CyberTech Rambler

May 29, 2007

Is it fair to blame the ministry?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:04 pm

First, we have the news that New Zealand’s Ministry of Education dropping licenses for Mac Office. Then, on the same article, almost on cue, complains from the educational community affected by this move. Begin a user of NeoOffice myself, I do not really buy the complain of the headmaster saying that “NeoOffice was littered with problems”. Moreover, I cannot see the relevant of “[NeoOffice’s] website warned that users could expect lots of bugs” with respect to the education of our youngs, unless of course they are expected to download NeoOffice and install it themselves. 😉

What is interesting is the recriminations being floated around in the article. The ministry says it cannot “justify the extra $2.7 million being given to Microsoft for software that would not be used” as Microsoft insists on a site license covering all Macs while only half the machines uses Mac Office. Sounds reasonable? Hold on first. Critics claims that the real reason is the the ministry cock-up its budget for IT and they are suffering the consequences.

Hmm, who do you think have the stronger argument? Does the kids’ educations suffers significant setback? Perhaps most importantly, did kids just become political capital for all three sides?

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May 22, 2007

Thank you Microsoft for championing my cause

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:48 pm

Thank you Microsoft for funding a study to champion joe open source developers’ cause on GPLv3. Free Software Foundation had ignore our views. The website FSF created for us to comment on GPL v3 is a farce because every comment that we, joe developers bother to submit simply goes to /dev/null.

Never mind Bob Sutor find it only of entertainment value, or the fact that Mary Jo Foley thinks that it is part of the campaign to tear down the bridge that Microsoft had been cultivating for the past few years.

The fact that 34 open source developers had responded is indeed a big response, considering that those developers who chosen not to response are extremely bias zealots who smell rats in whatever Microsoft did, even for this study which Microsoft is the benevolent benefactor. People simply forgotten that you had chosen to send letters to ‘program managers’ and ‘regular contributors’ to big open source projects. Developers who uses open source daily but only contribute occasionally if any at all, like me, simply doesn’t matter. 34 persons may seems a very small sample, but is indeed representative of what open source developers think, i.e., GPL v3 sucks.

A very big thank you to you Microsoft, a.k.a. fox in the hen house.

May 16, 2007

If Microsoft overplay its hand, it may be forced to do a deal with OIN

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:57 pm

OIN or Open Invention Network, an organization that a lot of people (including me) once dismissed as irrelevant, is starting to show its teeth and one day may prove decisive in the Microsoft vs open source battle.

OIN is an organization which is the repository of a number of patents donated by companies for the defense of popular open source application. They enters into cross-licensing agreements with companies. Oracle did it.

Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft is trying to “claim” the high ground by stating that Microsoft will license any necessary technology for their businesses and customers. There is no reason to doubt Microsoft will not do it. Is there any patent in OIN that Microsoft infringes, extremely likely. If it wants the moral highground, Microsoft should cross-license with OIN. That way, both the unaccounted liability of Microsoft products and Linux will go away with benefits to both partyies.

It is possible that OIN holds several patents that Microsoft can be forced to sign a cross-licensing agrement. If the Redmond company is ever forced to so, not only  all the FUD around Linux infringing Microsoft Patent will disappear into thin air, Microsoft will have to admit defeat and worse, it acknowledge that it infringe on others IP. OIN is simply an example. There are definitely several other patents that staunch open source supporters own which Microsoft will need to conduct its business. It does not take many patents, just one that is valid and Microsoft infringes on to force it to sign any cross licensing deal with open source.

Why did not OIN act proactively? The same reason why Microsoft dare not sue. The most likely outcome is after an expensive lawsuit, both are found to be infringing each others patent and force to sign a patent truce agreement. Both sides will have spent countless developer hours in the lawsuit and nobody wins. The classic Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario.

Is “Claiming that one will obtain the necessary patent licenses” the only moral high ground? Nope. By implication, this means transfers of something call money from you to another. A better moral high ground will be not calling the kettle black.

