so, yeah, maybe now microsoft should start worrying. just a little.

I read with interest a short note in ars about how Intel is hard at work porting Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, to x86. While this immediately made me think of x86 powered smartphones, I started to think, well, what can’t you do on a smartphone (or perhaps more appropriate a tablet) that you can on a Wintel box? There are a few things (like graphic-intensive first person shooters) but not a huge number, I think.

And this led to me thinking about Chromium OS and, of course, the prototype Cr-48 that made the rounds late last year, most famously for its fraction-of-a-minute boot times and its usability, while I wait, patiently, as my sad little PC huffs and puffs along for several minutes before showing any signs of life.

Which in turn made me think of a post I wrote back in 2008, where I questioned the assertion that many had made back then about the release of Chrome (the browser, that is) by Google as a “Windows killer” and very much agreed with The Register’s take on it (hint, the story was called: Chrome-fed Googasm bares tech pundit futility, and subtitled: It’s a f***king web browser). And just to be clear, this was before Chromium OS was a twinkle in Google’s eye.

And in that post, I was so bold as to state that Microsoft probably didn’t have much to worry about.

I imagine it should suffice to say that I don’t quite feel the same way these days….


google open sourcing vp8 codec

Interesting but perhaps not surprising news that Google will make the VP8 video codec open source. You can read in more detail by following the link but here’s a quick rundown: Many companies have decided to support H.264 for video streaming, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. Others, like Mozilla (the creator of Firefox), have not, as they are concerned about adopting, as a standard, proprietary technology that may one day require payment of royalties. Instead, they have chosen to support Ogg Theora, an open source codec based on a much earlier version of VP8. Making VP8 open source will remove this divide and will likely encourage the adoption of VP8 as a standard in place of either, as VP8 appears to be technically superior to both H.264 and Ogg Theora (which was developed from a much earlier iteration of VP8) and presumably would be free of potential licensing issues (and fees) associated with proprietary solutions such as H.264.

Perhaps not surprising given Google’s approach in mobile (i.e. the Android open source platform). Though it is worth noting that Google isn’t enchanted with all things open source, as evidenced by the hubbub about it and the Affero GPL a few years ago…

chrome – not a windows killer (part ii)

I read with interest an article in The Register from last September that I just ran across a few days ago: Chrome-fed Googasm bares tech pundit futility • The Register. It echoes some of the sentiments that I had made in a post around the same time last year, albeit with a bit more edge and humour, as well as some thoughts as to the reasons why the tech press has presaged Chrome as the “operating system of the future”. Some excerpts:

Users aren’t going to decide which computer to buy based on which browser comes pre-installed, and even if they do, I’m going to guess that they will choose Internet Explorer (or – as it is known commonly in user parlance – “the blue internet that opens my web sites”). In any case, a browser is still going to need a proper operating system to run, and that operating system will almost always be Windows.

Given the thousands of Windows applications that are grandfathered in to many IT systems, the video games that are just a touch too GPU-intensive to run in JavaScript, and general user comfort with Windows, it’s hard to imagine a world where everything (and I mean everything) is done in a browser. Oh, and let’s not forget all your browser-based apps being ad-supported.

People are calling Chrome a cloud operating system because it is a “platform for running web apps”. It renders HTML and interprets Javascript, you know, like every fucking browser made since 1995. It’s also got Google Gears built in. Great. I’ll alert Tim Berners-Lee.

This bullshit is a common theme when talking about Chrome. Those who realize that Chrome is not a full fledged operating system but still want to get in on the page-view party are calling Chrome the cloud operating system. Get it, because it’s like clouds. All nature and shit. Don’t you want to read that story?

Well, at least Blodget sort of understands what it takes to run a web browser. I can’t say the same for Michael Arrington, who runs the Special Olympics of tech media, TechCrunch. Arrington fancies himself a kingpin of Web 2.0, but when he starts saying shit like this, it’s hard for him to keep the respect of people, who, you know, understand how computers work:

Chrome is nothing less than a full on desktop operating system that will compete head on with Windows.

