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02.19.08

Poor Microsoft Gives Poor Software to Youngsters, Hoping to Remain Relevant

Posted in Bill Gates, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Open XML at 11:41 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”

Adam Smith

Consider this a sequel in the “let them eat Vista” series of posts [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. 9]. We strive to better understand the black art of using free (gratis) software to capture the minds and the personal data of young individuals in less privileged parts of the world or those who do not know better (about cross-platform development).

The Ugly

As you have probably read by now (because it is widely covered in a lot of media), Microsoft is now reaching out to young people, whom the company hopes to use in order to back its agenda of (re)capturing the Web (Novell helps Microsoft here). The press release is very coy and subtle. This has an effect on media coverage as well. Although Adobe is mentioned as a party yet to be affected, the technology behind this move gets almost concealed.

“If Microsoft cannot continue its ownership of many desktops (devices aside), it wishes to leave a proprietary ocean of data spread all over the Web.”If Microsoft cannot continue its ownership of many desktops (devices aside), it wishes to leave a proprietary ocean of data spread all over the Web. It would be hard to clean up such a mess and it creates a great deal of dependency on Microsoft (for access to vital information).

Think about tomorrow’s generation of Linux-based mobile devices and Microsoft ambitions of turning the Net into .NET, most notably using Silverlight. Where does that position Linux? What about Moonlight? And why is a Microsoft ISV trying to shove the patent-encumbered Mono into Linux phones? These are urgent questions. The quicker they are raised, answered and brought to people’s attention, the quicker they can be addressed.

The Bad

This brings us back to the big news from yesterday. Microsoft spreads its seemingly-innocent love with seemingly-free tools, from which Microsoft benefits a lot.

Using a broadband connection, students can download Visual Studio, Microsoft’s main development tools used by professional developers, and Expression Studio, design software that rivals Adobe Systems Inc’s Creative Suite offering.

This pick from Groklaw is very telling:

Giving away Microsoft software also helps to ensure the next generation of code writers is well-versed in the Redmond, Wash., company’s technology…. Because they are minors and can’t sign license agreements, high school students will have access to the tools only through their teachers.

Think about this offer like you think of reduced student rates for Microsoft Office 2007. As Bill Gates once put it (to paraphrase a little) “they’ll get sort of addicted and we’ll [Microsoft] figure out how to collect [some time when they graduate, having been locked in on a mental (skills) and technical (data) level].”

Microsoft also has a lot to gain here because these young people, unaware of exactly what their use of these tools means to the market, might develop Web sites that work only in a couple of proprietary operating systems. In a sense, they ‘spread the plague’. They ‘proprietarise’ the World Wide Web — something which Tim Berners-Lee last warned about just months ago.

The Good

We apologise if too often we seem to predict doom and gloom. Be aware that Microsoft is in some seriously deep trouble at the moment and it’s important to maintain this momentum working against the company rather than give it a chance to regain the upper hand. Some of Microsoft’s internal problems we share among (and within) the links digests and here is another good pick from yesterday:

Would you believe… that Microsoft has dropped down to #86 within the Fortune Best Places to Work survey? That’s down from #50 in 2007 and #42 in 2006. Like a rock. In a bad way. And who is #1 for two years in a row? Grab that chair and give it a big effen toss in the air to Google! Toot! They get bigger and they’re still #1.

To give you sample of more optimistic analyses of this development (Microsoft calls it DreamSpark, which seems to have remainders of the previous name, “Sparkle”):

DreamSpark would have been cool…20 years ago. Today it’s an admission, as Glyn Moody writes, in “the plainest possible terms that its business model has failed.” Sorry. Maybe you’ll catch up next century.

These days, dear Mr. Gates, you must give away the core. No one is interested in mere complements anymore. Those are the tools necessary to drive revenue around the core being open sourced. Look around. Everyone (Google, Yahoo, MySQL, Red Hat, etc.) is doing it.

Here is Glyn Moody’s take:

Microsoft’s DreamSpark – What a Giveaway

[...]

