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Archive for the ‘Tech Industry’ Category

Facebook has now launched the Facebook Platform: developers can now build their own applications on top of Facebook. This is important: Techdirt thinks that it could help Facebook become the platform for the internet (something Google could have done but continues to pass on). With 40 billion page views per month (according to the link above) it’s clearly in a position to challenge MySpace – and, being the more open platform, my money’s on Facebook to win.

I’ve already added the Digg application to my profile – now, if only it worked.

Update: Now the Digg widget works, and, as if to validate my (and everyone else’s) assessment of the significance of Facebook’s move, Digg itself links to this story, in which venture capitalist Josh Kopelman says that choosing between MySpace and Facebook is ‘[not] even a decision, it’s an IQ test’.

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Get the Supreme Court to do it for you, by establishing more rigorous standards for obviousness:

The justices today unanimously overturned a decades-old test used by the lower court that handles patent appeals, saying the lower court went too far to shield patents from legal attack. […]

The decision extends a Supreme Court trend that has put new limits on patent rights. In today’s case, the justices heeded arguments from large computer companies and automakers that the lower court test, which centered on the requirement that an invention be “non-obvious,” had given too much power to developers of trivial technological improvements.

In a second ruling today, the court gave software makers new protections from patent lawsuits on exports, ruling that Microsoft Corp. doesn’t owe damages to AT&T Inc. for copies of the Windows operating system installed on computers overseas.

Via Slashdot. For those who aren’t up to speed on patent idiocy, the Supreme Court has had to start addressing the giant patent mess created by lower cour rulings in the 70s and 80s that legitimised (among other things) software patents and business method patents.

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Hat tip to Steven Landsburg (via Eugene Volokh): Michael Kremer suggests letting the government buy up the patent and put it in the public domain, with an auction system to determine what the fair market value of the patent would be.

Quoth the blog post:

When you design a better mousetrap, we grant you a patent. The next day, the government purchases the patent for a fair market price and puts it in the public domain. The inventor gets his reward, and the rest of us get to buy goods at competitive prices. We pay through the tax system only what the inventor would have extracted from us anyway, and we get the additional benefits of competition: more mousetraps are built, and more inventors can start piggybacking on the idea.

The sticking point is determining that “fair market price”. But Kremer has solved that problem: First we grant the patent. Then we auction the patent to the highest bidder. As soon as the auction ends, the man from the government arrives and flips a coin. If the coin comes up heads, the auction winner completes his purchase; if it comes up tails, the government buys the patent for the amount of the winning bid. Bidders have every incentive to bid judiciously because the coin sometimes comes up heads. But this way, half of all patents end up in the public domain, which is halfway toward solving the problem.

Thus solving the problem once and for all. (I’m not sure if the post is only intended to provoke discussion. Be sure to read the comments if you click through.)

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Bits and pieces:

  • Paul Ohm on Eugene Volokh has a couple of nice posts discussing the price of digital music and the analog hole (the analog hole costs exactly 23.9828 cents) here and here.
  • MiniBooNE saves the standard model of particle physics: it finds no neutrino oscillations where LSND did, which means there is no reason to believe any new physics (such as sterile neutrinos) is required by LSND.
  • Quote of the day: ‘Emo – punk music on estrogen.’ From Urban Dictionary.

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From digg: Charlie Brooker in The guardian discusses why he hates Macs. Choice quotes:

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because “they are just better”. Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul – that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn’t really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.

I should maybe point out that I’m currently considering purchasing one, as I need a new laptop. But I’ll keep Brooker’s critiques in mind.

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I got back from my Christmas vacation over the weekend. Three weeks in Montreal. Lots of arguments. OK, a couple. After reading my rather angry rant about digg users trying to DoS GodHatesFags, my brother and I spent at least an hour on New Year’s Eve (he interrupted me while I was playing Final Fantasy XII, no less) arguing about free speech and how it relates to the site. He was arguing that GHF is run by the Hal Turner, the same Hal Turner who was pranked and posted personal information of the pranksters online with an ominous warning and then got DoSed for it (in a separate incident). This, you’ll note, is not covered by free speech, but this not what GHF, to the best of my knowledge, was doing. Whether Hal Turner simply hosts the site GHF or is more actively involved in its content, GHF remains a separate site and, without doing what Turner was doing on his own site, should not have been taken down.After my mother saw my marvellous ‘Science. It works, bitches’ shirt from xkcd, she became very angry. I thought the meaning of the word ‘bitches’ would have been clear from the context, but apparently not.

