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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Software

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Google and Microsoft face off

The big news this week is the introduction of Microsoft's Bing, a search program that is competitive with Google's and the announcement that Google will produce Chrome, a free open source operating system which will be up against Microsoft Windows. Those innovations change the long stagnant competitive landscape for two of the overwhelmingly dominant software packages link here, here, and here.

Some of this may turn out to be vapor ware in that replacing established software with new is widely resisted. Even when the advantages are obvious, there are costs in having to learn new programs. Thus, aside from the experimental user, getting the new adopted is a long process.

But for both Google and Microsoft, the game has changed. It will be interesting to see how Google improves its search program and how Microsoft prices the latest operating system, Windows 7, when it actually goes on sale in the coming months, facing a major competitor in the wings that will be free.

Who wins? The consumer.

Copyright and the Free Software movement

David Post over at Volokh.com has some important insights regarding copyright law and the free software movement, and how copyright law can actually be used to undermine itself.

Well worth a read!

Federal Court on Bilski

Big victory today at the CAFC! (Finally)

Via Slashdot, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reviews all patent disputes in the U.S. now, has ruled in the In Re Bilski case that the U.S. Patent Office's rule that patents must meet the "machine or transformation" test -- i.e. ideas must be embodied in an actual product (a machine) or engender an actual physical transformation (as, for example a chemical or biological process) -- in order to receive a patent.

In practice, what this means is that business method and software patents are probably done for.

Zo(te)ro annoys Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters, maker of the EndNote bibliographic software, is suing George Mason University and the State of Virginia, see Courthouse News (via DigitalKoans). The issue is Zotero, an open source bibliographic tool that appears to rapidly increase its market share, as it is much lighter, platform independent, browser plugable and free. Of course, this is not the official reason, Thomson Reuters rather argues that Zotero developers reversed engineered EndNote to allow Zotero to import EndNote files.

This is a very serious issue for Thomson Reuters. Indeed, its clientele is essentially locked in, as researchers have built their bibliographic databases over the years and cannot export them. With Zotero this is suddenly possible, and they can drop EndNote for another product, including the free Zotero. Thomson Reuters must be especially annoyed as its product has become less and less practical, from what I hear, and very bloated. But customers had no choice but buy new versions. Reminds me of Microsoft products, on which EndNote relies heavily.

No joke, Microsoft is funding Apache

Two web server softwares dominate the market, the open-source Apache, a strong leader, and Microsft's IIS. As c|net reports, Microsoft has decided to support the foundation behind Apache. It seems to be an odd proposition to fund one's main (and winning) competitor. In this case, it seems the Apache license would allow such an oddity: it is not a General Public License (GPL), but rather one that allows to modify Apache then sell the results as one's own. If Microsoft wants to sell a good clone of Apache, having a good Apache to start with makes sense...

Apple versus the Mac Clones

Apple filed a suit against Psystar Corp., a Mac clone provider, to prevent it from selling its $399 Open Computer with copies of Apple's software. Psystar produces its own computers, which are packaged with copies of software it owns that happened to be produced by Apple.

Read it and resolve not to buy an Apple product:

"Apple Files Suit Over Mac Clones".

IBM Patents Congestion Pricing

Via thenewspaper.com, here is another example of why patents on software and business practices should never have been allowed.

IBM has been granted a patent on a system which would monitor vehical traffic on the "premium" lanes of a toll road (presumeably using EZPass-type technology) and automatically adjust prices for those lanes to ensure they don't become congested.

Quite an innovation.

I'm going to sit down and write a script which uses information on housing prices and zip codes to advise merchants on how much to charge customers in those zip code areas. Then I can get a patent on price discrimination, too.

Has Ivan Png Caught the Fever?

There are a couple of careful empirical researchers who are generally enthusiastic about intellectual property - and not so enthusiastic as we are about piracy. One is Ivan Png. Ivan, however, is an honest fellow: his latest work looks at the Business Software Alliance (read "Microsoft lobbying organization") and how they estimate piracy rates for software. Although the BSA statistics are widely used, Ivan finds them to less than neutral, with systematic cross-country biases, and more significant, in 2003 they started inflating their figures by around 4%. Go read it. Tables here.

Department of Strange Headlines

Why small businesses might prefer open source/free software.

Free Software versus Open Source Software

The free software movement is one of the bright lights in the darkness of modern copyrights and patents. For an outsider (I actually write and distribute software under the GPL, so I'm not strictly speaking an outsider), the movement often seems caught up in making distinctions that seem almost trivial - "open source" versus "free software" or "intellectual property" versus "copyright and patent." Richard Stallman, one of the leaders of the movement, especially prefers that we be precise in our terminology. Anyway I'm not posting to complain - I'm posting to remind us all that they are right and seemingly subtle distinctions matter.

I was reminded of this in a long email from Chris Anderson (as usual I am horribly slow to actually get around to posting - the email is from September 20) pointing out some imprecision in our book. In particular he raises the issue of whether the Solaris operating system is actually open source. But I thought especially interesting his discussion of star office:

like the open solaris project, the open office project is an open source version of a proprietary product from sun micro systems. sun opened up the source code that star office is built on, but the star office product contains fonts, clip art, and other stuff that is owned and licensed by sun. so, sun still sells star office and solaris, and sun donated most of the source for those products to the community, and subsequent proprietary versions of both products are based on those open source codebases, but star office is not open source in the way that gnome office or Koffice are in that you can just download the working version fully branded. you can download open office free in an easily installed format for a number of operating systems for free and are free to distribute it as you like.

The point is an important one: you can download open office for free and make changes to it and redistribute it. You can download star office for free, but you cannot make changes to it or redistribute it. This is not a trivial difference.

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