CyberTech Rambler

June 30, 2006

Microsoft Brain Drains: Something that is expected

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:04 pm

This CNNMoney article about a Microsoft exec jump ship to Google is just one of the many news of Microsoft brain drain trickling on to the internet. These type of news has no factual value and has lost its sensational value as well.

Microsoft has enjoyed a good solid long run of being the magnet that attracts the best brains. As Newton’s law dictates “what goes up must comes down”, it is only a matter of time before it lose its crown. At present, I would not say that Microsoft lost its crown, but the crown is not as shinny as before.

Good brains are hard to get. Big companies like Microsoft, IBM and Google spend big money to attract them. The upside of having Google in the hiring game is the limitted commodity known as “Good Brains” just get more precious. Good for the people who qualifies.

Bad for the companies because their cost may just skyrocket. The jury is still out on its effects on the industry as a whole

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Microsoft sued over Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:42 pm

Surprise, surprise, Microsoft is sued over Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage (WGA).

Some folks has seen similarity between this and the Sony Rootkit fiasco. I see the similarities but also glaring differences. The similarities are:

  1. The software aims to protect the producers, not the consumers
  2. Software were installed without giving users enough information about it, i.e., dishonest.
  3. Both phone home.

Differences are:

  1. Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage had “damaged” some computers. If you have a legal copy of Windows but WGA says you are not, then you suffer “damages”. Some reports says that there are prominient notices on the computer saying you are using a pirated copy. If you are not a pirate, at least your reputation is “damaged”. Legitimate customers need not have to go through the humiliating process of calling (and convincing) Windows Tech Support that their copy is genuine. So far, there is not much real damage done by Sony Rootkit besides making one’s computer vulnerable.
  2. WGA is not something you can not install because it is an integral part of Windows Update, a critical component if you are a Microsoft user. At least with Sony you can play your CD in your HiFi without being affected. In today’s world, asking a person to use Microsoft Office on an isolated (not connected to a network of any sort) is normally not an option.

PJ of Groklaw, in her blog post about this subject, says that she had tried very hard (but ultimately failed) to resist using iTune since iTune change its terms and conditions. I seriously dislike the idea that T&C can change at software’s company’s whim. The law needs to clarify whether this should be allowed. It is rather disappointing that the lawsuit did not address this issue. May be it is the wrong avenue.

Microsoft spokeperson dismiss the lawsuite as “baseless”. Microsoft is the defendent, so of course it will say that. It may be difficult to prove that Microsoft commited something illegal as the case is less clearcut than Sony Rootkit, but baseless is too far a stretch. His arguement that WGA is not a spyware because “Spyware is deceptive software that is installed on a user’s computer without the user’s consent and has some malicious purpose”. Phoning home everyday without telling users you do that is certainly deceptive. Spyware is “spying using software”. You do not have to show malicious intent when spying. In fact, parental spying usually has good intention for the receipient at the other end of the stick.

OK, assume I buy the argument that user consents were granted. I will then be immediately confronted by the issue of whether users are coerced into granting permission. As it is an “addon”, not an original component of existing Windows Software, this meant users had not agreed to use WGA when they bought the software. However, to receive updates, which they are entitled to, you must install WGA. There is strong evidence of coercion here.

Actually, in the long run, all matters discussed above and in the lawsuit does not matter. Microsoft’s reputation is damaged. Whatever trust they built up over the years has been destroyed by the way they push WGA out as critical update. Critical updates usually means update that protects users from malicious software such as virus and backdoor. WGA is not a critical component by any account. Labelling WGA as critical update while it is clearly not meant to me that we cannot trust what Microsoft regards as “critical update”. They are willing to push things onto you under this disguise and this abuse my trust in them. As Microsoft is dabbling in security software now and in security, trust is very important. How can I trust that Microsoft will not label their own dubious software as malware? It is certainly forseeable that Microsoft will permits all communication between your computer and their servers, whatever the purpose of the communication is. It is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

This is what the long term damage to Microsoft lies. Not WGA or any DRM or anti-piracy move it takes.

