The All Mighty Green One

Non sense, whining and stupid unfounded comments from the green.

Microsoft’s Motives Behind The 235 IP Infringements

We’ve all seen Microsoft’s latest frenzy. They are accusing Linux, Open Office and other open source software of a massive patent infringement. “The numbers and locations of the alleged violations break down as follows: 42 violations within the Linux kernel itself, 65 within the “Linux GUI,” though the article doesn’t specify whether these infringements apply to one GUI or apply equally to all the Linux desktop environments. OpenOffice allegedly violates an additional 45 patents, e-mail programs infringe on another 15 patents, and an unspecified array of “other” OSS programs violate a further 68 patents.”, according to Ars Technica (view link above for complete article).

It’s too late for me to try to turn this post into news, this is relatively old. Yet this begs to ask a couple of questions:

Why are they not specifying the patents that are in breach? We know that Microsoft has patented everything from the Recycle Bin to the Double Click (yes Microsoft, I said “Recycle Bin”, sue me!). It almost seems like something out of science fiction that they were awarded these patents, but what’s done is done. Is that they know their patent claims are so ridiculous that no one would take them seriously? Is it that, even though I’m sure there are infringements, 235 is just a pretty number and they haven’t actually made the necessary research?

Why wait until this moment? These infringements are nothing new. What is so lovely of this time of year to bring it up? Was their legal team slacking and got assigned some new homework?

Why just make an announcement but take no real legal action? No official suits have been presented in court. Who will be sued? The Linux foundation? Open source companies? End users?

To find the answers to these questions one must analyze the recent history of Linux and some insight might just pop up.

First you have the lovely deal between Microsoft and Novell. According to the B.S. Steve Ballmer and Ronald Hovsepian the plan was to “their companies planned to work together to improve interoperability and increase the viability of enterprise virtualization technology”. What they tried to undertone in the announcement, but everyone focused on anyway, was “As part of the deal, the two companies created a controversial patent indemnification pact: both companies agreed not to sue each other’s customers”. Or more importantly, Microsoft would not sue Novell and it’s users. Novell made a pact with the Devil to avoid patent hell.

This has several implications. Microsoft is saying that while open source software is evil and a detriment to the industry, Novell has been awarded a “get out of jail free” card. This two sided blade continues to emphasize what they’ve said about open source all along. They also clearly reinforced their intentions of going after Linux users in the future. If not, why would this deal be important?  At the very least scare Linux vendors into similar agreements.

Then you have the top U.S. desktop computer maker deciding to sell computers with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed. When a vendor like system76 it really doesn’t worry Microsoft. Hell, even Lenovo did it. But when the top computer seller in America makes this move, it will have serious repercussions. It all started with a project called IdeaStorm. It was a digg clone that Dell customers would use to tell the company what they wished for in new hardware, what they were unhappy about, how they could better their products and services. The folks at Dell were amazed when they got hundreds of thousands of petitions for open source office suite alternatives, firefox set as the default browser, and ship Linux preinstalled. Dell has had a recent history of very bad press. Ranging from the laptop battery scandal, to poor service for paying customers. Actually going through could be a way for them to get a bit of good publicity.

Now, I doubt this will be a best seller. They will probably sell some tens of thousands of computers with Linux. Let’s hope I’m mistaken and the number jumps to six figures. Microsoft is not worried that this will curb Vista sales. That won’t happen in a very, very long time. But it will raise awareness of Linux in the everyday mortals who don’t know better. It’s effect will be measured in the future, not the present.

You also need to take into context all of the litigation that has been in the press recently over online media trading. I’m not going to go into that right now. I actually wrote an article on it recently, not that it wasn’t an over covered subject anyway. Basically “free music” or “free movies” are being portrayed as evil. While they are convenient to you, they are adding to the collapse of the media industry as a whole. Your favorite artists will all be forced to stop producing media and get day jobs. The complete entertainment industry faces demise. Or at least that’s what they want you to think. But the important thing is that a concept is being induced into people’s minds. Something that isn’t a new concept, but is getting more traction these days: free is evil.

Of course they are referring to free as in beer (free of charge), as opposed to free as in speech (you are granted the liberty to remix and redistribute). There is a very fine distinction. Most products in the OSS spectrum are free as in beer, but the few that have a price tag attached to them don’t get their freedom revoked. Yet, as anyone working in advertising will probably suggest, since both concepts are expressed with the same word it’s easy to add your own little twists on top of the already massive ignorance and confusion.

Is Microsoft just using these patent infringement allegations to further shed shadow over the Linux community? I think so. There really is no plan to sue anyone. They just need to do something to hurt Linux on the public relations front. They have been getting too much light recently. This has to be stopped before the snowflake rolls into an avalanche! You know what Microsoft? This may just be a classic case of too little, too late.

May 22, 2007 Posted by | linux, microsoft, software, technology | 2 Comments

Ahoy Matey!

In my travels through the blogosphere I found an article which grabbed my attention. The author was ranting on how we have become evil pirates leaching on the poor artists who invests in music and have to starve to death because. We are so insensible and indifferent that we steal to no end.

