Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Software Patents: Innovation's Quicksand

Eric Maskin is no fan of software patents, and people should pay attention.

Professor Maskin is no technology flower child pushing P2P with his LSD. This Harvard and MIT economist just won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on mechanism design theory. In 1999, he turned his economic eye to the value of software patents. And found them wanting.

His research showed that when patent protections for software strengthened during the 1980s, "far from unleashing a flurry of new innovative activity, these stronger property rights ushered in a period of stagnant, if not declining, R&D among those industries and firms that patented most."

Strong patent protection produced less R&D spending, and slowed productivity growth.


Technology is an industry of sequential innovation, with advancements built on the preceding invention of others. Imitation breeds innovation. In software, copying ideas and concepts is vital for innovation. Hence, the genius of open source as a software development model -- few barriers to the use of other people's concepts and code.

In dynamic industries like software, patents constrict innovation.

This relates to a larger enemy of innovation that I have blogged about -- content scarcity.

Maybe it is time to stop applying 19th Century rules on intellectual property to post-industrial areas that have an entirely different economic mechanics?

Categories: innovation, software, IP

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Inconvenient Nobel Prize

Al Gore, modern day prophet, has just won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise social and political awareness of the dangers of global warming. Gore shares the Prize the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Propelled by the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore has toured the world delivering his PowerPoint pitch on the risks of man-made climate change. The film won an Academy Award. The man is now a Nobel laureate.

The best thing that ever happened to Al Gore was being defrauded in the 2000 election.

Of course, George Bush, the court-appointed winner of that election, is likely too thick to recognize that this year's Peace Prize is a direct retort to his empty, oil-infused rhetoric on climate change and energy policy. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol early in his presidency and has spent the intervening years doing nothing to break the US's "oil addiction" as he called it. Empty words.

Some may question the connection between global warming and peace. It is a short-sighted protest. It is not hard to imagine how severe climate change--bringing the loss of drinkable fresh water, massive flooding, refugees and ruined agricultural lands--could spark major conflicts as people become more desperate to avoid its impact.

Gore will no doubt reject the temptation to run for President this year, despite the efforts of And why should he? He's on a roll, and the rest of the world beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue knows it.

Categories: GlobalWarming, AlGore

Thursday, October 04, 2007

GSA "FEMAs" California

Life on the Internet can be fragile, as California learned yesterday. While taking counter-measures against a hacker re-directing traffic from a state county's website to a porn website, the U.S. General Services Administration deleted California - virtually.

For seven hours, the entire ".ca" domain -- home to every government agency in California -- was gone. A flick of a a switch and ... No web access. No email. No California.

It started with the discovery that the website for Transportation Authority of Marin Country was hacked, and all traffic we sent to pornographic websites. The fear that its DNS server had been compromised, and could thus compromise the entire ".ca" domain apparently led the GSA to make California disappear entirely -- or more technically de-list ".ca" making it in accessible from servers worldwide.

As more public services become web-delivered, the need for reliable 24/7 access is obvious. Maybe a little more attention needs to be paid to disaster recovery by governments as they pursue e-government.

Who needs an earthquake when you have GSA? Maybe we should get FEMA to take over the ".gov" domain management.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Open Source Gets Himalayan High

It is a rare day when I can mention open source and Bhutan in the same sentence. The beautiful, tiny, mountain kingdom is far from a hotbed of technology innovation. Or is it?

Bhutan represents a great example of the power of open source. Too small to get its language supported in Microsoft products, open source allows Bhutan to help itself. The result ...

Dzongkha Linux (Pronounced like "Zonka"). Its release by the country's Department of Information and Technology demonstrates what open source--and only $80,000--can do.

Developed in 13 months, Dzongkha Linux is bootable on both Mac and Windows systems It is also bilingual, supporting both English and the Dzongkha language for word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, web browsing, even chat. And Bhutan is not done yet. Next they plan to develop local language based, speech recognition and text-to-speech functionality.

All that innovation for an $80,000 investment. Now that is a major return on investment, courtesy of open source.

Categories: Bhutan, opensource

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

ISO Rejects OOXML - Now What?

After months of political maneuvering and manipulation, ISO has rejected OOXML for fast track approval as an international standard. Approval required a two-thirds majority, or 67% "yes" votes. OOXML received 53%, a few votes short.

Rejection of OOXML is a setback for Microsoft, which wanted ISO approval to help convince customers--especially governments--to accept its usage and speed adoption of Vista and Office 2007.

The loss is likely temporary, though it is difficult to say how temporary. In February, ISO will convene a special ballot resolution meeting to consider changes to OOXML addressing technical objections raised by countries. There are many. And most do not address to core issue -- the need for a truly open document standard (like ODF) without proprietary extensions (as currently fill OOXML).

The real battle continues in the marketplace and in government policy circles. However, Microsoft can do itself (and ISO) a big favor, and follow the advice of France...

Split OOXML into two standards -- one that can be merged into ODF as a real open standard; and one that catalogs all the proprietary extensions needed for backward compatibility with the legacy MS formats (a closed but useful standard).

In this case, splitting the baby will save it (and us).

Categories: ISO, OOXML, Microsoft

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Microsoft: Mistakes Were Made in Sweden

Microsoft has admitted that a rogue employee sent a letter to MS partners in Sweden advising that they were expected to join the recent OOXML-as-ISO-standard meeting and vote "yes" in return for "market subsidies" (like paying for their advertising) and "additional support in the form of Microsoft resources." [Article is translated here.]

Microsoft has said that it was unauthorized, improper and quickly corrected. On his blog, Microsoft's Jason Matusow noted yesterday that "The whole point of the process is that organizations with an interest may participate."

He is right. Unfortunately.

