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03.05.08

Links 05/03/2008: More Low-cost Linux Laptops, One from H-P Also; Yahoo-Microsoft Falling?

Posted in News Roundup at 12:32 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Quick Mention: BRM/Vote Stuffing, Rigging, Stacking and Other OOXML Abuses Come Under Fire

Posted in Antitrust, ECMA, Europe, Fraud, Microsoft, Open XML, Standard at 10:05 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

We are pleased to see that significant regulatory progress is finally being made. Europe’s probe into the abuse had already begun and not only did Microsoft get grilled, but individual nations also. Mind the timely inclusion of Tim Bray’s “unadulterated bullsh*t” remark [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] in this article from the Financial Times:

The European Commission is investigating the process under which a key Microsoft document format could be adopted as an industry standard – a move that would carry significant commercial benefits for the software company.

Officials at the European Commission’s competition directorate have written to members of the International Organisation for Standardisation, asking how they prepared for votes in September and later this month on acceptance of Microsoft’s OOXML document format as a worldwide standard. Without ISO acceptance, Microsoft could stand to lose business, particularly with government clients, some of which are becoming increasingly keen to use only ISO-certified software.

The ISO process has been widely criticised, however, with some members of national standards’ bodies accusing Microsoft and its rivals of attempting to influence the vote.

Tim Bray, a member of the Canadian national standards body, called the procedure “complete, utter, unadulterated bullshit” in a recent blog posting.

[...]

In addition, in several countries, a large number of Microsoft partners joined the national standards organisations just ahead of a vote on the issue in September.

[...]

Microsoft said it openly encouraged its partners to participate in the ISO process, but was not funding any third parties doing so. The company said it would cooperate with the European Commission’s inquiry.

About 4 days ago, a fellow forum participant asked whether Europe should investigate or sue ECMA as well. For those who are unaware of ECMA’s role in this fiasco, a quick exploration of our “Ecma” category is certainly worthwhile. Additionally, here is a new reminder from an IBM employee:

So, why is it [OOXML] rushed? Well, let’s see.

The only ones really pushing for this to happen faster rather than carefully are Microsoft and Ecma.

In the case of Ecma it is easy to see why. Ecma is nothing more than a rubber stamping organization for hire with no soul, which is pushing for OOXML to go through as fast as possible and with as little change as possible simply because this is what it is paid to do. This is what their “value proposition” is all about: ‘timely publication of international standards […] “fast track” […] minimize risk of change‘.

Whatever ECMA’s role has been in this disaster, its reputation — if any was ever earned at all — ought to be nullified. In attempt to defend the cash cow, Microsoft, its partners and ECMA broke just about every rule in the book. In several countries we saw and documented briberies, in several countries we saw people pressured out of their jobs and smear campaigns were part of this game also. It might just be an inherent behavioral thing. It’s attitudinal.

“I’d be glad to help tilt lotus into into the death spiral. I could do it Friday afternoon but not Saturday. I could do it pretty much any time the following week.”

Brad Silverberg, Microsoft

OOXML on the trash can

IEEE Spectrum (March Issue) Touches on Software Patents, Akamai Still Uses Them

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 9:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“One thing that has been worrisome over the last few years are … stupid external issues — especially patents and stuff like that…”

Linus Torvalds, 2008

The widely distributed journal, IEEE Spectrum, has just published a short piece about software patents.

The four pillars of intellectual property — patents, copyright, trademarks, and trade secrets — all play roles in ­protecting software. No wonder this is one of the most slippery subjects for an engineer’s lawyer.

The piece as a whole is disappointing and it represents failure to realise and to criticise what must never have been patentable in the first place. Just ask those who are affected and those are there to 'benefit' (mind the poll results at the very end).

There is this unfortunate assumption made in the literature that when something become a law (or lobbylaw), then it must no longer be questioned. Gutless reporting is not a case of resisting rebellion. It’s a case of becoming part of the problem, rather than taking the lead and bringing solutions.

