CyberTech Rambler

December 23, 2007

Changes welcomed, but a lot should had been dumped

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:51 am

Brian Jones had blogged that there is a new set of changes to the proposed OOXML standard. In terms of organization, the change is for the better, as the so-called “deprecated” items, such as VML, and so-called “Compatibility Settings” (AutoSpaceLikeWord95) to appendix.

Brian Jones implies that this makes the fact that those stuff are optional clearer. Another way of seeing it is that they are adopting the New Zealand’s suggestion of splitting the standard into two: One for the XML standard which is forward looking, and another for backward compatibility reason.

As for me, it reminds me of my PhD. The problem I have with my PhD is that to support it I need to put in a lot of figures representing the results. I am prepared to put in those figures because they also serve the function of documenting how good (or if I am honest, how bad) the reasults are. However, the external examiner will be unhappy to have to examine all these figures. The compromise? I put them in the appendix. It appears that by putting it in the appendix, I reduced the significance of those figure from “must be examined”, to “just have a look” for my examiners. Given this, I wonder whether appendix in ISO standardization has the same meaning.

It will not surprise you that as a OOXML objector, I am still not happy with this. Why does the first available standard contains “deprecated” items. With the standard definition of “deprecation”, there is simply nothing in the standard to deprecate.  Issues such as VML and AutospaceLikeWin95 should not be there in the first place. Remember that this is NOT a documentation for the binary format, but a new XML format. If it were, then put those in the main body. This difference is important. It means there is a gap between the two format. It is Microsoft’s and others who wants to support conversion from binary to XML’s responsibility to bridge the gap in their application, not forcing everyone, including those who do not have interest in binary format support to implement it. Let’s face it, if VML or AutospaceLikeWin95 turn up, whether optional or not, your applications has to handle it.

Moreover, the modification looks more and more like very significant changes to the standard. Taking the PhD analogy, the amount of changes from the original proposal to DRM should only be equivalent to “Pass with correction”, this means some minor rewrite only. Taking a chapter out and put it elsewhere will results in “Fail, with recommendation to resubmit” at best, because the reorganization and rewrite can change the heart of the thesis significantly. “Fail (and don’t bother to resubmit)” is of course a possibility here. The way I see it is either of the “fail” route must be considered if the changes is huge.

December 22, 2007

Samba signed on the dotted line for Microsoft protocol information

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:52 am
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Does not really matter how both sides spins it, it seems a complicated legal maneuvre was performed to get both side to agree on the issue of access to Microsoft Workgroup protocol information, as required in Microsoft’s settlement with the European Commission.

I blogged a while back that (1) EU will have to explain why the settlement excluded GPL software, if this was the case, and (2)It is SamBA’s opinion of the settlement that counts, not yours, not mine or other commentators.

My original review of the documents do suggest that the document is on the unacceptable side. If it turn out that you are surprised that the documents will get amended as people signs up for it then you are on your own. I was not surprised that they were amended, but was surprised about the substantial changes.

The fact that the EU agrees with Microsoft that the documents can stay confidential does not surprise me. However, I did felt that the requirement of a one-off payment of EURO10,000 per person needs clarification. Do you mean a physcial person or a legal entity? It was answered as it appears that Microsoft is willing to say it is legal entity (Protocol Freedom Information Foundation in this case) if necessary.

Microsoft of course tried to spin it so that they look good. Most commentators, including Reuters, see through the PR spinning and says that Microsoft catipulated to the European Commission. If things were as rosy as what Microsoft tries to imply, this type of agreements would be signed immediately after the European Commission rules that it has to provide the information and save both parties the cost and hassle of an appeal. Nevertheless, Microsoft did move a long way when it agrees that the source code developed from developers who have access to the confidential documents will remain free and we should take note of it.

Did European Commission influenced this specific deal? Yes. There is no doubt here. Signing the document is important for Microsoft, as Samba is one of the people at the other side of the table that did not take the money. It will demonstrate clearly to EC that Microsoft had complied.

What I really like is the fact that the Samba team did not gloat about this agreement. Any impartial commentator will see this as a significant victory for Samba. Here is a link to PJ’s article where you can find statements from a few people on the Samba teams.

Interestingly, Microsoft inserted one of the clause that makes Microsoft-Novell’s agreement controversial, i.e. the grant to “Non-commercial” open source developer. The Samba team explains that the clause has no negative effect on their work and that they will not depend on the clause. The interesting thing is, Microsoft did not make a song and dance on getting Samba to sign this clause. Presumably some gentleman agreement was struck that stop Microsoft from doing so, as it is very difficult for me to believe that Microsoft did this on its own initiative.

Sad day for Free Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:32 am
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Today I join the rank of thousands other blogger in our mourning for ThinkSecret. I heard about it once in a while and I am not a fan of it, I still feel a sense of sadness that it has to close to settle a lawsuit it has with Apple.

I can see it make sense for Nick Ciarelli, its publisher. I do wish him well and is happy for him that he can now put the lawsuit behind. 

Nonetheless, rightly or wrongly, this suit has a feel that a big company uses lawsuit to silent critics. The whole thing degenerated into not about who is morally on the right side, but a tussle of financial power and the poorer party loses.