June 29, 2006

Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage becoming killer switch (Updated)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:01 pm

[UpdateĀ  3 July 2006] Microsoft denied WGA becoming killer switch in future. Instead, the spokeperson says they are going to make using pirated copy “unattractive”. I need to stress that I have no problem if WGA becomes killer switch for pirated copies of Windows, I just do not want to be one of the innocent victim who owns a legal copy of window but were caught in this crossfire. As about how to make using pirated copy “unattractive”, not being able to use the computer at all sounds to me like the absolute “unattractiveness”. šŸ™‚

Over at ZDNet, Ed Bott is running an blog about Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage becoming a “killer switch” sometime in the near future, where users of pirated copies of Windows will be served a warning about Windows committing suicide 30 days after first detection and switch off after 30 days. This is still a rumour, but frankly nobody will be surprise if it turns out to be true.

In fact, it goes some way to explains why Microsoft did not just switch off the “calling home” feature of Windows Genuine (Dis)advantage.

Opting to switching off pirate copies of Windows is Microsoft prerogative. Pirates have no rights to use the software in the first place. However, there will be a proportion of genuine customers that got caught incorrectly in this dragnet. They will be disgruntled customers. The trick for Microsoft is to keep this population of disgruntled customers to a minimum.

Can they pull this off? May be. Being a monopoly means there is not much competition to start with so the tipping point is high. It will be in Microsoft’s advantage to set the tipping point as high as possible However, the higher this tipping point is, i.e., the more customers that got wrongly got entangled in this piracy move, the more incentive customers will have to shop for alternatives. Thus, for Microsoft, the aim is not to eliminate piracy altogether, but push the equilibrium between genuine and pirated copies to its favour.

Finally, combating piracy is a neverending process. It is a bit like natural evolution where one species evolve to counter advantages developed by another. As pirating Windows is a very profitable for pirates, I can see this killer switch castrated by pirates in matters of months.

Good Luck to Microsoft.

June 28, 2006

EU adds more teeth to antitrust provision

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:56 pm

The European Commission added more teeth to fine corporation who they find in violation of antitrust rule. As usual, the formula they use to impose fine is very complex. Hopefully, it will make people takeĀ  its antitrust complains seriously.

In the United States, Antitrust legislation has the goal of “correcting the distorted market”. While the PR from EC seems to be pointing that antitrust in EU has the same goal, I cannot help but to think that may be the additional ammo is the start of a shift to “punish infringers”. Bullets, whether real one or legal one, are blind. It is how they are applied in practice that distinguish between “punishment” and “correction”.

Let’s wait and see what happens when this new rules are applied in a real cases.

Microsoft calling home less frequent

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:44 pm

As promised, Microsoft released a update to its Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage program that phone home less frequently.

Still, I do not understand why it needs to phone home at all.

Another biggest fundamental question that Microsoft has not satisfactory resolves: What isĀ  the advantage to users?

June 27, 2006

Adobe vs Microsoft: Is Microsoft crying wolf?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:30 pm

Legal Technology publish an article claiming that EU have not received any complains from Adobe over the PDF saga. Nothing revealing about that article except that it more-or-less comfirm that EU's concern about XPS ("The letter [that EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes wrote to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in March about Windows Vista] highlighted several functions now available separately — such as software that would create fixed-document formats [e.g. XPS] comparable to Adobe's PDF…") is the more likely cause for Microsoft dropping XPS support in Office, rather than on Adobe's request alone. 

It is more and more likely that Microsoft is crying wolf about a lawsuite. Adobe's official response is that it has not rule out lawsuite. There is a possibility of lawsuit in anything we do. It would be stupid for Adobe to rule out lawsuite, expecially if this is Microsoft's ploy to entrap Adobe into waiving its rights to legal recourse.

CodePlex – Long overdue initiative from Microsoft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:20 pm

CodePlex is Microsoft soon-to-be-announce initiative to host projects using Microsoft’s platform.
However, I have reservation with Mr LaMonica characterisation on ZDNet that “[CodePlex] is a venue for Microsoft to provide programmers with tools available under its shared source licence”. The phrase “to provide” suggests that the site is to be a unidirectional thing (Microsoft give, others take) but the second sentense on CodePlex Website (“You can use CodePlex to create new projects to share with your fellow developers around the world…”) suggests Microsoft wants it to be a place where people create and share codes on Microsoft. If you read the legal notice, there is nothing that restricts the licensing for the software to Shared Source License. Having said that, the wording of the website’s legal notice strongly suggest it is indeed designed as a unidirectional thing and I cannot discount the fact that one might be restricted to share source licenses when creating new projects.

