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Microsoft Exploits Feynman Lectures to Spread Lock-in, Does the Same in HPC

Posted in Deception, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono at 6:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Richard Feynman ID badge

Summary: In another assault on open access and free (libre) science, Feynman’s work is being seized by a proprietary software vendor and wrapped in proprietary formats

GLYN MOODY probably said it best:

But wait: what do we find when go to that “free” site:

Clicking will install Microsoft Silverlight.

So it seems that this particular free has its own non-free (as in freedom) payload: what a surprise.

That’s a disappointment – but hardly unexpected; Microsoft’s mantra is that you don’t get something for nothing.

What was this written in reference to? Here is context from The Register:

Forget Windows 7, the most useful thing that Microsoft will do this year is host the videos of a famous lecture series given by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman back in 1964, so anyone can watch them and see a brilliant man engaged with the workings of the physical world and the people he is trying to get hooked on physics.

Does Feynman, who is now in his grave (passed away in 1988), know that Microsoft is exploiting his good work to pollute the Web and deny access to his lectures if the viewer uses a Free operating system like BSD or GNU/Linux? Would he have approved this? A reader wrote to tell us that “Feynman lectures [are] for free… on Silverlight only.”

“Silverlight is proprietary and it is owned and controlled by a multiple-times monopoly abuser that ardently combats the scientific model of development.”The word “only” is very important. If and when Microsoft goes out of business (all commerce has its shelf life), will Feynman’s work still be accessible? Silverlight is proprietary and it is owned and controlled by a multiple-times monopoly abuser that ardently combats the scientific model of development. It is about sharing.

According to our reader’s interpretation of this (to paraphrase a little), Microsoft thinks that it can ‘give away’ the Silverlight client and make sure it doesn’t run on GNU/Linux (except for the “Mono-polluted stuff”). Then, Microsoft removes IE from Vista 7 in Europe and blames the EU Commission. “Is there a pattern here,” asks the reader. “They’re repeating the same thing they did with IE and Windows. As in, create web-tools that can only make web sites that work with IE+Windows. Here they’re creating flash incompatible sites that ONLY work with Silverlight+Windows. Where’s the interoperability in that? If they were made to open up Silverlight, they would produce a crippled version and blame the regulators. And the fools will continue to let Microsoft get away with it.

Microsoft seems to be planting a Trojan horse in high-performance computing as well. It is exploiting ignorance among parts of the scientific community and Glyn Moody explains why:

So basically Project Trident is more Project Trojan Horse – an attempt to get Microsoft HPC Server cluster technologies into the scientific community without anyone noticing. And why might Microsoft be so keen to do that? Maybe something to do with the fact that Windows currently runs just 1% of the top 500 supercomputing sites, while GNU/Linux has over 88% share.

Microsoft’s approach here can be summed up as: accept our free dog biscuit, and be lumbered with a dog.

Nothing ever changes when it comes to Microsoft’s behaviour. It’s only the degree to which it is able to conceal its behaviour that changes. Our readers usually call it “drug dealer mentality”.

“What we are trying to do is use our server control to do new protocols and lock out Sun and Oracle specifically”

Bill Gates

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  1. David Gerard said,

    July 16, 2009 at 7:12 am


    Here’s two tweets from Ben Goldacre. Note the process of enlightenment:


    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    At least he’s angry at Gates, not at Feynman.

  2. Mikko said,

    July 16, 2009 at 7:23 am


    firefox on linux is blocked from accessing the site (i get browser not supported message)

  3. aeshna23 said,

    July 16, 2009 at 7:41 am


    I can’t help but think Feynman would have been all in favor of FLOSS. It makes this so much more insulting than if, say, Richard Nixon’s or Jimmy Carter’s speeches were available only on silverlight. In fact, maybe they should be.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Betamax would be better. Inaccessible on arrival.

    Mikko Reply:

    and sound files in wma with MSN music DRM (Discontinued)

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I think that the victims have at least received an extension of deadline (not a refund, such as Google’s).

