“Lettre d’injures”

May 10, 2007

I can’t remember the name of the fellow but, in the 1920’s, a writer and poet member of the surrealist group in Paris used to start his day reading the papers with his morning coffee. He regularly got so inflamed by what he read that he would mark the articles and say in a sigh: “lettre d’injures” (“remember to send an insulting answer”). When done with his reading and coffee, he proceeded and dutifully went on to write those “insulting answers” with the seriousness and no-nonsense energy of a longshoreman moving crates on the waterfront. That was his duty, his contribution to sanity in an insane World.

That’s basically the kind of duty I felt called to this morning reading this pity of an article by Michael Kanellos on CNet. I already talked about patents in this blog and since Kanellos mentions Open Source, I feel such an answer belongs here.

So, what does Kanellos have to say about patents and copyrights? Not much really. Midway in the article though, the first piece of evidence in favor of patents is that “without them, the rapid pace of technological innovation around the world would slow to a crawl”. Really? Well Michael, this is not a fact but an opinion. Moreover, my dear Michael, since your article is trying to prove that “patents are good”, such a statement cannot be used as a proof or, at least, needs to be backed by facts: size of the economy created by patents, benefits brought to consumers, benefits brought to the functioning of markets. Those would be interesting to balance in a discussion about patents. None of this is provided here, mostly I fear, because no such data would prove his point.

And as for the argument that “without them, most open-source projects would rapidly wither away: without an intellectual property behemoth like Microsoft to fight, what would be the point?”. This is akin to say that “without cancer and death, high tech medicine would be pointless”. True but that’s hardly an argument in favor of cancer Michael, and not one to ridicule people searching for a cure as if they were some kind of accomplice to the disease.

In all honesty though I’d say he has a point comparing IP business to “burning someone else’s kingdom to the ground” or “[bribing] state legislators to obtain canal and railroad contracts”. At that point, I wondered if the whole article was not some kind of gigantic ironic joke. Is the article date April’s 1st? Will the second part of the paper shift in reverse and blast the premisses? Sadly not. The rest of the article is basically a collection of cutsy anecdotes without much merit. Nicely done and entertaining but, Michael, that’s story telling, not journalism.

At one point, Kanellos mentions Intellectual Ventures as an exemplary IP company: as someone who wrote patents own now by IV, I found that amusing. Imagine that: IV owns stuff I wrote with the consequence that I’m legally barred of making any improvement on these inventions without paying IV a hefty price. Tell me: where’s the “innovation mechanism” at work here? Will IV pay me to improve those inventions? Well, they’ll pay me to improve the patents but not the implementation (the reality) of the invention. Why? Because that’s not their business model. They’re just too happy to simply “own” the IP and sue (or threaten to sue) big names in the industry with this in their portfolio and get licensing fees (though none of those companies are really implementing anything: they just want IV out of their back…). Consequence on innovation? Negative. If anything, those good ideas (mine and those of others) will simply never be developed, frozen in some lawyer’s drawer who couldn’t implement them if its life dependent on them.

Remember: patents are supposed to protect the inventor (that’s why patents are nominal) and allow the inventor some protection so he or she can work and improve on them. The logic would be that patents couldn’t be transfered to legal entities like IV. They should be own by industries, companies with a vested interest in developing them. Without active development and use, patents should be revoked and fall in the public domain so others, more talented and active, could improve and continue to innovate. That’s how they could be a boost to innovation: use them or loose them. That ought to be the rule.

As for Kanello’s weak point of view on Copyright, I think I’ll let our good friends at Creative Commons to blast it. I’m sure they’ll get to it after their own morning coffee…

Free therefore stolen…

April 14, 2007

Once again, I’m commenting some French snippet of news. In a blog entry called Gratuit donc volé (Free therefore stolen), the writer Pierre Assouline blogs on a recent book of opinions written by no one else but the owner of FNAC, a huge book/media retailer, a French equivalent to Barnes & Nobles.

What’s the thesis of the book? Basically that the free access to cultural creation is undermining creation itself. This is a debate we have heard here in the US from proponents of DRM and other related technologies. Microsoft has been a heavy promoter in that area and when you see anyone’s interest aligning with those of Bill Gates, your BS alarm should go off. Mine did.

Once again, someone is getting a knee jerk reaction on “free” but the core of the problem actually is not “free” (as in “free beer”), it’s the fact that the cost of reproduction and diffusion is fast approaching zero. With that in mind, it’s perfectly normal that consumers ask to get that cost saving and productivity gain back in the price they pay for the goods.

I’ve no problem paying to the artists what they were used to make on the sale of a CD or book. I’ve even no problem with paying the service provider running the servers and other architecture to deliver the goods. I have a problem though to see the price unchanged compared to a CD or a paper book, a medium on which I have none of the limitation added to it by DRM: I can loan it to someone, I can trade it, I can even resell it in a garage sale or a “used” shop. If I pay that price despite the fact that the reproduction cost is nil, I want those rights too.

