The Art of the Release Note

August 9, 2007

I’ve been really swamped recently, struggling with the OSAF team to finish Chandler. We’re really close now, with only 11 bugs in the queue and a good shot at closing all within a day or 2… That close…

We also worked a lot on the Wiki and one of the tasks devoted to me was to write the Release Notes for Chandler Desktop. Since we haven’t made an official release since 0.6.1, I did a summary of everything we did since then, i.e. roughly a year of work. Well, whatdoyaknow, we did a lot of work in that time frame! For sure, the app is quite different from what it was back then when only the calendar was working. I actually felt pretty good after writing those Release Notes and thought I’d share that.

Once Preview is shipping, I’m planning to write here on little known features of Chandler. That’ll be fun 🙂

Patent System going Open Process

June 7, 2007

One recent article (Administration Seeks Overhaul of Patent System) on the patent system upcoming reform had me smile with relief. At last, people with common sense tackling the USPTO problem.

The idea that:

Reform legislation […] should require the applicants to conduct a thorough search of related patents and technical journals, and then explain why the patent being sought represents a significant innovation beyond previous ideas in the field

had me wondering if anyone read my own blog entry on the subject where I was suggesting that exact same thing. A quick look at my blog stats made clear that this was unlikely and that this idea germinated independently in mine and their minds. Not surprising: it’s just common and practical sense after all.

One thing I haven’t thought about is the following:

The patent office is experimenting with the concept of opening the examination process to outsiders, inviting public peer reviews. On June 15, Mr. Dudas said, the patent office will begin a pilot project for open reviews of software patents. The patents in the pilot program will be posted on a Web site, and members of the public with software expertise will be allowed to send the patent office technical references relevant to the patent claims.

As we say on Chandler’s mailing list: “+1 to that!” and shame on me for not thinking about it since this idea of “Open Process” is something we at OSAF are trying to promote and put in practice.

Anyway, it’s a really good idea and a welcome development in the current software patent mess. I hope the experiment will bear fruits and that no special interest or company with deep pockets will try to shoot that one down.

“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 volĂ© (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”…

Republique 2.0

April 10, 2007

An article in Le Monde pointed me to a voluminous “dossier” signed by Michel Rocard (ex French prime minister) on the “numeric industry” and named with a good dose of irony Republique 2.0.

I downloaded and browsed through it rapidly. It deals among other things with Open Source, Free software, DRM and software patenting issues, all things eminently interesting for the author this blog.

It’s in French of course but I’ll read it and try to post a critique on it later here.

My other Open Source project

April 7, 2007

OK, it’s not really Open Source (no code involved) but that’s one of those “long term do it for free eternal glory” project. I’ve been working on and off since 1987 (20 years!) on an archaeological project and, today, a fairly complete review of the dig appeared in print.

For the curious, it’s about a 5500 BC hamlet, a rare PNA (Pottery Neolithic A) find in South Jordan. It was a blast to find the site in 87 and dig it in 93 and it took a lot of times to get this published. Having the publisher based in Beyrouth didn’t help (things got a little hot over there over the 2006 summer…).

Anyhow, it’s there, I have fresh copies in my hands and I can’t believe it. Unfortunately for you reader, it’s in French (my part that is), so, go get your dictionary.

20 years… Whew! Clearly, archaeology in the Middle East doesn’t work on the same time scale as high tech in the valley… 🙂


March 22, 2007

I’ve been way too busy recently with Chandler to post here. I’ve been waiting for Feature Complete to make a big splash or something like that… Bad habit…

So tonight I’m moved to post to report on FLOSS in my home country (France). It’s pretty interesting to see how things are evolving and, as always in France, things can look very idle, even stalled and then, boom, everything falls into place and move really fast. Something like that is happening with FLOSS over there.

I reported here some time ago about the French parliament adopting Linux. At the time Strassblog pointed me to the emerging SSLL movement. So that’s government and professionals acting. Good but not enough.

Now, thanks to an article in Le Monde on the upcoming Libre-en-fĂȘte event, I’m discovering the user movements. I think I’ll be tracking what the April and AFUL are doing in the next few months. I can see Chandler as an interesting addition to the soup of free software used over there.