    David Gerard Reply:

    These ones didn’t:


    Apple DRM may be DRM, but at least it doesn’t take away the songs you already paid for if the store stops selling them!

    (The guy had bought $100 of songs from the Zune Store. He is telling everyone he can about what they pulled.)

    David Gerard Reply:

    These ones didn’t:


    Apple DRM may be DRM, but at least it doesn’t take away the songs you already paid for if the store stops selling them!

    (The guy had bought $100 of songs from the Zune Store. He is telling everyone he can about what they pulled.)

    Facebook link: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=7271611&id=623900290

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I foolishly thought only bad sectors prevent playback.

  4. Jonathan Wong said,

    July 16, 2009 at 9:15 am


    I’m just curious, and I really am asking this in a non-confrontational way.

    If you had the rights to the Feynman lectures today and wanted to build a rich viewing experience similar to the Silverlight-enabled site today, what would you build it in?

    Would it be Flash? Sure it runs on Linux, but isn’t it also proprietary?

    Would it be HTML5?

    And I’m also wondering: has Feynman ever came out to express in public his support for FLOSS? Or is it just assumption on our part that he would? Anyone have a link anywhere?

    Oh, for those who haven’t been reading Boycott Novell recently, yes – I’m a Microsoft employee :)

    David Gerard Reply:

    The answer is: they’re videos of lectures!

    So just PUT THE VIDEO UP.

    If you want to wrap it in a “rich experience” that’s an add-on – putting it as an initial requirement is deeply missing the point. People aren’t going there to get a “rich experience” – they’re going there to WATCH VIDEOS.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    But then, “where’s the lock-in?”

    Where is the “business value”?

    Jonathan Wong Reply:

    So please tell me if this is correct:

    For any product or service you would rather have a worse user experience but be totally unhindered from proprietary software, instead of having a better and richer user experience if it means you need to use proprietary software. Would that be accurate?

    Also, do we really know for sure if people care or don’t care about the rich experience offered to them when watching videos? Do we know one way or another if absent that rich experience, would some casual academics still be interested to check out the Feynman lectures? We really don’t know either way, do we?

    Anyone found a link yet to state whether Feynman ever came out to express his support for FLOSS or any kind of open source or free software movement?

    David Gerard Reply:

    No, you’ll note I didn’t address free/proprietary at all – I addressed what you said versus what people actually want.

    They want convenience. They want “just works.” Click on a link or a Flash player (Flash is already on >95% of Internet-connected computers) is convenience. Installing a new piece of software just to watch a video is perceived as a damn nuisance.

    Silverlight isn’t equivalent to Flash because Flash is already installed – it’s the incumbent with an over 90% userbase. Same problem Linux has on the desktop against Windows, or Bing has in search against Google – it’s not just the quality, it’s the installed base who perceive switching as a hassle for no good reason.

    (Apple fails on features per dollar, but that’s not what they’re selling – the main “feature” Apple sells its customers is “doesn’t make you want to smash it to bits with a toffee hammer.” That “feature” appears to be worth twice what you’d expect from the bill of materials, and is enough to take 80% of the music player market. Zune will never stand a chance while it pulls stunts like this.)

    You can’t demand people want a “rich experience.” No user wakes up and thinks, “gee, I hope I have a rich experience on the Internet today.” They want to click on the dancing pigs link and see dancing pigs, they want to click on the lolcat link and see a lolcat, they want to click on the Feynman lectures link and see the Feynman lectures. They don’t want something telling them to install software. They don’t want to be told “whoops you’re running Linux, you can’t have this video” because they know that’s bullshit – YouTube works fine in Linux, so Microsoft looks incompetent.

    You need to be thinking in terms of what the user actually wants, rather than in terms of what you want them to have.

    Note once again that none of the above has anything to do with free vs proprietary at all. Having to install software to watch a video is, these days, a shitty user experience and enough for people to say “bugger that, I’ll go look at lolcats instead.”

    David Gerard Reply:

    And really – if you’re looking to use video as a dancing pig to get people to install Silverlight, it’s the wrong demographic – Feynman lectures appeal to smart geeks, who will get loudly stroppy.

