CyberTech Rambler

April 30, 2008

Oh dear….

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:05 pm

Steve Ballmer’s presentation computer is … (See picture on Andy Patrizio’s blog)

There are several questions raised by the picture. Is the Apple laptop supplied by the organizer or is it Steve’s? I am going to give Steve the benefit of doubt by saying it is the organizer’s _and_ the organizer is NOT Microsoft. Second, is it a coincidence that the board with the word “Microsoft” is there or some savvy PR people use it specifically to cover up the Apple Laptop? Your guess is as good as mine. However, if it is the latter, give that PR person a bonus, Microsoft.

As the Gizmodo editor said in this post,  may be he is running BootCamp!  My first thought, before reading the post is that it must be running MacOffice, so it is not surprising that I agree with the editor. Moreover, Microsoft personnels prepared the presentation, hence it is likely to be MacOffice or Microsoft Office. However, if they wrote it with KeyNote…OH MY GOD!

I have some concern that this is a hoax. The event is no longer on Microsoft’s website, but I did found it in Google Cache.

April 28, 2008

Intentional/unintentional loop hole. Also buyer beware

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 9:50 pm

A story that is making its way through the net last weekend is that Dell is still going to install XP on new machines well past Microsoft’s deadline for killing the majority of XP’s versions.

The news that XP is still being shipped is not surprising considering the fact that Vista take up is below what I had expected a year after launching. However, I still have difficulty seeing it as proof that Vista is a failure, since I know from experience, no technical manager will touch Windows family of operating system until it is at least it is at least one year in a wild. (In practice, it is two years, with some skipping one version if Microsoft can make good of its promise to deliver new OS every three years or so.)

What was not clear to me was how Dell can do it legally, until BBC outlined how this is done. It appears that it is using a standard practice in the industry that allow purchaser to buy a license then “downgrade” it to earlier version. This is mainly a practical workaround the fact that you cannot buy license for earlier versions. It is usually practice in places where the shopfloor need to buy a new computer and with it, a new license for the software, but would not use the latest versions because they had standardize the software on the older version.

Two things that is unusual here. First and foremost, Dell will give you a copy of Windows XP CD and second, it install it for you. Normally, it is you who have to do the two yourself. Both are “innovations” in its own right. It also says that XP is still have strong demand as Dell deem it not only worthwhile to do so, but to go the extra mile and push the envelope of “downgrading” practice.

What I find disturbing is the fact that nobody explain to the consumers what buying XP actually means post Microsoft deadline means. It means you cannot expect the normal level of support you normally expect with Windows, i.e. 3 years active support with at least 5 years of security patches. Your mileage on the first part is dropping from the deadline day by day. It is only a theoritical problem since most people’s computer would had died in 3 years. No active support for last two years of life? Who cares! Still, you should know the bargain you had striked by downgrading.

BBC touch on the fact that this practice will allow Microsoft to chalk up XP sales as Vista sales. Initially, I thought this means Microsoft can bask in artificially inflated Vista sales figure. However, the more I think about it, I don’t think this is what Microsoft is aiming for. First, chalking up version N-1 sales as version N sales this way is standard practice in industry. Second, it is a problem particular to Microsoft where its sales figures will be heavily scrutinized and punters remineded of this fact. The later is particularly an irritant for Microsoft. As much as the PR department like to “confuse” the sales figure for the two, the business department will be well aware of this. They, like commentators, will be busy tracking the demise of XP.  The only difference is they will do it silently. If anything, Microsoft has demonstrated time and time again that its business department is probably the one of the most astute one. Therefore, they will not let XP “demise” statistics slip their finger.

Yahoo/Microsoft Relationship

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:26 pm

The deadline for Yahoo to respond to Microsoft offer had now passed with Yahoo giving Microsoft the cold shoulder. The internet is slowly starting to buzz about what will happen next, speculation on what Microsoft will or will not do, and unsolicited advice on what Microsoft should do.