Is it Microsoft’s answer to sourceforge.net? No. It falls significantly short of it. In Sourceforge you finds end users programs as well as development tools. With CodePlex you get only the latter. Since it is concentrating on development tools, how does this compare with eclipse.org? So far, all projects listed seems to have one way or another linked to Visual Studio. This is not surprising as Visual Studio is one of the heavy weight in Windows Software Development (not forgetting to mention, a Microsoft product). This makes it analogeous to eclipse.org gyrating around the Eclipse Platform. Like eclipse.org, CodePlex concentrates on providing development tools. However, important Eclipse projects such as Eclipse Tool Projects and Eclipse Technolgy Projects have a more rigid top-down command architecture, with formal procedures and votingĀ  process for new project creation and commitees of workers, CodePlex takes a more natural-evolutionary approach.

My first take is it is a hybrid between sourceforge.net and eclipse.org. It is a long overdue initiative from Microsoft. Microsoft needs a site to act as a center of activity for itself and partners on share source initiative. It should also harness the strong community sense among the developers.

Should Microsoft had used sourceforge instead? No. Arguing that Microsoft should use sourceforge will be like arguing Eclipse or Apache should use sourceforge as well. All three are strong enough to stand on their own and benefits from having their own site if only for branding purposes.

I do not think Microsoft has sourceforge in its cross-hair but eclipse.org and Netbeans. First of all, they are the direct competitors on development tools front. Sourceforge.net has been around for so long and the lack of any triggering event that focus Microsoft’s attention on sourceforge.net.

How will CodePlex evolve? Only time can tell. It is an (perhaps more) alternative for Microsoft Tooling developers to use CodePlex rather than sourceforge. Whether they migrate or not will depends on the management of the website. There will be teething problems in the coming few months but lets see how it gets on in a year’s time.

June 26, 2006

Sayonara WinFS (for now)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:30 pm

Since WinFS team more-or-less admit that WinFS is dead with a very (professionally) polished eulogy on their blog, the net has been voicing their opinions on the subjects (see FishBowl and OS Review).

I do not know why WinFS team abandon the project. All I can say is while the goal of WinFS, richer user experience, looks promising and well thought of, it perhaps underestimate the extra amount of work expected from users. I believe any thing that requires users to input additional information, a.k.a. metadata, needs to overcome the high barrier of convincing users that it is in their interest. In the OS Review article, it is argued that some softwares, such as iTune, already collect a lot of meta data such as user ratings etc. What I will argue is that these software successfully convince users that providing these meta data enhance their experience in using it. MP3 has a very comprehensive metadata structure capable of storing Title/Artist/Genre and other information. Software like WinAMP has always make it possible to view these data but they just did not catch on until iTune arrive. I know, coz I am one of them who takes the trouble to fill in the information only when iTune arrive. If you still think that as long as there are meta data structure there to collect user data, the user will provide it, just ask yourself when was the last time you fill in the metadata information for your Office Document?

WinFS's proposed function has a large overlap with "SpotLight" search in MacOSX or Google Desktop Search. The difference between WinFS and the other two is the other two do it without user intervention. That accounts for the usefulness of SpotLight for me. It allows me to search my computer without worrying about where the search text are (filename/document text) etc. With Google Desktop, my problem is it slows down my computer significantly when it starts cataloging my computer's content.

Moreover, richer "user experience" is difficult to define. It is also doubtful whether a change in File System is needed to deliver richer "user experience". Development of File System has always been driven by operating systems' need, not "end user experience". For example, IBM's Journalling File System  is created to ensure that power failure etc will not affect copy/move/delete operation by first recording what it is going to do, then check and tick off what is already done to allow system to pick up from where it drops off after a power failure etc. Knoppix's File System store users modification to be written to a separate storage space (coz the original storage space is read only, e.g. CDROM) and recombine them seemlessly when the Operating System ask for it and permits the automatic uncompression of compress file. They are all driven by needs, operating system's need. Their advantages are easily qualified and quantified. 

Finally, we should note that WinFS, like any other projects are not believer of the Christian Faith, or Islam or Jewish or any religions that believe there is only one life. Rather, WinFS is back in the Karma wheel. The WinFS team blog already announce its next reincarnation, where it is split into two separate things.

