Archive for the ‘microsoft’ Category

Microsoft Death Spasms – or is Steve Ballmer just in panic mode?

October 10, 2007

Is it just me, or does Microsoft seem to flailing about quite a bit lately?

They are sure kicking up a lot of fuss over an open operating system and open-source ethos that not long ago they would have liked you to think didn’t even exist on their radar.

And Linux / FOSS marches inexorably onward.

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A Must-Listen Interview about the Future of Software and other things…

September 28, 2007

I spotted an interesting post about an interview done with Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation. The title of the post was interesting enough, “The inevitability of free software”, however I’ve written before about how smart and passionate Eben Moglen is, and after listening to an mp3 of the interview, I have to say I was not disappointed.

While the interview was fascinating from start to finish, his views on the future of the software industry were a lot less rosey and idealistic than I was expecting. Of course he contends that the old models of proprietary software manufacture (like Microsoft) will die out, but he also predicts a landscape of freely available software being produced by millions (if not billions) young people the world over, not a relatively small group of high-minded rich programmers in the US destined for early retirement. The high-level, money making task it seems is not in the software production and design, but in the ‘editing’ of the newly commoditized software landscape. That is, taking the raw materials and forming practical and palatable solutions for corporate and consumer consumption. Adding value is the thing. He illustrates it with IBM. He says they are well on their way. They are commoditizing all the software they can and concentrating on their high margin/ high-value added items instead.

There has long been discussion about how free software developers are supposed to make money. Maybe they’re not. I remember an interview on TLLTS where Richard Stallman is  confronted with this question. And if I remember correctly, I think he said the same thing.. ‘maybe they’re not’.

And while this undoubtedly won’t sit well with many free software developers (or software developers in general), it may be the inevitable truth in the long run. Does the western world have some divine right to software technology production? Perhaps it (the western world) just has to move on to something else – something further up the chain.

I’ve been mulling over a prospective blog post in a similar vein for a month or two now. Maybe traditional journalists will go the way of the Dodo Bird. Maybe free software programmers are not supposed to make money doing it. As technology develops, certain careers fall by the wayside. What about secretaries? What about professional photographers? What about professional graphic designers? Are any of these things sacred? Maybe not. Maybe those people have to find other ways to make a living in the future. Time passes, things change, and being a stubborn optimist, I think we, as a whole, move forward. But I digress… that post is still simmering.. 😉

One final fascinating thing in the interview was Moglen’s distinction between functional and non-functional digitial goods. Functional meaning things like  data collections, algorithmic systems, blueprints, software and the like which can be judged on their functionality. Whereas non-functional digital goods are things like music, art, movies, literary works etc. whose evaluation is subjective in nature. He proposes that  the quality of functional commodities improves when no-one is excluded from producing it (eg. free and open-source software) so rights restrictions on these things inherently limits quality. However he states that non-functional digital good (music, art etc.) will not necessarily be better or worse depending on how they are limited in terms of rights – so whether or not these rights are limited makes little difference.

Now I’ll stop pretending to know all of the intricacies of these issues. Do yourself a favour and listen to it. It’s the most interesting 45 minutes I’ve spent in a long while.

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Microsoft, Apple and the inevitability of openness

September 25, 2007

Tom Raftery thinks that Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!). While I agree with Tom that open source is a better model in a lot of ways, I’m not sure if any of them appeal to Redmond.

I don’t think Microsoft will ever open-source Windows. Not because it wouldn’t make for a faster moving, better product, but it forces Microsoft to lose something they hold quite dearly… control. Interestingly, Apple has banked on ‘control’ even more heavily and are reaping rewards from it (for now anyway).

Tom writes about the benefits of open source:

“With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” –
the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result”

There are a *lot* of people who would disagree with that statement, although I’m not necessarily one of them. One of the problems with open source development is the scattering of resources and lack of focus. In my opinion it is a good thing to have a BDFL (benevolent dictator for life) type of arrangement within an open source project. Design by committee doesn’t always work too well when it comes to making a better product for the consumer. You need to have someone with focus (like Mr. Jobs at Apple), but without all the pomp and circumstance.