I am going to take the politically incorrect stance here. People, really, the whole stealing thing. It’s a marketing campaign. It’s being overblown, taken out of proportion to serve the interests of the big corporations which distribute media. They publicize astronomical numbers in losses, sue innocent people, raid servers in foreign countries. All to get your attention. All to make you fear your dastardly activities and lead you into a path of redemption.

It is very hard to take any large group of people and place them all under a single category or specification. Yet it has been done. The millions of people that trade digital media around the world in P2P networks (this is the most notorious example, but there are other technologies at work here as well) are all labeled universally as thieves. Is this an accurate description? Let’s try to take an unbiased look at the evolution of the “illegal” distribution of media to try to find out. I’ll concentrate on movies and music, since they are the two types of content that tend to get most attention.

Ten years ago you could also get movies and music illegally. The internet was still in it’s infancy. A 33.6 or 56 KiBPS dial up modem was the hottest thing since individually wrapped sliced cheese. The widespread use of audio and video encoding that we see today was science fiction at best. There was still a very tight coupling of content and medium. To acquire and consume the content you had to accept the medium it was being distributed on. This was no exception for the pirated distribution as well. Let’s sum up the characteristics of the content and medium that was being distributed.

  • The pirated medium sucked. The packaging was sported a very bad copy of the originals logo or front label. Usually never had a back label. The tape, or CD itself usually also had a bad copy of the imprint or nothing at all.
  • The content quality was bad. The audio and video was usually very bad. The VHS tapes presented static on the TV, the image looked less sharp. The sound sounded muffled.
  • The location of transaction was informal. You had to go to a flee market, or meet up with someone selling pirated content on the street. You never walked into a respectable business with a nice presentation. There was no support, no number to call, no promise of customer satisfaction.
  • It was more cost effective than buying the original content. Despite all the negative elements previously mentioned, the strong motivator is that it was significantly cheaper than the legal alternative. Legal and illegal product offer more or less the same thing, with a big price difference. Obviously the market is going to respond to that. Keep in mind that there were no HDTV’s or 7.1 surround systems, so a focus on quality was not the big factor it is today.

Jump to the present. The internet has taken the world by storm. We have tiny devices that we carry around all day that can connect our calls, play music, and announce next week’s forecast. Appliance costs continue to decline and an overall growth of technological related product consumption grows. The media market is at the center of this growth. With the supply of all those media devices, content demand rises as consequence.

People want content. It’s that simple. As always, the market will give them a different choices on what and how to acquire it. How have the illegal offerings evolved during this time?

  • There is no medium. I can no acquire my content without the need of it being tied to a to a physical medium. I no longer have to worry about a CD or DVD scratching and ruining my favorite song or movie. I no longer have to worry about that big disc pile in the corner of my room. I no longer have to worry about having a CD and a cassette only radio. With digital content, I can have it with me wherever I go. It’s versatile enough to be played on a wide range of devices, not just my radio or TV. I can quickly and easily share it with anyone irrelevant of geographical position. This freedom is a very powerful concept. Especially when compared to the previous status quo.
  • The content quality is excellent. Most of the time on par or above legal offerings. I can download movies and TV shows in HD resolution in a wide variety of formats. I can get MP3’s in 320 KiBPS or lossless formats.
  • The location is the best place on earth. You can acquire everything you want from the comfort of your own home. No need to deal with traffic. No need to wait for the half hour it takes you to get to the store and the other half hour it takes you to get back. Instant gratification!
  • It still is more cost effective. It’s not free as some people think or promote. You pay for the bandwidth necessary to download the content. Those resources are dedicating the acquisition, so they are part of the cost. Even though, it is still considerably cheaper, probably even more than before.

Before I had to choose between “good price and bad quality” or “not so good price and good quality”. Now it’s simply a no brainer. The illegal offering is superior, and it’s cheaper. There is simply not enough to motive you to “step out of the dark side” so to speak. That is why the MPAA and RIAA are crazy suing people and companies and spending millions of dollars in lobbying. The only motivator they can count to favor them is fear of prosecution. So the judgment now becomes: “good price but I’m in danger” or “not so good price but I can sleep at night”. This introduces a little more balance to the equation. It’s not the best method. They are not stupid. They are aware of this, but it’s the only thing they can resort to.

We all know they have made attempts to follow the new distribution mediums. They have been hindered by poor quality, awful DRM schemes, non competing release dates, etc. If you look at piracy as a competing company, not a menace, and you compare each offering… again, no brainer.

Markets react to the products and services that are presented to them and under the circumstances they are offered in. It’s not that we wont pay for content! We will. Make it worth our while. Not by driving us into fear. Do it the old fashion way: actually offer a superior product. When you do, you’ll see me in line with everyone else.

May 18, 2007 Posted by | internet, media, politics, technology | 14 Comments

Conditioning Stupidity

Normal day, normal crap. Decide to stock up on some necessary items which I was running low one. So I grab a friend, and go to the nearest store for some quick shopping. Walking around in a store, buying some stuff, you know, nothing out of the ordinary. I collect the things I need and approach the counter to pay.

