Finally: M$ Improves File Operations

1. September, 2011

Good things need time. Even if they hurt you every day. File operations (copy, move, delete) on Windows are such a pain.

The damn thing takes half an hour to found out how many files to delete and then deletes them in a couple of seconds. Or the old joke “How long will it take?” Or copying two folders with the same name over each other (computer experts call that “merging”).

Well, M$ listened (they always do – they just rarely care) and after only … calculating … 29 years, they’re going to fix it! Yay ^_^

PS: Linux does it this way since a couple of years. Not sure about Mac. So another thing that M$ reluctantly “invented” after everyone else had it for years.


Jazzon 2011, Day 3 – Behind the scenes: Microsoft and Open Source – Gianugo Rabellino

26. June, 2011

Behind the scenes: Microsoft and Open Source – Gianugo Rabellino

Disclaimer: I have M$.

According to Gianugo, M$ knows a lot about open source. Sounds good? Maybe. “Know your enemy” 😉 Well, of course they know. OSS is a threat to their business model so they early applied their usual tactics of “embrace, extend and extinguish” to handle it.

When that didn’t work (and they found it wasn’t necessary because most people don’t understand OSS), they gave it up so they can now pretend to be “good guys” (or maybe “better guys” than they were before the year 2000).

My main objection is their definition of open: “Open” for them seems to mean “honest” or “listening to customers” or “doesn’t cost anything.”

That’s wrong. Open means: I can solve my problems myself. Example: Say I found a bug in Word. I know how to fix it. Will it be fixed? No. Why not? Because I’m just one of 300 million Word customers. My tiny complaint is simply drowned in the majority’s cry for more features.

Open source means: If I know how to fix it, I can. If I don’t, I can ask for a fix. If the original developers can’t help, and I still need the fix, I can hire someone to fix it for me! I have options. With M$ (and any other big company for that matter), I have none. For me, these people are an endless source of frustration.

Why I have M$ more than most? Because they make my life miserable every day for the past 25 years. Every day, I get Office documents that LibreOffice can’t open. And I can’t run Office on Linux. I could run it in a VM but that would infest my pretty secure computer with a viruphile OS that is hard to maintain, update and use.

Where was I? Oh yes, the presentation.

One slide said that they were open for interoperability and standards. M$ is member of a whole lot of standards committees. Which sounds great. But big companies usually become members of standards committees to make sure either theirunderstanding of the technology because the standard (so everyone else has to catch up and/or pay them royalties)  or to make sure nothing is every agreed upon. Since every committee contains at least one member of both groups … you get the idea.

It’s like religion. Question: Who goes to hell? Answer: Everyone. Proof: There are at least two religions which believe that anyone who doesn’t share their specific belief goes to hell.

Anyway. M$ is driven by money. If there is money to be made, they jump. If not, they can’t be bothered. So if the customers want interoperability, M$ couldn’t care less. If the customer pays for this, sure, why not.

For these reasons, IE9 is not OSS. But at least they’re trying to be compatible to HTML(5) – since no one really is, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that customers are running away to other browsers like Firefox and Chrome. On top of that, FF and Chrome have been leading innovation in the browser market (I’m sure the M$ marketing department disagrees and next year, we’ll see a lot of ads says that “M$ invented HTML, the Internet and Walking Upright(tm)”).

What M$ also cares for is wasting money. Support is such an area. So they decided to split IE9 into the stable, basic product for John Doe. Developers can download all kinds of cool extensions from some website (links anyone?) to tamper with the bleeding edge. When the bleeding edge has been dulled from all the blood (= something has emerged and a lot of people want it), M$ can move it into the IE9 installation package (or an update) and claim to have invented that, too.

Nice idea. I actually like it, even though I worry what it means for fragmentation of web development. But making people “trust IE9” because the base product is stable, fast and dependable, that should help to move people more quickly away from IE6 and that’s always a good thing. Of course, this mess is also M$’s fault in the first place. But at least for once, they try to clean it up.

The talk did contain two items which I agree: WebSockets are the best and the worst of HTML(5). They are a great idea and would solve a whole lot of problems that web developers face today. Unfortunately, they’re also a huge security risk.

The other thing is that cloud means “I don’t care.” Cloud computing really means that you want to concentrate on the few things that you do best and leave the rest (network administration, backups, fault tolerance, installing updates, etc.) to someone else.