    I’ve said repeatedly that the really effective way for Microsoft to get >90% Silverlight installation is: porn. Give away lots of high-resolution porn that requires Silverlight to view it. This will be way cheaper than $100 million advertising campaigns. TECHNOLOGY IS DRIVEN BY PORN.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Rich experience can be delivered by Free software, provided the raw material (video). You are spinning this debate and hitting straw men.

    Jonathan Wong Reply:

    @Roy – So what free software is that?

    Flash is proprietary. So is Silverlight. HTML5 is not a standard yet.

    What do you propose?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Use Ogg, please. No licensing (taxing) is then involved.

    David Gerard Reply:

    @Jonathan – for another example, look at the way Wikimedia does video. All the video is Ogg Theora. Firefox 3.5 does Theora natively in <video>. We have the Cortado video player, written in Java – works well, but the 30 second Java startup time is a crappy user experience. There may or may not be a Browser plugin available.

    So the obvious answer: graceful fallback. Here’s the fallback JavaScript: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/extensions/OggHandler/OggPlayer.js?10

    People who end up at Cortado get their video. But they also get a link suggesting Firefox 3.5 (which is the only stable release browser that does Theora in <video>).

    (As I noted, asking for a software install for video these days is a shitty user experience, and if Flash were free software we’d just have a Flash player – but we are constrained to use only free software or soon-to-be-free software – we’ve used not-yet-free bits of Java on the assumption Sun would continue its programme of freeing Java and not embarrass us – and they didn’t.)

    The greatest nuisance at the moment is actually Safari – it supports the <video> element, but not Theora out the box. It does however work if XiphQT is installed. So we’ve asked the Apple engineers to standardise what they do and get the bugs out, so we can at least recommend to Safari users they download XiphQT rather than switching to Firefox. (We figure Apple might be helpful if we put it in those terms.)

    Note that our entire focus is on (a) as universal out-the-box access as possible (b) with as non-crappy a user experience as possible. The user experience is arguably made much worse by the free-software-only constraint, but that isn’t an option for the Wikimedia Foundation.

    [As a sidenote, we’d love to allow uploads in any video format and transcode to Theora server-side – ffmpeg will reliably process anything – but that turns out to be a much harder problem than it sounds. However, in that case we’re only not doing it for lack of technical infrastructure, rather than for any ideological or legal reasons.]

    Jonathan Wong Reply:

    @David – Hmm… so what I am hearing from you is this. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    To you, its all about what people want. If a piece of proprietary software grants the user the experience that users want (like in the case of Flash), then you are all for it. Free/proprietary is secondary to delivering what the user wants. Correct?

    “You need to be thinking in terms of what the user actually wants, rather than in terms of what you want them to have.”

    If you have access to a Windows PC and you have checked out the site, you no doubt will realize that it has a lot of rich interactive features that no doubt greatly enhances the learning experience for the user. Personalized note annotations, transcripts, search, video chapters, extra resources, real time 3rd-party commentaries, etc. all integrated in one pretty slick looking user experience.

    You cannot assume that all users would not want features like that. If these features are important enough to them, they would be more than happy to install the Silverlight plug-in. There is nothing wrong with that. Just like there is nothing wrong with movie theaters charging people to watch movies. If folks think they will like the movie, they will pay for the tickets. That is, except for the people who insist they only watch free movies. :)

    The thing is, we really can’t generalize what everyone wants, since everyone is different.

    David Gerard Reply:

    WMF’s free software requirement: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Values

    We have fudged this slightly on occasions – we did some stuff in Java while it was not quite free, because we figured Sun would come through in full, and they did. We allowed GIFs on for limited purposes (animations) when they were still under a patent cloud. We used a version of Lucene written in C# a few years ago because Mono was freer software than Java at that time (we’re back on Java now and it’s twice as fast).

    However, where possible, we use free software every time, and do without if necessary. Audio and video will only be in unencumbered formats. At present that means Vorbis and Theora. (Dirac isn’t ready.)