There is no point for me to contribute my two cents on these issues. What I am interested is relationship between Yahoo and Microsoft. When there is a takeover bid, even with consenting parties, we will have employees on both side that is not happy with it. With Yahoo and Microsoft, the philosophy of the companies are so different that we are expecting a larger than usual chunk of unhappy employee even if the takeover bid is not hostile. If the takeover happens, Yahoo and Microsoft will have to work to reconcile these unhappiness and it is part of the business of take over.

With a hostile takeover bid, if Microsoft choose to do so, the bitterness will be even profound. Bad blood will be created during the bid process and make it even more difficult to bridge the difference. This means it will be a bigger problem to overcome if the takeover is successful.

Unfortunately, that is the rosier picture. It might come to the point where it wipes out the value created by the takeover. If Microsoft walk away as a result. Those who advocate Yahoo’s independence, while feeling vindicated,  will find themselves needing time to recuperate and recover from the fight. The world does not stand still while the two fight out and Yahoo might not survive this distraction. While Microsoft is better position to overcome this distraction, there is no doubt that Microsoft behaviour during this bid will be scrutinized by all, especially other industrial players that might be on its crosshair. If Microsoft mismanage it, it will have repercussions on the company’s reputation.

Both companies are unlikely to walk out of a hostile bid without a scar. Still, business is business. If Microsoft feels that it should launch a hostile bid. Let it be. All we can hope is the fight does not go too bitter. We need a credible competitor to Google. At present, neither companies can deliver that. While I doubt a combined Microhoo is capable of doing so, they are free to try.

April 25, 2008

A good demonstration on why context is important

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:55 pm

From the title, it looks like this piece of news reporting from Ars Technica is simply recycling a known fact: Bill Gates disagree with GPL. Read closely, however, you will find that he is speaking in the context that Bill Gates believe he could not had built Microsoft to what it is today with GPL.

That is a view that I shared. May be tomorrow we will see a big company whose portfolio is mainly GPLed software. However, given the circumstances Gates find himself in when he was building up Microsoft, I doubt he could built his empire with GPL.

April 24, 2008

Microsoft may let XP live forever

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:46 pm

I believe XP should die. I blog about it and say death of a operating system is part of software life cycle. Of course, unlike you and I, we don’t really know when XP will die. A lot of factor will decide on when the vendor pull the plug.

First clue, XP Starter Edition seems to have a life of its own. While other editions will be killed soon, XP Starter Edition will live till 2010. My take, it is targeted at low specification computer where Vista is simply cannot run on it. In fact, if you read Microsoft literature, they seems to believe that there is an emerging category of computers known as the “Ultra Low Cost”. To me, they are not “ultra low cost”, but simply computers that do the job. While computer vendor want us all to buy their expensive offering, we consumer should simply buy the one appropriate for the job. If low specs computer fit the bill, do it. “Ultra Low Cost” is simply a way of trying to bias us against computer that are cheap and appropriate for the job. We must resist.

As if confirmation that software’s death can be delayed, Microsoft may extend the life of XP. No surprise here but trust me, it is not for the reason Ballmer says, i.e., “if customers want it”.  The reason is Microsoft did not have a successor to XP. Vista may be its intended successor but at present, it is not really a viable successor. To kill XP now will probably means losing market to competitors. To tell the truth, Vista’s penetration was so low that so far, I had only seen one, and I am in an organization where we buy at least 3 computers every month!

April 23, 2008

Another proof that DRM is “Digital Restriction Management”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:15 pm

Back in the days before Digital Restriction Management, you lose your music file if you misplace/lose your CD or MP3 player. Then, the power that be introduced Digital Restriction Management, which they wrongly called  Digital Right Management. With this, you now have another reason for effectively losing your music file: The inability to transfer music from one device to another as you lose the ability to activate/deactivate devices for your music file.

This came earlier than expected. In this case, from Microsoft. Its “planned” removal of the authentication servers you need to contact to activate/deactivate devices for your music file under its PlayForSure DRM scheme means you cannot change devices once the servers are removed.