Expect to see millions of web devices, even desktop web devices, in the coming years that completely strip out the Windows layer and use the browser as the only operating system the user needs.

In no way can this statement be construed to make sense, and I’m not just being a pedantic asshole here. Fortunately, El Reg readers are with it enough to know that you need a proper OS before you can have a browser. However, a significant number of the users you IT admins support are reading shit like this, and will be putting in support tickets to have Google Chrome OS installed on their computers as soon as possible, because they’ve had enough of Windows and are ready for a change.

Everyone was after the perfect story, whether or not it actually exists. Someone is finally bringing the battle to Microsoft’s front door, and that someone is already a media darling. Google releasing a browser is so damned close to the ideal situation, but there’s not quite enough to declare that Chrome will replace Windows. None the less, this does not stop the technically incompetent from spinning it as such. Maybe they were just feeling nostalgic about Microsoft pummeling the shit out of Netscape?

Anyway, not even Sergey Brin could stop the premature eGoogulation. At a press conference, Brin said:

I would not call Chrome the operating system of Web apps…

Dammit, Sergey. You’re ruining my story!

As comedy would have it, word is that Brin is a Mac user. Considering Google hasn’t released its browser for the Mac yet, he has to run Chrome in VMWare.
Operating system indeed.

Well said.

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…).

hybrid computing – bigger than i thought (possibly)

I recently mentioned Prism in a prior entry and how it was an intriguing business model. What I didn’t realize is how widespread a movement it seems to be, as suggested in this Knowledge@Wharton article. A brief blurb:

It’s been a busy few weeks for the big technology companies. On October 1, Adobe Systems announced an agreement to buy Virtual Ubiquity, a company that has created a web-based word processor built on Adobe’s next generation software development platform. One day earlier, Microsoft outlined its plans for Microsoft Office Live Workspace, a service that will combine Microsoft Office and web capabilitiesso that documents can be shared online. Recently,Google introduced a technology called “Gears” that allows developers to create web applications that can also work offline. The common thread between the recent moves of these technology titans: Each company is placing a bet on a new vision of software’s future, one which combines the features of web-based applications with desktop software to create a hybrid model that may offer the best of both worlds.

Such a model seems to make a lot of sense, both from the perspective of users as well as developers. From a developer perspective, I can see how simply gaining information on how their products are used (albeit possibly involving some privacy complications) could be invaluable. In addition, tying software to a service will likely curb piracy – its one thing to bypass protection mechanisms on standalone software but something quite different to try to fake an account setup to take advantage of an online service (at least given what little I know about it).

Then again, as the article points out, this movement may simply be the latest iteration of a trend that has never quite caught on (e.g. MS Hailstorm, “thin” computing, network as the computer, etc. etc.).

Vista Capable – Capable of Booting – And Not Much Else

Just a small quick one. Story in Computerworld about how 4GB is the optimal amount of RAM to run Windows Vista. Sure. Fine. Fair enough. Goes on to critique vendors like Dell who have “Vista Capable” machines. And what as does that mean, you ask?

For instance, Dell offers a Windows Vista Capable configuration that isn’t capable of much, according to what Dell says about it on its Web site: “Great for … Booting the Operating System, without running applications or games.”

I thought surely they must be leaving a bit out right? Nope. Not the case. That’s it. That’s all. Scroll down and see for yourself on the Dell site.

So, if you plan on buying a “Vista Capable” machine, enjoy, um, booting up your machine and, well, I guess, admiring the boot process as it boots.

Alarm Bells Over Vista’s “Fine Print”

I like Michael Geist. He’s a law professor at the University of Ottawa and writes a column in the Toronto Star. Not that agree with everything he says, but I certainly do respect the fellow. He’s a sort of Lawrence Lessig of the Great White North, for those of you from the US. A lot of what he says has merit, or at least is worthy of debate. But when I read his last column on how Vista’s legal fine print raises red flags, well, it left me scratching my head a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Microsoft is the world’s saviour or anything, and from the perspective of a user I’m not that keen on all the DRM stuff in Vista and the headaches it will cause in using protected content, but OTOH I did raise a bit of an eyebrow to some of his comments on the Vista license. Such as:

Vista’s legal fine print includes extensive provisions granting Microsoft the right to regularly check the legitimacy of the software and holds the prospect of deleting certain programs without the user’s knowledge. During the installation process, users “activate” Vista by associating it with a particular computer or device and transmitting certain hardware information directly to Microsoft.

