Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Geek Wednesday: Attack of the Borg

Microsoft: hegemony, arrogance, brutishness, surreality. Their latest imperial movement is all over the geek news: they are proposing to attack Linux, Open Office, and various other open source products and providers for violating some 250 MS patents. For some perspective on this, we call on our resident IT guru, Nearly Redmond Nick.

Toshiba -

Here's an interesting article:

"Microsoft could have several motives for rattling its patent saber: slowing down open-source rivals, raising fears of open-source legal risks among customers, and winning payment for technology the company believes it deserves from a group that's generally been unwilling to pony up."

Given the company behind all this noise, I am leaning towards the last of the three. Just as Microsoft forced Novell into their deal, I think they're trying to do more of the same here. If this was legitimate and MS wanted a different result, they would be releasing many more details about each and every infringement. The reason they are bundling all of these up instead of fighting each one individually is because of their desired outcome. It's traditional conflict resolution - don't fight about every little thing, find the underlying theme or overall relationship and focus on that. I guess it's almost a compliment to MS that they are doing something well. They are definitely living up to all their nasty stereotypes.

Some good news is coming out of this, at least. The Free Software Foundation is promising to include language in the next version of the GPL that prohibits deals like the MS-Novell pact. That should be a fairly large step forward, given the popularity of the GPL. And, as with any MS announcement, the Open Source troops are riled up. Opponents of Redmond are calling the software giant's bluff. It's not just a legion of intelligent developers you're dealing with, Bill - it's fans of OSS from all professions, including lawyers who are calling "bullshit". You got away with one with Novell. Let's not get too excited now and think this will go much further. Remember, Novell is a corporation with a vulnerable head - the OSS community has many leaders. There is no single weakness, and their low-tech "weaponry" just may be a bigger asset than their high-tech software.

—N.R. Nick

The only point I'd add to that is the potential for a collision with Sun: after all, how different from Open Office is Sun's Star Office? If MS wants to shoot the goose, they'll have to go after the gander, and they might find both more than they bargained for. And they'll have more stuff like this shaken in their face by the geek press. Bottom line here is that David's finally gotten big enough to bother Goliath, and the monster is reacting as all trolls will. In fact, as this writer points out, the goon is getting scared.

Science Watch: Great piece in the Times yesterday on the CERN Hadron Collider, with a slide show and movie.

So what's that fruit vendor from Cupertino up to this week? Ah, romancing Paul McCartney, of course, even as they release a modest upgrade of their MacBook laptops. Very cool, Steve, and good timing on the heels of those questions you had to face at the stockholders' get-together.

I was thinking about doing a review of .mac, Apple's country-club style networking, email, backup, and family website creation offering ($99 a year). But a recent tip I've gotten from one of our regular readers at Geek Wednesday, Mr. D. Vrai, has basically closed the contest on .mac. He told me about Mozy, an online backup solution that comes free with 2GB of storage capacity, with unlimited storage available for a mere $5 a month. So when you put that together with Gmail (free with 2.8GB of storage) and the ability to make your own websites in Google Pages (100MB of content free), along with Picasa Web's photo upload application (1GB free), it would seem that .mac is toast. Here's an idea, Steve: use those fat iPod profits to Google-ize your servers and then just give away a basic .mac subscription, with a charge for a premium edition. You'll soon be watching those new MacBooks jumping off the shelves. Yeah, I know, it's a great idea, and I don't know why you didn't think of it first. You can hire me if you want: just give me a call.

But there are things you can do on a Mac that are just too hard or too clumsy to do on anything else. Next week, we'll show off a few of those. Until then, here's a brief excerpt from my new book, The Open Source Society, and our fractal of the week from Ben Haller's Fracture product.

Technology is supposed to be about innovation, and indeed, it often is. But true innovation happens over time and by degrees. As we will see in Chapter 5, the software development model provides a map of how real innovation occurs. Briefly, it follows these high-level stages:

Ø Vision (the idea, its purpose, potential benefits, and general structure)

Ø Scope (how far a reach this innovation will have; its overall compass of influence)

Ø Requirements (what will be needed, structurally and functionally, for this innovation to fulfill the vision without exceeding its proper scope)

Ø Development (the physical creation of the elements required to make the innovation work; usually this is the writing of computer code and the preparation of systems and physical machines on which the code is to perform)

Ø Testing (trying out the innovation in a controlled, limited environment and under carefully planned test conditions)

Ø Implementation (the delivery of the finished product, after multiple rounds of testing, development, and demonstration of working models to the users or audience for whom the innovation has been made)

You have an idea; you write a proposal; then you create a design and write some code. Finally, you hoist it onto a sandbox or development machine to try it out, take a walk around it. By the time anyone sees a test version of your innovation (for example, an alpha, beta, or release candidate), it has probably changed considerably from its early form and substance. Most live releases of a new product only barely resemble the original concept.

But the corporate advertising/media spin on innovation is different from this reality: it feeds us images of overnight transformation, of revolutions conceived in a boardroom and born the next day, with scarcely a moment's effort or reflection in between.

Such distortions of reality are dangerous, in that they create a false perception of how challenges are most effectively met. When this fantasy-based spin on solving problems is granted broad acceptance within a culture, the results can be positively disastrous. In its sale of the Iraq War, for example, our corporate government followed the same advertising model in its manipulation of the news media: it gave us "shock and awe," a dramatic and patently irrational response to a challenge that was nevertheless uncritically lapped up by the mass media. If we are to hope to prevent the recurrence of such tragic failures as the Iraq War became, we must see to it that we transform our thinking about facing challenges within our businesses, our technologies, and even in our personal lives. It is one goal of this book to contribute toward that transformation of consciousness.

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