The rest of the $44.6bn (£22.3bn) deal would be financed with an undisclosed amount of credit.

What that means is that it must squeeze as much money as it can from its operations to fund that debt and still pay dividends to shareholders, who will be looking for some payback from the Yahoo takeover. Giving away software is the last thing it would want to do in these circumstances, and the DreamSpark announcement shows just how worried it is about the future.

One might look at Silverlight merely as a development tool and recall the fact that Microsoft is losing developers to Linux. To recap, consider the following articles:

There are some more links of this kind in this older post. Microsoft has been losing developers for several consecutive years, at least based on Evans Data’s surveys. Other surveys appear to concur, so the results are consistent and difficult for Microsoft to dismiss.

“The fact that Microsoft is targeting young and innocent minds is eerily reminiscent of the fact that Novell brought Mono to teenagers.”The fact that Microsoft is targeting young and innocent minds is eerily reminiscent of the fact that Novell brought Mono to teenagers. Yes, a company that takes pride in ‘open source’ is actually choosing Microsoft technologies for its curriculum targeted at young minds. That’s Novell for you.

At the moment, amid an executives exodus, Microsoft pretends nothing is happening. Last week it talked only about promotions, but not about the vacancies created when top executives left the company (abruptly in facy). It was spinning a total disaster as a win. Saving face is the name of this game. Bank accounts don't lie though, especially not with Wikileaks around.

The Takeaway

Silverlight and OOXML are among Microsoft’s last attempts to survive what it called “a sea of change” (a phrase used by Bill Gates, or maybe that was Jim Allchin). They must both be intercepted. The quicker, the better. Sadly, Novell is lobbying for both Silverlight and OOXML. Novell is enslaved by its contract which had it receive a cash infusion.

Silverlight and OOXML are a pair to shoot down. So are Microsoft and Novell, in order to restore competition based on standards in this market (as opposed to software patents and secret deals).

Bad Silverlight

A Hard New Squeeze to Support Standards, Not Interoperability

Posted in Antitrust, Deception, Europe, GNU/Linux, Interoperability, Microsoft, Novell, Standard at 10:38 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

OOXML translation

Using patent deals such as the one with Novell, Microsoft will continue to pretend that interoperability is the way forward. It will pretend that OOXML is acceptable because its mere vassal Novell is working on some semi-cooked, dysfunctional translators (which can never work, by definition) and a copycat of Silverlight.

Not everyone is buying Microsoft’s route to so-called interoperability, which is inherently very different from open standards. In fact, Microsoft’s recent decision to have different ‘modes of operation’ in its Web browser is getting on some people’s nerves (Web designers, Web developers and browser developers in particular). Here is what Opera’s CTO just had to say:

Embrace the standards, nicely, or get out of browsers

If there was a functioning market for web browsers and operating systems, the past few weeks would have seen two announcements from Microsoft. After a firestorm of criticism from the web design community about Internet Explorer 8′s misguided mode switching proposal, Redmond would have publicly backed down. Second, Microsoft would have bowed to 90,000 users demanding that Windows XP continue to be sold.

There were no such announcements. Why? Because Microsoft, with its dominating position in the web browser and operating system markets, acts like a monopoly.

A monopoly doesn’t have to consider its customers’ wants or needs. In a functioning market, vendors must consider such things in order to compete successfully. But the market isn’t functioning.

Microsoft’s failure to respond to its customers’ outcry shows that it is time to call on established antitrust laws that allow governments to impose sanctions on a vendor that has a dominant position in a market. The purpose of these sanctions is to ensure competition and innovation and thereby create a market in which consumers are heard.

Recently, the European Commission opened several investigations into Microsoft’s dominant position. As a regulatory body, they could decide to impose sanctions and while Microsoft might ignore their frustrated customers, they would have a harder time ignoring the European Commission.

In better news, the ActiveX lock-in appears to be falling apart.

A recent string of high-profile ActiveX vulnerabilities caused the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) to advise users to disable the ubiquitous Microsoft browser plug-in technology altogether.