    This is because reusability is paramount – encumbered formats aren’t freely reusable, proprietary software means people can’t freely duplicate the software infrastructure used to access the content.

    This has proven restrictive and frustrating … but so far Wikipedia is moderately popular. So we seem to be doing well enough doing things with good means as well as to a good end.

    David Gerard Reply:

    In general, I’m personally all for free software all through. However, the main thing I’m seeing pissing people off about the Feynman lectures is the crappy user experience of installing some Microsoft software just to watch some videos.

    As I noted, the problem is that Flash is assumed and Silverlight is perceived as a new thing they don’t want the hassle of. This is arguably unfair to Silverlight, but it’s also the market: everyone has Flash, no-one cares about Silverlight.

    (I’d say one of the biggest things keeping Flash popular is YouTube. It’s certainly the only reason I have Flash installed on this Linux laptop.)

    If you want to test how very important the rich user experience is to people – offer a download link to just the videos themselves. WMV format, even. See what proportion get the videos and what proportion get Silverlight.

    I suspect you haven’t advertised the fancy stuff people can get well enough – the people I’ve seen ranting about this wanted to just watch the videos and got asked to install software. The fancy experience may well be extremely nice and worth it, but when you say “Feynman lectures on video” people have an expectation as to “video” online, and it’s something YouTube or DailyMotion or whatever-ish – i.e., a video player.

    Jonathan Wong Reply:


    So it seems to me that there is no acceptable solution that is 100% satisfactory then?

    If you use Ogg, it will exclude the millions of desktop PCs and Macs that don’t have either the necessary Ogg codecs or Firefox 3.5 or XiphQT or Java (which is not ubiquitous) installed. And like you said, the last thing we want is to have users being prompted to install something else, right?

    And we can’t use proprietary plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight.

    IMO, as commentators (me included), it’s always easy for us to point out flaws and critique, but it’s a lot more difficult to come up with a workable solution.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Microsoft should spread Ogg with Windows. It deliberately does not do this (not even in IE) because it wants to spread patents and thus injure GNU/Linux.

    Old news, nice spin. Antitrust exhibits show it coming right from the horse’s mouth.

    David Gerard Reply:

    No, you can’t please everyone, particularly on a site full of unashamed Free Software ideologues like this one ;-)

    As I noted, if it had been Flash based, that probably would have been “good enough” for everyone and you could have done as fancy an interface as with Silverlight.

    Silverlight may be a better replacement in technical terms – I’d be surprised if it wasn’t, given it was created to be – but Flash is already on every desktop and Silverlight isn’t. That may not be fair, but it’s also the market: Flash >90%, Silverlight ~20%; most people won’t need to install software to play Flash, most people will need to install software to play Silverlight. If you’re doing rich internet application stuff at present, Flash can be presumed, Silverlight can’t.

    (Silverlight stat from RIAstats, which is disproportionately visited by Rich Internet Application developers; general proportion I’d expect to be lower.)

    David Gerard Reply:

    Note: when I say “good enough for everyone” I mean “good enough for approximately everyone.” Personally I’d prefer Ogg Theora in <video>, but I’m not foolish enough to think I’m a large market.

    Jonathan Wong Reply:


    That is pure conjecture with absolutely zero to back it up. And I suppose you blame Apple for not bundling Ogg in OS X too.

    It’s so easy for one to just start shouting loudly and dismissing other people’s arguments as spin or antitrust exhibits or whatever. It’s not as easy to actually have a sound debate.

    At least I respect David Gerard’s opinions. I actually learn something from reading his commentary.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That is pure conjecture with absolutely zero to back it up.

    Here is one example of hard proof.

    And I suppose you blame Apple for not bundling Ogg in OS X too.

    Yes, Apple has its special (and complex) media relations with Microsoft. See Comes vs Microsoft antitrust exhibits for details. Codec patents are a form of “pool”, or collusion.

