CyberTech Rambler

June 20, 2007

Debunking Rick Jelliffe

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:14 pm

Actually. I have no need to do so. OpenMalaysia blog did that for me. I am not even going to provide a link to the ZDNet article in order not to increase the popularity rating for Mr Jelliffe. However, I recognize that reader might be interested in the article, so what I will say is the article is available on the OpenMalaysia blog I referred to.

Only a few things that need serious/repeated debunking:

  •  Storing date as numbers in OOXML is not a problem and is not significant

Sorry mate, it’s significant. What is day 31003 in Gregorian Calendar? XML is suppose to be human readable as well. A lot of small developers depends on it.

There is a reason why ISO, when formulating its date format, decided to use human readable string rather than numbers.

  • ODF itself refers to a lot of non ISO standard

First, some of the standards referred to by Mr Jelliffe is also referred to by OOXML.

Second, at least they stick to and use existing standards, rather than reinvent the standard, or worse, use one that was rejected by standard body.

Use of existing standards allows reuse of code and knowledge. Reinventing them, as in OOXML, requires more coding and relearning.

  • OOXML is long because in the ECMA committee process, a lot of information had been requested by committee members and MS shows openness by adding them in.

And yet there is a LOT of necessary information NOT included in the OOXML, and the readers are requested by the standard to refers to legacy Office software.

This is washing dirty linen in public, not MS showing openness. If the committee manage to get MS to add a lot more meat to the standard as claimed and the standard is still “incomplete”, just imagine how awful the original MS submission is.  Since the results is STILL so awful, the committee  did an extremely bad job.

  • (Partly as an argument to counter the accusation that OOXML is long) If you count references to standards used in ODF, ODF is at least as long as OOXML

I had already addressed this partly in the previous few points:

  • MS uses some of the same standards as well and this will also expands OOXML size in parallel with ODF
  • Reuse of existing standards help developers in terms of reduce the need to relearn and recode. At this point I will add that reusing existing standard means there is less likely the standard contained errors.

One other thing that  you need to consider before deciding for yourself who is correct is “Should you redefine existing things, or should you reuse existing things”. Well, I can define a CTRAMBLER unit which is 1.5673 of whichever measurement unit you are using, be it centimeters, kilogram or Ampere. Its trivial to convert, but which would you prefers?

This reminds me of the “man-hour” measurement used in the service industry. If you send something for servicing, they are going to charge you by “man-hour”. Usually it means they say servicing your stuff will cost you N “man-hour”. The man-hour unit is different from company to company. The funny thing is, there is no resemblance to how long the company takes to service your stuff. They will quote you a fixed cost, which is a translation of the their “man-hour” unit, and that is all you pay. So, do you want to know about “man-hour”, or how much you have to pay? I am sure “man-hour” is useful to the company in more than one way, but should you care?


June 15, 2007

Good Luck Tom Hanrahan!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:44 am

Tom Hanrahan, formerly of Linux Foundation, is to head Microsoft’s Linux Interoperability Lab, a lab MS is required to establish as part of the MS-Novell deal.

He has my very best wishes. I am only against the patent covenant in the MS-Novell deal that mention Linux. Strip this off, MS-Novell deal is good for both party. Hanrahan role suggest it is working on interoperability. It might eventually chunk out software that is proprietary to Novell or Linux. Nonetheless, both parties and Linux can learn from their experience and create a better IT ecosystem for all and that can only be good.

I only hope he will emulate Bill Hiff, director of MS Linux Lab who manage to keep his cool mind despite being around MS hot heads.

And the dominos keep falling…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:35 am

First, it was Novell that signed an agreement with Microsoft, then Xandros and now Linsphire. So one may say, the dominos are falling.

Microsoft did learn from the Novell deal. Now there is no longer a patent covenant specifically aimed at Linux. Especially since this will be illegal under GPLv3 when GPLv3 is approved. Hence, they signed deals with the traditional covenant not to sue. Given the undertone of MS-Novell deal, people, like Mary Jo Foley, see this as just the same old “MS-Novell” deal. I can see their points. Most importantly, they learned not to trumpet the covenant not to sue anymore.

It looks like we are not seeing Microsoft calling Linux a cancer or commy that needs to be eradicated. Now they accept that for at least the middle term, we are going to see mixed Microsoft/Linux environment. I believe it is going on a divide-and-conquer strategy. Just look at what they promise to do for each of their partners:

  1. Virtualization (Novell)
  2. File System management (Xandros)
  3. Instant Messaging and other cute user application (Linspire)

How does this work? Fast forward to 2015 and lets assume all parties take the stuff to its logical conclusion. Who will have the best software stack? Windows or any of the three distributions? You want virtualization, file system management, users apps separately? That is fine, just use Novell/Xandros/Linspire. BUT, what if you want any combination of the three? You are stuck as there is no one MS partners here that can satisfy your need. In fact, your situation is no better than 1980-2000 Unix fragmentation scene. Wait a minute, is there an alternative which do all three? Yes, Micorsoft’s.