We wrote a little more about this recently [1, 2, 3], so repeating that news seems unnecessary. Nevertheless, ‘ActiveX 2.0′, better known as “Silverlight”, is the bigger danger and the next post will discuss the very latest news about it.

It’s Official: Microsoft Loses DVD Standards Battle; Is OOXML Next?

Posted in Formats, Hardware, Microsoft, Open XML at 10:23 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

It is safe to say now, particularly after Toshiba’s formal announcement, that Microsoft has lost its battle for HD DVD1. Some will say that Microsoft puts its cards on downloads anyway (VOD), but this remains a separate question.

At risk of further escaping the scope of this Web site, it needs to be added that Microsoft’s XBox 360 had a stake in HD DVD. Unsurprisingly, last week it was found that Microsoft had sunk to the bottom position it its own back yard (consoles sales in the US) and it then faked shortages, having stuffed the channel for 2 years. Here is some related analysis.

Microsoft does not seem overly concerned about the imminent demise of HD DVD as a high definition disc format. Having backed HD DVD, especially with their Xbox 360 add on HD DVD player, why the sudden ‘laid back’ nature with the format war? Could it be there is yet another revamp of the Xbox 360 waiting in the wings? Perhaps with a Blu-ray drive.

To Microsoft, this means another big burning hole in the pocket. Many XBox employees (the talented ones most likely) escaped the company last year and XBox is part of the reason Microsoft approaches debt.

Microsoft biggest cash cow remains Microsoft Office and its current/next-generation keeper is OOXML. We need to defeat OOXML in order to “tilt Microsoft into the death spiral” (to sarcastically use Microsoft’s own subcultural phrase, which it used to describe moves against rivals like Lotus or Netscape).

___
1 Toshiba’s short list of supporters is said to have included Microsoft (“…short list of supporters include Microsoft Corp.“). HD DVD may be somewhat of a joint venture where Microsoft might use Toshiba as a PR shield, a PR image disguise. Intel was among the supporters of HD DVD as well. They are always with Microsoft. Both companies also support OOXML, according to the Asian press.

The OSP Lie, the OOXML Bribe and Other Interesting Moves in Portugal

Posted in Europe, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents at 10:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Novell is not genuine (prompt)

A reader of ours wrote a good piece yesterday about the likely motives behind letting specifications of the binary Office formats go loose. As Stephane indicated, Microsoft had never truly released the secret sauce and none of this is news. It’s part of the charade and many people fall for this self-serving gesture.

The following new article, “Microsoft publishes ‘incomplete’ OOXML specs”, says more about Stephane’s contentions.

Microsoft has been accused of publishing “incomplete” specifications for its Office file format binaries.

What has Microsoft told the media (via its PR arms) and why is it widely being being reported that all is well and the binaries have just been sent free (never mind completeness, never mind patents other licensing caveats)?

Here is another corny new article where Microsoft pretends that it wants peace and harmony, having snubbed and rejected ODF when it was first invited to participate. The article contains better balancing elements than most, but it remains curious that Ziff Davis almost has a monopoly on OOXML coverage. Anyway, the article ends with a few gems of truth, including in part:

However, some remain unconvinced of Microsoft’s message. Harish Pillay, president of the Singapore Linux Users’ Group said in an interview that ODF is quite capable of the same functions. “What [Microsoft] is doing with OOXML is to further lock down [users] with dependencies on Microsoft technologies as part of their business value chain,” Pillay said.

[...]

Pillay remains skeptical of Microsoft’s genuine efforts in winning mindshare with its purported revisions to OOXML. “Microsoft has abused the ISO process for their purposes,” said Pillay, in reference to the company’s reported swaying of votes in Sweden by offering companies “incentives”.

Free Software Foundation Europe president, Georg Greve, has also named Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United States as countries that have been influenced by Microsoft.

Favours are being exchanged not only for OOXML. None of this should shock because it has been done forever, but the scale which this phenomenon has reached is flabbergasting. Here is another suspicious new move in Portugal.