In most countries, the technical committees considering how to vote on OOXML have created a process that invites (even relies on) companies -- all of whom have huge commercial interests in the decision -- to vote.

Such a process invites games, and abuses - as I noted here.

Why are governments enabling this? Why are governments abdicating their responsibility for decisions that affect public interests? Yes, technical issues are involved. But they are technical issues with big impact on public interests.

So blame the companies for their underhanded actions, and blame governments failing in their duty to serve the public interests.

[Quick Update: After revelations of improper actions by a Microsoft employee and concerns that it tainted voting on OOXML, the Swedish Standards Institute has declared its vote invalid and decided to abstain in the ISO vote.

Apparently, Sweden is not alone. Hungary's Minister of Economy & Transport instructed the Hungarian Standards Institution to re-do the OOXML voting due to ballot stuffing, arbitrary changing of rules, and exclusion of "no" voters.]

Categories: OpenStandards, OOXML, Sweden, Microsoft

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Microsoft Stuffs OOXML Ballot Box in Sweden?

Sweden is the stage for the latest games being played as the ISO vote on OOXML approaches. Last minute arrivals (listed here) at the meeting of Sweden's technical committee tipped the vote in favor of OOXML.

Is this Microsoft's fault? The real problem is that countries like Sweden (and Portugal before this) never established clear, transparent rules on who and how votes take place.

And companies exploit this. Why? Because huge business interests are at stake, and they can. Microsoft gets its business partners to vote. Microsoft's competitors also show up to vote. They all pay their admission fee and vote.

This is what happens when a vote that should be based on technical and public interest grounds is left to companies to decide.

The basic question: why should companies vote at all on a country's position on a standard?

Whether one standard or another best serves the public interest of a country is not an issue that should be decided by companies, which all have huge market and business interests at stake. This is a decision for government -- weighed by technical experts and decided in a transparent process by politically accountable officials.

Anything less is unacceptable.

Categories: OpenStandards, OOXML, Sweden

Friday, August 24, 2007

India Rejects OOXML, for Now

Another big shoe has dropped on OOXML.

India will vote "No" at the upcoming ISO vote on whether or not OOXML should be a standard. For the moment, India is saying "not."

After six hours of debate, 19 of the 21 members of India's technical committee agreed to vote "No" with comments, meaning that should Microsoft later address technical concerns about OOXML, India might shift its position. That will be no easy task. There are some 200 technical issues that have been raised by various parties to the OOXML specification, which itself spans a few thousand pages.

Last week a similarly big blow struck OOXML when Brazil decided to vote "No". As one member of its technical committee indicated, Brazil is likely to use ODF as the basis for its national document standard.

Most countries have not yet indicated their position. However, with the US abstaining and China and Japan voting "No," it is difficult to see how OOXML will in reality become a global standard, regardless of the ISO vote results.

ODF and OOXML will likely coexist for a time, and some (like Gartner) argue that OOXML will be the de facto standard given Microsoft's market dominance. Yet, technology dominance is a hard to maintain forever, and the winds are shifting as governments look to ODF, not OOXML, as the foundation for their own national standards.

After all, silicon is not stone. There is always the hope that Microsoft will continue to evolve and find a way to provide backward compatibility with all its proprietary formats while still ensuring that an unencumbered document standard like ODF is the way forward.

Categories: OpenStandards, OOXML, India, Brazil

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Global Warming's Give and Take in Norway

Global warming is bearing gifts to Norway. As Norway's glaciers disappear, it is gaining islands at an equally rapid (or alarming) pace.

On the Svalbard archipelago, a cluster of islands off Norway's northwest coast, the give and take of climate change are evident and undeniable.

Svalbard's glaciers are melting, and fast. The ice is receding at a rate of 16 cubic kilometers each year, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute.

At the same time, new islands are appearing along Svalbard's coasts. But these islands are not its first global warming gifts.

Last year, a new island emerged off Svalbard.

In 2004, yet another island, the size of a soccer field, rose off the eastern coastline of Svalbard.

What global warming taketh, it giveth back.

For some, it means access to new lands and natural resources (like oil). For others, it means submerged homes, less food and the disappearance of water supplies.

Lucky Norway.

Categories: GlobalWarming, Norway

Sunday, August 12, 2007

China: Patent Moves Meets Standards Muscle

China is moving up the intellectual property value chain and becoming a serious player in the IP world. In 2005, the number of Chinese patents jumped 33% over the prior year. It ranked 3rd behind the US and Japan, filing 170,000 patents. And that was 2 years ago.

China's influence over the future of technology is not limited to what is built, but also what is standardized. This only magnifies China's market impact.

China has not yet signaled how it will vote on fast track for the OOXML document standard at ISO. The US will not support fast track. While this is notable, China's vote will be the major indicator of OOXML's future. China has its own national standard for document formats - UOF. It has a stake in the standards fight different than the US, and leverage over the debate that the US lacks.

Critics argue that the volume of Chinese patents says nothing about the quality of those patents or the creativity of its technology. That may be true ... for now. But tens of thousands of engineers graduating every year combined with entrepreneurial drive and the growth of multinational research centers in China will change that, sooner rather than later.

As any foreign company in China will tell, their most talented Chinese staff are constantly leaving for new positions in other companies or their own start-up.

I have no idea how China will vote on the OOXML document standard. And I do not underestimate Microsoft's will to establish itself in China, as discussed here.

Still, I have my suspicions. OOXML does not support the use of Chinese characters within a Web address, and its use of Windows-specific specs for many functions -- for example, "useWord97LineBreakRules" or "autoSpaceLikeWord95" -- makes OOXML less appealing to a China intent on building its own patent portfolio and high tech industry.

[Image: "China Flag" by Dion Laurent]

Categories: China, openstandards, IP, OOXML

Monday, August 06, 2007

When the Boss Mentions Open Source

Just saw this and laughed.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing ...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Has Microsoft Open Sourced Itself in China?

