffice XML format with. I hope someone will response with a similar offerring based on OpenOffice XML.

February 21, 2006

Microsoft and Integration

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:21 pm

One of my long time friend who blogs on Warong Karipuf is blogging about how an Microsoft employee is complaining about the “excessive” attention Google is attracting with its email-hosting service.

He is right when he says that Microsoft’s has been canabolizing other people’s offering when it integrates the same their services into Window Desktop and that their strong presence on the OS offering is only “average” at best. He is also right when he says that Microsoft have to do more work to get noticed on the net where the OS advantage is not available to them.

I am interested in exploring the issue he raised on Microsoft’s desktop. In that post, he argued that Firefox (and others) need to create products with significant attractive features (advantages) to entice users to download them while Microsoft’s product simply have to be “acceptable” because of its Desktop advantage.
There is no doubt that Microsoft’s offerings for the desktop is just “acceptable” and their products offering lacks innovations. Moreover, without their prepackaged advantage, it is difficult to see any compelling reasons to download their products to try it out. However, I do not see the fact that their products is simply ordinary and lack attraction a bad thing.

The fact that Microsoft is offering similar products force other vendors to innovate or die and a large numbers of vendors responded well. Real Network is still alive and kicking despict Media Player. Opera is doing well even with Microsoft’s dominence on the Desktop and dirty trick. What Microsoft did was to make basic functions of the product available, in effect cannabolizing the lower end of the market and force vendors to innovate to survive. Microsoft inability to produce a better product than these vendors ensured their survival.

We must not see desktop integration or preloading software as a bad thing. Not only Microsoft is doing it, KDE, GNOME and Apple are also offerring desktop integration and preloaded software as well. Desktop integration provides users with convenience and better user experience. The problems with desktop integration Microsoft style are

  1. Bad architecture and programming practices where a small flaw at one place can create an uncontrollable (and unnecessary) chain-reaction akin to a nuclear explosion. The same chain reaction also make the fixing a flaw difficult.
  2. Their refusal to create and maintain a level playing field. They give their own programs unfair advantages and take all possible steps to “lock out” others from the desktop.

Thus it is Microsoft’s implementation, not Desktop integration itself, is at fault.

Like Microsoft in the 90s, every step Google take, every rumours involving Google, is a potential story. Microsoft is finding itself losing the limelight to Google. My friend Karipuf is correct in pointing out that people in Microsoft find it difficult to accept.
On the net, without the advantage of owning the OS, the concensus is that Microsoft is finding that it face a more level playing field. In this world, as Karipuf pointed out indirectly, being just “acceptable” is not good enough. Google-brand websites are easier, more intuitive to use than Microsoft-branded websites or indeed other websites. That’s Google edge. Microsoft, with its vast resources, can dent this edge, if it choose to.

Until that day, Microsoft people can complain to their hearts contents, people will simply see them as yesterday’s poster child, like (am I allow to say it?) Netscape.

As I said in a previous post, Microsoft is waking up to the challenge of Google. So far, WindowsLive and OfficeLive looks like a potential breath of fresh air into the old social networking and office collaboration stuff. It is certainly worth keeping an eye on these two sites.

February 20, 2006

Back to life

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:42 pm

I was on vacation for the past few weeks. Back to normal service now.

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