CyberTech Rambler

August 30, 2006

Databasing documents

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:11 pm

Brian Jones give a brief account on how the TC45 Specs for OpenXML is being managed by a database that allows creation and consumption of subdocument and updating of the database from these subdocuments. Its interesting, and it shows how database can be used to manage documents. It is certainly a great improvement over existing method of version-control.

This is precisely the type of innovation that can be done and should be done with documents, and I do not want this to be restricted to controlling the aesthetic of the document. I want it to store domain specific information. I want physicists able to shread the document and store it into databases that is designed specifically for physicists. In the long run, I want to mine the database and generate documents which provides a different view of the data. For example, accountants shreadding documents into databases that generates documents for auditors, financial controllers etc. This, to me, is the Holy Grail for document databasing.

To do this, we must get out of the constrains that the document is all about aestatics and use any document format that focus on three things: aestatics, aestatics and aestatics, to the detriment of what actually counts: the content. A form designer is going to be better in creating form than a typesetter. A mathematician can create markup that represents mathematics better than an archivist. Give them a say in the document format. We may have to sacrifice aestatics a little, but it will be worth it. Put it another way, a good typesetter never interferes with the contents.

In short, we want a document that is alive. A document that can pull in and presents up-to-date resources, and be used as a source to publish resources for others. To accomplish this is to put documents back in the place where it belongs: As a tool to facilitate exchange of information, not an art masterpiece.

MS Office + ODF plugin == don’t make much sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:53 pm

By way of Bob Sutor’s blog, I read John Gotze account on how Denmark can save a lot of money if it goes down the Open Document Format path.

Most blogs focus on the propect of saving money, but here, I want to point out a small but potentially significant point on Gotze account: That using MS Office with ODF plugin actually cost more than using MS Office natively, abeit marginally.

Initially, I am surprise by this. After some thought, I see that I was very naive on this issue. If one decided to keep any software, one must keep on updating the software in a business environment. If you want to do something extra, like using ODF instead of MS’ native OpenXML, you incurs cost overhead. Hence, it should not be surprised that using MS Office with ODF plugin actually cost more.

However, the more important point presented here is how can one justify the cost of ODF plugin with MS Office when a perfectly good alternative, from the management point of view, exists? OpenXML may not match ODF on issues which I believe are important, but unless management shares your view, it is going to be a hard sell. Thus, it looks like if you want to hang on to MSOffice, you are going to be using OpenXML.

IBM, Sun and OpenOffice.org may be beating the drum for OpenDocumentFormat now. However, I can see them providing ODF to OpenXML converters besides OpenXML to ODF converters more readily than Microsoft. Thus,   it is possible that the final outcome of this battle is OpenXML wins the race as the de facto document format, but we see the market fragmented into a few pieces. Not the best outcome, but may just be acceptable.

August 29, 2006

’17 MS Office Killers’… but none does the job.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:22 pm

Red Herring runs a review on ‘17 MS Office Killers‘. However, there is strong evidence that the assasination target, MS Office, is well and alive.

I think RedHerring should call it “17 MS Office (potential) killers in the making”. All 17 thinks that it is the silver bullet, but all might turn out to be blanks. Chances of assassinating MS Office is probably just slightly lower than assasinating President Bush and Prime Minister Blair on the same day, at the same time but different location. The last criteria is necessay as the cost of killing them on the same location is lower. 😉

Long Live MS Office!

August 25, 2006

My take on Massachusett’s update on ODF deployment

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:34 pm

Finally, we get to see Massachusett’s hotly speculated letter on its ODF deployment. Basically it says that it is committed to ensure accessibility by the blind, at present, the plan is to use Microsoft Office with a ODF plugin and that the deadline for ODF deployment is push back to July 2007 from Jan 2007.

As for the content of the letter, there is nothing unexpected. Accessibility to the blind continues to be an issue with ODF-enabled application. A ODF plugin into Microsoft Office can remedial accessibility issue. The same approach being a short term solution to achieve ODF compliant is only to be expected as it makes sense financially since there are existing commitment to Microsoft Office. Finally, a lot of people, including me, already thinks that Jan 2007 deadline is too agressive. Overall, it is a run-of-the-mill type of letter on project progress update.

However, both ODF supporter and opponent can put a spin on it and call it a victory. I call it a sensible strategy for Massachusett. If there is one thing it achieve, it is a concrete step forward  to dispell the FUD that use of ODF disadvantages Closed Source vendor. At the very least, it shows that Microsoft Office is, at the bare minimum, still in contention for new contract on Office software. Depending on the roll out of ODF plugin strategy, Microsoft may yet enjoy the benefit of being the incumbant when the new contract is up for negotiation if it plays its card right.

August 23, 2006

Let’s teach retailer a lesson

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:05 pm

This is an update to my previous blog post about Microsoft Vista Discount and the “collusion to rip off customers”. Apparently, there are talks to only give free upgrades to Vista when it arrive only for  people buying high end computers this Christmas. Lower end computers will instead receive a discount coupon.