Many reports are now discussing how Microsoft has conquered China through a combination of political hands-on and piracy hands-off, together with deep discounts (some call it dumping).

Another way to describe Microsoft strategy in China is open source lite.

Yes, Bill Gates has courted Chinese politicians aggressively in Beijing and Redmond. Yes, Microsoft has a shiny, new Chinese research center. Yes, it offers Windows/Office at rock bottom prices - $3 for Chinese students. The discount for government is top secret.

But, most importantly, Microsoft now takes a hands-off approach to the rampant pirating of its software in China.

The truth is: Piracy is helping Microsoft compete in China, and beat Linux.

In effect, Microsoft has partially open sourced itself in China ...

Windows and Office are copied and distributed for free (or nearly so) without any real licensing or IP restraints, and without legal challenge by Microsoft.

MS provides access to source code, for the government at least, allowing the Chinese to insert their own code and cryptography.

As a matter of business strategy, Microsoft is concentrating on building (even dominating) market share first, and worrying about sales second.

And finally, it has made China--through its research center in Beijing--an integral part of a collaborative, global process for software development.

Sound familiar? It isn't.

It's not the normal Microsoft strategy, and obviously it is not the work of an open source company. But Microsoft's approach to China has stolen a few pages from the open source playbook.

Call it: "Dr. Gateslove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Piracy."

Categories: China, Microsoft, opensource

Monday, July 30, 2007

FBI Investigates Ted Stevens' Tube Fetish

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) really has a thing for tubes. Not long ago, Stevens displayed his ignorance about the Internet by describing it as a "series of tubes." Brilliant!

Apparently, however, those were not the only tubes of interest to Stevens. This time it's tubes as in plumbing and wiring.

As I write this, the FBI and IRS are searching Stevens' Anchorage home as part of a corruption investigation into the re-modeling his house -- work possibly paid for by Veco, an oil-field service company that lobbies government extensively.

When it comes to tubes, maybe Senator Stevens is more of an expert than we knew.

Categories: Internet, FBI, tubes

Friday, July 27, 2007

Portugal Plays Musical Chairs on OOXML

After reading commentary on a recent meeting in Portugal to decide that country's position on voting for/against acceptance of OOXML as a standard by ISO ... a couple questions arise. Fortunately, they have simple answers.

1. Can an "open standard" require proprietary extensions in order to implement it?


2. If the standards process is not open to any and all participants, can the standard produced be considered "open"?


[Are you listening Portugal and Italy? You cannot shut people out of the discussion and then claim the standard under discussion is an open standard. The size of the room is NOT a legitimate reason to limit discussion.]

3. Should "fast track" ever be part of the standards process (at least if an open standard is the objective)?


Standards by definition are technical and complex. They are not amendable to short-cuts or fast tracks. The only reason to fast track consideration is to limit discussion (and discussants). And that undermines the basic foundation of an open standard.

If the process is invisible or closed, the standard is not open.

Categories: OpenStandards, Portugal

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Open Standards and IP (Redux)

A simple question: should an "open standard" have any proprietary elements in it?

If this sounds like the start of an extremist, anti-business rant on standards (and vendors), let me re-phrase the question ...

Should development of a standard begin with the business considerations of a company or the technical need to ensure interoperability and unfettered use in any future products by any person or company?

I ask this question with no axe to grind. I work for no vendor. I have no equity stake in any standards or company promoting them.

If you think the idea of open standards being standards with no proprietary elements is heretical or simply some Platonic ideal divorced from reality, consider this ...

We are moving in that direction already, though slowly.

The fact that interoperability is becoming the touchstone for any standards discussion is a positive sign. Governments--the largest set of technology consumers--are starting to assert their interests (the public interest) in both interoperability and avoiding permanent lock-in any one technology or vendor.

Companies are beginning to loosen (though not legally liberate) standards from their intellectual property claims. That is another positive step. Latest news on that front: IBM's "patent pledge" to grant universal access to hundreds of patents related to web services and SOA.

IBM's decision is laudable, but not ideal. It sends an important message to the market: let innovation reign, and don't worry about us suing. It does not remove IBM's legal right to assert control. It just offers the world a partial, unilateral IP disarmament. That is a good thing, and more than most big IT companies have done.

When it comes to open standards, proprietary anything creates barriers. A pledge to not assert ownership to a standard removes one proprietary barrier (litigation). It does not remove all proprietary barriers.

Why should I have to talk about products to have a discussion of an open standard?

Why should I be forced to consider (or enter) a business relationship with any single company when I consider using an open standard?

Why should an open standard come with any strings (or chains) attached?

The answer is, it shouldn't.

Open standards should be agnostic to products and companies and business models and ... IP.

[Image: Pandora's Chains - CalTech]

Categories: interoperability, openstandards, IP

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Open Standards Rise in Japan

Once again Japan stands out for technology leadership in Asia. Last week, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry issued its official Interoperability Framework.

It makes open standards -- including the OpenDocument Format (ODF)-- a required element of its procurement rules for technology and e-government.

The main objective of Japan's open standards requirement for procurement: interoperability (both data and process compatibility) and optimizing the value of ICT investments.

The Framework emphasizes a few specific policy points:

* the need to guarantee long-term access and retention of public documents.

* a prohibition on specifying individual products in procurement to avoid lock-in and dependency on non-interoperable products.

* when procuring software, open source software should be considered.

* decisions on software procurement should exclude software from considered based upon its development model or license.

* Preferred data formats are XML-based formats supported by multiple products/vendors with a low degree of dependence upon any single platform or specific technology.

And lastly, at the moment Japan's new Interoperability Framework recognizes only one acceptable document format: OpenDocument Format (ODF).