Sometimes you got to wonder whether the three companies had indeed signed an agreement with the devil.

On hindsight, all three companies are those likely to sign the deal. SuSE before Novell’s acquisition was known to be threading an extremely fine line with its GPL responsibility. However, it always stays on the right side. I thought Novell’s acquisition will make this a less high-wire act, but obviously I am wrong. Xandros had set out to be Windows-like. Linspire had been taking a lot of heat about its business approach.

Xandros and Linspire are small players. Niche players? May be. Something to keep in mind but not to focus attention on. Novell is the one to watch. Its agreement is more broad than the other two as Novell is a heavy weight compare to the other two.

Right now, the counter to Novell is RedHat and Ubuntu. CentOS is another important player. I will be disappointed if either of them falls for the protection racket coz that has the potential to upset the balance in favour of the community.

June 12, 2007

HP supporting OOXML

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:00 pm

Apparently, Brian Jones find it worthwhile to write a blog post about HP asking for OOXML approval at ISO.  The blog post is based on this HP position statement.

Anything new? No. Anything significant? No.

HP is not in the business of creating a set of applications known as Office Productivity Software, better known to joe public as Microsoft Office. Hence, it is going to take the “sit on the fence” approach. Once in a while it is prepared to be nudge by one of its partner to issues statements of support, just like everyone else. Doesn’t change the fact that at present, there is only one vendor capable of fully implementing the OOXML standard, which is the crux of the problem with OOXML.

June 8, 2007

ACT acting on behalf of Microsoft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:46 pm

I was listening to a YouTube video about California killing ODF bills. I am not a strong supporters of these bills because they did it wrongly, mandating a particular format, be it XML or ODF, is rather short term. The better way is to set up a strong conditions on what it is in the interest of long term archiving or interoperability.

When Microsoft people speaks, we do know what is going to be coming out from  their mouth. Ditto if IBM people speaks. What is surprising is the first act, i.e., the speech made by the ACT person. He is parroting Microsoft line. The people he says he is representing, i.e., the small and medium size software company, only got his attention after he delivers Microsoft statements. I find it disgusting to see him sidelining his constituency for a big company.

Moreover, when he mention the Microsoft line that IBM and SUN turn this into a market grabbing exercise, he squandered the opportunity to champion his constituency by telling the panel how this negatively impact them. He failed miserably to mention why his constituency will suffer if the bill is passed.

I surprise myself by finding Microsoft’s presentation easier to stomach than his.

June 7, 2007

Linux Patent FUD: Sign up as many conventional patent agreement (but just mention the word Linux please)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:43 pm

The world of IT is buzzing with Microsoft signing another Linux Patent Deal, this time with LG.

It is a patent deal, and it covers Linux-based product shipped by a company and that is about it.

Note the clever use of Linux-based product rather than Linux itself. This type of deals had been signed every day and is OK with FSF/Linux/Open source. You build things on top of Linux, you want to protect the part that you build with fancy patent licensing? That’s fine, just don’t touch Linux itself (unless you consult Linus Torvald first).

But just how many people understand this different? We geeks and licensing lawyers know the difference. Joe Public, some commentators CEOs/CFOs won’t. With MS-Novell deal, Microsoft had signaled that its FUD is no longer targeting at developers (where it is NO longer effective) but to others, more technology naive people. This is not helped by the fact some commentators who don’t buy the arguement, choose to highlight this possible “implicit” section of the deal such as this piece by Mary Jo-Foley)

In some strange sense of way, it is possible that the unnecessary patent covenant might just one day promote the use of Linux at the expense of Microsoft. Its clear that Microsoft had, again, beginning with the MS-Novell deal, finally realize that an exclusively Microsoft customers is few and far in between. It has to look forward to the day where it has to survive and compete in a heterogeneous IT environment. I am sure they are aware that they are promoting Linux at the expense of Microsoft’s monopoly. The phony patent protection thing might just drive people to use Linux. What happens if a critical mass, say 50% is reached. At 50%, if Microsoft wants to sue, it probably dare not because the retaliation is going to be huge. Why? it is no longer the big company that everyone has to depend on. Suing one forces everyone is force to be up in arms defending against Microsoft. Nobody can allow 50% of its IT infrastructure to be threaten.