Again, I will like to reiterate that this is not a good deal, unless you have some special considerations. Just because it is near to Christmas does not mean you should take any promise by third party. If you can, promise your kids Microsoft Vista when it arrives. Your promise to your kids worth much more than a stranger’s promise to you, isn’t it?

What makes me boil is the comment  is the comment from Quanta Inc Li in the article, who says “If you buy the Mercedes Benz model, they will give you the free coupon, but if you buy the Chrysler, of course you will have to pay an add-on”. There is no way to compare computers with cars: First, they are different sets of add-on for Mercedes and Chrysler and these add on add functions to the car. However, with computers, what add-on do you get? None. You still buy the same thing (one monitor, a CPU case, one keyboard and a mouse. Can you call a fancy bluetooth mouse you buy instead of box standard roller mouse an “add on”? There is no much differentiation between one computer from the other, except perhaps in the eye of the beholder (vendors).

Second and most importantly, I haven’t heard of the two car manufacturers do not give you free-coupon or ask you to pay for an add-on because they could not deliver stuff on time. If they do, my reply will be the same: wait till the add-on you wants shipped before buying the cars. Understandably, vendors want to make the best out of a bad situation with Vista delay, but as consumers, we must resist them passing the cost to us.

Thirdly, who is there to decide which is the “cheaper machine” that does not qualify for free coupon? Your VENDOR. It is unlikely to be the decision for Microsoft coz if I were Microsoft, the easiest path is to say if you buy WinXP Home, you get free upgrade to version A, B,C of Vista, but discount of  version D, E, F etc. If the distinction is between computers, it is likely to be your vendor purchasing either the free or discount coupon from Microsoft and sell it to you. They decide this according to what they can get away with. As you can see, they are turning this into a competitve advantage against other vendors. Might be good for you, but not always.

I do accept that in some circumstances the deal may be a good one to the customers, i.e., those who really need a computer now and that the damage caused by waiting for actual Vista launch outweighs the benefit of waiting for it. In these cases, push your retailers hard. If they can offer free coupon for higher end models, it is relatively easy to push them for free coupon for a lower end model.

August 22, 2006

Its not the number stupid!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:11 pm

OneStat.com release a set of statistics that claims that the most popular operating system on the web in Windows with 96.97%, based on a survey of 2 million users. Impressive, isn’t it. Unfortunately, it is marred by statisical and presentation problems.

When analyzing any statistical problem, the first question is always what is the question you want answered and did the answer answers your question. The first part, what question you want answered is easy. In this case, what does “most popular operating system on the web means?”. The answer is “which operating system users use to connect to to websites”. Sound simple isn’t it, it simply means how many users use a particular operating system when connecting to websites? First question that comes to mind is “users”. It turns out that it means people that arrived “arrived at sites that are using one of OneStat.com’s services”. Potential big bummer here. OneStat’s services are paid-for and can severely bias  the results. Statistically speaking, the sample may not be random. The sample may exclude big websites with a lot of hits such as Apache or Mozilla Foundation or Groklaw and Slashdot simply because they are not “customers” of OneStat. This is the fatal flaw on the claim. Second question: What is a website?  Does checking anything on the web, such as using my update site counts? We have  real user initiated the connection to the site. However, information pulled from the site is unlikely to see a human eyeball. Since the survey is limitted to only users of OneStat.com service, and their customers are more likely to put websites targetted at human eyeball, than update sites into the service, I think my update sites, or any server-to-server communication for that matter, do not count. Third question, what constitute a user. If I repeatedly visit a website am I one user, or multiple users? The survey does not say. There are other questions which are equally as important, such as one constitute an “arrival”. To put it simply, visiting a site that is rich in pictures require more connection to get the conent, hence potentially more arrival, at a website than a site with plain text content only. Had I mention that it is possible to “spoof” the website into believing that a different operating system is in use?
Am I surprise that the results is overwelming for Windows? Not a bit, given the “actual question” that got answered is very likely to be “What is the operating system, as reported by the browser, when of a real user connects to a website using OneStat.com’s services?”, one will expect this to reflect the statistics of Desktop operating system in use.

The PR department destroyed some statistical credibility of the company selling what is effectively a statistical product. I will let Rob Weir explains this to you. The non-rigorous way of using statistics in the Press Release is not the way a statistic company want to protray itself.

So, is this piece of information useful? To OneStat.com, yes. It tells them overwelmingly that if they wants to mine data from people connecting to websites using their service, they can just target the Windows Operating System. To me and you, it is just facinating junk stats.

August 21, 2006

Here we go again…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:59 pm

Yet another prediction about Microsoft adopting Linux! This time Stuart Cohen, CEO of Open Source Development Lab, is quoted to predict that Microsoft will release a version of MSOffice for Linux in a few years time.