Categories: openstandards, ODF, Japan

Friday, July 06, 2007

FCC: Open Source Idiots

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is apparently both ignorant about open source software and distrustful of the market's ability to determine the efficacy of new products.

The FCC is set to issue new rules governing "smart" radios -- the next generation of mobile technology that can receive signals from cellphones, broadband, radio and TV stations. While the radios may be smart, the regulators are not ... at least when it comes to open source.

As the FCC puts it, "a system that is wholly dependent on open-source elements will have a high burden to demonstrate that it is sufficiently secure to warrant authorization as a software-defined radio."

The FCC has swallowed the stale FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) about open source and will rule that smart radios using open source software are inherently less secure. This is at odds with the opinions of tech security experts. Even the industry association representing telecom giants like Motorola and AT&T disagrees, and urged the FCC to rethink its position.

By endorsing a "security through obscurity" approach to software, the FCC ignores the past decade of software development and the judgment of federal agencies intimately committed to security (like the Pentagon and NSA) that use open source in an increasing number of security sensitive areas.

Unfortunately, the combined determination of security experts, industry engineers, and market testing is not enough for the FCC. Its new rules will only delay the arrival of innovative, new products in the market without any assurance that security will be improved.

At least the FCC did not ban open source in smart radios outright.

If only the FCC would follow some good, old fashioned wisdom: Don't just do something, stand there.

Categories: opensource, FCC

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Does Interoperability Require an IP Discussion?

According to Microsoft, yes. According to Red Hat, no. Microsoft and Red Hat -- oil and water -- and they don't mix, as recent discussions have shown. End of story right? Not necessarily ...

Interoperability and intellectual property are entirely different. Interoperability is about enabling things to work together, more at a "mechanical" level. IPR is about ownership of things and conditions on the right to use them.

Interoperability is also not about open vs. closed. Both open and proprietary technologies can be designed to interoperate.

You can design an application to work seamlessly with other apps without giving up your ownership of it.

Although interoperability and intellectual property are fundamentally different animals, they live in the same jungle. Interoperability does not undercut IPR, but IPR can impede interoperability. For example, an IP owner can set conditions on use of its patented technology that prevents development of a plug-in enabling it to work with other applications.

The result: users have an interoperability problem. However, it is an artificial problem created by technology vendors -- not the user or the engineering of interoperability itself. It is not a problem intrinsic to interoperability, but rather linked to the business models of the vendors discussing it.

The question for vendors is: which is more important?

Categories: interoperability, IPR

Monday, June 18, 2007

China's Newest Export: Baseball Players

It was bound to happen one day. A Major League Baseball team signs a player from China. That day is today, and that team is the New York Yankees, who signed not one but two young Chinese baseball players, with approval from the China Baseball Association.

This deal, however, falls more into the Dominican Republic category than the Japan or Korea category. What do I mean? This is not about signing talented players, often late in their careers as happens in Japan. This is about the long-term development of baseball in China, players and fans. Under the deal, Chinese teams will gain access to Yankee training facilities in New York and Florida. There will also be an exchange of coaches and trainers.

Will China become the next Venezuela of baseball? Is the baseball version of Yao Ming out there waiting to be signed? Nobody knows. But the New York Yankees are investing in that possibility. It's smart baseball and good business for the MLB and the Yankees brand.

Categories: ,

What's the Matter With Standards in China?

When the question of standards is raised in China, officials and companies are quick to focus on one issue: intellectualy property rights.

A week of meetings in China--including discussions with officials from the State Council, the Beijing Municipality and national standards bodies--made clear that China's drive to develop its own technology standards (open and closed) is directly linked to its intent to avoid IPR owned by foreign companies. The issue is less about open verses closed, but standards with or without IPR.

China does not want its innovation, its industrial development beholden to others. And does not want to spend the next 20 years watching royalties and license fees flow overseas. Even pledges not to sue are unacceptable, which partly explains why China developed its own opendocument format instead of simply adopting ODF.

Hence, its move to open standards, and in particular standards without any IPR. China intends to level the playing field, at least within its borders, to the maximum extent possible. In fact, at least one official from a Chinese standards organization maintained that a standard is not "open" if it has any IPR in its specification.

China's influence over the direction and content of the standards debate will surely increase. And other governments will follow suit, insisting upon open standards unemcumbered by IPR. As these policies become reflected in procurement and the work of international standards bodies, it will drive changes in how companies develop and sell technology, at least those that want access to China's growing market.

Categories: openstandards, China

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Open Source Insecurity? Don't Tell the Military

Think of the most high risk, highly classified area for using technology. Military units trying to communicate in the heat of battle. Surely, fighting wars is too demanding, too dangerous, too chaotic to risk using any systems based on open source and open standards?

Think again. War is the ultimate interoperability challenge.

The U.S. military's newest, most advanced battlefield technology is based on open standards and open source. When bullets fly, the U.S. turns to open technologies to ensure interoperability -- to ensure that coalition forces can communicate over secure networks, share classified data in real time, and coordinate combat operations.

Governments who think that open technologies are too insecure, immature and unreliable for mission critical activities could not be more wrong.

Generic statements about the security or insecurity of any technology are useless at best, and usually just propaganda for someone's beliefs. But the U.S. military is finding new ways to apply open technologies to their hardest, most dangerous needs.

Web-based chat, shared whiteboards to map operations, shared databases, file transfer -- and all based on open standards and all scheduled for deployment. Without compromising security, or secrecy. It is the very openness of these technologies that allows the military to ensure interoperability, maintain flexibility to rapidly integrate future innovations, and guard security.

And it is not only the U.S. military; others are turning to open technologies.

Does that make application of open technologies easy? No. Does it mean that every government agency should take notice? Yes.