May be 40% will do it, may be 30%. Who knows?

Its always true that the first company Microsoft sues for infringement is one it carefully selected to make sure they don’t buy any products from these companies. But if Microsoft continues signing deals like this left, right and center, it is going to find it difficult to find someone to sue.

TestDriven.NET Visual Studio Express Licensing wows…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:46 pm

If this story haven’t made its round on Slashdot, then it is a matter of time. It appears that Microsoft is threatening to sue TestDriven.NET over its extension of Visual Studio Express. The main article I found is on TheRegister, and a follow up piece about joe public’s reaction. An unofficial Microsoft’s version of the story is available here. All these is spiced up by the fact that it appears to be a spat between Microsoft and one of its “Most Valued Professional”. Unsurprisingly, the MVP status of one Jamie Cansdale was not renewed.

When I read the main article and follow the provided email conversation, I hardly have any idea what the fuss is actually about. The only thing I know is that it appears to be a button or UI element of some sort that irked Microsoft. This did not surprise me since we only one side of the story and there are a lot of non-written communication between the two parties that we do not know about. One of the lawyer letters Microsoft sent to Cansdale is an interesting one and shed some light.

I am going to believe Cansdale claim that he did not do anything that will constitute reverse-engineering or illegal jittery-pokery. He used nothing more than published Visual Studio API.

Microsoft’s lawyer picked this section in Visual Studio Express EULA to support its client claim:

“…you may use the software only as expressly permitted. In doing so you must comply with any technical limitations that only allows you to use it in certain ways… You may not work around any technical limitation”

So, if Microsoft published the API on the net for all to see, did not mark it as “do not use for Visual Studio Express”, and if you use it, is this circumvention? Most people will say no. To qualify as circumvention a basic requirement is that it needs to be clearly marked. Simply because it is hidden from view does not mean it is a limitation. The publication of API normally means you can use it. Otherwise, why bother?

Technical limitation tend to mean something that is set, either at compile time or with a configuration parameter that users are forbidden to modify. In the latter case it also need to be publicized. One good example will be Windows Starter Edition’s 3 applications at the same time only. If it is set at compile time and you write a program to change the value, that’s circumvention. So is going into window’s registry and change the “Number of simultaneous application” from 3 to 3000. The second case is circumvention ONLY because it is well publicized. Even then, I will argue it is a “restriction”, as oppose to “limitation” in the first case.

My reading of technical limitation in Visual Studio Express case is you cannot patch Visual Studio Express with a DLL from Visual Studio proper. Nor can you tamper with Visual Studio registry setting to get some disabled functionalities. Both will be circumvention. However, if the functionality is in the vanilla favour of Visual Studio Express, and the API is published to the public, then it is intended to be used. Otherwise, the functionality should be removed (or hidden by renaming) or the relevent API marked as “not to be used in Visual Express line of products”

This saga is damaging to Microsoft. Microsoft have every rights to say how its program can be used. But it must mark the boundary clearly. It appears that it probably fails to do so in this instance. This opens it to the accusation that it move the boundaries arbitrarily at any time it likes, and open it to accusation that it shift the boundary to wipe out competitions from its partners. Will Microsoft win the case if it goes to the court? Very likely because of the wording “… allows you to use it in certain ways…”. But if it mismanaged the case, and it is easy to do so, it may wins the battle but lose the war if the defendant manage to demonstrate that it move the boundary arbitrarily for commercial advantage over its partners, since all its partners will now live in fear that it may be the next target.

The sideshow is Cansdale lose its MVP status. Not really surprising. MVP is awarded solely at the discretion of Microsoft and “good behaviour” is likely to be one of the important criteria. It’s sad that big company like Microsoft cannot see through this spat to see Cansdale contribution to its Ecosystem.

Respects for Intellectual Property

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:09 pm

PJ hit the nail on the head when she turns Microsoft’s “Respect for Intellectual Property” spotlight on Microsoft. She argues that respect for Intellectual Property includes moral respect for other people’s IP. That means if you do not like someone’s terms for their IP, don’t use it. Nor should you try to get “cute” with the other parties’ IP the way Microsoft tries to circumvent its (and Novell’s) GPL responsibility. There are ways to work around other peoples IP that are legal and proper, but there are other ways that are consider immoral. Circumventing one’s responsibility is one.

Everyone will add “Not Spreading FUD around other people’s IP” as another form of respect for IP, something Microsoft clearly violated.