Well, what do you expects from a Linux person? Talk is cheap.
If Microsoft do release Office for Linux, it is to their credit. I know if this happens, critics (including me) will argue that they are “compelled” by the market to provide Office for Linux. However, it is also necessary to understand that this is going to be a  very bitter pill for Microsoft to swallow and if they do, we must give it credit.

Innovative Deal between EMI and Microsoft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:23 am

Microsoft is to launch a digital media player you can hold in your hand, as oppose to Windows Media Player, named Zune (yawn yawn). It struck a deal with EMI to preload music video on to them (WAKE UP NOW!).

This is an innovative move. In some respects, it is better than giving you a voucher for 5 songs an online music store A. In the shop, the preloaded music video might just swing customers to buy Zune rather than the competition.

There are hurdles. One being Music Video have a short shelf live. If Zune does not keep up, it must as well not preload them as it cost money. If they do, there are technological challenge, in the manufacturing those device, to refresh the music video in the units at lowest cost possible. The worst case scenario: hiring an Indian or Chinese to plug Zune with a Windows Computers and click ‘Download to Zune’ button, is too slow and therefore costly.

That’s one technical problem. The next one is taste. More specifically, which music video(s) to preload? Market research will help, but only to an extent. There is no way to sell pop video to my father, but then again, he is unlikely to buy any digital media player.

Finally, perhaps there is a marketing problem. Do one sells Zune as a digital media player with music video preloaded? or do one sell it as music videos that comes with a digital media player? 😉

Philosophical question: Why didn’t Microsoft preload Windows Media Player with music video to entice upgrade? Same to Apple for iTune? Answer: Competition.

August 15, 2006

Intellectual Property Laws are not interested in social contracts

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:57 pm

WebMink lament that nowadays patents filing are more tuned towards legal enforcement of the patent rather than conveying know-how, thus breaking the social-contract with the society in general. Unfortunately, Intellectual Property Laws are simply not interested social contracts.

Want proof? Ask WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation). Some may recall that I attended a course on WIPO Distance Learning Campus on Intellectual Property (and have the certificate to prove it). In the course, they mentioned “social contract”, such as author moral rights to be acknowledged, and the rights to expects one’s folklure to be respected by others so as not to misrepresent the folklure. However, guess what? They acknowledge that there is no legal procedures to enforce these types of social contract. Moreover, the course placed emphasis on  “Economic Value” of Intellectual Property, and if I recalled correctly, says that “WIPO is created to promote the economic interest of IP” in the first few chapters. [The latter statement is, however, not really supported by WIPO’s website statement on its vision, but the fact that it is in  their educational courses speaks volumes]

I believe it is time to write social contracts and obligations into the law. It is the only decent thing to do and too important to leave it to judicial discretion as it depends on the judge and the adminstration of the judicial system. Laws have a few purposes: To define and reflect a minimal acceptable social policy and to correct abnormalities in human behaviour. The only way now to return IP back to its social contract obligation is to write it into the law, industry self-regulation and other rubbish does not seem to work.

August 14, 2006

Does software License needs to be so complex?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:10 pm

Say you wanna start up a cybercafe. You buy the computers. As users demand Windows and Office, you ensure that the computers comes with Genuine Windows, guaranteed by the manufacturers. With this, you are not a pirate, are you?

Yes. You are still a pirate, at least in Malaysia. According to this article at The Star,

“users who buy Microsoft software are granted the right to use the software exclusively – and these rights do not extend to third-parties:

And you guess it, your patron IS a third party.

To stay legit, you need Microsoft Software Rental Agreement ON TOP OF the license that comes when you purchase Office and Windows. Good News is, at present, you need not pay extra. However, the amount of paperwork suggests that they might consider a fee later.

To be fair, Microsoft is not the only one with complex licensing agreement. In some areas, they outperform others in terms of generousity.

Per User License, Per Processor License, Per Seat License, Student License, Site Liecense, Academic License etc, etc and etc is doing people’s head in. As if it is not enough, go and have a look at Matlab‘s pricing: For academia, buying Five licenses can be cheaper than 3 licenses by GBP1 if you can agree to centrally manage the license.

To make things worst, University purchasing has their own Terms and Conditions, suppliers has their own terms and conditions and both insists on their own terms. We see wars where suppliers has a customly made stamps that effectively fudge the issue by saying they will only honour the part of the University Conditions that are compatible with theirs. Do they ALL have one thing in common? Yes. They all try to impose something on another party without negotiating with them first!

Why do we need licenses more akin to service contract, rather than goods? Service contracts such as cleaning contract involves a lot of human interaction and there is no one size fit all. Office size vary and the work you want your cleaners to do differs. Software, especially the shrink-wrap variety, are NOT services. Mine looks exactly like yours. Softwares are not human intensive: Manning a Technical Help Desk is no much different from a customer service desk for hardware products.

All these software licensing restrictions are unnecessary and starting to resemble scams.

Imagine office chair manufacturers start charging different price based on who is allowed to sit on the chair…Oh No, I better not plant ideas into their minds now.

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