Will all these hot air around patents help Microsoft in any future litigations? Quite the contrary. Any defendant will tell the court that I did ask for clarification, but the plaintiff show bad faith by refusing to tell me what the problem is before suing me. The plaintiff’s claim of long term violation  is self-inflicted because it did not want to give me a chance to remedy the situation even though I asked it to. Looks like Microsoft’s people is doing a Darl McBride.

Why the sable-rattling, given that MS is not changing its policy of not suing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:30 pm

I think the now infamous Fortune story about Open Source software infringing MS Patents achieved its purpose of spreading FUD. The instance the article is published,  MS PR department knows that it is mission accomplished. It is true that the Fortune magazine is very balanced piece of work.  Unfortunately, MS managed to cast a shadow of doubt in the mind of those people that matters, the CEOs  and CFOs who have the power the cut the cheque. CTO worth their salt will be not be persuaded, but they, like you and me, do not count.

My sources of news story is biased towards open source. However, the deluge of articles in the IT Press refuting MS claims is unexpectedly large. Not only the normally pro-Open source news site does the expected rebuff, but a lot of site I considered to be neutral find it worthwhile to follow up on the story. Surely this will account for something? Unfortunately no. The operative word here is IT Press. The reason is the different circulation or the different  audience the IT Press and Fortune attracts. It is the audience that Fortune attracts that is the target of the FUD. And I am afraid, most of Fortune’s readers do not follow the IT Press.

So, this is a FUD campaign worn on tactics. This tactic will nor work with developers any more so it must be aimed at higher management. Its like those 419 spams, as soon as one country start to get wise about it, the spammers target another more innocent country.

One of the MS person who gave the interview that leads to the “Fortune” article clarify in InformationWeek that MS had not changed its policy of not suing. The purpose is just to highlight “an important truth affecting the computer industry”, namely Linux infringes on Microsoft Patents. If he wants to play fair he should mentioned Windows is likely to had done the same. Linux Torvalds certainly did not miss this. This is part of the calculated FUD campaign. They expect a serious reaction from developers and therefore know they need to smooth the feathers of the developers with such statements. Most developers will simply accept the argument and go away, not realizing the damage is done elsewhere, some place more important than their feelings. Its like the PR technique of issuing a denial when the topic is hot and against you, but retracted the denial when everything cool down, knowing that nobody can actually call you a liar and that the retraction attract a smaller audience than the denial.

It is claimed that Microsoft shows the patents to corporate Linux users and distributors. Showing them to corporate users probably have the same effect of showing a company’s yearly financial statement to me, i.e., the reader cannot make any meaningful evaluation. We can expect distributors to be more able to evaluate Microsoft’s patents claim. Having seen them, why haven’t any one of them signed on the dotted line? The only person who had publicly acknowledged that it signed says it does not believe Microsoft’s claim. I for one will not discount the possibility that some possible claim areas were work around in Linux after people saw the patents (no doubt under NDA)

May 15, 2007

Office 2007 Trial edition cannot save to doc format

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:14 pm

Jeremy Allison, the most high profile Novell employee that quit in protest at Microsoft-Novell deal, recently have a brush with document formats and in his case, it was not a good experience. Granted, one of his major error he did is precisely what a cocky programmer will do, i.e., “beautifying” the look and feel of the desktop by removing “unneeded” programs. He use his experience as a warning to all that supporting vendor neutral format is important. I leave you to read his blog to discover for yourself why you should take an interest in vendor neutrality.

What I want to comment on is the way Office 2007 Trial edition is designed and packaged. It surprised me (and Allison) that it cannot save to doc format, only docx format, and the fact that copy-and-paste is disabled. I believe it is the most unbelievable mistake that the design team did. Unbelievable, because it means users of Office 2007 Trial edition will have problems sharing their documents with others. I mean, how many people actually have the ability to open docx format, the new format of Office 2007. I know, converters are available for older version of Office. However, the converter is useless if you do not know about it or could not be bothered to download it.

