Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Microsoft: real competition is unfair

Microsoft love to throw their monopoly-backed weight around, but when technical weakness finally leads to a failure in the market, it's not their fault for making poor products, it's someone else. IBM this time:

Microsoft: IBM masterminded OOXML failure - ZDNet UK

But what is funny in this specific situation is that Microsoft blamed Sun as being the sole supporter of the ODF standard not so long ago, and now they blame IBM for the same thing. This smacks of lashing out in panic.

With any luck we are starting to see the market become selective again. That would be good news all around, even for Microsoft because it might give them the incentive to start producing competitive software again, something they have not done for over a decade now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Forward!" they cried from the rear ...

One group of people have not been exposed to the recent losses of personal data by HMRC. "Important" people including our glorious "leaders":

BBC NEWS | UK | 'Double standard' on data safety

How about leading from the front, guys?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

UK ID card scheme close to collapse?

The endless procession of government data loss incidents has woken people up to the dangerous reality of a centralised identity system. The government have been stretching out the time scales so that adult ID cards would only be mandated after the next election. But even so the government have plugged on with this lemon.

But is the scheme starting to fall apart by itself? ...

Accenture and BAE pull out of ID card project | Channel Register

I hope so

Monday, January 21, 2008

Groklaw on the BBC's iPlayer

Groklaw do a great job of bringing all the threads together. Here is their write-up following the recent grilling given to the BBC by UK MPs ...

Groklaw - The BBC's iPlayer Goes to Parliament, by Sean Daly

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

British Gas come through!

I wrote about some problems I was having with British Gas.

It turns out that I was not alone in raising the issue that a formal report listed a gas safety problem that an engineer said, verbally only, that we should not worry about.

The very nice people I spoke to in the end said that from now on they would include a letter with the report explaining that when a device was listed as being defective that meant only that it did not meet the standards required of new installations, but was perfectly fine and safe for existing ones. I now have a copy of that letter to file away with the report I must keep for two years.

So that's OK, then. And thanks to the very nice people at British Gas.

Internet Explorer: really part of the OS?

The EU is going after Microsoft for market abuse again. This time the EU are thinking about tackling interfaces to office and .Net (among other things) and also the bundling of Internet Explorer.

In response to the latter I have seen a couple of people write that, really, IE is part of the operating system and trying to remove it would be, to quote one person, a "calamity".

I suspect that this is largely a word game. Internet Explorer is whatever Microsoft say it is since "Internet Explorer" is just a brand name. Certainly there is a web browser in there somewhere which one may (currently forlornly) hope would render documents made up of W3C standard elements like HTML, CSS etc.. Lets call that web browser IEWB.

So while "Internet Explorer" (whatever that might be defined as today) may indeed be an inseparable part of Microsoft's operating systems, I see no sane reason why IEWB should be.

I do hope that the EU pick up on this bundling abuse and help Microsoft to take another step towards being a competitor in an open market place rather than the creator and sole custodian of a closed one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

iPlayer - BBC grilled, but not enough

The high and mighty of the BBC attended a Public Accounts Committee meeting at the Houses of Parliament last week at which the closed nature of the iPlayer came up.

The most pointed questions on the subject came from Dr. John Pugh MP. His questions were about platform support, and the answers are pretty much what I would have expected, e.g. (taken from a Register article on the meeting):
John Pugh asked: "At what stage will you be able to download and stream to a Mac or a Linux computer?"

Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC replied "You can do that now,"

Well, the Director General was incorrect. You can't do that now. You can stream in YouTube style with the right plug-ins, but you can't download a programme to view later using iPlayer unless you have Microsoft Windows Vista or Microsoft Windows XP and use Microsoft Internet Explorer too.

You can see the entire meeting on Parliament Live for the next couple of weeks. The questions put by John Pugh start at ~12 minutes in. In there we hear that other platforms will be supported some time in the next two years. I'll believe it when I see it.

The meeting video is in .wmv format, unfortunately, and this is the area in which Dr. Pugh did not ask the questions I would have loved to hear answered, for example:
What UK or international standards body(s) control the file and streaming formats used by the BBC iPlayer?
The answer is none, of course. All the key formats are owned and controlled by US corporations.

Oyster: no progress

In March of last year we had a very unpleasant experience while travelling on the London Underground. My wife's Oyster card failed (the Oyster system double dipped in error and made the card go into the red) and my wife could not get through an exit gate. She asked for help and was taken aside and verbally assaulted by a member of TFL staff. The member of staff made no attempt whatever to examine the card or to understand the problem. All his energy was directed at shouting and berating. After a few minutes of sport, he let my wife go.

TFL have sent us a cheque for a small amount of money which covered the erroneous double dipping by the Oyster system, but the more serious matter of the detention and assault (for that is what it was) has not been resolved. TFL have made no attempt at all to contact us to ask what happened. Through London Travel Watch we have received messages that TFL take this kind of thing very seriously, but that's it. No action.

