chrome a windows killer? i doubt it

Read an article in eWeek that left me scratching my head a bit. The nub below:

Then later:

And that would spell doom for Microsoft. It’s one thing to squeeze Microsoft out of the Internet game by dominating search and Web services. It’s another entirely to come after the software giant’s core operating system business, wielding the Web as your platform.

Must admit I have a lot of trouble seeing that, as I would have thought in order to supplant Windows, it would need to be gone, and to go from a browser that sits on an o/s to replacing the o/s seems to be a rather large leap. A huge leap, actually.

What they’re suggesting might happen is already a possibility today. There is definitely something that can supplant Windows altogether, and provide access to all the web-oriented apps, etc. that Google offers. Its cheap (sometimes free), stable and has pretty good UIs – in fact, a selection of UIs and different flavours. Its called Linux. However, for a variety reasons, it hasn’t kicked Microsoft’s ass yet (at least on the desktop – there are a few areas where it definitely does, such as web and other server functions).

To suggest, then, that, because Google has come out with a browser, that that will lead to the supplanting of Windows seems, IMHO, to be a bit far-fetched. I’m not suggesting that Google wouldn’t have the wherewithal to try to go after the desktop. They may do so. Though I’m not sure if they’d want to – they have a pretty good business model already…

Anyway, if and when they do something like that it will be so much larger an undertaking than Chrome that the links between that and Chrome would be tenuous at best, other than possibly bundling Chrome within whatever o/s they create.

Even possibly on the application front, I can see Google putting some pressure on MS, and how this might tie with Chrome. But not the o/s on which the whole thing runs.

So I think for the time being, Bill and Steve probably don’t have much to worry about with Chrome’s introduction, at least when it comes to the o/s business (IE on the other hand, is another matter altogether…).

regrettable absence

Apologies to all ten of my loyal readers for the absence. It has been a very, very busy summer and, unfortunately, when it comes to relative priorities, getting work done for clients, playing with my 2 year old, sleeping and then blogging take priority, in that particular order. I’ve also been surprised so far by some of the informal comments I’ve received (not on the blog but in person), most of which have been negative or have negative implications. I must say that has also played a bit of a role in my absence. So who knows, this little blog may not be around much longer. Still giving it some thought.

In any event, a brief quote from one of my colleagues that you may find amusing: “The practice of law is very much like a pie-eating contest where the prize for winning is more pie.”

david johnston speech – not to be missed

Oddly enough there’s another presentation at the Toronto Board of Trade that isn’t in their events calendar. But that’s OK because you, loyal reader, can read it about it here and use the link above to register. Which I highly recommend, as the person who is speaking is none other than David Johnston, the President and Vice-Chancellor at Waterloo University.

I was trying to find a decent bio of him online but haven’t been able to – the one linked above to the WU site is OK but definitely does not do the man justice (because its too short and doesn’t really identify the relevance of all the roles he has played). In addition to being a brilliant academic, he literally wrote the book on securities regulation in Canada and played a key role in shaping Canada’s approach to the internet by chairing the Information Highway Advisory Council and the Blue Ribbon Panel on Smart Communities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I had the good fortune of taking a course he instructed while he was teaching at McGill’s Faculty of Law. A remarkably good teacher and, surprisingly, with someone that has so much on his plate, very attentive to his students and always open, accessible and personable.

As you can probably tell from this post, I am extremely biased when it comes to Professor Johnston – I’m a big fan. The man is smart and is worth listening to. As an aside, I also understand that apparently a character in Erich Segal’s Love Story was based on him – a roommate or something if memory serves. Have no idea if true or not – never read the book myself. But there you go. Also have an interesting story about what he wears but will save that for another time.

Here’s the blurb:

Competitive advantage comes by engaging the brightest minds with the latest technology. Join David Johnston, President, University of Waterloo, as he shares ‘what’s in the water at Waterloo’ and illustrates how smart business leaders are successfully partnering with academia to stay on the forefront of the innovation curve.

At the Toronto Board of Trade, Downtown Centre, 1 First Canadian Place. Wednesday, March 28, 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Go see him.

Thanks to the always excellent Wellington Financial blog, where I noted mention of this event.

Fair Use and the DMCA

An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:

The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.

Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.

And then of course on the other side:

“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.

To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, a  no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?

I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.  At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.

