CyberTech Rambler

May 26, 2009

New Zealand government stop making 3 years deal with Microsoft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:01 pm

It is not an interesting news for open source or proprietary source but rather for its shock value: A government dare to say No to a key provider.

With this, I do not mean it is a shock or horror story because it is Microsoft that did not get the deal, as I would had felt the same if it was IBM or Oracle.

If you think NZ government is not going to part huge sum of money to Microsoft and divert the money to other vendors, including open source vendors. think twice. This is not what the no-deal mean.

Instead, it is apparent that the New Zealand Government thinks that a group of more targetted contracts with Microsoft much better fits its purpose than a blanket deal.

That is not unusual either. Personally I think it is a better approach. A government is too diversified. Different segments of a government has different needs. A blanket agreement  that satisfy all is difficult to achieve. To write any contract for a organization as diverse as a government involve both sides making educated guess and the results is often not satisfactory.

Microsoft is known to bend over backwards to keep its grip on strategic contract. A government contract is quite a strategic one. Failing to have a blanket one might look like a small setback on paper. In the longer run, it need not be. A group of better targetted contract is more likely to deliver customer satisfaction and can be better for the company in the long run.


May 19, 2009

My view of Wolfram Alpha: before I even used it …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:46 am

… and based on what I read, I am not likely to use it.

I know the hype around it. The very first review (By Talbot of Technology Review) I read about it did tell me why people gets excited, but it also tells me why I am not going to use it.

One rightly gets excited when one’s search engine apears to understand what you are looking for and give you the results you want. So far, no search engines does that. If you read the first page of the Technology Review article, one will get excited. The search engine appears to try to interpret your intention. This can be useful at times. I am still constantly frustrated with Google insisting on serving me unrelated links because I cannot refine my search term to be specific enough to achieve my goal. My last attempt was trying to find the unix command that will list all the functions available in a Library file (answer: nm). It took me 15 minutes brainstorming possible search term.

Did I get excited? No. First, I immediately realized I am looking at a design flaw seen in most Apple products. If the software interprets your intention correctly, everything is just amazing. If not, it’s beyond frustrating.  In Apple’s case, if you want to do something that is not the “norm”, e.g. changing your default file format for “ripped” music to mp3 for iTune, you will find it a frustrating exercise. The normally intutitive iTune design suddenly works against you. With Wolfram Alpha, take the Talbot’s first search term “Microsoft Apple”. If you are not interested in the business performance of Microsoft and Apple, the page is badly presented. In Wolfram Alpha’s defense, Google did very poorly if you are interested in the business performance of the two company, and it did try to please as many people as possible by populating the page with diverse range of information.

Second, I also immediately realized that the data is curated. The technologist in me told me so once i saw slick search results presentation. I am that one person that do not like curated data. Curated data is good when you can trust the source, and i can trust Wolfram to get it correct. However, most of the time I find myself wondering whether the data is up-to-date, especially in absence of supporting information such as the year the data is collected etc. Also, curation takes time, and this immediately tells me that the scope of the WolframAlpha is going to be limited, which it is.

I was just about to write Wolfram Alpha off when I read this Economist’s article, which makes me realize the potential of the software. WolframAlpha is not going to topple Google anytime. It lacks the breath and scope of Google, and cannot hope to catch up. For me, being a curated work means it lack objectivity. However, if breath, scope, objectivity is not a problem and you can reasonably guess the context of the search, then I see its value. For example, as a corporate search engine shifting through corporate data, and answering the same questions from sales department, IT department and management differently. This will requires an automatic way of shifting through the data, rather than curation by hand as WolframAlpha now do. However, let’s not forget it is only the early days of the application and an automated curator is just a matter of time. It is also easier to create curators for corporate data, as the scope and the context is more limited. Watch out Autonomy!

From a business perspective Wolfram Research is probably on to something that can be turned into $$$.

I agree with Economist that at present, it is more a competition for Wikipedia instead of Google. However, while I can see it takes some eyeballs away from wikipedia, again it lacks the breath and scope of Wikipedia (but this time, it might catch up), and whatever wikipedia’s flaw, I believe it is likely to be less biased than WolframAlpha.

May 8, 2009

EU says NO to three strikes law

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:57 am

ZeroPaid confirms that the European Parliament did the correct thing by saying NO to three strikes law.

I am not allegic to restricting internet connection for persistent copyright offenders, but I do not think the proposals worldwide for “Three strikes Law” are well thought through as they are too heavily handed and do not seems to be fair.

Copyright gone MAD

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:51 am

BoingBoing is reporting that MPAA recommends teachers record movie clips using TV and camcorder instead of ripping from DVD.

I understand why MPAA recommends it. The fact that quality is bad and that it is troublesome definitely play a big part. On the political side I note that the recommendation is in response to DCMA exemption hearing, so the other reason is to provide a reason for Library of Congress to deny exemption for classroom use.

To me, it is ricdiculous because if they agree you can use the material, under fair use provision, using the cumbersome, roundabout way, then they practically conceded that there is a case to grant exemption.  Quality and diffficulty of the workaround is immaterial. If any, it proves the exemption is needed. Why? If you are blind, you can always hire someone to read a ebook to you. Only fools are going to argue that since this is possible, there should not be an exemption for text-to-speech exception for the blind. Another thing is, if quality and difficult is material, then a pirate can use it to argue for a lesser sentence. I do not think this will go down well for MPAA, do you?

May 6, 2009

Microsoft ODF plugin for MSOffice

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:39 pm

Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Office 2007. I thought only we pro-ODF camp is waiting for ODF support in Office, but it appears that a few other news commentators are also interested. That is, however, not the point for this post.

Now that it is out, people are taking it for a test drive. On one side, Dough Mahugh is demonstrating how good the support for ODF Text document is,. On the other, PJ is blushing because the formatting is not preserved. The usual suspect, Rob Weir, did a comparison on “interoperable” characteristic of Spreadsheet and not only him, but me do not like the results.

What I have problems reconciling is, why the totally opposite view on the same product? That is after taking into account the obvious bias of Mahugh on one hand and PJ/Weir on the other hand.

With PJ and Mchugh, I think I see the difference. PJ re-save an existing Word document into ODF, but Mahugh save it in ODF without saving into Word document first. Now you and I would not had expected any difference, but it appears it does. Not acceptable in the long run but let’s not forget this is Microsoft first attempt, and as with any first attempt, you expects teething problems. I am prepare to put this down as teething problem

What is not teething problems, but unacceptably bad is the school boy error Microsoft did with translating SpreadSheet formula, using commas when they should had used semicolons in formulas, as pointed out by Dobbo in PJ’s posting.  It is so fundamental and should had been caught early on in the development process. This tells me that either Microsoft is sloppy on testing, or they did not bother doing any test at all. Arguing that ODF does not have a spec on formula, for this particular case, does not work for me. Either you store the last known value in place of the formula, as Microsoft seems to do on some cases, or you translate it correctly. Mixture of both is even more dangerous than doing either on its own.

Rob Weir complains that ODF Spreadsheet support for MSOffice is probably the worst. I am willing to put this down to teething problem, since this is after all, version 1. I will, however, criticise Microsoft for bad quality control. Quality control means testing against other products and Microsoft obviously failed to do it here. And I will warn Microsoft against using this implementation of ODF support this time round to argue that ODF simply cannot represent everything MSOffice can the way MSOffice own format can. Your showdy implementation is at fault, not ODF.

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