Categories: opensource, openstandards, military

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Blogging is Sex, Not Masturbation

Blogging, like unsafe sex and political protest, is risky behavior.

According to a new UK study, bloggers are taking big risks by posting derogatory comments and damaging details about their firms, bosses and colleagues. One-third of all bloggers risk losing their jobs over their blogging activities.

I have posted before about the risks to bloggers of being political scapegoats or the target of legal retaliation.

This is different. Blogging is like unprotected sex. It feels like masturbation, but it is unsafe sex with a world of unknown partners.

Or to use another metaphor, this is about self-immolation.

Sitting alone in your office or home, it is easy to forget that blogging is a public activity. It feels private and informal, like writing a diary that nobody reads. It isn't. Blogs, for the most part, are public property, a web-based diary accessible to the world.

Would you go around your office hanging signs on the walls with critical comments of your boss? No? Then take care. Blogging is basically the same thing.

If you want to make a statement, make it. But understand it is for public consumption.

Categories: blogging

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Little Search Help ...

This is not my usual type of post.

I need your help with something ...

I want to find some people who know about "search" -- to chat about capabilities and development of different types of search engines (Google and beyond).

Can you suggest anyone to contact?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Digg in the Crossfire is caught in a crossfire -- facilitate piracy or censor content provided by its users.

Digg--a user-prioritized news site--deleted stories featuring code for cracking copyrighted DVDs, as demanded by the AACS Licensing Authority, an entertainment industry consortium. Digg users rebelled, and overloaded its website with postings. Digg backed down, allowed re-posting of the stories, and now faces a possible lawsuit (and court-ordered closure).

Truly the definition of "between a rock and a hard place." Internet users ( = Digg customers) verses copyright holders.

Who do you side with?

Either side could close down your business.

Censor articles posted by users and watch them crash your website, or side with their wish to share stories that expose intellectual property and risk closure by lawsuit.

What does this fight show? For one thing, intellectual property rules created for industrial societies do not work for a networked world.

Categories: piracy, copyright, Digg

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Open Source Samurai

Japan is planning to put Microsoft to the sword. The government has announced that open source software will be top priority in public procurement, and vendors are lining up to provide it.

Open source may prove to be Japan's Field of Dreams, demonstrating to the world that when creating a market for open source, if government buys it, they will come.

The Ministry of Communications has issued new procurement guidelines that makes open source (specifically, Linux) a priority beginning on July 1.

Japan's open source move follows a recent policy declaring that technologies based upon open standards, including the OpenDocument Format (ODF), will have priority.

It is notable that the initial list of vendors jumping at the open source opportunities on offer by the Japanese government do not include any "pure" open source companies.

The Japanese government will need to be mindful that procurements involving open source are not like other IT procurements. They require real work by an agency to identify potential open source solutions and the support (internally, or by vendors, consultants or communities) BEFORE a tender is put into the market.

Categories: opensource, Japan

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Yin and Yang of Open Ecosystems

At this week's World Bank event on open technologies, the presentations of Microsoft, Sun and the ODF Alliance drew no blood, but did prompt an interesting dialogue on open source and other open technologies.

To begin, I held up this picture ...

and asked the audience what it was.

My answer: a heterogeneous ecosystem.

My point: all ecosystems are mixed -- your company, your agency, your household, your economy, your ICT ecosystem, and even the table of presenters at the World Bank event which included Microsoft, Sun and the ODF Alliance.

The enemy is neither open or closed technology. The enemy is lock-in. Lock-in to a vendor, format, distribution channel, device, service provider, procurement model, source of financing, licensing model or development methodology.

Technology policies and decisions should all be aimed at breaking lock-in. That is what fuels ...
  • innovation in service delivery;

  • transformation of your business;

  • competition and new business opportunities; and

  • the genius of collaboration.

Where do open technologies fit in? They are designed to break lock-in -- unlocking your services, business processes and data from the hardware and software infrastructure.

So, where to start? Procurement.

Re-visit your procurement rules and practices - how you buy technology. Whether you realize it or not, your procurement is likely limiting your choices and creating some form(s) of lock-in.

Remember -- in our globalized world, there is no such thing as standing still. You are either moving forward or falling behind.

Categories: ecosystem, opensource, WorldBank

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Open Source Debate at World Bank

When people come together to discuss open source software, it does not take long for the discussion to sharpen into a debate, especially when governments face off with vendors like Microsoft and Sun.

Yesterday the World Bank webcast an event - Open Systems for e-Government in Developing & Transition Countries. Officials from countries including Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania participated by video conference.

While the discussion was thoughtful and cordial, the issues sharpened quickly. ODF vs. OOXML. What counts as "open" when it comes to standards. The influence of multinational IT companies in developing countries. The economic model for open source.

But the question asked most often about open source was: If I have a problem, who do I call?

The belief (or fear) that no support exists for open source software remains a major obstacle in the minds of many governments. The "no support" myth (and it is a myth) persists.

Andy Stein, Director of Technology for the City of Newport News, Virginia shared his experience finding external support for his city's open source apps. His answer: Your ICT ecosystem will include many options for support -- ranging from commercial companies and consultants to online communities and other governments. (My response is here.)

The bottom line: Open source does require an agency or enterprise to take responsibility for its IT decisions. There are many options in the market for open source products and support, but the buck stops with you.

Open source offers real value, but it is not a free ride.

Categories: opensource, WorldBank

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Managing Open Source Sprawl

Open source software has real grassroots appeal. By definition, it is easily acquired, allowing IT Departments to quickly deploy it within their ICT ecosystem. However, open source's ease of acquisition and often absence of formal procurement presents its own challenges.

Enterprises--especially those with talented, enterprising developers in house--may be surprised to learn how many open source components exist within their IT infrastructure. Surprise is not a good thing when it comes to technology.

