CyberTech Rambler

November 30, 2010

Novell, Attachment, Microsoft … and SCO

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:00 pm

I am sure everyone now knows that Novell sold itself to Attachmate. A lot of digital ink has been spent commenting on the issues. To me, the interesting bit is how and why Microsoft financed the sale by creating a patent holding  company to buy Novell’s patent portfolio concurrent with the sale and the part about Novell retaining Unix Copyright.

Andy Updegrove’s excellent analysis about the deal is here and here.  I thought Microsoft could buy up Novell. However, it appears that if it does so, there may be antitrust problem. I think Microsoft ego might be part of the  consideration but Microsoft’s history has shown that it is a truly American company (in a sense that I always admire) that will swallow its pride if it is necessary.  I am sure it also felt that it has to protect Intellectual Properties that was created by the much-criticized MS-Novell deal. If a outright buy is not possible, then a holding company strongly controlled by Microsoft is the next best deal.

I think the mail goal of the holding company to Microsoft is to protect the IPs mentioned in the previous paragraph. The icing is of course the ability to continue the rant that Linux infringe MS’ IPs. If MS controls who can join the holding company as members who are covered by patent held by the company, it will be as good as MS holding the patent themselves. However, as Updegrove correctly point out, this simply mean MS squeeze slightly more patent fee out from licensees so no big deal there. I, however, think he missed a trick. As he had pointed out, it is difficult to pinpoint who are members of the holding company. By becoming a member of the holding company, any Linux-based product vendor workaround the publicity they don’t want if they had publicly signed an agreement with Microsoft. You and I know that Microsoft will not sue members of the holding company and in fact, your membership fee is inflated by this implied benefit.

Novell is at pain to point out that Unix Copyright is not part of the sale to the holding company. That tells me one thing: It is not worth much and only SCO sees  value in Unix copyright. Not even Microsoft sees benefit of holding Unix copyright through a proxy. It is therefore a pity that SCO is in bankruptcy. A few years ago Novell might be able to make more money by selling those copyrights to SCO.

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November 16, 2010

Oracle (finally) feeling the wrath of Apache?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:03 pm

It has been an interesting month on Java. After Java went mainstream, you do expect things to quiet down. For a while, it did. Now Oracle stewardship of Java had brought excitment to the front.

The precursor to it is Oracle suing Google over Andriod. I must said I was surprised when IBM decided to take the sideline on this issue. A few weeks later, the issue became clear: IBM was in talks with Oracle over IBM switching camp from Apache Harmony to OpenJDK. That is the first salvo in Oracle-Apache spat. Regardless of what Bob Sutor says, it is a betrayal of Project Harmony. Nevertheless, it is IBM’s decision and one that it is entitled to make. Then of course it is Apple switching to OpenJDK. Uncharacteristically, Apple did not manage this transition well. It left people (like me) in limbo for a few days. For Oracle, they managed it superbly. It is a well organized coup against Apache Harmony.

About simultenously, we have the JCP election. Hologic, Oracle’s nominee, did not get it. This gave Apache got a boast: It is still regarded as important and crucially, supported by the community. After being pushed into a corner by Oracle, it decided to bite back and it did, ferociously. Now come the surprise… Oracle (or at least someone in Oracle) responded with a uncharacteristically conciliatory tone.

I think Apache is right to take a strong stand. If anything, Oracle had demonstrated that its culture is very business centric, i.e., all out to squeeze out any business advantage and use it. There is nothing wrong with this attitude. However, it does mean to play with Oracle, you must bring your muscle to bear. The usual softly softly approach that both SUN and Apache favour must be thrown out of the window when you negotiate with Oracle. This is what Apache belatedly realized and what Apache is doing.

As a Java developer, I wish the spat haven’t occured. At the minimum, this interfers with the development of Java and right now, it is looking like interference is too weak a word to describe this spat. Stalling is a better word today. I don’t know, tomorrow it may be derailment. You might see Apache as the instigator of the stalling of Java. You might be correct on this.

Even so, I am still supporting Apache in its fight. First of all, the industry needs a JVM with more permissible license than the GPL with exception. Apache license fits the bill. I can see the appeal of OpenJDK’s GPL for Oracle as it will requires almost all non-free/open source Java implementation to grease Oracle’s hand with silver but it is not good for the long term health of Java. Moreover, the Java community at large need to be heard. By and large, it is correct to say that the Apache Foundation represent the community. Finally, Oracle is finding its feet on handling the open source projects it inherited from Java, so we need to help it finds its feet by showing it the strength of the community carries.