    David Gerard Reply:

    @Jonathan – I probably agree with Roy on pretty much everything, I just spend most of my Wikimedia volunteering time trying to work productively with people who don’t already agree with me, so am a bit better at it ;-p

    I’m not sure how one would do a ‘l33t rich application like Jonathan describes for the Feynman lectures entirely in free software. What he describes is indeed massively cool and something like it would be well worth having.

    HTML5 isn’t finished and won’t be for two years; at least there are two implementations of it in moderately wide use, being Gecko and WebKit, and one can write stuff that works in both those.

    Gnash barely implements large chunks of Flash (my personal test: do Weebl’s Stuff animations work? No they don’t), so writing to that subset of Flash strikes me as likely to be way too painful in practice.

    I’d probably ask a designer who does this stuff how they’d do it in the currently available Gecko/WebKit subset of HTML5. Then they’d look at me funny and give me their best professional advice to use Flash because everyone has Flash.

    Basically, someone has to trailblaze doing unbelievably cool shit in the current version of HTML5, show how they did it and lead the way. I suspect this will require high-quality HTML5 Rich Internet Application authoring tools.

    As for popularising Silverlight, I still advise sponsoring porn that requires Silverlight. Ideologically highly questionable, but likely to spread the plugin faster than anything else I can think of. The Internet is for Porn, after all.

    (Would also work for Ogg Theora. At this point I’m glad Free Software doesn’t have the money for that sort of thing.)

    David Gerard Reply:

    And by the way, I do blame Apple – or, rather, think much less of them – for not putting Ogg codecs into OS X. Their patent troll exposure argument on Theora is, as I have said on the WHATWG list, purest grade-A incredible bullshit. AAC has, after ten years, only just reached the quality of Ogg Vorbis. They threw a spanner into HTML5 with this, one which Wikimedia is now trying to un-spanner with sheer amount of content and actual use cases.

    (By the way – in all the discussion of Nokia’s similar odious lying bullshit about Ogg Theora and Vorbis, no-one called attention to Nokia benefiting from the AAC patent pool.)

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Here is Nokia’s role in fighting Web standards:

    “Compatibility with DRM. We understand that this could be a sore point in W3C, but from our viewpoint, any DRM-incompatible video related mechanism is a non-starter with the content industry (Hollywood).”

    Stephan Wenger, Nokia [PDF]

    Jonathan Wong Reply:


    Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

    IMO, I think the problem with free and open source software (as well as standards like HTML5, I suppose) is that due to the collaborative and open nature of the development model, it’s incredibly difficult to get consensus. Thus, it’s reasonable to expect innovation and progression in free software to lag behind innovation and progression in proprietary software.

    HTML5 is certainly the way to go for the future, but I’m just afraid that as the specifications currently stand, it’s still gonna be pretty tough for an HTML5 app to reach feature parity with Flash or Silverlight anytime soon. Not to mention, like you say, it’s still at least 2 years away from being ratified as a standard.

    And speaking of porn and Silverlight, have you seen Playboy Archives yet? ;)


    David Gerard Reply:

    Darn, I’ll need a Windows box to look at fifty years of, er, articles ;-p

  5. Will said,

    July 16, 2009 at 10:09 am


    The thought of Windows in HPC is equal parts laughable and nausea-inducing, especially to those in charge of HPC operations.


    David Gerard Reply:

    Vista will run smoothly!

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Which edition? :-)

    I can clearly recall an article which said that Windows for supercomputers requires less RAM than Vista. It’s not a joke.

    David Gerard Reply:

    The usual Slashdot joke is “is that enough to run Crysis?” but I tried to be more on-topic …

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Well, GNU/Linux runs Crysis too (but not natively).

    goodb0fh Reply:

    @Roy: It’s possible. Way back when, when sexchange was called a mail server, Microsoft tried so hard to push sexchange to all and sundry. With the exception of one set of users. The ISPs – if you were an ISP, and only if you were one, you have the option of buying an “exchange-lite” which is basically an smtp engine that runs in windows.

    And think about mini-win and things like XP embedded, where, it is possible to strip out bits and pieces like media player (gasp!) and IE (double gasp!). So it is entirely possible. But people like Jonathan would not want us to be able to use these things even if we want to, because we would not have the “user experience” they want to lock us into.