It will be unfair to place the blame on Microsoft sololy, as this problem will sooner or later hit other music sellers, including Apple’s iTune. I cannot say PlayForSure users will be surprised by this, nor can I say they do not deserve this, since they signed up in the first place. Is it fair? I don’t know. There are a lot of factors that can affect the fairness equation: If you get music cheaper because DRM was slapped on, then in my book you made the compromise and simply got a bad deal.

April 21, 2008

MsOffice 2007 fails latest OOXML ISO Incarnation… so what?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 9:36 pm

Don’t do what PJ do, i.e., making a big hoo-haa about MS Office 2007 cannot pass latest incarnation of OOXML as defined by the newly minted ISO OOXML standard. She is obviously jumping on Alex Brown’s revelation that there are work to be done to get MS Office 2007 working with latest OOXML.

Am I surprised that MSOffice 2007 cannot satisfy ISO OOXML? No. And I am assuming you some how got the latest developer-build of MSOffice 2007? Why? ISO OOXML standard is too new! Moreover, I am assuming that some of the big concession, such as the ISO-date concession was “planned” last June after we kick up a big fuss, i.e., ahead of September’s vote.

Why? Development does not move that fast. Back in 1995 we do not even have a fully conforming copy of ISO C++ which was passed a good 6 years ago. Although I do not expect MS to take such a long time to implement ISO OOXML, it does take time.

The crucial demonstration of ISO OOXML standard is the next major update of MSOffice, such as  a service pack, or the end of this year, whichever sooner. The litmus test for me is not that Office 2007 support the ISO version, but whether older versions of MSOffice do.

Now, if Microsoft fails the test I set it… imagine the size of tornado that OOXML opponents can conjure to humilate it and how much eggs on the face of those who advocated OOXML ISO passage to “entice Microsoft to cooperate on document format”.

OOXML is substandard and ISO does not think it has to police itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:15 pm

Interesting article on ZDNet UK. On the surface, nothing new, but the devil is in the detail.

First, we know Tim Bray is not happy with OOXML standardization process, saying it is unsuitable. In this article it appears that Dr Bray is now calling it a “marketing tool” for Microsoft. That is an escalation.

Second escalation is from former SC34 chair Dr Mason. We know since last year that he thinks that the writing is substandard. While he emphasize that it is good thing that publishing information contained in OOXML is important, he don’t think it should be a standard. (I agree with him) Now he  quoted as saying OOXML is simply a “tutorial and user guide” for people to write products around Microsoft Office. As for ISO and ECMA, “neither the Ecma nor the ISO process did anything to turn it into a specification.”. While I think ECMA deserve all the blame, I am not so sure about ISO. After all, unlike ECMA which has all the time it need to refine OOXML, asking ISO to do so under fast track rule is impossible.

The biggest bombshell is that ISO thinks that it does not have to police its democratic processes! It maintains that the controversy seen so far happens in National Bodies and it is National Bodies’ duty to reacts to these events. ISO is simply an administrative body that collects and tally votes from National Bodies. Technically ISO is correct, all the controversy we see are “internal affairs” of the respective National Bodies. I would accept this arguement if it does not spill over into ISO. The spill over here is the standard is issued in ISO’s name. That makes ISO part of the process, a stakeholder. As a stakeholder, it has responsibilities, such as policing itself.

Is the fast track process broken? No. It is a useful and meaningful process, but it can be abused. Therefore, it needs to be changed. In the current OOXML saga, there are two problems that interacts to make it larger than the sum of the two. First and foremost is that OOXML is not suitable for fast track. Too many problems that cannot be fixed in time. This is something ISO can and should fix. The current defence that ISO cannot reject any Fast Track proposal on quality is a farce. Second problem is the controversy in National Bodies, i.e., ISO constituents. ISO cannot fix this by itself, but it can help guide and push the process in National Bodies. ISO is a stakeholder here. It must excercise its right as stakeholder.

April 18, 2008

Its not 6000+ page, stupid!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:48 pm

Rule 0 in ODF vs OOXML war, do not, and I really mean DO NOT, say anything that can be statistically proven to be grossly out of context, or Rob Weir WILL catch you out! Don’t believe me, see him demolishing the ISO out-of-context claim that beats around the claim that 6000+ pages are too long.