Apparently unrelated to OOXML, Microsoft, a Business Parter (both on the portuguese TC) and an Institute who has a prominent member participating in the portuguese TC allegedly as an individual, are opening a Microsoft Innovation Center in Portugal oriented to clients and companies. Probably some CRM with OOXML capabilities?

[...]

Microsoft, in partnership with JP Sá Couto and ISCTE, is about to open a Microsoft Innovation Center focused on developing software for companies and clients (probably reads CRM, and probably focused around MS-OOXML)

Hypothesis:

* Mere coincidence?
* Proof of conflict of interest?
* Reward for activity in CT-173?

We happen to have mentioned Portugal quite a lot recently. Find out why [1, 2]. A friend of mine. Christian Einfeldt, says that an unreported fact is that Microsoft quickly loses its grip on the Spanish Iberian peninsula.

Microsoft Signs Patent Deal with Alpine, Software Patents Still Under Attack (Updated)

Posted in America, Deals, Microsoft, Patents at 9:42 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

This cross-licensing deal has apparently nothing at all to do with Linux or Free software, but it demonstrates Microsoft's increased focus on patents. Additionally, Microsoft is extracting revenue from technologies it did not develop and this contributes to the illusion that all companies must cross-license intangible assets in one form or another, under negotiable terms.

A patent cross-licensing agreement between Microsoft and Alpine Electronics has implications for in-car and other consumer electronics products.

[...]

Presumably Alpine has some IP that Microsoft could usefully include in Windows Automotive. The companies are keeping mum about the financial side of the deal, revealing only that the cash is flowing from Alpine to Microsoft.

That last bit is reminiscent of the deal with JVC, which isn’t really about Linux, unless someone tries to stretch it. JVC later joined forces with Funai.

In other news, ZDNet has a short analysis of the questions introduced by scrutiny against business method patents.

It’s the case of In re Bilski, due to be heard soon by a full panel of the Federal Circuit.

Crouch writes that the court is asking some basic questions, including whether the State Street decision, which allowed business methods patents, should be overturned. That case is also used to justify software patents.

[...]

If patents on business methods and software are invalidated as a class, the SCO case disappears and U.S. patent law starts to look a lot more like European law, in which copyright is software’s primary protection.

The author, Dana, gets it. It is not the first time that he implicitly (or even explicitly) warns about excessive patents (or patentability) as an enemy to innovation and leadership in the United States. The USPTO is undoing the nation’s advantage while adhering to this illusion that a country will sustain its wealth using intellectual monopolies (which are not honoured elsewhere anyway).

Update: About Linux (far-fetched speculation), there’s also this.

The vendors aren’t saying whether the arrangement applies to Linux software used by Alpine.

[...]

The statement has raised speculation that Microsoft may be charging Alpine for its use of the Linux operating system in some of its products. Alpine is a founding member of an industry group known as Emblix that promotes the use of Embedded Linux in consumer products.

Quick Mention: Novell Loses Another Customer to Microsoft

Posted in Microsoft, NetWare, Novell at 9:26 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Swapping business in one direction

As was stressed very recently, despite the fact that Microsoft takes Novell’s legacy business away, Novell goes out of its way to help Microsoft. Here are some of the most recent examples. Here is another new example of lost business for Novell, which is a gain to Microsoft.

Previously, the healthcare system had operated in a Novell-based
environment. It migrated to Microsoft’s platform to help lower its IT costs
and decrease complexity in its environment.

What will it be with WordPerfect?

Microsoft Novell

Links 19/02/2008: Dell’s Latest Linux Expansions, Everex Unboxed, Thunderbird Alive

Posted in News Roundup at 11:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Site Reader Explains Why Microsoft Released Its Office Binary Formats Specifications

Posted in Deception, Formats, Linspire, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Patents, Red Hat, Turbolinux, Ubuntu, Xandros at 8:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

An anonymous reader has contributed his insights for us to publish in the spirit of helping the fight against FUD.