In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…

ITAC – First Canadian Municipal Wireless Conference and Exhibition

Wow – lots happening the last week of May. Also forgot to mention previously the First Canadian Municipal Wireless Conference and Exhibition being organized by ITAC at the Direct Energy Conference Centre at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, May 28-30, 2007:

Whether you live or work in a large urban municipality, a small rural town or village, the impact of wireless applications has already or will soon impact the quality of your life and the services you offer your community. If your organization engages in digital electronic services to customers, e.g., taxpayers, suppliers, emergency service providers, other levels of government, non-profit organizations and associations, you need to learn about the latest proven strategies to ensure the success of your wireless programs.

ITAC’s 1st Canadian Municipal Wireless Applications Conference and Exhibition will not only update you on the latest initiatives of Canadian Municipalities, but will provide you with real case study insights, proven strategies, commentary from leading wireless experts and techniques for deploying wireless applications in your communities. If you are currently engaged, or plan to be engaged, in a municipal wireless project, your attendance at this event is essential.

Mesh Conference

Will be taking place the same week as Toronto Technology Week. What is it you ask?

mesh is Canada’s Web conference, being held in Toronto on May 30th & 31st, 2007. You will hear from thought leaders, connect with peers, and get a better understanding of the impact of new developments online. mesh brings together people who are passionate about the potential of the Web to change how we live, work and play. Meet the next generation of Web ideas, leaders and companies at mesh.

See the mesh site for more details. Taking place at MaRS.

Toronto Technology Week

Just catching up on a few things. Very quick entry on upcoming Toronto Technology Week:

Toronto’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry cluster will come together to celebrate being the largest high-tech hub in Canada and the third largest in North America. During this event, named “Toronto Technology Week” (TTW) a series of activities will be undertaken to showcase the depth and breath of Toronto’s high technology sector. These will include trade shows, seminars and business networking functions, job fairs, an ICT business open door program, school projects, special exhibits and other ICT sector-related activities. An organizing committee formed by ICT industry stakeholders representing a cross-section of this industry, in both the private and public sectors, has been formed to implement this initiative. This event is hosted by ICT TORONTO.

The Virtues and Evils of Open Source

Yes, I know, I’ve been behind lately. A ton of very interesting things to catch up on. But I’d like to put in one quick note about open source code. I recently came across an article, written last year by a lawyer, generally advising development companies not to use open source. I don’t quite recall where it was (if I did I’d link to it) but I do remember it being quite clear in stating that using open source is A Bad Thing and to avoid it altogether – not just to be careful, but rather to treat it as one would radioactive waste.

With respect, I don’t quite agree. I certainly advise my clients to take a great deal of caution in using open source code, particularly the GPL variety, and very particularly if they have a desire to keep some or all of their own secret, proprietary code secret and proprietary. That being said, I do have many, many clients who have used open source code to great advantage in various ways. Some have simply used existing open source code to avoid reinventing the wheel (and saving on costs), while taking care to keep viral elements out of their proprietary code. Others have been more aggressive with the open source model and have intentionally decided to use open source as the basis for their business model and making their very own code, or parts of it, either open source or subject to a dual-licensing model. As the Red Hats, JBosses, Sleepycats, MySQLs etc. etc. of the world have demonstrated, you can go open source and still have a pretty viable business. And, of course, there are the “old world” companies like IBM who have decided to go open source (in some limited ways – e.g. IBM’s DB2 Express-C thing).

Of course, this is not to suggest that anyone through caution to the wind and just start pulling down stuff from Sourceforge and whacking it into your product. Use of open source definitely requires some planning ahead and consideration of what the business model and value proposition of your business will be. Optimally, enlist the help of a lawyer who’s familiar with open source licenses to discuss what you plan to do and the packages you plan to use. Or, if that’s not feasible, try at least to read the applicable licenses yourself and ensure you comply with them, because if you don’t think that anyone will notice, or that no one will actually sue you, you may want to pay a visit to the GPL Violations Site and reconsider, in addition to the questions that will be asked of you when the due diligence starts on your next round of financing or, even worse, your (aborted) exit event. Can badly managed open source usage (and I emphasize badly managed, not simply open source usage) kill a deal? Definitely.

In short – I don’t think open source is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a pretty good thing, not just in the social good sense and all that, but also as a business. But it need to be used taking into account its terms of use and ensuring that its consistent with the strategy you plan to take.

If perhaps there’s one thing I’d recommend it would be for shops to make absolutely sure they have a disciplined approach in tracking where code comes from and the terms under which its being used and why its being used. That applies not only to open source stuff, but also, for example, your programmers taking neat snippets of code from Dr. Dobbs or something else, or coming across a nice little script somewhere on the Web and saying “Gee, that’s neat, let’s use it in our product”.

Anyway, if I remember where the article was I’ll update this to include a link.