So what I’d like to see is the B&N of the world transforming themselves and becoming digital goods providers and passing back part of the saving to us consumers. When that’s done, I’m fine chatting again about the virtues and evil of “free”… as in “free beer”…

French parliament dumping Windows for Linux

November 28, 2006

I’ve been too busy with Chandler 0.7alpha4 end game to post here and I was sort of waiting for a good RC before hailing the faithful. Anyway, now that I decided to use that blog instead of my OSAF daily (and boring) web log to give news, here I am again…

One piece of news from France (article in English) also prompted me to act. That’s nice to see a government working coherently toward what they’ve been saying for a long time now, Microsoft antitrust allegations nonwithstanding. Also, it should be mentioned that the French government does sponsor quite a few Open Source projects through various governement owned research bodies (INRIA being the biggest of all) so it seems logic they try to get some return on their investment there.

One thing I found interesting though was that a fairly big consulting corporation (Atos Origin) wrote the study that finaly pushed the governement to act. Coming from a consulting firm which is an Intel and Microsoft partner, this is quite interesting and a good news for Open Source applications: having a couple of high profile cases like the French parliament is good to credibilize Open Source but having significant European consulting firms putting their weight behind Open Source applications is even better. So far, their support has been very much limited to backend and server solutions so having them moving into the Open Source applications realm (a subject of high significance for us at OSAF) is important. This gives some hope that Open Source applications will spread further and faster.

So, now, what about the European Parliament? They already published a recommendation favoring Open Source (dig through point O.18), but, so far, it looks more like one of those bureaucratic lip service to a politically popular cause than anything else. Last I heard, they’re still using Windows over there… Will they be next?

Who gets the last laugh?

August 28, 2006

This is a quick free association test:

  • Zen, iTunes… Zune
  • Aqua… Aero
  • Flash… Sparkle

The first column is made of product names, the last of Microsoft equivalent shipped after the first ones. See a trend here?

So, OK, this will be a Microsoft bashing post and I just hope it’ll be the last one. MS is an easy target (’cause it’s so big) and it’s been done over and over so, what’s the point? Venting I guess… especially when MS is using methods its so quick at denouncing
(and as quick as suing) when other people use them against them.

Poking fun at competitors mocking their product name is one thing. It makes for fun code names, allows a team to focus on a competitor. Using it as a marketing strategy is another. It’s cheap and it’s ridiculous.

Don’t tell me MS is having a sense of humour here: remember how they went after Lindows? Was that funny? Where was their sense of humour?

No, MS knows exactly how brand association works and they just abuse it, and it’s annoying. Like a bully cheating at games in the play ground, they use those ridiculous tricks to trip the competition but, like the bully, start whining when someone else does. When they run out of ideas, they just go back to an insipid “Windows whatever” or “Microsoft thingy”: Windows search (their SpotLight look alike), Microsoft Word (short for WordStar?) Heck, even “Windows” was a rippoff (off “X Windows”, the Unix windowing GUI).

Copying ideas is OK I think (at least, I think it’s OK and this is why I’m an Open Source zealot) but, brand names? All they have is recognition so copying brand names is just trying to lure customers away from the original product. It adds no value, it’s just a customer bait trick. It’s small and pityful. It’s…

O well… Don’t they have enough name recognition already? Would that change anything in their budget coming up with a creative original name? In short, am I the only one who thinks MS is really playing it cheap here? …

Sigh… Shrug…

OK, I’m done with MS bashing. Now let’s move on to an MS anecdote.

I worked for MS for almost 5 years at the Silicon Valley Campus (yeah, I know what I’m talking about when I talk about MS… Thanks for nothing…). One day, Ballmer came to visit and, as often, he went to the cafeteria and we had a short impromptu Questions/Answers session with the boss (Note: motivation management is something MS is really good at BTW). I was standing in the crowd next to Tantek Çelik with who I was working at the time porting Mac IE to OS X. After the pep talk was over and a couple of inoccuous questions were asked, Tantek, with his formidable gusto, raised his hand and asked the following question:

“So we’re beeing told about this new OS, LongHorn, that has all these fantastic features like networked search, a relational system for files, advanced graphics capabilities, etc… Well, we’ve been told that same story 5 years ago with another OS code named Cairo and it didn’t happen. What will be different that time around?”

Ballmer, who took advantage of Tantek’s tirade to sip water out of a bottle, gulped and quipped: “We’ll ship!”

Crowd rotfl (which was easy since most were already sitting otf…).

Well, that was funny. That was 3 years ago.

In the meantime, MacIE was killed, I move to OSAF (after a short stint at Macromedia), Tantek moved to Technorati and launched the microformats thing, 2 or 3 major versions of OS X shipped, etc…

And, you know what’s really funny? Well, the really funny part is that 3 year later, it’s still funny…