Akamai, in the mean time, continues to disappoint. Despite Akamai’s work around GNU/Linux, the company has recently sinned [1, 2]. The criticism and the fear is still being echoed in the press. Here are two new articles which relate to the most recent ruling:

1. Akamai Set for A Breakout

To recap, on Friday afternoon a jury in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts ruled that Limelight infringed on an Akamai patent that covers certain technologies related to content delivery via the Internet. The jury awarded Akamai $45.5 million in damages, and we fully expect Limelight to appeal the verdict as it believes it did not infringe on Akamai’s patent.

2. Microsoft Should Be Clear of Infringing Akamai’s 703 Patent

Live streaming, software downloads, application acceleration, delivery to a device etc… are not infringing as they are either not cached or not delivered to a browser. So not everything on Limelight’s network is in violation of the 703 patent. I don’t know what percentage of Limelight’s traffic or revenue is outside of the 703 patent but that would be interesting to know.

Akamai, for those who are unaware, used to actually serve Microsoft Web pages via GNU/Linux.

Nokia and Finland: A Mystery Behind OOXML and Silverlight

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Open XML at 8:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A concerned reader contacted us as soon as the following news had first made an appearance. You ought have come across some stories about Nokia and Silverlight by now, but if you haven’t, here we go.

Herein we present some analysis rather than offering a more superficial breakdown of the news, in which case no new information will be added. From the Inquirer (to be considered as background):

Nokia signs up to Silverlight

[...]

Last year Silverlight announced its support for Linux and Macs. With this latest mobile push, Microsoft is moving toward making Silverlight a main competitor to the likes of Adobe flash.

Again, this is not true. Microsoft never announced such a thing for Linux, but it clearly continues to deceive with Novell’s help. Moonlight is not Silverlight, either. It’s not even a Flash alternative.

Here is what our reader told us:


Hi, Roy,

Something’s going sour in Helsinki:

Five delegations gave default approval to the Ecma comments (Chile, Cote D’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway)
http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/art-of-being-mugged.html

Nokia to turn its back on web standards in older phones.

[...]

It’s toxic for sure. What have Bruce Perens or Eric S. Raymond (ESR) had to say about this? ESR publicized the ‘Halloween documents’ which talked precisely about problems like that one, i.e. decommoditization of technologies.


On the issue of OOXML, mind pressure in the potentially-stacked panel in Finland. Follow the links contained in this cross-reference for more information about OOXML in Finland. Nokia was involved in what seemed like misconduct at the time (nepotism and interest/partnership-oriented decisions). More recently we saw the 'donation-as-a-lockin' trick being pulled in Finland, as well.

“Additionally, coming to mind is the recent incident where a former Softie, who now works at Nokia, intercepted Ogg…”It would be interesting to find out if Microsoft’s departing head of the Mobile Unit, who recently moved to take charge of Vodafone, is related to this somehow. Can any of the readers help us find out? Additionally, coming to mind is the recent incident where a former Softie, who now works at Nokia, intercepted Ogg, whipping it right out of HTML5. He kept insisting that Ogg is proprietary (even affected by patents) and that DRM is the way to go. Both are lies of course.

Let’s not forget Nokia and Qt. The acquisition of Trolltech may have been somewhat malicious [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] and it was soon followed by a flirt with Microsoft. It was about Windows Mobile. There are other deals including one that revolves around Microsoft DRM. To repeat this older news:

Nokia is to support Microsoft’s PlayReady content access technology into the Nokia S60 and Series 40 mobile device platforms, starting in 2008.

Silverlight, just as a reminder, is a swing at Google and at LAMP, including of course GNU/Linux. Novell is sadly enough helping with this and I’m arguing with de Icaza over there in USENET at the moment. Me and others give him a very hard time with questions he is unable to answer about Moonlight and Mono licensing, especially when it comes to Novell and patent licensing. Responding to this latter issue our reader adds:


You have to wonder what’s going on in the heads of people like him. Advancing the agenda of his movement not only sidelines better technology but causes active harm to the public in many countries.