    Seriously, if I were a monopoly, this would be what I’d be doing too. Screw the users, they can have any color they want as long as it’s black.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    You can also charge as much as the market will tolerate.

    David "Lefty" Schlesinger Reply:

    Oh, good Lord, I remember the Microsoft mail server for ISPs. Internet Primus in Australia used it – some damn fool went for an all-NT4 server infrastructure. The mail server needed rebooting every Monday morning at 3am. Primus paid a GODDAMN FORTUNE in consulting fees to Microsoft to fix it and they still couldn’t – presumably that’s how they made back the subsidies to use Microsoft in the server room.

    Primus also used crappy Bay Networks 3599 (if I recall correctly) dial-in modem banks. Worst shit in the world, hardly worked with anything. You can have a good modem bank and a bad customer modem, or a bad modem bank and a good customer modem, but you can’t have bad both. This was when WinModems were just coming in, so guess what all the tech support calls were about.

    That was my first job in IT. Tech support regularly won awards for customer service. And we deserved them, because you had to be a goddamn genius to get that shit to work.

  6. goodb0fh said,

    July 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm


    @jonathan wong of microsoft: Why do you keep asking if Feynman had publicly supported FLOSS? That term wasn’t even created or in use at that time, how the fuck would feynman have supported it?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    This question was perhaps a distraction, just like the suggestion that “rich experience” and Free software are mutually exclusive.

    Jonathan Wong Reply:

    You are correct that Feynman has already passed away (1988) before the term FLOSS was coined.

    However, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the open source and the free software movement have it’s roots even as early as the 70′s? So it’s not like Feynman lived in a time where the concept of free or open source software is completely foreign to people.

    Why I am curious whether Feynman has been documented publicly as being a supporter of free software is because the article above, as well as some commentators, make it sound like he sure would of been a slam dunk supporter.

    “Does Feynman, who is now in his grave, know that Microsoft is exploiting his good work to pollute the Web and deny access to his lectures if the viewer uses a Free operating system like BSD or GNU/Linux? Would he have approved this?”

    “I can’t help but think Feynman would have been all in favor of FLOSS”

    Unless someone proves to me otherwise, I am going to assume that no one here really knows one way or another what Feynman’s position would of been on free software. There is no way we would know whether Feynman thinks his good work is being exploited. All this is conjecture at best.

    goodb0fh Reply:


    Everything I have read about Feynman indicates the man is a great teacher, and loves to share his knowledge. Which parts of that indicates that he would prefer to have his work locked in and made unavailable to some portions of the world?


    Go read it yourself.

    After that, do you think a teacher would say “you can learn my shit, but only if you use my rich user experience” or do you think a teacher would say “you can learn my shit, here ya go, period”?

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    Remember that the young Campinos asked dad for his immunity after he had gotten drunk and crashed the car; maybe the EPO should stop giving diplomatic immunity to people, seeing what criminals (e.g. Benoît Battistelli) this attracts; the German government is destroying its image (and the EU’s) by fostering such corruption, wrongly believing that it’s worth it because of Eurozone domination for patents/litigation

  25. EPO Dislikes Science and Scientists

    The EPO's management has become like a corrupt political party with blind faith in money and monopolies (or monopoly money); it has lost sight of its original goals and at this moment it serves to exacerbate an awful pandemic, as the video above explains

  26. Links 1/12/2021: LibreOffice 7.3 Beta, Krita 5.0, Julia 1.7

    Links for the day

  27. Links 1/12/2021: NixOS 21.11 Released

    Links for the day

  28. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

    IRC logs for Tuesday, November 30, 2021

  29. Links 1/12/2021: Tux Paint 0.9.27 and WordPress 5.9 Beta

    Links for the day

  30. [Meme] EPO Administrative Council Believing EPO-Bribed 'Media' (IAM Still Shilling and Lying for Cash)

    IAM continues to do what brings money from EPO management and Team UPC, never mind if it is being disputed by the patent examiners themselves

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