I will add two other points. One, showing “willingness to work with other people to resolve their IP concern” as one form of respect. Open source people had told Microsoft, if you show us the relevant information, we will resolve the issue. Unfortunately, rather than testing this and perhaps call their bluff, Microsoft choose to be a bully by saying I am not going to tell you, using the lame excuse that if it disclose the 200+ patents that it thinks open source is infringing, it will be overwhelmed with work. Let me suggest this: Why not agree to a gradual disclosure, say one-at-a-time? That is to both parties’ advantage. Disclosing all patents and asking open source developers to deal with it at once will also overwhelm open source developers.  What do we get in the end? Stronger Microsoft IP portfolio since open source people had vetted and weeded out the bad one, Microsoft IP gets the respect it deserves and open source get the clean bill of health.

Why then didn’t Microsoft propose this? To a commercial company, what they want is not “respect” for Intellectual Property. This can be done in a variety of ways. Like it or not, respect for someones’ IP include challenging the validity of the IP claims. Controversial, so I will leave it for another day. If an IP is proved valid, non-IP holder basically have two choice, one is to pay the royalty the IP holder demand to use their IP, or to workaround the IP issue in question. Microsoft don’t want you to take the “workaround” route. It wants you to take the “royalty” route.

This neatly leads me to the second point about “Respect”: IP holders must respect the rights of others to take any legally and morally permitted ways to workaround their IP. Insisting that others only have one way to pay due respect, i.e., the way the right holder wants is NOT respecting IP.

June 5, 2007

Are we seeiing new wording of the same old thing in MS-Novell deal

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:52 am

Did Mary Jo Foley got it right or did PJ? The sentences in quesion is

Through the agreement, Microsoft will make available patent covenants for Xandros customers. These covenants will provide customers with confidence that the Xandros technologies they use and deploy in their environments are compliant with Microsoft’s intellectual property. By putting a framework in place to share intellectual property, Xandros and Microsoft can speed the development of interoperable solutions.

PJ focused on the word “patent covenents” and says it is a patent peace agreement. Foley sees it as a mask that hedge against GPLv3. I can see why, especially everyone is pouring over every word of any Microsoft-<insert company with some linux portfolio here> deal. It can certainly be interpreted the way Foley interprets.

It looks to me like box-standard patent deal. To me the operative phrase is “Xandros technologies”. I take it as covering things that Xandros developed. In a reasonable person’s mind “Xandros technologies” do not include Linux or GPL software as both are not primarily developed at Xandros. Unfortunately lawyers and PR people are good at playing the word game, and it is what the two parties in the agreement do that counts. Implicitly, Microsoft can choose to define “Xandros technologies” to include anything Xandros ships to its customers. That will validate Foley’s claim. As it is a box-standard deal, on the surface, it does not look to me there is anything that we did not know could happen, even before MS-Novell deal.

Hidden message behind Microsoft anti-Linux Patent Agreement

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:42 am

Ed Burnette asked whether Microsoft is winning the FUD in the board room. He is focusing on the fact that Microsoft manage to snare a few “open source” company. I would not put JBoss, XenSource and Samsung in the same category as Novell and Xandros since companies in the first category does not distribute GPLed software. The first two companies makes GPLed software, but no purveying other people’s GPLed software. There are arguments that Xandros’ agreement is different from Novell’s as it looks like box-standard patent agreements that GPL/FSF has no problem with. But it is message received.

A while ago I blogged that the current sessions of FUD is targeted at CEOs and CFOs who are clueless about IP issues. I concluded that FUD on developers no longer work, but there are mileage with CEOs and CFOs who uses Linux and  have different set of priorities. Burnette’s piece turned the table around and says the FUD is succeeding with CEOs selling Linux and this complete the circle of FUDs in the broadroom. Do CEOs and CFOs have different priorities than developers? Yes. Don’t believe me, look at court filing in the SCO case. HP and Google had talks with SCO about SCOsource license. They are said to even offered money for SCO to go away.

My believe is the Patent agreement is a smoke screen to cover something else, notably MS EU anti-trust case. Why? It is explicit in Xandros case where Xandros will “Xandros will license a broad set of Microsoft server communications protocols“and Novell appears to be working on the same goal. This will help Microsoft with mileage in its current appeal against EC’s decision.

I understand the inclusion of OOXML in MS-Novell’s deal but is less certain of the value of including this in the Xandros deal. The only reason I can think of is that Microsoft to trying to get a foothold for OOXML in business systems. Hence, prepare to see another round of FUD in ODF vs OOXML battle. This time Microsoft is going to argue that OOXML is more useful in business system, nevermind the battle ground that Microsoft has to win is actually what is known as Office Applications (Word Processor + SpreadSheet mainly) rather than business processes (invoicing/inventory keeping) where most companies procedures will remain the same as it is today many years later.

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