Further to this, he points out suspicious decisions that relate to our earlier observations:


I would very much like to find out the rational for Finland and Norway moving NO -> Abstain -> YES recently and all in the face of corruption, irregularities, procedural violations, inappropriate constraints, and technical hortcomings.

ISO is not there to *develop* standards and MOOX is very clearly in the *early* stages of development. ISO is there to ratify finished standards. Clearly ISO’s relation to Ecma needs to be reexamined.

[...]

It would help if we could get MS reflagged as the noxious and malevolent anti-American movement that it is…

A one-liner summing up the conflict of interests the Microsoft employees are under, would help.


Here is a timely press release from yesterday:

Curl’s RIA Platform Version 6.0 was announced in the fall of 2007 and makes it easier for developers to build enterprise-class RIAs.

Slightly older:

“The decision to release all of the Curl source code above the RTE was made to encourage broad adoption of Curl as a viable enterprise RIA platform and provide all of the components required to support development of Curl applications,” Richard Treadway, vice president of product strategy for Curl, told LinuxInsider.

With the proliferation of mobile devices however, HTML browsing will not be available on all these systems, and the iPhone does not have Flash and probably will not have Silverlight either, said Ferraiolo. AJAX, however, is always there and is open and can be counted on, he said.

Those who say that RIA and Free software cannot go hand in hand are simply fulfilling their own prophecy and defend a selfish desire to take the proprietary route. Curl is Apache-licensed.

Some more timely warnings about Silverlight:

Avoid, avoid and avoid Silverlight. Do not allow Microsoft to seize the World Wide Web, which was established and succeeded owing to open standards and no cost barriers like software patents.

Silverlight toilet

Links 05/03/2008: New Linux Foundation Board, New KDE-based Linux Mint

Posted in News Roundup at 5:12 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Technical Flaws in OOXML and Technical Flaws in ISO (When Subjected to Sheer Abuse)

Posted in Antitrust, Asia, Europe, GNU/Linux, IBM, Interoperability, ISO, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument at 1:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Uncomfortable Reality

The reaction — or clarification rather — in Tim Bray’s blog last night was interesting. He was not thrilled by what he called “cherry-picking” of words (e.g. "unadulterated bullsh*t"), so he prepended a copyrights-oriented disclaimer to his latest post which is fairly well-balanced.

“Harsh reality put bluntly can make the viewer (or listener, or reader) wish to look away; it doesn’t make any less real.”In his previous popular post he seems to have complained about me specifically and Sam Hiser made some similar accusations. Since when is it inappropriate to quote a person with link to the context? And since when is the highlighting of proven misconduct an iffy business that hurts one’s credibility?

Harsh reality put bluntly can make the viewer (or listener, or reader) wish to look away; it doesn’t make any less real. Some people continue to stare embarrassed at corruption, but one should truly be bold enough to face it because only this way it can be addressed. And no, we don’t live in a perfect world, but the least one can do is help improve it by identifying causes for harm and demanding change. The BRM was just as bad [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] as was anticipated [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

In any event, shortly after the good announcement about Linux (not Ballnux, e.g. Novell) PCs arriving at Europe with ODF 'built in', IBMers proceed to discussing the technical deficiencies of OOXML, as opposed to the OOXML BRM and much of the OOXML-related misconduct.

OOXML Still Broken

Rob Weir posted a couple of good items that are worth keeping in mind. The first one makes another indirect approach toward the issue of legacy formats. As mentioned yesterday, binary Office format specifications render OOXML pretty much unnecessary, rationalising more than ever the need for Microsoft to embrace ODF and migrate its legacy in that unified direction. The company claims to have just done the same with IE8 and Web standards (promises, promises), so why not document formats?

Faithful representation of Microsoft Office 97-2008. I’ve learned it is rarely polite to ask a man what he means by “faithful”, but let me make an exception here. We have now the binary Office format specifications, not part of the standard, but posted by Microsoft. And we have OOXML specification. In what way does the OOXML “represent faithfully” the “existing corpus” of legacy documents?