Disabling cut-and-paste, and the fact that you can only save to the new docx format means most people will have their document trapped in Office 2007. Like it or not there is no other applications that is capable of saving to this new format except Office 2007. If there were a splash screen when you start the trial edition telling you about this, that will be fair game. However, trapping users into new document formats which deployment is not yet wide-spread is cruel. And it certainly will irate a lot of customers.

And I am also outraged. I always believe that whatever information I entered into the computer is mine. Hence your software should not be able to trap my data in it. Its fair if you say I can only extract text and lose all the pretty formatting, but the information, text+original images I uploaded into the document is MINE and you HAVE to return it to me. Its true that if I do not want to pay for your software, or I am using a trial version, I cannot expect to be able to save to the full repertoire of document formats available, but I do expect to be able to extract MY information out.

May be in a few years time we will have more software capable of reading docx format and a significant amount of people using older version of Office install the converter for docx. Until then, the documents remain trapped.
Of course, the absence of the ability to save to doc format raised a lot of interesting speculation. The one I am willing to buy is Microsoft is trying to use this to promote the use of docx format. Without any other evidence to the contrary, I am not willing to say that it is done specifically against ODF (since if you can save to doc, you can convert it to ODF when you open OpenOffice.org). I think it is likely to be more on the line that Microsoft is trying to discourage the use of its old document format and encourage people to upgrade.

This whole episode also highlight the importance of having docx format support in OpenOffice.org. If OpenOffice.org wants to display warning to users of docx saying that if you save to it, you might lose information that’s fair. It need not be perfect, just extract the text and images reasonably will do. It should be a bi-directional conversion to maintain the moral high ground however. The game here is to give decent support to users who need to do the jump away from MS Office. Once they made the jump, they discovered OpenOffice.org and know that they have a choice in word processing. That helps to accumulate users and good karma. Sooner or later, they will start asking whether the cost of paying for Office Applications are worth it. They will make the switch, or vendors will start to compete on features and price again. Either way, OpenOffice.org wins.

John Carroll argues that Allison should ask why OpenOffice.org choose not to support OOXML rather than asking why MS Office does not support ODF. My response will be OpenOffice.org does not have the responsibility to support OOXML, the same way that MS Office does not have the responsibility to support ODF. To argue this way is like saying don’t look at what I am doing, but look at what he is doing. Pointing fingers at others does not make the one’s problem disappear. I think I cover the point that you cannot blame users for being ignorant of the existence of converters/plugins that can do it. And I made my argument on why I do not believe that not being able to save in older MS Office format is acceptable at this point in time. MS Office trial edition is part of Microsoft strategy to promote OOXML and is one of the few legitimate and not underhand approach Microsoft is doing. But trapping users data inside Office Trial edition is not the way forward, Carroll as Microsoft has the other responsibilities to the users that it cannot ignore. Me not asking for MS Office Trial edition to save in ODF, but to save my information in a way that joe users can extract it.

Oh what a deal…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:12 pm

Have you seen a deal, any deal for that matter, that is signed by two willing partners, but with one partners feels the need to issue “clarifications” when the other party starts to talk about the deal?

Yes, the Novell-Microsoft agreement. For the second time, Novell felt necessary to issue a Press Release clarifying its position after Microsoft talks about the deal in public.

The only reason why Novell is still clinging on to the deal is it feels that it has more to gain for the deal. It had set its sight to be the champion of mixed Linux-Windows environment and obviously felt that the need to peek into Microsoft product source code can give it the edge. If you ask me, the sooner Novell realize although supporting EU’s effort to force interoperability information out from Microsoft is the harder route and working hard on providing the better product based on these information is a more difficult solution, in the long run Novell benefits by amassing a wealth of knowledge on interoperation between two operating systems that can be extended to other operating systems, rather than taking shortcuts made possible by signing controversial agreements like this one, the better it is for Novell.