December 19, 2007

Forward thinking Google

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:23 am
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Google’s GMail product manager says that Google’s philosophy is not to hold users’ data hostage, a strategy used by virtually all software companies today. He did list concrete steps that Google had taken which, at the mininum, makes it difficult for Google to do this if it choose to.

This is indeed forward thinking. In essense, Google is saying that at least for GMail, we want you to use us because we deliver a better user experience, not because we hold your data. It is difficult for any company to make this decision, as basing one’s business that relies on better user experience to get users is a lot more difficult.

Of course, Google’s deep pocket helps. One can also argue that it is facing serious competition from other provider like Yahoo and Hotmail and have no choice as others are moving in the same direction too. One most significant incidence that shows Google is having competition is that a short while ago, the news on the grapevine is Yahoo has unlimited storage.

Nevertheless, Google can take some credit for doing so.

Global food market

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:14 am
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This is kinda of topic, but it is interesting to see how food move around the world to satisfy our appetite for them. In Malaysia, for example, we have apples and oranges all year round. Being a tropical country, of course those food are shipped in. To support this, for years importers had been sourcing them from both north and south hemisphere. Talk to the market trader and he probably have better grasp of the seasonality of fruits from Europe and South American than most of the natives.

Now lets go for the more unexpected ones: We used to have Thai chicken killed in Thailand, shipped to Netherland for processing, then sold in UK. The main reason is cost. Cost of Thai chicken in UK, despite the distance travelled, is cheaper than home-reared one. Why process in Netherland? I think it have to do with the Common Agricultural Policy as it is possible that the fact that it is processed in the EU means you are importing “raw material” rather then food items which are more heavily taxed. In fact, that inspired me to say that the best way to get the most out of chicken is not to genetically engineer it to have bigger breast (for Europe) or have two extra legs (for Asia), but to ship the legs from Europe to Asia, and breast the other direction. This might happen if not for the bird flu.

During the first bird flu scare in UK, it emerged that the company involved actually have the chickens conceived in UK, reared in Hungary, I am not sure where it is slaughtered, then sold in UK.  Wow, the chickens actually travelled further in their short live then most people in the world.

In manufacturing, things like this is of course not uncommon. Your computer contains parts from all over the world. However, it is still surprising to see this happening with food.

Of course I saved the best for last.  It emerged that scampi sold in UK is caught in UK but shelled in Thailand. My God! The scampi I eat travel the same journey I do yearly.

December 13, 2007

Musical Chair at OOXML BRM? Not likely

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:18 pm
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First Rui Seabra, now, as expected, PJ as well. They are both worry that the “lack of chairs” situation that happened in Protugal will happen in February’s Ballot Resolution Meeting for OOXML. There had been warnings that the size of the room is small from ISO, but I am sure Alex Brown will do his utmost to ensure fairness.

So far, the  committee in charge had demonstrated that it is non-partisan. All complains about the process are about rules (or the gaming of) not created by the committee, but rules imposed on to committee. I am sure JTC1 chairperson has some leeway in ensuring fairness, such as limiting attendee to one per national body, while still maintaining first-come-first-served basis for all national body if need be.

Initially, I was thinking may be it is fairer, if, after admitting only one person per national body and there are still not enough room, may be priority should be given to those who can change their vote in favour of passing OOXML. After all, like it or not, BRM is about changing No vote to Yes vote and the chairperson will have to, in pressing situation, work his best in this direction. Then I realize that this is possibly a bad idea as it will probably biased the meeting to “No” vote inadvertantly. Put enough people with the same mind in one room and you just reinforce the notion that these people are correct, to the detriment of others who are in the room who want to change their minds. Hence, first-come-first-served seems to be the least of all evil.

True, the best thing is to find a bigger room. Moreover, even if you restrict to one person per national body, first-come-first-served system is still open to gaming by interested party. At the very least, with this system, it is NOT the committee that is “gaming” the system. If one side still get disadvantaged by the system then the side have to shoulder a lot of responsibility for not responding fast enough to get a seat. I do not think we will have the same situation in Portugal where it is possible to game the first-come-first-served system by overwhelming the reservation system really quickly as the eligibility list this time is not as huge.

In all, lets see how ISO behave itself in the BRM. We are entitled to comment and critic the process, but not before ISO have a chance to show us how it deals with this. I am sure they are experienced in dealing with the bi-partisan situation.

December 12, 2007

Well, I can accept that data will get lost, but not encrypting the data in the first place?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:36 am
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Let’s face it, even if we store data on paper, the papers will go astray. With the news that yet-another-data-lost-in-post from the British government, the surprise is therefore not that they lose the data, but they did not bother the encrypt the data.

If I were the data commissioner, and I decides to prosecute the government departments involved, there is no point going after them for losing the data, but rather they did not take appropriate precaution to deal with the event where the data falls into the wrong hand. Anyone know that while the post is generally very good at delivering our letters etc to the receiver, one cannot presume that we will not fall into the 0.0001% of mails which are lost in the post. That is why the law does not accept standard mail as proof of delivery, but requires registered letter.