Does OOXML tell you how to translate a binary document into OOXML? No. Does it tell you how to map the features of legacy documents in OOXML? No. Does it give an implementor any guidance whatsoever on how to “represent faithfully” legacy documents? No. So it is both odd and unsatisfactory that primary goal of the OOXML standard is so tenuously supported by its text.

Now, certainly, someone using the binary formats specifications, and using the OOXML specification, could string them together and attempt a translation, but the results will not be consistent or satisfactory. It is the Carolino Effect. Knowing the two endpoints is not the same as knowing how to correctly map between them. A faithful mapping requires knowledge not only of the two vocabularies, but also the interactions.

The second item from Weir alludes to the BRM, but only in the sense that it mentions a concern raised there (and unsurprisingly disregarded due to lack of time). It’s about macros, which Microsoft never liked talking about all that much. Microsoft hopes that nobody will spot and scrutinise for the weaknesses which only Microsoft has in mind, hoping to divert attention away from the parts most sensitive to unrebuttable criticism.

Finally, note that this lack of information on how to locate macros within a document makes it impossible for anyone to programmatically combine or divide OOXML documents which may contain macros. For example, imagine a 2-page spreadsheet, with a macro on sheet one only. How can it be split into two one-page documents, if there is no defined way to locate the script associated with page one? This is the type of automated composition and document manipulation that OOXML should be enabling. Similarly, how can one combine two single documents containing macros into one document, if there are no defined rules for locating and naming macros? Many basic types of applications,such as merging slide shows, etc., will break in the presence of macros.

The above topic was of interest to several NB’s in Geneva, but could not be discussed for lack of time at the BRM.

The Fast Track to the Wastebasket

Microsoft may have taken a wild gamble by choosing an inappropriate route to ISO-isation. As a result of this, under great pressure, Microsoft needed to resort to breaking the law (more on this in a moment). Here is Groklaw’s interpretation of Malaysia’s press release, which we mentioned yesterday.

Malaysia Standards Says Most of Their Technical Concerns Unresolved at BRM; Fast Track Inappropriate

They were there. And they contradict the stories being put out by those in charge and by Microsoft. They did *not* have the opportunity to have their concerns addressed totally. Malaysia voted to disapprove the undiscussed bulk dispositions, although they had earlier voted to approve some dispositions that were discussed.

When All Else Fails, Break the Law

The OOXML scandal in India — one which we covered here before [1, 2, 3] — is finally receiving some press coverage. While the 'mainstream press' turns somewhat of a blind eye, Linux.com does a story.

Microsoft is encouraging its business partners to promote its Office Open XML specification (OOXML) to the Indian Bureau of Standards (BIS) and Ministry of IT. This move has incensed supporters of the rival OpenDocument Format (ODF) who fear that the “soft” Indian state may not be able to stand up to Microsoft pressure tactics.

It is encouraging to see that all these known and proven incidents get documented. Hopefully, the EU is watching this carefully and taking it into account (or Microsoft's accounting).

“If you flee the rules, you will be caught. And it will cost you dearly.”

Neelie Kroes (about Microsoft), February 27th, 2008

Neelie Kroes

Quick Mention: Novell’s “Cool Blogs” Closing down….

Posted in Marketing, Novell at 12:12 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Novellsoft

It is not quite as bad as that sounds, but do have a look.

Closing down….

Coolblogs is all about open discussions with customers, it however has one very big limitation, there is just a few Novell people that blog and customers are only able to respond. This limitation disappeared with the introduction of the new Cool Solutions Community pages where we allow customers to write blog posts as well.
You have seen that a few of our Cool Bloggers already moved house and started to blog on the Cool Solutions Communities page, we hope that this will improve the interaction with the user community.

Little blogging and little interaction/attraction may mean that:

  1. Either customers were not interested in what Novell had to say; or
  2. Novell employees were not motivated enough to blog in favour of the company; or
  3. Both (1) and (2).

It’s a minor observation compared to the one which was made just a couple of hours ago.

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