Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Embrace-Extend-Extinguish in action

I just read a post in Slashdot which pointed to this document which came out of the court case that found Microsoft to be guilty of monopoly abuse:


Have a look through here for references to Kerberos and you will see the Microsoft Embrace-Extend-Extinguish in action.

1. Kerberos is an open standard attracting more interest than Microsoft's closed alternative.

2. Microsoft writes software that uses the open standard ... but extends usage of the standard to include things that only Microsoft can use (protected by patents).

3. Microsoft software will not inter-operate with software using the open Kerberos standard. People have bought into Microsoft's implementation because it's "free" and it comes with Windows. Because MS-Kerberos will not inter-operate the standard as an open medium is effectively extinguished.

Clever, eh? Microsoft adopt a popular open standard (embrace), add in their own secret changes (extend) and kill the standard in the market place (extinguish).

... and it's not only the Kerberos standard that has been a victim of this. Today, look at what Microsoft are doing to ODF.

St.George Bank: just won't let go

I have a business account with St.George Bank that I no longer need, so I wanted to close it. Not so easy:

o I logged into their "secure" internet site and found that there was no way to close an account on line (thanks guys).

o Sent an email via their "secure" web site asking that they close the account. I gave all account details in this message.

o Received an email message from them saying that I needed to phone a number in Australia at times that suited their staff (thanks guys).

o I called the number given and after a 20 minute wait (thanks guys) I spoke to a very helpful (really) person who told me that I could not close the account through him because it was a *business* account. I had to call a *different* number that was only staffed at times when I (being in the UK) would be in bed (thanks guys).

o I have now been told that I can fax in a request to close the above account as long as I include a scan of my passport

... I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Software Idea Patents in action

As predicted software idea patents are staring to be a problem for creative individuals. Microsoft are building up a list of companies to sign up to agreements which "protect" the counterparty from being sued by Microsoft for patents which Linux may infringe. So far there has been no reference made to any specific software ideas, just dark mutterings and threats from the likes of the Microsoft boss Mr. Ballmer.

The latest company to get sucked into Microsoft's game is Samsung:

Microsoft signs Samsung for Linux patent protection - 20 Apr 2007 - IT Week

When (not if) Microsoft start to go after the free and open software community you can bet they will go for individuals because even if a patent at issue is invalid, an individual will have no chance at all against Microsoft's huge team of lawyers. Justice and broader social good won't even be distant specs on the horizon.

Software idea patents will have the same kind of chilling effect on free and open source software that the last ice age had on the planet. Real creativity and innovation will be frozen solid.

Unlike the US, legislation in Europe currently excludes software from being patented though the lobbies of European parliaments are full of corporate representatives trying to change that. Blunders made by the EPO (or the EPO deliberately ignoring the law, you choose) have weakened the restriction on software idea patents too. Real creativity and innovation in the software industry rely on the current legislation being re-enforced, not weakened as proposed by the corporates. Software ideas should not be patentable at all. No exceptions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oyster Card. Good in parts, still.

I have had no response at all from Oyster/TFL regarding their overcharge error and the resulting abuse directed at my wife that I reported here:

The OpenSkills Sett: Oyster Card. Good in parts.

This morning I contacted my local council, the City of London, to ask if they could help with this matter. The person I spoke to told me that the City could not help and that there was no ombudsman for such matters. He said that I should call the GLA and speak to their transport department and not let them fob me off. I should insist on speaking to the transport department.

So I called the GLA. I was told that they did not handle complaints about TFL or Oyster (what a surprise) but that in fact there was a body that acted as an ombudsman in such cases: London Travel Watch.

So I have submitted a report to London Travel Watch. Let's see what happens next.

P.S. I have to say that, on the whole, the Oyster does work rather well for us. I can also understand that with such a complex travel network and so many distributed devices (the oyster readers) things will go wrong. What is definitely not OK are the mechanisms Oyster and TFL have in place to handle the inevitable problems.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Out of Date

The BBC are reporting on the state of the monolithic project embarked upon my the NHS (the UK National Health Service) to "upgrade" much of their IT infrastructure. Many reports have come out about this (one of the best was in Private Eye a few weeks ago) and the government response is call the information behind the report "out of date". Look out for the phrase in here:

BBC NEWS | Health | 'Action needed' on NHS computers

... and also look out for it in other government responses. It's an easy one line put down of any study. If the study is done too quickly, it is classed as superficial. If the study is prepared carefully over time, of course the data behind the study is "out of date" by the time the study is published.

