CyberTech Rambler

November 21, 2007

Sorry, Matusow, I have to disagree with a few of your accussation of Bob

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:37 pm

After months of quiet after a flurry of activities on the ODF vs OOXML front, things are warming up as we approach the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in February. I am glad that the BRM coverner, Alex Brown, had posted a few neutral/procedural information such as this FAQ on his blog during this lull where everyone’s head is cooler.

The first major salvo in the debate, as far as I can tell, came from Bob Sutor’s piece which Jason Matusow find it necessary to correct. While readers of this blog knows that I almost always disagree with Matusow, it is not characteristics of Matusow to point finger at people. I read Matusow’s opinion and have to say I do not agree with him this time as well.

Before I dissect Matusow’s clarification on where Sutor went wrong, let’s set one basic rule. I am not going to comment on the Sutor’s or Matusow’s opinion. Sutor is not impressed by OOXML, is a very prominent member on the ODF camp. This means most of his opinion is going to be “Do not accept OOXML” type. Matusow comes from the opposite background. There is no point criticizing them on “why cann’t you just stay neutral”. Rather, I will concentrate on where I think they got too far, or factual things that I think they overlooked.

Sutor: The BRM will result in a changed specification – those changes may themselves result in new problems.

Matusow: “..[T]he whole point of the BRM is to change the specification in the interests of improving it and driving greater consensus for adoption”

The only agreement here is the specification will be changed. I do not think Sutor will disagree with Matusow that the purpose of the changes, come BRM, is to make the specification better. So, I believe the argument here is whether the change is for the “better” or “worse”. Bottom line is changes, any changes, at any stage of the process, need not necessary be in the interest of improving it. A lot of time changes themselves results in new problems. Hence, I think Bob’s comment, taken at face value, is fair, especially he had chosen very carefully to insert the word “may”. I will argue that, if we factor in his bias against OOXML, this statement even “fairer” because he is duty-bound to highlight potential problems. Matusow’s argument that editorial process in place, both at ECMA and ISO and all those comments received, including IBM’s , only means that it is likely that the specification will be better, not a guarantee that it will be better.

Sutor:The specification is long, there are thousands of comments, there is no way for a national body to consider the dispositions in the time they have.

The essence of Matusow’s counter argument is that there had been a lot of time spent before September’s ballot and since to digest the comment. As such, the time is adequate. There is one problem with Matusow’s statement. Those “thousands of comments” are filed in September. Presumably, the pre-September digestions had reduce millions of comments (including frivolous ones) down to those “thousands” that need further work. Therefore, the only available time to digest through the “thousands” of comments is between September 07 to Feb 08, approximately 6 months. Since a lot of these comments are likely to overlap, and that pre-September time spent on the OOXML will help (but not to the extents Matusow is implying), I cannot answer the question on whether there is enough time to digest.

Sutor:There are questions about the BRM process, attendance, time to consider all comments etc. – the process is bad.

I agree with Matusow that Sutor went overboard here. This is actually an attack on ISO process in general, on the coverner Alex Brown in particular because it is saying that they lost control of the process. What is clear is everyone, including IBM and Microsoft, will try to game the process. ISO and Brown’s job is to ensure fair play. Until it is demonstrated that they do not, we have to refrain from criticizing them. The path leading up to September votes open a lot of question on NB’s involvement and potential gaming inside National Bodies. It has nothing to do with the BRM process. It is wrong for Sutor to say the process is bad today unless he is willing to show proof of this. By the way, may be the gaming had started as Rui Seabra is accusing Portugal of playing “musical chair” again.

Sutor: If you are not satisfied for any reason, vote against Open XML. The specification should be perfect or you should reject it.

Sorry Matusow. First sentence is fair. Reading ISO Fast Track rule suggests that both explicitly and implicitly, this is how the game should be played, if you are an unbiased National Body. But Sutor’s second sentence is too strong. As Matusow points out, no specification, including ODF is perfect. I, however, think that Matusow is wrong to imply that since ODF moves from 1.0 to 1.1 then to 1.2, it must therefore be immature to present ODF 1.0 to be approved by ISO. I have to accuse him of spreading FUD here as I am sure he understands the evolution of standards. It will be the same thing as me accusing Microsoft of releasing Windows 3.1 as it is immature compared to Window Vista.