And I finally installed Beryl on my computer! And it looks awesome!

I was a bit distracted writing this post because I’ve been following the live coverage of Steve Jobs’ keynote from MacWorld on engadget, and he’s introduced iTV and a touchscreen iPod/iPhone(doesn’t Cisco own the trademark?)/mobile browser which looks very impressive.

UPDATE: iPhone spam already! Just about five hours after the announcement, I got my first bit of iPhone spam in the comments!

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A couple of weeks ago Microsoft and Novell signed a patent cross-licencing deal that would indemnify Novell customers against patent lawsuits. Ars Technica speculates that the deal is really just about provinding virtualization support for their customers who also use Linux for some purposes and that it’s not clear that it’s quite detrimental to Linux or to open-source software in general – but let’s pretend, for the time being, that MS has got something nasty up its sleeve. I’ve read a little about this on news sites and poked around the Slashdot forum; here’s what I’ve gleaned and what I think this is about.

Earlier this week Steve Ballmer said that Linux infringed on MS’ intellectual property. How, he did not say, leading me to think that this is mainly chest-thumpin, just some good ol’ FUD. MS filing suit against Linux users or distributors would be heavy-handed and attract the attention of both IBM and government regulators (not to mention invite intense scrutiny of Microsoft’s own patent portfolio and past IP infringements on their part). So what would Ballmer do in this situation? Perhaps, find a way to undermine Linux while taking precautions to make it look like they’re going out of their way to help customers who also want to use Linux. It does not give Linux the credibility that MS would not want when coupled with statements of the type that Ballmer just made, in that although MS is essentially acknowledging Linux as a viable competitor, it implies that a licence is needed because of possible IP issues. In other words, it’s fine to use Linux provided that it happens under a licence they approve of. This is one way to compromise the perception of Linux as an alternative to Windows in the minds of many IT managers and CTOs.

Viewed in this light, MS may simply acknowledge that Linux is not going away and will now try to kep it on the server – and so doing, keep their dominance on the desktop and in corporate environments. So the new strategy may be to control how customers perceive they can use Linux.

Let’s take this one step further. If you were giant software company frightened to death (pretending, remember) of a competing product that was not backed by a single company, given away for free, and is in many ways better than your product, what strategy would you pursue to try to siphon market share away from this competing product? You can’t just steamroll over it like you used to with many other competitors in the 80s and 90s. You can’t start infringement suits willy-nilly because you’d get hit right back. You could try to compete on the open market, but, realistically, this is difficult to make work against a competitor that has more programmers than you to call upon, many willing to work on a voluntary basis, and against a competitor that can respond to such challenges on the turn of a dime (which, after all, is one of the major benefits of OSS). A much more attractive option is to get a foothold in the development process such that you can directly (not just through FUD) control what it does and how it can be used. By signing with a major Linux provider, you gain influence regarding what type of functionality goes into subsequent development on GNU/Linux systems. If Linux developers do not take kindly to the deal, the result is fragmentation of the Linux space – that is, forking the project. A fragmented Linux is, of course, less able to compete because developers will be drawn to one or the other Linux kernel stream. If MS were to sign deals with other providers – which seems unlikely, given the backlash to this deal – it would further exacerbate the fragmentation problem.

So the Microsoft strategy may be to divide and conquer. They may even try to include proprietary components in the licenced Novell version of Linux (don’t know how, but maybe their lawyers will figure something out). If the kernel is forked, and no other Linux distributor accedes to MS’ overtures to licence ‘their’ IP in Linux, Novell will likely wither without the resources of the open source community at large to draw upon. If Novell remains successful, however, it will pressure other vendors to sign licencing deals with MS, which will further fragment the market and could lead to more forking. This accomplishes two things for MS: first, it will prevent Linux from growing market share on the desktop, because most commonly used desktops distros are nonprofit and are unlikely to obtain licencing deals from MS, which protects MS’ monopoly there; second, it weakens the ability of the community at large to compete, which will allow MS to slowly pick off Linux vendors. This is a long term project for MS; there’s no way for them to defeat quickly, so they will now pursue a strategy of slowly squeezing Linux vendors and gradually weakening the entire project.

Divide and conquer. This is Microsoft’s strategy for dealing with Linux.

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