So, what do we have here? A new maneouver of the monopoly: Now they publish the specifications of legacy (97,2000) Microsoft Office documents (they arrive 10 years late). Now that thanks to ODF we are on the verge of not needing them anymore. Ever.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.” Fear the Greeks even if they bear gifts. This is absolutely a “Trojan horse” (poison pill) for Free/Libre Software. Let me explain:

There is an absolutely critical question for Free/Libre Software (and, by the way, if you must pay/negotiate patent racket eer… royalties as Novell has agreed to do, it cannot be deemed Free/Libre anymore)

Are these formats freely implementable in projects licensed under the GPLv3 (and notice that version 3 here acquires a crucial importance)? Are they available absolutely royalty-free and absolutely software patents-free? If that is not the case this is plain yet-another-trap-from-Microsoft(tm).

Moreover the specs are published at a critical moment when Microsoft desperately needs to see endorsed by ISO its Frankenstein-Format MSOOXML (which includes undocumented binary blobs, at least undocumented until now, -and it remains to be seen if the documentation just published is useful with them at all-) after they have corrupted the whole standarization process by playing every little dirty trick in the book to rig the Technical Committees in order to see their format approved.

***Why NOW?, I am sure things would have been a lot EASIER for them should they have published the specs from the beginning… ah, but then the very format’s “Raison d’etre”, i.e. LEGACY COMPATIBILITY MOTIVATION THEY JUSTIFIED FOR THE EXISTENCE A SECOND UNNECESSARY ISO STANDARD FOR DOCUMENT FORMATS, AN “ISOED”-MSOOXML CONFLICTING WITH THE EXISTING ODF-IETF/ISO26300 WOULD NOT BE VALID ANYMORE: IN FACT NOW THAT THEY HAVE PUBLISHED THE LEGACY SPECS IT IS NOT VALID ANYMORE***

“They desperately need to stop the adoption of ISO26300-ODF by governments and public institutions…”They desperately need to stop the adoption of ISO26300-ODF by governments and public institutions, which, by the way, are probably the biggest captive customers and Cash-Cows of Microsoft (there are already some precedents that should have made them scared to death, like in Massachusetts)

They have said that they “cannot guarantee” legal safety if you use their OSP-published products in a GPL Free/Libre project [ODF], and that they leave the question to be asked “to your lawyers”, what a superb exercise of cynicism! (OSP=”Open Specification Promise”, notice this is a “promise” -and, as such, coming from Microsoft, bound to be broken-, OSP is not a licence nor a contract, and it is not legally binding whatsoever)

GNU logoWhat they have made clear is that, even if ISO endorses their MSOOXML format, they are not committed with it in future versions (we will see EEE at play again). The documentation of this attempt-at-a-standard already comprises 6000+ pages of specifications plus more that 2000 extra pages of errors and suggested amendments.

Be very aware, that when talking about Microsoft you always have to look for “side effects” and “collateral damages”.

In this case I can see a two-pronged attack to Open Standards and Free/Libre Software. For the first, as I have explained, they are trying to discourage ODF adoption as much as they can. For the second, think about the consequences of injecting their OSP’ed products -not-quite-GPL-compatible-and-of-course-GPLv3-incompatible- (since you cannot pass the rights to the recipients of the software -and that’s why they love the BSD-like licenses while they shun the GPL-like licences), I say, injecting them in some Gnu/Linux distro: Novell (Xandros, Linspire, Turbolinux) is a first candidate, whereas for Red Hat, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Debian, Slackware and others… have you paid our patent protection racket yet? No? Well, see you in court.

There is a premise with this company (Microsoft) and it is that any of their products -even those provided cost-free- are devised to try to tie you to some other of their products.

To finish with, the published specs don’t include either Access, Visio or Outlook. And ironically, they are published in .PDF and .XPS (“metro”) formats (so beware, Adobe!)

Also see: http://fsfeurope.org/documents/msooxml-idiosyncrasies

This illustrates the impossibility of obtaining interoperability with real implementations of MSOOXML by Microsoft even after (and if) endorsed by ISO.

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