Xbox proping up Windows/Office

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:17 am

Interesting accusation from Information Week: The Windows Group in Microsoft raided the XBox group to plump up its figure.

I never thought that Windows group need to be prop up by another group. We all know the XBox group were originally driven by the profit in Windows Group, never thought a day might come when it returns the favour.

If true, this story is rather sad. Windows group is still healthy and by all normal business logic, need not be plump up. It is, however, plump up for PR reason.

November 9, 2010

What I don’t like about FaceBook and Google’s spat over data

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:35 pm

The news on the web is Google is blocking FaceBook access to Gmail API for downloading contacts information, then FaceBook quickly create a workaround for the block.

The two things I do not like: (1) Google chooses to block particular vendor’s access to its API: Today it is FaceBook, tomorrow it could be me; And (2) FaceBook’s response by creating the workaround, instead of talking to Google.

I cannot fault Google’s motive in blocking FaceBook’s (and others who do not reciprocate data sharing) access to its API. it is true it is trying to ply open other’s data vault and is not shy to use its muscle to do it. I think the aim is correct, noble and is for the better general health of the web. Furthermore, I like the idea that I can move my data between providers.

What I do not like is Google selectively lock people off its API. Today it is for a noble aim, what about tomorrow when Google surrenders to the devil?

In effect, I am in a catch-22 situation and I don’t really have a solution for it.

I am not in a catch-22 situation with FaceBook. I condemn it outright. It is true that FaceBook had done nothing wrong with the workaround, but you do not expect a big company like Facebook to choose to behave like a crook that choose to run around/game Google’s restriction instead of tackling it head on like a man.

What Facebook did is to automate download of GMail data to user’s computer instead of requiring users to follow a set of instructions on GMail. It either (1) use a different API to get the data for user (no it didn’t), or (2)simply reconstruct the URL for user download by studing GMails download URL (which it did).

Facebook did not use a different API because either it is not available, or if it did, it knows Google can easily defeat it. It choose the URL effort because it knows it is difficult for Google to block. Normally, chosing the URL method is regarded as ethical as it is one of the few solutions you can employ to get data from a third party because they refuse to give you the data, but with Google, the case is different: Google has an official method for FaceBook to get the data, but FaceBook does not like Google’s term and condition so it decided to bypass it. What is this behaviour? Hacking. It is not white-hat hacking, nor grey-hat, it is black-hat hacking.

Will Google block this? Probably. If it does, I understand why it feels it has to. But I hope not. I think the objective of the exercise should be (if it is not) to expose Facebook as a leech of data and Google managed to do this already. It is not that much different from allowing users to download their data manually via Google’s official channel, then upload the data to FaceBook. I know Facebook is behaving like a little kid who steals the candy after he is told he cannot have it. But Google is bigger and way more mature than that. Google should enjoy the spanking it gave FaceBook. It is mission accomplish, especially if you take into account what Mike Davis from Ovum said  in this BBC article:

“People want social interaction to be easy. Exposing what you are doing could make some people question whether they want to do it”

November 8, 2010

London Stock Exchange latest IT problem …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:43 pm

I am watching London Stock Exchange roll out of its new trading platform closely, following its every move because LSE changed from .NET to Linux. It is not so much about watching Linux in action at a major Stock Exchange since it has been done successfully before. In fact, it is probably safe to say that Linux is edging out the competition. I am more interested in how LSE manages the transition, what customization they had done to Linux and similar nitty-gritty stuff including tidbits that comes out from the graphvine from third parties who are affected by this transition.

It turns out that the trading platform transition is only a small part of LSE’s overall IT move. It is also doing a big expansion of the services it provides. If they can pull it off, that would be great. Of course, it is not without problem. The latest is a massive network hit that leads to a suspension of a contractor. Of course the most juicy bit is that we have a outage for two hours and the suspension of the Linux transition. Other than that, all I am aware of is potential capacity problem that should be fixable in the long run.

This is of course, the first publicized outage of the Linux-based system. Because it happened early in the transition cycle, and the finger is quick to point at a human rather than the platform, one still have to write this down as teething problem. Equally unfortunately, unlike previous incidents with the .NET platform, we cannot even say it is definitely a problem with Linux or the trading platform. In fact, all indications are pointing to management problem and Linux might simply be a casualty of poor management.

We still have to wait and see.

Ubuntu trying to throw its weight around?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:25 pm

Recently, Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu makes two revelations in very quick successions: (1) Ubuntu is going to use Unity instead of GNOME as desktop managerin the next version, and (2) Ubuntu is switching to Wayland instead of X server as the display server. Susan Linton as a good post on how the two gels together in the bigger picture.