Funny fact: All slides had “Microsoft Confidential” on them.

Conclusion: Gianugo sold his soul well. I talked a couple of minutes to him after the presentation. We didn’t agree but at least we did it in a civilized manner.


Patent Trolls vs Common Sense 1:0 Again

11. June, 2011

Microsoft failed in court to relax the rules under which existing IT patents can be challenged. A great loss for everyone, even those who like the status quo.

Remember: i4i (is that “eye for an eye”?) owns patent 5,787,449: “A system and method for the separate manipulation of the architecture and content of a document, particularly for data representation and transformations.”

While the first sentence screams XML, it’s actually about a way to save additional data along with an XML document. Microsoft Word allows you to include any other file in the document, hence they violate the patent. Here is a good analysis.

This doesn’t mean anyone using XML is now prone to a lawsuit by i4i, but it’s still bad news. Why?

The parent was granted in 1998. In the very same year, the XML 1.0 standard was created (see here). This is just an example but patents are filed when the world starts to explore the very same field, obviously. We haven’t seen patents for combustion engines in 1603. And no patent office is going to accept patents for intergalactic FTL drives today.

Patents are filed to protect the investments of big companies. The pharmaceutical industry has to spend many million dollars to create a new medicine. Everything else has already been invents, so only the complex == expensive stuff is left. On this scale, it makes sense to generate billions in revenue since that’s about only one to ten thousand times what you invested. And you make that over many years.

IT is different. While the idea to store additional information along with a document might have been novel in 1998, it’s completely obvious today. The investment of i4i was probably on the scale of a few thousand dollars. Now, they made $290 million just by suing Microsoft.

My gut feeling is that they abuse the system. Pharmaceutical companies take great risks, i4i didn’t. i4i doesn’t sue everyone, they sue the big money. It’s perfectly legal. But is it right?

Here in Germany, we have the term of “Rechtsfrieden” which means “peace of law.” People believe and follow the law because it appears to be just. Violating the peace of law means that someone uses perfectly legal ways to harass someone. Think of a lawyer who got dumped by his girlfriend and now uses all the tiny transgressions we all do to turn her live into hell. She parks where she shouldn’t, he send a photo to the police. She drives a bit too fast, another fine. Talking with her mobile on the wheel. Telling people that she is a serial offender but no details, lest he could get into trouble. This behavior creates the impression on other people that the law can easily be used against them. The trust that the law needs to be efficient is undermined.

From my point of view, patent trolls violate the peace of law. They invest little and try to milk society. The damage is much bigger than the $290 million fine. M$ had to withdraw an entire production of Office products, they had to pay a fortune in lawyer fees, and now every software company using a similar technology is under even more stress than before: i4i just got the money to drive anyone out of business. Because today, almost every software company uses technology like that. It’s so obvious today that no one would even think that there might be a patent for it.

And that’s the fundamental problems around software patents: They don’t make sense on any level.

Other industries have to invest millions of dollars in equipment and thousands of people (in the field, lab workers, people building lab equipment, test subjects) and procedures (clinical or other tests, legal reviews, patent research) to develop new products. Actually producing those products is expensive: You need workers, factories, raw material. And then, you haven’t sold a single unit. So you need transportation, packaging, hygiene environments, storage, advertising, sales points, etc.

To bring a new medicine to market, you need one billion dollars today. That is a huge risk. While I don’t like patents, I can understand that you want all the protection you can get in this case.

Software patents are dirt cheap by comparison. Usually, it takes just one person to have the idea. You need equipment that costs a couple of thousand dollars. Even 1998, computers usually cost less than $10’000. Developing the idea to a real patent is in the same range. You don’t need expensive equipment for that, just determination and a good patent lawyer.

Basically, there is no risk in developing a software patent. If the patent is found void, you also don’t lose much. It doesn’t mean your investment is lost. It doesn’t mean your multi-million dollar factory is ripe for an unexpected amortization. It doesn’t bankrupt you.

On the other hand, a software patent is a great tool to harm society, 100% legal. That $290 million isn’t coming out of the pockets of Microsoft, it’s ultimately coming out of the pockets of their customers. The fine doesn’t benefit society, it goes to the owners of i4i. And rich people don’t share.

