CyberTech Rambler

October 27, 2010

Another antitrust in the making?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:10 pm

Digitimes reports that Microsoft is using patents to stop several Taiwanese manufacturers from adopting Android. The argument here rest on whether the patent fee for using MS (presumably valid) patent is reasonable. The yard stick will be the licensing fee for Windows Phone 7. Let’s be  clear, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with Microsoft charging a patent fee, but given its past record, we have an issue with them using their monopoly power in the form of MSOffice to exclude the competition. Therefore, if the fee MS is charging is too high with compared to Windows Phone 7, then we might be looking at another antitrust case in the making.

Frankly, I cannot see Microsoft dealt with the fee so obviously. However, Digitimes is confident enough to report the licensing fee MS requested. The values are in the lower teens and certainly looks excessive and designed to stop manufacturers from using something from the competition. In this case, that something looks like Andriod.

However, I have to urge caution before we condemn this as an ploy to force manufacturer to use  Android. There is a lot of things that are unclear. First, this might be a bargaining chip Microsoft is employing to soften up manufacturers for cross-licensing deals. Second, it might be a variety of options Microsoft proposed to the manufacturers and they or the press choose to ‘home in’ on this more sensational aspect.


October 19, 2010

Takes Microsoft free license offer, but with caution

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:17 pm

It is unfortunate (but not unsurprising) that Microsoft got dragged in Russia’s pretenses at anti-piracy to seize dissidents computers. I deplore Russian’s move regardless of whose software were used as the pretext. That landed Microsoft with a PR disaster. While the real truth is the Russian or other authorities will simply move to the next most popular software (cue Photoshop), Microsoft decision to give out free licenses to NGO in several countries is a step in the correct direction.

Frankly, if you are a dissident in Russia, why on earth do you use pirated software? You are inviting trouble!

People like Marco thinks NGO should not take Microsoft’s free license and instead uses free and open source alternatives. While I share Marco’s view that NGO, like everyone else, should support LibreOffice and other open source software, I do not think outright rejection of Microsoft’s offer is appropriate.

My preferred view is to standardize on LibreOffice or other open source software, and keep Microsoft’s Windows and Office installation to a minimum. Like it or not, we still have government  or funding body  that stiill insist on using Microsoft Windows product, e.g. IE6 or one to submit in Word format. If a big entity like UK’s OfCom insist on Word attachment (see “(2) By Email“), what chances are there for smaller countries and less well-funded departments? If you insist on sending them items that does not meet their specification , e.g. sending PDF instead of Word for example, you just gave them a legitimate excuse for not considering them ignoring your funding request or response. Crucially, as in the case of OfCom who I am sure will not ignore PDF submission, you just got yourself on the wrong side of an important donor/body. Why take this unnecessary risk? Take Microsoft’s offer, but limit the use of Office and other software to a minimum. Prepare everything internally in ODF, then finally switch over to Word format before submission. That’s the smart thing to do.

Now, before you mention LibreOffice and other offering can also write to Word format, I have to tell you I had considered it and rejected the idea. Why? Your d0cument is likely to consist of charts, figures and other nice things to make a good impression. While other office software do a good job at preserving formatting, your final arbitrator is how is your document going to look on the recipient’s computer. Small differences in the way different software handles Word document means you cannot guarantee your nicely prepared document will not look strange on your recipient’s computer. You do not want that to happen. Moreover, in this day and age where submissions are normally in PDF or via online form, if your recipient asked for Word document, you can be sure that they are not the sharpest people in the IT, so better give them what they asked for.

October 7, 2010

Take infected PC of the internet, but no health certificate

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:59 am

BBC News is reporting that Microsoft says that Sick PCs (Infected PCs) should be taken off the internet.

While I cannot find the link, I remember that sometime ago, I argued that it is not infected PCs should be taken off the net, because this will reduces operating system vendors, including Microsoft’s, incentives to build more robust programs to stop infection in the first place.

But time passes, and I mellowed. Today, I will say yes, take infected PCs off the internet. As to the incentives problem? I think that will take care of itself, i.e., the cost to users for using a more infection prone software just rocketed, and the evolution process will weed the bad operating systems out. So, since I still think Microsoft’s operating system is the most vulnerable in this world, so I hope Microsoft doesn’t fall on its own sword.