While trying to get TFL to deal with this matter other people have told me that they have been in just the same situation themselves. The assault and detention of my wife was not an isolated incident.

Given our experience, and the reaction (or total lack of it) of TFL I suggest the following:

If you are detained and assaulted (verbally or otherwise) by a member of TFL staff it seems that your only option is to call the police right away. No internal TFL process will help you at all, so don't try to deal with TFL. Get an external party involved, i.e. the police.

That way there will be a record of exactly what happened and when, and details of the member of staff involved will be also recorded. This is important because the technique TFL use in resolving such matters, if left to themselves, is to drag the thing out so that all memory of the event is eventually lost.

Or so they hope.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

OLPC: Intel's Duty of Care?

Being on the board of an organisation is not to be taken lightly. Directors have a duty of care towards the organisation and failing in that duty can have serious repercussions, such as being banned as a director.

So looking at this article:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Intel 'undermined' laptop project

We see :
The head of Intel Paul Otellini said an accusation that the firm had failed to deliver on promises was "hogwash".
"I don't want to get into specifics but we met every obligation that we were committed to," he said.
What about the duty of care towards OLPC, Mr. Otellini? It seems to me that Intel failed in that duty and perhaps questions need to be asked about whether the people on the respective boards should be banned as directors.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Ah, the fun one has with the big corporations in the UK. British Gas this time.

I subscribe to the British Gas "Home Care" scheme which includes an annual "Safety and Maintenance Inspection" of the central heating system. In August last year (2007) the engineer visited and told us that everything was fine. He handed over a big wad of paper to prove it, which I didn't bother to read until last month when I was doing my end of year filing.

The front page of the tome is a "Landlord's Gas Safety Record" which is a document that I am required to keep for a minimum of two years (or else, no doubt).

Right there, on that front page, the engineer had noted a "defective flue". A dodgy flue can kill people, so this is not something to be taken lightly. But why did the engineer tell us that everything was OK if the flue was defective? Eeeep!

We got in touch with the engineer who said, in essence: Oh, it's OK. Don't worry about it. Hmmm.

I called British Gas HQ and explained the situation and asked for advice. I was told that they would schedule an engineer to visit the flat and carry out another inspection from which I would get a new report. Super duper.

Today I got a message to say that the engineer had cancelled the visit since he felt that the original report was fine. Again it was: Ignore that flue defect in the report. Don't worry, be happy.

Back to British Gas HQ to whom I gave an update. I put it to them that either the report needs to be redone or I need a letter from them saying, in black and white, that they felt everything was OK and that there was indeed no need to worry. After some back and forth with some more experienced people I was told that if it's on the "Landlord's Gas Safety Record" then I *should* worry and that it was my responsibility to get have things sorted out!

I put it to British Gas that they were being somewhat inconsistent with something that could cause harm to people. I was told that the more experienced people would call me right back to discuss the matter and work out what needed to happen next.

And of course no call came. Pretty defective, I'd say.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Intel does the dirty to OLPC

Last week we heard that Intel were so very sad, but were forced to reluctantly leave the OLPC board. They had tried to work for the good, but had been done down by OLPC politics.

But that's not how it was.

What happened was that Intel were on the the board of OLPC (a non-profit organisation) whilst at the same time trying to undermine done deals made by OLPC:

Intel Quits Effort to Get Computers to Children - New York Times

It seems fairly clear that Intel were on the OLPC board on a "know your enemy" basis in much the same way that Microsoft were on the Oasis board putting together the, now ISO standard, Open Document Format. Both Intel and Microsoft only bailed when their position became too obviously untenable.

If you are a shareholder of corporations that pull such dirty tricks you may wish to applaud. If you are a potential partner of such corporations you may wish to tread very carefully indeed.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The W3 Validator

I am surprised that so few people know about, and use, the W3C validator service. Even people who claim to be professionals in the field.

Using valid HTML makes it easier for browsers to render a page, and thus makes it more likely that a page will be rendered consistently across all browsers. A valid page also make life easier for accessibility tools, such as screen readers for the visually impaired.

So if you are creating HTML, just take the extra little bit of time to run it through the W3C validator. People viewing the resulting pages will thank you for it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Rob Weir sees many similarities between the tactics Microsoft is using to lock people into MOO-XML and the tactics they have used in the past, particularly with RTF:

An Antic Disposition: Those who forget Santayana...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Actually talking about Smalltalk

In a remarkable turn of events, we actually spent some time talking about Smalltalk at the London Smalltalk gathering. We even had a presentation:

Here we see Bryce giving forth about Exupery (an optimising Smalltalk compiler).

London Smalltalk gathering tonight

The first London Smalltalk gathering of 2008 will be happening this evening (2nd Jan) at our regular venue, the Counting House, starting from 18:00.

If you are interested in wide ranging conversation that sometimes even touches on Smalltalk, please do come along.

These gatherings happen every month on the first Wednesday of the month. The announcements are usually made on the "uksmalltalk" mailing list.