While there is no doubt the internet will be full of people chipping in their two cents (myself included), I see this as a purely commercial decision. Something Ubuntu is entitled to make as it lives and dies by it.

My two cent is, is Ubuntu trying to throw its weight around by steering the development effort to where it wants it to go? Frankly, Ubuntu has the inertial to effect this. However, this may be another effort at hurding cats. What is interesting is both Unity and Wayland needs a lot of work, and Ubuntu will have to throw a lot of effort at it. They probably comes in the form of code contribution, and if so, the standard accusation that Ubuntu does not contribute code will probably fade away.

Will Unity and Wayland makes much headway into the Linux universe at the expense of the competition? I don’t think so. Linton says Unity needs heavy hardware lifting to move it, that is why Wayland is chosen as it is light and provides as close to the metal support on hardware. Between the two, Wayland is probably more likely to be the successful one if Ubuntu can make it attractive as X server. Unity is hampered by the hardware requirement and therefore, there is a good reason for others, more lightweight desktop managers to stick around.

November 3, 2010

Exodus of developers from OpenOffice.org

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:42 pm

There is an exodus of developers from OpenOffice.org to The Document Foundation, i.e., LibreOffice. That is only to be expected. There is a long laundry list of discontent with OpenOffice.org’s management policy and The Document Foundation is formed precisely to cure the most complained about grievances.

Andy Updegrove do a good article on forking, governance and corporate sponsorship, so there is no need for me to do one. The only thing I will add is history looks to be repeating itself. The last big complain about governance is the Eclipse Platform. Of course, we all know the outcome, and the outcome was good, i.e., the formation of Eclipse Foundation as an independent steward for the platform.

In both cases, we have a major corporate overlord overseeing the project. Nobody is claiming that IBM in the case of Eclipse, or SUN in the case of OpenOffice.org, is doing a really lousy job. Rather, their corporate overloadship causes friction. In the case of Eclipse it mainly affects other corporations, and we see them holding back, or contributing not as much as they like to to Eclipse before IBM ceded Eclipse Platform to Eclipse Foundation.  Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I did not see it initially as well  However,  on hindsight,  looking at the proliferation of activities after Eclipse Foundation was formed, it is clear that other companies were wary about IBM’s dominance pre-Eclipse Foundation.

I guess corporate bodies are more seasoned and battle-harden than the the open source community in general. Most of us in the open source community are probably a bit naive in thinking that a benevolent corporate dictator is not necessary a bad thing. Some even think that as long as there is a Free Software version of their contribution it does not matter who actually owns the copyright (and therefore it is ok to sign away one’s copyright). This saga with OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice is going to be a big eye opener for us all.

In the long run, the saga is good for the community. We are in the process of seeing corporations mingling with open source and it will take time to rewrite the rules of contribution over and over again until we finally settle on something all parties are happy with (or can live with). Next few years is going to be interesting as the dance between the two intensifies.

If any, this saga reinforce the need to make sure one really know who you are assigning your copyright to. My principle is always that you should think very carefully before assigning your copyright to corporate entities, regardless of whether is it MySQL, OpenOffice.org or Canonical. I think we can give them small little crumbs on efficiency ground, but anything that is bigger than that the answer has to be a no. One big question they cannot explain to me why they want a copyright assignment, instead of simply us giving them a royalty-free, perpetual and unlimited license. The later has served  the open source community well and I do not see a need for the copyright assignment.

I, however, won’t think twice to assign my copyright to Free Software Foundation. Their track record speaks for themselves. Assigning copyrights in this case makes efficiency sense when it comes to promoting free software via copyright enforcement, and unlike corporate entity, the risk that FSF change course and stop serving the community of free software is almost zero.

It is my belief that the biggest loser in all this saga is Oracle. Frankly, I don’t think it cares. I think it believe it can weather this and perhaps it is right.

Google sues US government to loosen the grip of Microsoft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:55 pm

TechDirt is reporting that Google is suing the US government for considering only Microsoft-affiliated technology. In particular, it looks like the battle field is Office Productivity.

What is clear is Google wants a slice of the action in supplying US government with office productivity software. If it managed to do it, it will be a big coup and signals the maturity of cloud-based computing,

I haven’t read the complaint yet, but I am not surprise that US government was sued over its reliance of Microsoft technology. For me, it was a matter of time.

Do I think Department of Interior (the target of Google’s complain) is biased towards Microsoft? Probably not. Just that it is a big old elephant that fails to keep up.

 

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