It is interesting to watch the Apple model. They try to lock you in at
every step. And while that keeps me away from Apple, I have to say, it
makes things work a lot smoother for them. They design software for
their device and nothing else. They have a focused design philosophy
which is envied by a lot of people. Is it always the best design? Not
in my opinion. But it does make for consistency.

One point Tom makes that I’ve always felt is more powerful than a lot of people realize is:

“In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in”

You have people who are doing things because they enjoy them. They’re specialists by default. Imagine having your workplace filled by people who all want to be there. Who all want to make the best stuff they can. This is what can make for a better product. It also makes for stubborn people who won’t just give up. That is why open-source is not going away any time soon.

I think the growth of the open-source philosophy is inevitable. Apple can try as it might to produce finely designed and overpriced products that lock you into their system. Microsoft can keep heading down the road to forced upgrades that nobody really wants or needs. There is simply nothing compelling to me about either company’s products. But still open-source marches on. And not just on the Linux front. Look at Google. Look at OpenOffice. Look at Firefox. Look at Flickr. It ain’t going away, and it ain’t slowing down. And neither Redmond, nor Cupertino can stop it.

While I don’t think Microsoft will open-source their OS, they had better wake up and do something soon before they become even more irrelevant.

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Microsoft and OOXML – another battle to add to the list

September 6, 2007

I’ve been doing a little reading tonight on Microsoft’s attempt to fast-track approval for it’s OOXML (Office Open XML) standard by the ISO. Just trying to wade through all the anti-Microsoft rhetoric and educate myself on the issue.

Mary Jo Foley writes about Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote. She does a good job of clarifying the issue for me – the proverbial layperson:

In spite of the rhetoric on both sides, Microsoft wants OOXML to gain ISO standardization so that it won’t lose out on government contracts that require “open,” standards-based products. Microsoft’s competitors don’t want Microsoft to obtain ISO standardization because they see this loss as a chance for them to finally lessen Microsoft’s 90-plus-percent market share in the desktop-productivity suite business.

I’ve also read a lot of comments about how Microsoft’s current specification is in quite dodgy shape technically speaking. Many people are of the opinion that the standard was rushed and that it was not written with interoperability in mind at all. For some more technical criticism of MS’s proposal, some people are pointing to the Danish complaint’s listing (pdf document).

Now this was only a vote on fast-tracking approval of OOXML. Microsoft needed 2/3 of the votes and only received 17 out of 32 votes. But it’s not necessarily the end of the story. MS can get another vote in March after it addresses technical questions posed by some of the voters. It may very well win that one. And only adding to the political drama is Microsoft’s apparently unethical lobbying tactics.

With Microsoft owning so much of the commercial market share in office apps, you might doubt the importance of such an ISO standard. But then again, Redmond seems to be going to great lengths to have it go their way.

It will be interesting if they lose out in the end. They’re already embattled with Google on several fronts, watching Apple hit home run after home run, trying to get to grips with an increasingly open-source world, battling Linux on the server side, and finding a few manufacturers now offering pre-installed Linux systems on the desktop…

Geez, I’m almost starting to feel bad for them…

Nahhhh. 😉

Cool 3D photo collage modelling

April 12, 2007

Now no one can accuse me of not being an equal opportunity blogger:

[Via a recent episode of Leo Laporte’s KFI podcast]

Just in case you thought Microsoft wasn’t full of smart people (ok, maybe acquired smart people), wanting to push the envelope, check out the demo videos of the Photosynth project.

Think Quicktime VR but formed from a mass of normal digital photographs. From what I understand, they’ve got software that analyzes a group of photos of a specific location, recognizes datum objects, figures out camera position and angle of view, transforms them to account for parallax errors and assembles them together in a sort of 3D collage model. Put that inside a nice viewer with cool pan and zoom navigation and you have something really really interesting.

You can’t get this software yet (I don’t think), but it does show some really interesting possibilities for all those millions of photos being posted to the net. A use for photos in aggregate.

Now if only I could find the open-source equivalent.. 😉