Sutor: Don’t set a bad precedent with this specification.

Do not set a precedent with ANY specification so if this specification can be a bad precedent, do not set it. Matusow argues that this will not be a bad precedent because (1)Open XML has received more scrutiny and (2) dedicated engineering attention than any specification in JTC1 (if not ISO or IEC) history. First point is true. Second is not. Compared to ODF, where there were two independent implementations before it was proposed to ISO, OOXML have only one, Microsoft Office, today. The best engineering attention is one you get when you create independent implementations, so the second argument fails by default. Both, however, does not guarantee the final product will be a good specification. If this is a bad specification and ISO approve it, it will be bad precedent.

Moreover, if the intense effort surrounding a standardization process is inappropriate  legally, morally or spiritually or the mere invocation of the is inappropriate, *and* the standard is allowed through, then a bad precedent would had been set.


Matusow:This blog is not about me and Bob, it is about IBM and Microsoft having differing views on the BRM – so let’s keep the comments focused on the substantive issues rather than about the people (thx)

Sutor has this disclaimer on his blog: “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent my employer’s [IBM] positions, strategies or opinions.” While I cannot find a similar statement on Matusow’s blog, I will be wrong to assume he is talking on-behalf of Microsoft. Whatever the case, I agree there is no point talking about two person and will extend it and say there is no point framing the question as IBM vs Microsoft as well. Let’s do what Matusow say, focus on the substantive issue, not people (or company).


November 19, 2007

Don’t blindly trust statistics (round 2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:09 pm

No IT Pro like Vista and is considering alternative, that’s the take home message of yet another survey on Vista.

Old IT pro like me do not like changes. Give me a chance and I will still be running 1970’s UNIX with 1960’s program. Why? If something ain’t break, don’t fix it. So no surprise that my peers are trying to avoid Vista like plague, if they can help it. Although the truth is, come 2009 we will all be on Vista bandwagon. Why? our software supplier moved to Vista, and if you want service support, you have to move to. Sad, but true.

A lot of my peers cite stability as the reason. I do not think they meant stability of Windows Vista. Like it or not Windows, as a Operating System, is improving on stability. It still have a long way to go compared to Unix, but most of us can afford to reboot once a month, so no problem here. However, application stability is another thing. Nobody wants to be the early adopter? Let others suffer the pain of finding out the bugs before I jump in.

40% is considering other alternatives. I don’t care about them 40%. What I do care is the 4% that is switching. Overall, the figures, if any, says that Windows is still the king as 96% is still staying put. 4% is a trickle, an irritant.

November 11, 2007

Interesting statistics…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:58 am

Now, lets link two things together, i.e., the much talk about marketing deal Microsoft try to strike in Nigeria, and the USD3 Windows/Office pack Bill Gates says it is going to offer to developing country. There is nothing to say the two things are linked, but hey, for the sake of this post, let’s assume there is.

The basics that are undisputed: 17,000 PCs, Mandriva cost USD10.00 per seat, marketing deal is USD 400,000.

Assumption: We are talking about installing the USD3 deal on those PC.

First, how much is Microsoft’s marketing money worth per PC? USD23.52. After deducting the cost of unused Mandriva software, we have USD13.52.

The USD3 deal is attractive, very attractive. But first thing first, do Nigeria qualify? Developing Country? Check. Students? Check. Sufficient for on those PC? Assuming secondary schools are using it. OS? yes. Have Office and other packages thrown in? Even better. Check. Deducting the MS licensing fee from the remainder we have pure subsidy of USD10.52 per PC, or USD 178,840 for the lot.

The implication? MS is not selling Windows. It is not even giving them away coz that means no money changes hand. I cannot say it subsidised Windows license because subsidy by implication means the buyer stills has to pay something. What we have instead is money going from Microsoft to Nigerian. Hence, the only conclusion is


and the small print is, it will throw basic office software and other packages in as well.