OOXML Updates

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:05 am
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Two updates. First, it is a blog post from Alex Brown, about the “proposed” OOXML maintenance regime. Three notes here. First, ECMA cannot even get the maintenance procedure correct. That’s shocking but hey, ECMA is populated by human. Second, the “proposal” is vague in a lot of aspect, one of which is probably in my previous blog post where I disagree with Rob Weir in his interpretation. The last and most important point is that Alex Brown believe the actual regiment for maintenance is for SC34 to decide. Remember the sudden rush of National Bodies joining SC34, guess they are going to be useful for more than once. It will be interesting to see the voting pattern for the new national bodies and compare them with what they did for other standards going through the committee. My guess is some will be so indiscrete that we will see them voting in matters relating to OOXML only. Dare I say it? Yes, their votes are likely to be “Yes”

Second, Brian Jones blogged about the changes to OOXML specifications. I welcome the changes. He use it as examples to hit back at critics who says that TC45 will not accept changes. Actually, one can equally interpret it as ISO force it down the throat of ECMA. My bigger beef is that those proposed changes should had been done inside T45 BEFORE being proposed to ISO. Now, we always hope that any changes in the BRM stage is for the better of the standard, but I cannot help but think that the changes will actually REQUIRES voting down OOXML. The proposed changes is big and is SUBSTANTIAL. There is simply not, I repeat not, enough time to fully study the implications of the changes. I still hope that the changes are for the better. It, however, remain true that these changes, although welcome, should had been done before the OOXML is proposed to ISO.

December 10, 2007

How to justify a Desktop Upgrade

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:16 pm

Microsoft is running an article on how IT managers can persuade upper management to to upgrade from XP to Vista. The target audience is likely to be IT managers of medium-to-large company. This is because I believe for small companies, there is no “IT manager” and the standard process of replace things only when they breaks applies.

In my opinion, any IT managers that find the article useful should reexamine their skill set as “managers of IT”. To be an IT manager, rather than technician, engineer or architect requires ability to make the business case for IT decisions, not on the whim and fancy of one’s personality. While the article identifies area to research in, you must be out-of-your-dealt or have a sugar-daddy job if those considerations haven’t cross your mind.

A lot of IT people (and managers) adopt the “if it isn’t broken, DON’T fix it” for a good reason. The key to  the decision to upgrade is to prove that something is “broken”. And, as an IT manager, if you propose a solution, you better make sure it damn well works, especially if you are asking for money.

The truth is, if you are committed to the Windows Desktop route, you will, sooner or later, end up as a 99.9% Vista shop. The remaining 0.1% will be a mix of Windows 95/98/ME/XP which runs certain applications that you deem not worthwhile replacing. It will be sooner if you have a “desktop replacement roll out” strategy, later if you take the “replace only when machine breaks strategy”.

Any IT manager worth their salt will call for an evaluation of Windows Vista first to decide when to upgrade. One can guesstimate when from vendor’s consultant reports/recommendation, but eventually the IT manager must take the decision as applicable to the companies need. Where the article fails is its inability to clearly identify the need. All it identify is potential areas for consideration.

Let’s dissect it:

  1. Security is the message : It takes longer than a year to prove that Vista is more secure.At present, we just do not have enough empirical data to shows that Vista is more secure.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, in this respect, word-of-mouth matters more than actual supporting data (if you can ever trust vendor-supplied data), and this takes time (if indeed Vista is more secure). As for the message that in Vista, users are not “administrators” anymore, I do not see many medium to large size company allows users to run as “administrator” on WinXP.
  2. The challenges: Iin my view, the “users no longer run as administrator” arguement since most users are not administrator in mid size company and above. The extra RAM is a problem, RAM standard change too quickly. This means difficulty in procuring RAM for older machine. Strictly speaking it is not a MS only problem, but MS gets hit particularly hard with Vista.
  3. The hidden cost of vulnerability: Again, “user no longer run as admin” is moot. Cost of vulnerability is easy to quantify: Estimate how many hours each technician spend per month on fixing XP, then multiply by their hourly salary.
  4. Make a list: good advice.
  5. Save us the money: If you as IT manager do not know to use this as a carrot already, please consider applying for a different job.

Should I add another piece of advise: Check with your supplier and see how much you can squeeze them. If you are big enough, Microsoft can be very squeezable!

December 8, 2007

Western Digital will back down…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:11 am
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TheRegister is reporting that Western Digital’s 1TB external hard disk drive wiill not allow you to transfer certain type of files. According to Western Digital, this is because they cannot verify that those files are licensed. In effect, as TheRegister points out, it is Digital Restriction Management and a bad one at that, as users will find that they cannot backup their digital camera file.

Quite frankly, I do not understand why Western Digital decided that it should police data transfer. That is not their job. They also risk the possibility of bad PR at the very least. More worryingly, at least for the business side, is that people will opt to buy external hard disk from their competitors who do not think they should be licensing police.

It will be just a matter of time before Western Digital back down. It has too. My question is, how painful will it be for WD before they do it?

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