Is it a deal between two equal partners? No, otherwise Novell will be successful in persuading Microsoft to at least not pour any more oil on to the fire. Novell is very much the junior partner here, …, or at least Microsoft thinks it is.

Will “trash-talking” partners serve Microsoft any favour in the long run? No. A lot of companies will be extremely wary about getting into any deals with Microsoft. Trash-talking competition is nothing new, the reigning champion is not even Steve Ballmer, but Larry Ellison of Oracle. But the champion of “trash-talking one’s partner” is Steve Ballmer. If Microsoft cannot even respect a big company like Novell, what chances do the majority of the companies out there have? What morale fibre a company has when it trash-talk the very companies that it considers as partner?

May be Novell should consider including a “gag” order on commenting on the deal by Microsoft senior management in general, Steve Ballmer in particular ,in any rejig of the deal.

May 14, 2007

Linux infringes our patents … but we dare not sue

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:00 am

Finally, we got the truth from Mirosoft. Linux infringes our patents, but we prefers to go on the airwaves than to test it in court. Fortune characterization of Microsoft’s response to the question on Patents:

Gutierrez [A Microsoft Guy] refuses to identify specific patents or explain how they’re being infringed, lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them.

Thanks for Patent-O for pointing it out. If a patent is bad, it is bound to be challenged, just give your opponents a reason to challenge it. This statement is inaccurate because what Microsoft actually fear is that it is found infringing on patents held  by people in the open source arena in a counter-suit. This is made more likely with a framework for open source patent defense.

Haven’t we heard this before? I mean didn’t we have a study before (by an almost independent body) that said open source potentially  infringes 200+ patents.

We don’t need to go to law courts. Groklaw summerize why Microsoft will not sue. But this does not stop them generated hot air over it.

Hot air is just hot air. May be SCO’s hot air is getting too cold and Microsoft has decided to step in.

May 11, 2007

Best ever Novell’s description of what they are trying to get from Microsoft-Novell deal

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:18 pm

Thank you Olliance Group for organizing a session about the Microsoft-Novell deal and post the video. At least, this time we see what Novell hopes to get out from the deal. Novell’s main aim is to differentiate themselves from RedHat by trying to make sure they have the best Windows-Linux package. They felt that by signing an IP agreement with Microsoft, it will smooth the wheel by allowing them limited access to Microsoft’s source code. So it is just a business decision for Novell, and it is a decision that is above board. Only time will give us a peak into Novell’s mindset on whether is there any other “hidden agenda”.

Bill Hilf unexpected “Outburst”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:51 pm

Bill Hilf, head of Microsoft Linux Lab, enjoys a reputation most other Microsoft employees, especially senior level employees, do not. He is generally regarded as cool head, willing to listen to the opposing view, not parading any FUD and rational. Hence, it is a bit surprising when the Bangkok Post quoted him to had said,

“The Free Software movement is dead. Linux doesn’t exist in 2007. Even Linus has got a job today.”

What an extraordinary outburst! Or is it? It certainly grabbed my attention. Further analysis of the article shows that he is simply talking as an Microsoft employee. My overall impression is that he is toeing the party line at Microsoft, something he is paid to do and expected to do. There is no need to explain to him the difference between “Free Software movement” and commercialization of “Free Software”, nor the fact that both can co-exists. Unlike his CEO who fails to backup outburst, he did. Moreover, he is simply trying to say that most developers of Free Software do it as a day job.

Want more example of him speaking as a Microsoft employee? His negative “opinion” on IBM’s support for ODF is definitely one. I expects him to say the reverse if he goes back to IBM tomorrow. As for Linux is not important, but applications such as Apache, MySQL are, I can always says ditto for Windows. Its not the OS, but Microsoft Office, PaintShopPro are. Like Linux, how many time in any conversation one is talking about the operating system and not applications that runs on it?