What a pity that the Nigerian is reported to had rejected this.

November 9, 2007

What is bribing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:58 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Of course there is a legal definition of bribing, but the line between bribing (in the old fashion sense) and incentives to accept a deal is always blurred. Witness the Pergau Dam controversy. In that case, the British says unless you buy our Hawk trainers, we will not give you aid money to construct the said dam. What is Malaysia to do? You need trainers to train fighter pilots, you have two competing deals, one party offers “to throw in a dam” if you buy from them. No brainer. You take that offer. Overall, you get a better deal. Is the dam offer a bribe? Morally, I think so, even though being Malaysian, I benefited from it. What really disgust me, is the fact that the controversy in Britain is not about the “bribe”, since it is commonly accepted practice in foreign aid, but on the ground that aid should not be tied to arms deal. Huh???

What is the different between third world style “putting the money into corrupted official’s hand” and the “campaign contribution” in developed country? the later is a more refined style of bribing. Therefore, personally, I prefer to stick to my moral definition of bribe: Incentives that are not directly related to the deal which one put forward to secure the deal. Using this definition, the British bribed the Malaysian in order to sell Hawks trainers to us.

Back to technology. When Mandriva’s CEO first blogged about Nigeria paying for their Linux distribution on new PCs they purchased, but then will wipe it for Windows XP on receipt, I say there is something fishy in the deal. However, I find this insufficient evident to say Microsoft did some hanky-panky job. Microsoft of course, denied this flatly. Now, a bit of details had emerged. It appears that after losing the deal to supply Windows pre-installed on the new PCs, Microsoft offered USD400,000 for marketing activity to the Nigerian organization doing the deal if it wipes Mandriva Linux and install Windows on the new computers. Is that a bribe? It is in my book. Like “campaign contributions”, its a very refine bribe as it stands at the borderline of incentive/bribe. I’ll stick to my definition that the marketing money has nothing to with the purchase of Windows XP directly, it is a bribe.

November 6, 2007

Don’t blindly trust statistics

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:42 pm

BBC’s goofed on their statistics. I would like to say big time but I think there is more fundamental problem here. The error is that they initially estimate a sub 500 figure per day of people accessing their webpages using Linux. Thus, it is rather insignificant compared to 12m daily that uses other operating system. The figure is now revised to 33,000+. Big goof. And as one commenter points out, shouldn’t BBC apply the same standard to itself when it salvaged the government for getting the immigration figure wrong?

The more fundamental mistake is to trust the initial figure of 300-400 Linux users per day. With 12m websurfers, this figure is improbably low. That piece of statistical mistake should had been rejected immediately as inaccurate. the highest ranking BBC employee in its internet division who accepted this figure as accurate should be reexamined for competency.

Of course, as another commentator points out,this raise the issue what decisions had been made from this ridiculous figure. Top of my mind is of the fact that the figure might be used to convince BBC Trust that the iPlayer can be Windows only with virtually no prospect of being supported in other platform. This eventually snowballed into part of  BBC using the wrong figure to get its way.

On the issue of whether BBC should be compelled to provide multiple platform access to iPlayer. Let’s revisit the issue of US Copyright Office problem with some part of its online presence required Windows. The US Copyright Office obviously find this unacceptable and put out an olive branch and try to assess the extent of the problem with a public consultation. If anyone think that it need not had done this, read W3C reply to this consultation. The BBC is, in status, on par or equivalent to the US Copyright Office. At least in this case, US Copyright Office defense is that it was promised that the problem will not arise by its contractor but the contractor fails to deliver. In the case of BBC, that seems to be a conscious choice right from the beginning to alienate non-Windows users.

Frankly, I do not care which DRM BBC uses. That’s BBC choice. It is the supply side and like buying cabbages, I do not really care the cabbages are delivered on a Leyland or Mercedes truck. I do not even care whether the final implementation of iPlayer in Mac or Linux is open source software. I just want iPlayer to be usable on major operating systems. Being quasi-government body, BBC has the obligation to make sure that this happens. Otherwise, give me a discount on the license fee.