In this case the irony is that the project(s) that the report note are late would be reported as being even later if the data was bang up to date. No doubt the cost overruns would be higher too.

Of course, information can be out of date. But the UK government seem be using that as an excuse to ignore many insightful observations.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Singing my song

I just wrote about my concerns regarding the use of criminal law to tackle copyright infringement. Well, it looks like the EFF have the same concerns and are getting together a petition:

EFF takes up arms against Euro copyright move | The Register

You can sign the EFF petition and read more information from the EFF on this subject here.

Copyright infringement: a crime?

First: IANAL. The following is my understanding only. I am not a legal practitioner of any kind.

Copyrights are only useful because they are protected by law. If you infringe upon a copyright you are breaking the law. But what kind of law? Civil law is between civil entities (such as people or companies) and it is up to the injured party to bring a legal action. Criminal law is between the state and a civil entity and in this case the state will prosecute the case. If you break a civil law you can expect to pay a fine. If you break a criminal law you get a visit from the police, a criminal record and can expect to spend time in jail.

Until recently copyright was protected by civil law. If you make an unauthorized copy of my work I can sue you for compensation. Recently, laws have been created that make copyright infringement a criminal offense in some circumstances. This means that the police or other government agencies can come after you. For example, the Trading Standards office in the UK have become copyright police as reported by The Register here:

Trading Standards officers become copyright enforcers | The Register

It seems that many of the laws criminalizing copyright infringement are being introduced at the behest (via expensive lobbying campaigns) of large corporations and groups of corporations. Good examples of this are the US entities the RIAA and the MPAA who get very involved with the creation of legislation in this space. The big companies prefer being protected by criminal law because it saves them the time and expense of prosecuting. They simply have to point the finger and the publicly funded agencies (e.g. the police) will do all the hard work.

I can see that for large scale systematic copyright infringement criminal law may be appropriate. I am very uneasy, though, about criminal laws introduced to make it easy for corporations to make criminals and jail residents of individuals for downloading a couple of MP3s. If the corporations have their copyrights infringed upon it is absolutely their right to sue the infringer, but making infringement a crime in such cases seems to be unreasonable.

I hope we are not losing the "for the people" bit of government and replacing it with "for the largest wallet".

Thursday, April 05, 2007

City of London. The wide open spaces.

I just looked out of the window here in my office in the City of London. I'm quite lucky as I have a view of part of the magnificent St. Paul's cathedral.

The City of London has it's own police force. They have jurisdiction over the square mile which is known for banks and insurance companies, but not so much for wide open spaces.

So imagine my surprise when a City of London police 4WD just rolled down the street. What on earth do the need a 4WD for? They already have horses and bikes and the police can get around the square mile on foot pretty quickly too (it really is only a square mile). But a 4WD? To paraphrase Shrek: perhaps they are compensating for something

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Support the standards, reject "Open XML"

Microsoft are engaged in another one of their Embrace, Extent, Extinguish campaigns. This time they are trying to disrupt the established and widely supported Open Document Format (ODF) standard:

Microsoft calls on UK public to raise the Office standard | The Register

Note the rather cynical spin that Microsoft put on this. It almost sounds as if they are supporting open standards when in fact they are trying their very hardest to brush open standards aside in favor of their own latest lock-in format. They even have the gall to call their format "Open".

I urge my elected representatives to oppose the Microsoft attempt to disrupt standards in a further abuse of their monopoly position. The courts have punished Microsoft for monopoly abuse in the past but unfortunately the court action has had little impact on Microsoft's behaviour. We need the national standards organisations of the UK and all other countries to stand up to Microsoft, to recognise the value of the ODF standard and to reject Microsoft's current efforts to undermine it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Business as usual

Microsoft claimed that people should move to their latest version of the aging Windows operating environment because it was "safer". Well ...

BBC NEWS | Technology | Quick fix for Windows cursor flaw

If you really want safety use Ubuntu or OS/X.

But this is not so easy for many who have been locked in by Microsoft in various ways. For those people I suggest trending towards using standards so that in the future you have some choice when it comes time to choose your OS.