Open source management is essential to maximize the benefits of open source. In this respect, it is not so different from other software. Both open source and proprietary software will be (and likely are) part of your organization's ICT ecosystem. Both must be managed, like any asset.

However, open source management is different than other source management. Its decentralized nature elevates certain risks:

* Use (and benefits of in house customization) of an open source product may not be evenly distributed within an organization.
* Security patches may not be uniformly adopted.
* Licensing issues may be overlooked.
* Interoperability gaps may not be identified.
* Improvements by the open source community may get missed.

There are products commercially available to help enterprises manage open source assets, as reported here. But it is impossible to purchase or outsource effective management. Good management starts at home. Enterprises need to establish their own rules and processes to manage open source software. Commercial partners and products can help, but they are no substitute for an enterprise's own management efforts.

Categories: opensource, management

Friday, April 20, 2007

Open Source Education: Coming to a Child Near You

No sector has more hardened silos than education. Untold sums of money and time are wasted re-inventing the wheels of education -- lesson plans, curricula, textbooks and other learning materials.

But a revolution in education is coming, and technology is the prime catalyst. The convergence of two innovations --- ultra-cheap laptops and networked teaching --- will forever change how children learn. Man-made barriers to learning are falling, enabling children (and teachers) to literally access the world and learning resources, regardless of location or socio-economic status.

Enter open source education. What is that? Collaborative, networked learning, enabled by the Internet and unbounded by walls, distance or low expectations.

Two specific projects embody this education revolution in the making: the One Laptop Per Child project and Curriki. They represent the hardware and software for this sea change in global education. OLPC will put an Internet-enabled computer into a child’s hands for a mere $100. Curriki will enable any teacher, parent or student to access teaching materials shared and developed around the world.

Despite tremendous local, grassroots energy going into open source education, governments and companies must play their part. Open source education requires connectivity. And that means governments and partners (the World Bank and Google are recent examples) need to invest in basic infrastructure – the networks and applications needed to access the online world.

Forget TV. The revolution will be networked.

Categories: education, OLPC, Curriki

Friday, April 13, 2007

Data is King, for Web 2.0 and Everything Else

Tim O'Reilly says that Web 2.0 is all about controlling data. He's right. Data is king, but it's not just about Web 2.0. Source code, standards, blogging, news, music, video -- control of data is central to all of them. The liberation of data from proprietary controls is the ultimate disruptive force of the Internet Age.

Access to data is what builds (and breaks) empires, whether it's search (Google) or code for operating systems (Microsoft). Access to data on demand -- anywhere, anytime, from any device -- is becoming a reality.

And companies and governments alike are finding it difficult to adapt. Profitable business models are threatened; government control of information is undermined. The Recording Industry of America files lawsuits to stop people downloading music. Turkish courts order national ISPs to block YouTube.

Ultimately, efforts to control digital data will fail. If you can build a digital lock, you can build a digital key. And that's generally good news. Unlocking information unlocks innovation and ideas.

Categories: innovation, Web2.0

Sunday, April 08, 2007

No Global Warming? Go Tell It to the Mountain

Glaciers are the thermometers of global warming. When they melt on a massive, persistent scale, you know global temperatures are rising. Don't believe panels of scientists or peer reviewed research? Just ask any mountaineer. They are global warming's eyewitnesses.

And according to them, mountain ice is disappearing around the world. Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. Switzerland's Mount Matterhorn. Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. Even Mount Everest. Signs of global warming are unmistakable on all of them, as witnessed by a mountain climbers.

Those famous snows of Kilimanjaro ...

What a difference 7 years makes.

At this point, doubters of global warming are like people who stare at a thermometer, refusing to believe the temperature it registers.

Categories: GlobalWarming

Saturday, April 07, 2007

YouTube Can Live Without Big Media

The legal battle between YouTube and Big Media just received an interesting piece of evidence: videos with copyrighted content (like Daily Show clips) do not dominate YouTube viewership. This is not good news for Viacom and other Big Media companies suing Google to prevent posting of copyrighted video on YouTube.

Big Media's copyrighted videos that were removed by YouTube comprised 9 percent of all videos on the site. And, surprisingly, those videos represent only 6 percent of total views. Yes, some copyrighted content surely remains on YouTube with less obvious tags making them more difficult for copyright holders to identify and demand removal. So those numbers are a bit higher in reality. But likely not orders of magnitude higher. If clips are under the radar of copyright owners, they are probably under the radar of YouTube users as well, not making any most viewed lists or generating many hits.

Even if copyrighted videos are 12 percent of total views, the vast majority of YouTube users are not watching Big Media content. This may not slow Viacom's lawsuit against Google, as one Wired News commentator said, but it may slow Google's willingness or need to settle. Google could remove all Viacom's content and go on its merry way, still enjoying robust and growing usership. It has past its tipping point.

In fact, stripped of Big Media content, YouTube's business model and usage might evolve even more rapidly. Instead of becoming the iTunes of Big Media video clips, who knows what YouTube could morph into? Or it may lead artists to re-think deals with Big Media companies that blocks their content from reaching the mass audiences on online social networks like YouTube.

Categories: media, YouTube

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Porn Offers Old School Answers to Piracy

DRM and other embedded controls on digital content will never stop peer-to-peer copying and sharing on the Internet. The answer is an "old school" approach -- pioneered by radio, TV and the Grateful Dead -- live performances. And once again, the porn industry leads the way, proving that it remains the barometer for high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

But with the Internet, live shows are not limited by the reach of a radio signal or a loudspeaker, or the lousy picture quality that defines most online video today. The world is the audience. Broadband streaming of high-definition, live video is a winning business model online, and the porn industry is proving it with record revenues.

Forget the grainy, lousy 70,000 pixel videos that populate the Web today. Real high-def -- with resolutions of 1 million pixels and more -- is the killer app for online content. For now, that requires cutting edge hardware and fiber to deliver fast enough to feel live. But that will change.