June 24, 2006

Predatory pricing

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:19 pm

Well, it is kind of expected. Register is running a news story on Microsoft being accused of predatory pricing on Security Software.

I am wondering who actually have the upperhand on predatory pricing, Open Source or Microsoft. I think for this case, open source wins hands down. Pricing ALL your products at zero is predatory to the extreme. [Yes I know I can go further by paying customers to use my software but zero is normally the rock bottom.]

The accuser is SunBelt Software. While it is not someone who normally criticise Microsoft, as a Microsoft Gold Level Partner, it must had thought long and hard before making such a comment. It is not an disinterested party. Predatory pricing from competitors do hurts them. 

Hence, is predatory pricing really that bad? After all, it drives others out-of-business, reduces the incentives to innovate, and in this case, can force us to depend on the same vendor for normal software and security software. These are not my words, but Sunbelt's. And if so, how can I argue that predatory pricing by open source is good, while predatory pricing by close source is bad? Aren't I a hypocrate to argue this.

To answer this question, lets take a leaf from the goal of antitrust legislation. The danger in predatory pricing is the "distortion of market". I read this as "disadvantaging the consumers". Importantly, it is not about protection of competitors. Arguing for the protection of competitors, without showing how it seriously disavantage the customers, will not fly with me. 

Predatory pricing by everyone, open or close source, runs a very serious risk of discouraging innovation. Monetary reward gets lowered as the premium paid by customers for software drops. Let's face it, money is one big incentives for innovation. The difference between open and close source is the level of the "remaining" participation after predatory pricing campaign runs to its logical conclusion. In open source, what remains is a group of diehard people who are really interested in the field and where money is not the main motivator. With close source, you end up with one company . In this case, it does not matter whether you are open source or close source coz there is always one party that have monopolistic power. In both cases, barrier to entry for new comers are high and the level of continuous innovation in the field just sapped until one fine day where one organization or person breaks out of this dull state of affair. Invariably,this is achieve by a disruptive innovator in that field. This innovator restore market balance, reinject interest into the field and hurray, distortion of market disappear. 

As I see it, whether predatory pricing is bad or not depends on what happen in the dull state of affair, i.e., from the moment predatory pricing achieve its logical conclusion, to the time the disruptive innovation restore the market health. In particular, I am looking it from the customers point of view.  Remember that I argues that there will a party (may it be a group of people or a company) holding monopolistic power in this dull state, the question now boils down to the use (and abuse) of this monopolistic power. Both open source and close source will react to competition in negative way. It is the reaction that we have to watch. We needs to ensure that they do not abuse their dominant position. There is no doubt that with closed source monopoly, the chances of abuse is argueably higher because of the involvement of fancy pricing mechanism that an open source monopoly cannot use since open source predatory behaviour is to set the price at zero. The possible abuse by closed source monopoly includes unjustifiable premium (monopoly rent) paid to the monopolistic power and another round of predatory pricing, priced simply to edge out competition while maintaining the monopoly rent.  These behaviours, and others, severely disadvantage the consumers. This is one form of abuse which regulators have to curb.

The results of predatory pricing can be bad. For innovation, it can mean a lull in innovation. For consumers, it reduces choice. On the other hand, simply as a result of predatory pricing, the industry is forced to trim away excess fat to cope with predatory pricing by one of its members. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that this strategy will reach its logical conclusion. If it does not, the introspection introduce by predatory pricing might actually results in a healthier industry.

One final question, should the authorities intervine in predatory pricing situation? Besides the difficulty in defining what "predatory pricing" really is, the ultimate question is, how does the consumers suffer/benefit from prediatory pricing? Authorities should let the market sort itself out during the fight, but intervene only when it can be shown that consumers is going to suffer, not after consumers suffers from predatory pricing.

June 22, 2006

Corel, despite being on ODF committee, has no plans to include it in new software. How strange?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:31 pm

At open source weblog, Corel is quoted as citing "No customer demand" (Haven't we heard that term frequently) for not having plans to put ODF in its new software. This is despite the fact that it is on the ODF committee. How strange?

The article itself is good exercise in exposing Corel's contradiction. Hence, I recommends you read it if you want to see how absurb the reason is.

The bottom line, I believe, is that it is a business decision that has more to do with maintaining relationship with a big software giant.

That is why since I started this blog I decided to only believe so-and-so is supporting anything when I see that something appears in their software. Not a moment before.

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