As to requiring PC users to provide “health certificate”, my answer is a total NO. The process is too prone to manipulation and cannot cover a heterogenous computing system. Take for example, “anti-virus” and “firewall” only applies to Windows, it is less obvious that this applies equally to other operating systems. We do not want the rubbish system we have in UK, where the banking code requires the customer to install anti-virus and firewall. Both are rubbish for Macs and Linux. Thus unfairly discriminates against customers choosing to use Macs and Linux. [I have a Mac antivirus, but it is more to protect other PCs on the network than myself]. Also, having anti-virus and firewall does not guarantee precautions had been taken. A out-of-date antivirus software, or firewalls with more holes than swiss cheese will get you a health cert, but nonetheless useless in the fight against infection. Finally, philosophically speaking, “health certificate” is another way of saying “Guilty until proven innocent”.

I cannot help but to criticise Microsoft for asking for “health certificates”. First, they are simply trying to shift blames to their customers. That is to be vehemently opposed. Second, they know that a “health certificate” schemes is easier (and potentially cheaper) to implement for Windows as oppose to operating systems of their competitors simply because they are likely to assume you use Windows. That to me is rewarding their lousy security practice in the past.

I think a scheme to allow ISPs to immediately throttle suspected computer, and to quickly escalate to a complete withdrawal of service can be implemented fairly.

If we can find a way that protects everyone on the net without reducing incentives for vendors to make their software secure, then I am all for it. However, any proposed scheme must not be the favour of a vendor.

October 4, 2010

Microsoft sues Motorola over Android

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:33 pm

Well well well, what do we have here today: Microsoft sues Motorola over Android. I am not really surprised to hear it, but was surprised by the fact that Sky News found it important enough that it to put this on its on screen ticker. For background, Ina Fried of CNET has the court documents.

In Brian Profitt’s excellent analysis, he  thinks it is a proxy fight. I am not so sure. The patents that Microsoft used had been used before to target others, notably TomTom. Microsoft patent settlement with TomTom and HTC makes me think that it is not really a proxy fight. TheRegister’s analysis says that quite a lot of the patents involve ActiveSync and that Google itself is a licensee of the technology. I think it is more about Microsoft wanting to make money.

I can see Microsoft continuing its trend of using “Android” the to grab headline and to further its argument that “Android is not free” and “Windows Mobile is cheaper”. Well, the argument that Android is not “free” is more likely to be based on the fact that Windows Mobile throw in Outlook/Microsoft Exchange connectors for free. “Windows Mobile indemnify you” argument need not apply here because the same would had happened if you have to license GMail connectors in Windows Mobile.

What is true is Microsoft is trying to drive up cost for manufacturer of Android,  to gain publicity for “Windows Mobile is cheaper”  and jump on creating “uncertainty” to deter Android adoption by carriers. Quite frankly, whether this works depends a lot of how much Microsoft demand from Android for accessing Microsoft Outlook/Exchange and whether the sum extracted exceeds what CEOs and CTOs are expecting to pay. Unlike you and me, CEOs and CTOs are informed people. They don’t pay attention to Microsoft hypes. They know how much the work needed to be done for Android and had worked out the cost, including paying Microsoft for some patent rights. I personally expect the license fee to be significantly lower than $8 to &15 Microsoft charges for Windows Mobile 7 as I do not  think Microsoft wants to be investigated by antitrust bodies for using its Outlook/Exchange muscle to muscle into the mobile market. If it does, rest assured one of the companies will bring it to the attention of European Commission. Even assuming the overall licensing fee for Android (to get ALL patent trolls to go away) exceeds what a manufacturer pay for Windows Mobile, as long as it is not too substantial, manufacturer is too wary about handling MS another monopoly and suffers from this later to opt out of a potential independent path from Microsoft.

Profitt and others are right: Expects a settlement.

While I do expect to see Microsoft using its patents to extract licensing fee, it is quite uncharacteristic for a big company who is not in financial meltdown of any kind to behave like a patent troll and targets competition the way it does. Just cannot quite put my finger on what’s wrong with Microsoft approach but there is  clearly something amiss in the way Microsoft handles a box-standard industry patent litigation to extract money. May be it is the specific mention of targeting Android from the horse’s mouth. May be something else.

I  tell you what I find strange in the Microsoft Press Release. It clearly feels that it needs to justify the litigation which is at odds with other litigations. Specifically I am referring to the need to say

“We have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to safeguard the billions of dollars we invest each year in bringing innovative software products and services to market.”

That sounds to me like some uneasiness about launching this patent suit, therefore the need to justify the suit. Does it mean Microsoft investors are worry that the R&D money is going down the drain and MS is trying to proof otherwise? Or is it trying to justify something it thinks is ethically wrong? We will have to wait to find out.

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