One important virtue for Hilf that you do not see from other Microsoft’s employee is his opponent usually agrees with his view, or at least agree he is expressing a viewpoint on a legitimate debatable topic. For example, unless you are a zealot, and although you disagree how much the EC learned from the Microsoft antitrust case, you will agree that EU is learning something from the case and the striking the difficult balance between standardization and innovation is one. (I know, Microsoft learns from the case too and he did not mention it. If he were an independent commentator, I will chastise him on it, but he is a Microsoft employee and had made no effort to hide that. As long as he disclose that he is a Microsoft employee, then not mentioning this is fair) Another important virtue is although he is flocking Microsoft’s virtue, he is not doing it by bashing others. I mean he could say nasty words about IBM on ODF. He didn’t.

Strip away the obligatory pro-Microsoft tone you expects from any employee, he had maintained his integrity. I hope his tenure at Microsoft will not corrupt him. And dare I hope that he will influence others at Microsoft to behave the same.

May 9, 2007

BIG QUSTION to Novell and Microsoft is a Linux reseller

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:20 pm

Any announcement remotely related to the infamous Novell-Microsoft deal is going to be nitpicked. We know that. But this announcement about Dell selling SuSE is different, no nitpicking is needed to discover a big hole in Novell’s announcement.

Strip away the market talk and you will notice that Dell is actually buying SuSE coupons from Microsoft and is not buying SuSE directly from Novell. Strange indeed. May be Novell is trying to establish a market for SuSE reseller. If so, this will be a first for Linux Operating System.

The biggest question to Novell is why isn’t Dell buying directly from them? Surely the reseller need to take a cut of the sales price. If so, wouldn’t this drive up the final price for the purchaser? If the involvement of middleman means lower prices for the purchaser this will definitely be the world’s first for software. In this case, we do not have one middleman, but two. While we can understand why Microsoft is willing to subsidize its cusotmers’ SuSE purchase, surely Dell will be taking its cut of the sales? Or was Dell pressured by somebody to distribute the coupons at their own expense, the plot thickens indeed.

If it is indeed cheaper to get coupons from Microsoft. Novell has a big problem. If Microsoft can buy from Novell and sell at price A, surely Novell can sell at the same price and make more profit than Microsoft would. Novell needs to ask itself is it heading down where Larry Ellison try to put RedHat into with Unbreakable Linux? If so, it will be embarassing for Novell because unlike RedHat, it is involved in the deal that seems to put Novell down.

From Microsoft viewpoint it is not surprising. Microsoft is normally not in the business of selling software direct to customers. If you don’t believe me, when is the last time you deal directly with Microsoft for a purchase. It is therefore not surprising that Microsoft needs a distributor for the coupons. Dell, being the second biggest PC seller, is by default one of Microsoft’s biggest distributor. Unlike the world’s biggest PC seller, HP, Dell is very dependent on Microsoft. As I argued in the previous post, this means it has to keep up with its relationship with Microsoft. Selling those coupons will help grease this relationship.

And the much trumpetted Dell’s contribution to the deal is …… Dell is going to flock the coupons.

Gosh… yet another announcement involving the Novell/Microsoft deal that yield more questions for Novell. Someone somewhere in Novell must had started to have second thoughts about the deal. With respect to whether is it still worth it for Novell? Frankly, looking at the actual events to date, I still think it is. But I maintain that the long term perspect is not good.

And, … in case you miss it (PJ of Groklaw and FSF didn’t), Microsoft is behaving like a Linux reseller. It does it in a roundabout way. FSF believes this makes Microsoft a purveyor of Free Software. My believe it is trying to distribute Linux in a way that allows it to keeping a straight face when bash Linux. There may be some legal maneuvering to avoid the responsibility as a distributor of Free Software in play as well.  And another thing, it is not behaving  like the average software reselling companies who do have to take care of post-purchase support, but rather like a  pencil seller in your local market who need not bother with post-purchase support.

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