November 5, 2007

Google tracing Microsoft’s footsteps?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:20 pm

On November  the 2nd we heard from Cringely why he thinks Google is the next Microsoft. Robert Cringely has this flare of seeing and connecting things (correctly) before others did. And sure enough, he demonstrates enough evidence to convince you that this is the case. While I am not sure whether Google’s abandonment of Free411 acquisition is aptly described as the way Microsoft goes into negotiation with small companies only to abruptly cutoff negotiation to start its own rival service coz this is the first time I heard it, the bigger picture that Cringely paint of Google do like a budding monopolist, a bit like Microsoft in the mid 1990s. Google is in a very competitive web-based market with (still) a lot to lose, which is the situation Microsoft found itself when it first launched Windows 95. Both Google today and Microsoft then are companies that have to thrive and survive in a very competitive market. We all see how Microsoft turned out  to be. What is there to say that Google will not? Counter articles like the one on USAToday, The Inquirer and TechNewsWorld just reinforce the parallels between the two companies. They really reminds me of what Microsoft enjoyed before being called and labeled the monopolist.

Another  trend you see where Google emulate Microsoft is the way Google wants to branch into everything. First we have openSocial,then openHandset. Sounds familiar? Does Microsoft’s attempts throughout mind 90s to create a unified API for hardwares? True, the risk is bigger for Google than for Microsoft, but the goal is still the same. Most importantly, like Microsoft’s hardware API effort, I am not convinced that openSocial and openHandset is fully open. With open, I do not mean the ideal of ISO-style openness, but Java-like openness.

For more similarity between Google and Microsoft, just look at how Google approach openHandset operates: You supply the hardware, Google supply the software? Familiar? Windows Mobile and pre-Zune play-for-sure. Both did not works out very well. Is Google heading down the same direction?

November 2, 2007

Evolution of Javascript

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:35 pm

Some public disagreement appears in the proposed evolution of JavaScript to a version currently codenamed ES4. The two blog post I am highlighting here (in chronological order) is that of Microsoft’s Wilson and Mozilla’s Eich. Kanaracus of IDG News post will give you the essential background to understands the disagreement.

There are a few interesting point. The first, a short one, being on Wilson’s claim that “It’s been pointed out that we haven’t made an alternate proposal”. Eich obviously begs to differ when he bring out the issue of ES3.1 proposal from Microsoft. Is that an ‘alternate proposal’? Especially when Eich claims that everyone is working with ES4 when Microsoft suddenlly comes up with ES3.1?

I am in no position to discuss on how the shape of things should be in ES4. However, as a web user and a software developer, here are the things I think is important for the next generation of Javascript:

  1. All browsers, especially Mozilla and IE, must support it fully. The haphazard Javascript support in previous release of IE shows the importance of this. I hope both sides learn this lesson and will come to a compromise.
  2. Evolution of a language, any language, should not be shy of including new things, even if it change the “character” of the language. C++ evolution sees it incorporating the Standard Template Library from HP. This is a major change for C++ because it ventured into the field of what is used to be defined as “libraries” for a programming language.
  3. Backward compatibility, while is a worthwhile goal, should not constrain the evolution of the language. Browsers can easily handle different, incompatible versions of the language. It is done everyday. The problem of non-compatibility for developer is usually overblown. As a developer, if you wish to take advantage of new features in the next evolution of a language, you always assume you will be breaking existing code and have to rewrite. That’s life.
  4. One should not be too worry about initial teething problems with a new version of language. It happens. It  takes a few years before a particular version become stable and robust enough for developers to be able to depend on. All the time, minor amendments to the standards, known as maintenance will be carried out to clarify the situation. It acknowledges that no one get it correct the first time. It is true that if you add more meat to the language, the language will take more time to become stable. The question that should be asked is whether these additions are worthwhile and whether there is too many of them which will means stabilization takes too long.

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