Hopefully, it is a lesson that Viacom, CNN and other mainstream content creators will learn.

Categories: media, Internet

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blogging Gets a Presidential Endorsement

If the mark of a credible news source is the importance of the people who cite it, blogging just got a big endorsement -- from President Bush. In a speech on Wednesday, Bush cited a pair of Iraqi bloggers to support his argument that the US military surge in Iraq is making progress.

The bloggers are two Iraqi dentists who write an English-language blog, These bloggers, who have met President Bush in the Oval Office, are generally supportive of the US efforts in Iraq. But neither that nor your opinion on the Iraq (civil) war, diminishes the import of this. The President of the United States has cited a blog as a news source.

While some governments use bloggers as scapegoats, blogging has reached the top of the political mountain in the US.

Categories: blogging

Is Oregon Wobbling on Open Standards?

Oregon has yet another new bill before its legislature about open standards in government. Unfortunately, this one equivocates on the choice of document standards and may produce more confusion than uniformity and interoperability among agencies.

House Bill 2920 "[r]equires state agencies to disclose public records in electronic form in certain circumstances and, when practicable, in open formats for which freeware is available."

Not the clearest language. "Requires" "in certain circumstances" "when practicable"? Now that's language only a lawyer could love.

More importantly, the bill defines an open standard as:

"Free of legal or technical restrictions on the specification's use for encoding, displaying, reading, printing or storing information or data in electronic form."

AND ...

"Developed or updated by more than one independent software provider in a well- defined, inclusive process."

Three questions come to mind:

1. What "freeware" will exist for OOXML's implementation?

2. What "technical restrictions" exist in OOXML? It certainly is loaded with legacy specs to ensure backward compatibility with MS products, and I suspect that creates many technical barriers for its use with products by other software providers.

3. Is OOXML truly "developed and updated" by more than one independent software provider? Its progress through the EMCL and ISO processes is about approval of the standard, not really its development. Or am I wrong about that?

The good news? The bill gives the Secretary of State the authority to fix its built-in equivocation. The Secretary can issue rules setting a
preference among open formats to "encourage uniformity among state agencies where different open formats exist that serve the same purpose, shall prefer the open format for which the widest selection of freeware is available for use by the

Now who would win that competition?

A hearing on competing open standards bills is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 3rd at 1 p.m.

Categories: OpenStandards, Oregon

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One Laptop per Millionaire

The difference between this

... and this ...

... is more than a few zeros.

Forget the $100 laptop per child.

A UK-based company Luvaglio is offering the world's first $1 million laptop. No, that is not a typo. And the company is being very secretive about it. Entering their website is by appointment only.

What does $1 million buy in a laptop? A 17-inch, special anti-glare, self-cleaning screen, 128GB hard drive, and ... wait for it ... a removable diamond power button that also serves as security identification.

One laptop per millionaire. As the Luvaglio website says, "We're not interested in 'mass production' or designing entry-level products ... or children." (OK, I added that last part)

Conspicuous consumption trumps social entrepreneurship? Maybe not.

Luvaglio is obviously targeting the other end of the Digital Divide -- the ultra rich who have been unable to join the Age of Computers.

Categories: OLPC, digitaldivide

Monday, March 26, 2007

Democracy Meets Open Standards in Texas

Tomorrow, an unusual thing will happen. Open standards -- for most a very technical and opaque matter -- will be the subject of a political hearing in Texas. State lawmakers will debate adoption of a technology policy for Texas in which open standards will have a central role.

Public comments (by Texas residents or anyone else, non-residents, even non-Americans) may be sent online here.

It will be a chance for lawmakers to hear about the value and importance of open standards -- to drive innovation, to ensure future access to public records, for cost savings and public control over vital IT infrastructure.

The hearings will be publicly webcast live.

Here is the link for the House hearing at 10:30AM.

And here for the Senate hearing at 1:30PM.

Categories: OpenStandards, Texas

Friday, March 23, 2007

China: Spam Champion

Wonder where most of your spam is coming from? Asia. According to Semantec, a well-known anti-virus company, 69% of all emails originating from Asia are spam. And China leads the way, generating the most spam in the world by volume.

I don't know if this is accurate, but I do know that almost all of the spam "comments" received on this blog are from IP addresses in China. It seems China is emitting spam at a rate that rivals its CO2 emissions.

Categories: China, spam

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Problems? Blame the Blogs

That is what the Malaysian government is doing apparently. Malaysia's Information Minister has warned newspapers (and by extension citizens) against using blogs as sources of information. According to the Star newspaper, Minister Zainuddin Maidin described blogs as "anarchist websites" and said most websites are run by frustrated journalists and political pundits.

Governments, companies and politicians worldwide are having difficulty adjusting to our wired world. The Internet disintermediates government and others who have traditionally filtered or rationed information. News oligopolies have ended.

Today, individuals can easily and instantaneously project their ideas, opinions and reporting out to the world. It can be a painful experience, as the Malaysian government discovered when allegations of corruption appeared in blogs and were later picked up by mainstream media.

Instant, unfiltered access to information is good. Yet, people still have a responsibility to assess (and question) the credibility of sources -- whether they are blogs or government-controlled media.

It's hard to lose control, and easy to scapegoat bloggers, as I noted here in connection with a company targeting a widely read blog.

As with most things, however, the fault lies not in our blogs but in ourselves.

Categories: Malaysia, blogging

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Google Lands in Africa

By now, many of you have seen the news about Google's partnerships in Africa with the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure and the Kenya Education Network (KENET). Google will supply Google Apps software to thousands of students in both countries as well as government officials in Rwanda.

Three important things are happening here.

First, more and more core business services are becoming Web-based and Web-accessed.