I do agree with ISO that page count should not be a criteria for refusal. Fast Track is in itself a useful tool. Its principle is correct: There is no point going through the full standard process (again) when another institution had done all due-diligence work, i.e., carefully scrutinized the proposed standard. Therefore, I CAN see standards that run to ten of thousands of pages and still be appropriate for Fast Track through ISO.

The problem with OOXML is it is not appropriate to fast track it. First and foremost, it is badly written. It looks more like things that come out of an academic “standard” committee. The reason for quoting the actual page count is that writing up a 6000+ pages essay did not help improve it; In fact, it made it worse.

April 17, 2008

Open Specification Promise and RAND terms, with FUD thrown in (Updated)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:04 pm

I understand why PJ rant about Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise (OSP) is not good enough as it exclude commercial use, and link it with ISO RAND terms. Her point was OSP probably satisfy ISO wording of Random and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) but is not the spirit. Most (99.999% and I will talk about the remaining 0.001% later) RAND terms that requires payment will exclude Free and Open Source software. While ISO have no duty to ensure Free and Open Source Software can use its standard, it has the duty to ensure that its RAND licensing requirement cannot be used by anyone to exclude its main competitors. That will certainly fails the “non-discriminatory” spirit.

We all understands that ISO RAND licensing terms do not require money to change hand, but does not forbid it either. In the good old world where using ISO standard in a product means money will change hand, allowing license fees payment, when the licensing is applied flatly and uniformly across the industry indeed satisfy the RAND spirit and letter. Moreover, the elegance of this money based approach, rather than opening one’s patent portfolio is its simplicity and wide applicability. However, in this age of software where money need not change hand, requiring licensing fee had become a discriminatory weapon instead.

In a lot of ways, Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise more than satisfy ISO RAND requirement. However, as its restriction on Commercial use has impact on its free and open source competitors, especially when they are the only viable competition, it falls short in spirit. This is not unexpected and is actually a main reason behind the distinction of Commercial vs non-commercial use in OSP. Therefore, it does not satisfy any RAND requirement at all, including ISO’s.

Remember the SenderID licensing problems that torpedo it in IETF? It involve Microsoft and does not even involve money. Yet prominent organizations comes out to say that it is not non-discriminatory. To be fair, Microsoft is not the only company that has this problem, see W3C struggle with IP issue for more detail.

I said that for 0.001% of the time, money changing hand is not discriminatory practice. One good example in point is the Microsoft Protocol Agreement with Protocol Freedom Information Foundation, on behalf of SamBA. That is an innovative piece of work. Crucially, it shows a possible way for future RAND licensing.

What I do not understand why Jason Matusow choose to participate in this debate. He contributed nothing except wrongly accused PJ as spreading FUD. What PJ point out is the problem with with RAND licensing in ISO. She did not ask for special treatment, did she? She is just saying that the RAND approach can be inappropriate for software and that OSP is certainly wrong to claim “non-discriminatory”. For someone claiming to understand IP licensing in Standards better than PJ, surely he can see this and address it, rather than take a beat around the bush approach and dig up the history behind ISO RAND licensing formulation, which amount to noise in the discussion.

[200804171945] PJ responded to Jason Matusow article. She of course did a better job than me in explaining why RAND in the traditional sense is not compatible with Open Standard in software. After reading her work, I am starting to change my view from “RAND should not prevent dominant competitors from using the standard” to “RAND should not prevent any competitors to emerge by using the standard”. Immediately I realize that this view is difficult to implement, .e.g., define emerging. Then I hit on an elegant principle:

Open Standard must be implementable by any parties. The duty of RAND is to facilitate this, NOT hinder it.

This principle can be easily translate to cover the current and other situations, including yet unknown situation. Microsoft’s OSP fail because it is designed unreasonably hinder a non-insignificant segment of the industry who wants to implement it, but cannot, the commercial sector in general, free and open source software in particular.

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