The judges in the M$ vs. i4i case argued that the government should set the rules. Which sounds good. But apparently, the members of parliament also don’t understand that we have two completely different sets of problems. When biochemical companies argue pro patents, they ignore the fact that one size only fits all when everyone is the same size.

Conclusion: In my opinion, i4i legally “swiped” $290 million from society. Which is a perfect argument to treat software patents completely different from normal patents.


Aspiring Writer

6. April, 2011

Old but still great:

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer. When asked to define “great” he said, “I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level. Stuff that will make them scream, cry, and howl in pain and anger!”He now works for Microsoft, writing error messages.

Source: Microsoft jokes

 


So Nokia’s Dead, Too

16. February, 2011

Nokia finally submitted to the dark side. My guess is that the managers at Nokia and Microsoft fail to understand two things:

  1. People don’t get paid to use smartphones.
  2. A phone should “just work.”

At work, I get paid (a lot) to use the stuff that Microsoft shells out. That helps to ease the pain. This isn’t true for my own mobile phone. The iPhone blew all the “competition” away is because of a single fact: It’s mind-bogglingly easy to use. A lot of time and effort went into making it a pleasurable experience. When did you feel pleasure last time using something from Microsoft (the software company, not the sex shop)? Or from Nokia?

On the run, I don’t want to think how I can beat my phone into submission. I just want it to do what I have in mind without me having to tell it. Nokia didn’t care, so they have a problem. Microsoft doesn’t care; who cares for such petty details when you rake in one buck for every two you spend?

Being able to install Windows 7 on hundreds of millions of mobile devices doesn’t solve any of the inherited problems. There is a reason why Microsoft failed with their mobile OSs for years. Nokia knows how to build great hardware; only the user experience was always just the top of the reeking pile. When Apple suddenly started with something that didn’t stink, no one wanted to suffer the old crap anymore.

Especially not in two years when the first new phones will come out.


PS3 was hacked

6. January, 2011
Tux, the Linux penguin

Image via Wikipedia

Like so many people, I was upset that Sony discontinued support for Linux. I understand that it was a security risk (people were dabbling with the encrypted hypervisor and the encryption) but no one really cared enough to actually invest the huge amount of time necessary to really break it. I also understand that supporting Linux was a cost issue for Sony while it didn’t bring that many customers. At the same time, I knew I could run Linux on my PS3 but never did.

So it wasn’t an actual issue for me either, it just upset me. I bought the PS3 for many reasons and being able to run Linux had been one of them. Not the major point but I still got mad when they took that from me.

At the 27C3, they showed how it was hacked but I was intrigued by short appearance of a guy who had analyzed the time it took to break a console and why it was hacked. While piracy is a side effect of hacking a console, it’s probably not the driving force. The statistics say that it took at most 12 months to hack a console make Linux run. The PS3 was unscathed for three years – until Sony stopped support for Linux. After that, the hackers really dug into it and – what surprise – they pwn3d it.

Made me wonder why Sony dropped support? As we know from the history of Microsoft, piracy is actually a major driving force for software sales. The calculation goes a bit like this: If you don’t want to pay for something, it’s hard to force you. But once you’re used to something, and you like it, you stick with it. A good example was Office 97. It wasn’t that great but companies were forced to buy it quickly because all people working at those companies had got free, time limited copies along with their PCs. I’ll let you assume how many people bought the product after the time was up.

The thing was: People took work home (good for the companies), work on it and then bring it back to work. Then, something happened: The “old” Office 95 did display a warning, about 90% the size of the screen “I can’t open this! You may lose your work! Help!” So suddenly, there was a strong pressure on the company to upgrade 95 to 97 – because everyone had got a free copy of Office 97!

The key here is to be able to balance sales with piracy. Microsoft knows the Spiel best: Really smack down on people selling pirate copies but leave the home users alone. C= (and the Amiga) couldn’t play it. In the end, piracy overtook sales and the platform died. The lesson we learn here: Piracy is something that must be managed carefully. No piracy and sales will be much lower than they could be; too much and you go bankrupt.

So here is my heretic thought: Maybe Sony didn’t have enough piracy. ^_^

References: Video of the 27C3 talk “”. Go to the documentation site and search the download links for “console_hacking_2010”. The statistics part is at 05:33.