Second, Google sees that partnerships in emerging markets (with governments and educational institutions) is the way to win early mindshare and market share, not to mention goodwill from local communities.

Third, in many countries the public sector is the key catalyst and lead adopter for application of new technologies (unlike in the US).

In many of these markets, users will jump right to communication, business and data management tools delivered over the Internet -- avoiding the pain and expense of installing (and maintaining) business software on their individual computers.

No licensing, no lock-in.

To put it in Monopoly terms, "Go to the Web, go directly to the Web; pass licensing, do not pay $200.”

Categories: google, Africa

Friday, March 16, 2007

The (Small) Business Case for Open Source

If the code for open source can be shared, why not the business cases for it? No reason at all, says one UK company that will blog its experiences migrating an entire small business IT infrastructure to open source.

Mercian Labels, a 20-person maker of custom printed self-adhesive labels (and who doesn't love them?), posted a press release on its corporate blog announcing the start of its open source migration and its case study. As the migration proceeds, the company will blog about its strategic decisions, cost benefit analysis, technical options and problems faced during its open source journey.

To grow the open source user base, sharing best practices, case studies and business cases is just as important as sharing code -- especially for resource-challenged small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). And as Mercian found, SMEs may be positioned to realize returns on their open source investments faster than larger companies.

For Mercian, the switch to open source was an easy decision. Its business case balanced new costs of training, internal development and support against its existing costs from viral damage to mission critical servers, uncontrollable system changes, security threats and expensive upgrade paths.

Mercian decided to take control of its own IT destiny. Control, cost and future flexibility make open source an unbeatable component of its small business success. And even accounting for new costs, the company projects a positive (dollar) return on its investment in 1 year.

Categories: opensource, businesscase, SME

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Why IT Projects Fail?

Your technology project has failed. Most likely it was not the technology that failed to deliver; it was you paying too little attention on your people, schedules and budgets. According to a recent company survey, the top 3 reasons for the failure of tech projects are: poor communications, unrealistic schedules and insufficient resource planning.

While most managers focus on the high-priced hardware, the complex architecture and technical issues, it is the "soft" issues that end up hurting a project the most -- people who do not communicate well, inattention to how long tasks take to complete, and not enough money and people to do the job well and on time.

Planning for project success means planning to communicate up, down and across the org chart. Communication is not an ad hoc activity; processes need to be defined so people know when and what they are expected to communicate.

People, schedules and budgets are the 3 pillars of successful IT projects.

Categories: ITprojects, communications

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Open Source Politics in the UK

Open source was thrust into the rough-and-tumble of British politics this week when the Tory Party's shadow chancellor criticized Tony Blair's Labor Party for its failure to expand use of open source software in government.

George Osborne seems to get it, and he spoke with clarity and passion. In his remarks (full speech is here), he complained of the uneven playing field for open source in government procurement.

But his challenge went beyond procurement rules. Osbourne called for a change in the culture of government in the digital age, and presented a technology strategy for the Conservative Party based upon three pillars: equality of information, social networking and open source. And not just open source as software but open source as a powerful model for mass collaboration.

Open source politics does not mean open source dictatorship. A Conservative Party spokesperson underscored this after the speech:
"Procurement should be based on what best meets their needs. Functionality, performance, security, value and the cost of ownership of software should be the priority, not categorical preferences for open source software, commercial software, free software or any other software development model."
If only more politicians spoke like this.

Categories: opensource, UK, government

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Next Victim of Global Warming: Japan

What is cold, white, flaky and missing in Japan this winter?


According to Japan's Meteorological Agency, for the first time since records began in 1867, downtown Tokyo has had a winter with no snow. In fact, this is Japan's warmest winter ever.

And it is not only Tokyo that is suffering. Winter festivals across Japan have been canceled due to insufficient snow.

And a few time zones to the west, the UK has experienced its warmest year-long period ever, from March 2006 to February 2007. That is since 1659, when temperature records began being officially collected in England.

But I'm sure it has nothing to do with the global warming myth.

Categories: GlobalWarming, Japan, UK

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Enemies of Innovation

Empires are often built upon scarcity and control of distribution. Things like digital rights management (DRM) and proprietary ownership of standards are tools for protecting business empires. However, scarcity is the enemy of innovation. And the Internet is turning fortresses into sand castles.

The ultimate problem faced by companies fighting to maintain a death grip on their content (whether it's music, software code or news) is that the artificial scarcity of their content is disappearing. So are their distribution monopolies.

You do not need to watch CNN to see one of their news stories. You can find it online, and not only on the CNN website. It is likely posted on hundreds of blogs and other websites. It can be emailed to you, downloaded using BitTorrent, podcast or viewed on YouTube. The economics and business models of content are changing.

These new dynamics are explained with wonderful clarity by TechDirt in a series of articles about the economics of scarcity.

YouTube, open source, blogs, BitTorrent, Skype, Craig's List. They are all exploding old business models based on artificial scarcity, and shifting the competitive landscape for what value means in a wired world (and marketplace).

But this is not the end of the world. Scarcity is the enemy of innovation. Today, content scarcity is disappearing, but that only means that innovation can accelerate.

Categories: innovation, economics, DRM

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ODF Isn't Just California Dreamin'

It looks like the OpenDocument Format (ODF) is coming to California. A State Assemblyman from San Francisco has tabled a bill that would require all state agencies to create, exchange and preserve public documents using open, XML-based file formats beginning January 1, 2008.

The bill is designed to make sure that open is as open does. It requires open file formats to be:

* interoperable among multiple platforms
* implemented by multiple vendors
* fully published and royalty free
* controlled by an open industry organization

From Massachusetts to Minnesota to California. It looks like ODF is making its own cross-country migration. Go West, young format!

Categories: ODF, standards, California