What the hell. If Quentin Tarantino can get away with it, why can’t I? By the way, if you have never heard of this guy before, you really, really need to rent Pulp Fiction! That scene at the end where Sam Jackson hits his monologue… that’s gold right there! In any case I’m rambling here. Let’s jump back in time a few months. I was living in Santo Domingo for a while and had to move to the good ol’ U.S. of A. for reasons I will not discuss right now, but it’s effects are definitely things I will blog about in the near future. I had lived in the U.S. in the past, but it seems that things have evolved a lot during my absence, which is about half a decade, give or take a year.

Now, if for some reason some one outside of my usual subscriber list accidentally found this article and is reading it I have two things to say to you.

  • I apologize. Please withstand this bad writing. It will be over soon.
  • Aside from the obvious economic differences, the third and first world are vastly different places. The law, culture, habits, people, it’s all different. It’s almost like if you are in a different world, which is also populated by humans, but which have grown different over time due to the evolution and adaption to this new habitat. I will admit that the third world countries, especially the ones relatively near the U.S., imitate and consume American culture to some extent. This makes it a bit more familiar, but still a world apart.

Since all the clarifications necessary for any stray readers that may appear have been presented, without further a due, let me get back to my story. Jump back to the present again. As expected, the cashier scans all the items I picked up. Her cash register checks the bar code, automagically gets the price and adds it up. At the end of the process she gives the grand total of my purchase.

OK, wait, freeze time. Can we think for a minute what just happened here? The purchasing process is automated to such a great extent that the cashier does not need to recognize the product. She does not need to read a price tag off the product. She does not need to manually or with the assistance of a calculator add up the total of the purchase. She simply passes the items through a scanner and the rest is taken care of. Now, it can be argued that this can be done for the sake of efficiency, security and proper information handling. During office hours, I can be the person that pitches that slogan to you. Lucky for you I started writing this after I got off of work. It’s done for a simple thing.

Any non-programmers that may be reading this may be surprised, but YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ASSUME THAT THE USER IS STUPID. I’m not talking a little clutzy. I’m talking retarded, finger up his ass, eyes crossed, slobbering, shuddering, can’t-remember-how-to-spell-my-name stupid. And this is done for a simple reason. You cannot predict who the user of your system will be. You might have a demography that may give you an idea depending on the how focused the product is, but that still doesn’t narrow it down enough. This assumption serves as a least common denominator. This leads to a significant reduction in the potential of error. Therefore your information, which in the end is always your money, will be protected from it. Or so we like to tell our clients so they are able to sleep at night.

All of these things I have seen before. They were here before I left. They exist in Santo Domingo in certain big chain stores and super markets. They greeted me in my return. OK, roll time again! She gives me my total. I whip out some cash and hand it to her. She inputs the amount into the register, hands me some bills, but hands me no coins which I was expecting. Then I hear a tinkling sound. Let’s put time in slow motion please. I notice a small device next to the cash register facing my way. It’s a black box, with a nickel plated orifice pointing up. After a couple of seconds something astonishing happened. It spit out the exact change I was expecting. Stop time again! I had a brain freeze. It’s sole purpose is to calculate which coins it has to give you depending on the amount of change you are to be returned! I couldn’t move. I was standing stupefied. Lucky for me the friend that accompanied me, whom I mentioned earlier for this reference, gave me a slight nudge which served the purpose of waking me from the trance and giving you the last queue to roll time again. “Dude, pick up your change and let’s get out of here!”, he said. I picked it up, put it in my pocket, and then walked silent for a couple of minutes.

So now the cashiers aren’t even expected to count coins? They cannot be relied with the responsibility of adding and multiplying four (soon to be only three) types of coins. This is unbelievable!

Now you have to understand. The all life forms on this planet naturally adapt to their surroundings and their circumstances. Darwin is the grand daddy of these theory. If you are reading this that means you probably went to school, which means that you should know who he is and what I’m talking about, but these days you never know. It happens all around nature, and it happens within human society as well. By giving the cashier the aid of the cash register, she no longer needs to be adequate with simple arithmetic operations, so she doesn’t do them. Since she doesn’t do them, she is no longer capable of doing them at a rate acceptable to efficiently process a purchase. I will be straight with you. Ever since they let me bring a calculator to a test back in high school, I haven’t been the best guy in the room with arithmetic, but I can defend myself most of the time. And believe me, I CAN’T COUNT MY MONEY! Keep in mind that the cashier has been stripped of most of responsibilities anyway. Now she doesn’t even count change? What does that tell you about how she will adapt to this new circumstance? It’s simple. If she doesn’t have to think, then she won’t.

I recently saw a very funny movie called Idiocracy. It depicts a future where everyone was so dumbed down due to all the automation and lack of intellectual responsibility, society as a whole got to a state where the average person had the IQ of a 3 year old. I interpreted the message as a moral for how we are living today’s life and the things we should change. After what I’ve seen today, I fear it might very well be a prediction of the future.

May 17, 2007 Posted by | politics | 5 Comments