I don’t particularly like activation, but this is nothing new – Windows XP has activation and as for hardware information, I’m not sure how sensitive I would consider the make or model of my video card to be. I also find the reference to “deleting certain programs” to be a bit overstated. I wasn’t able to find anything about deleting programs in the Vista license I got from the MS website. It implies that Vista can suddenly go wild and start erasing other stuff you’ve installed. The only thing I was able to find was in Section 5(c), which says:

If, after a validation check, the software is found not to be properly licensed, the functionality of the software may be affected. For example, you may

  • need to reactivate the software, or
  • receive reminders to obtain a properly licensed copy of the software,

or you may not be able to

  • use or continue to use some of the features of the software,

Again, nothing particularly surprising – XP had the same thing – you don’t have validated software, you can’t use certain features of the software (i.e. Windows Vista, not other stuff).

Continuing on:

Even after installation, the legal agreement grants Microsoft the right to revalidate the software or to require users to reactivate it should they make changes to their computer components. In addition, it sets significant limits on the ability to copy or transfer the software, prohibiting anything more than a single backup copy and setting strict limits on transferring the software to different devices or users.

On revalidation, again, nothing new at least compared to XP – same complaints of course as well. As for backup copies – well, its pretty standard to only permit one backup. I’d prefer more but I don’t find it super-alarming to be limited to one. As for “strict limits on transferring” these are set out in Section 16:

a. Software Other Than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may
make a one time transfer of the software, and this agreement, directly to a third party. The first
user must uninstall the software before transferring it separately from the device. The first user
may not retain any copies.
b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. You may transfer the software directly to a third
party only with the licensed device. You may not keep any copies of the software or any earlier
c. Other Requirements. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this
agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software. The transfer must include the proof
of license.

I gotta say I don’t find any of the above particularly strict, onerous or burdensome. Before you transfer, you must uninstall and not retain any copies. The transferee must agree to the agreement. You must transfer proof of the license. Hmmm. Doesn’t seem that bad.

Then, onto Windows Defender:

Vista also incorporates Windows Defender, an anti-virus program that actively scans computers for “spyware, adware, and other potentially unwanted software.” The agreement does not define any of these terms, leaving it to Microsoft to determine what constitutes unwanted software.

C’mon. There is a general understanding of what constitutes spyware and adware. And yes, “potentially unwanted software” is vague. But how then, should it be defined? “Bad stuff”? Interestingly he fails to mention the language that follows:

If it finds potentially unwanted software, the software will ask you if you want to ignore, disable (quarantine) or remove it. Any potentially unwanted software rated “high” or “severe,” will automatically be removed after scanning unless you change the default setting. Removing or disabling potentially unwanted software may result in
· other software on your computer ceasing to work, or
· your breaching a license to use other software on your computer.
By using this software, it is possible that you will also remove or disable software that is not
potentially unwanted software.

So Defender will ask you what to do (which he doesn’t mention), except for “high” or “severe” software, which it removes unless you change the setting (which he does). Well, I can understand the auto-removal thing. If it was left off by default (i.e. didn’t remove), then fingers would be pointed at MS at having lousy default security settings – a criticism often levelled (and, I think, justifiably so) at XP’s security settings – the rock on the other side of the hard place Michael identifies.

Then this:

Once operational, the agreement warns that Windows Defender will, by default, automatically remove software rated “high” or “severe,” even though that may result in other software ceasing to work or mistakenly result in the removal of software that is not unwanted.

C’mon Michael, that’s a bit over the top, isn’t it? Even “nice” spyware removers, like Spybot (highly recommended, btw) specifically warn that removing spyware might remove or cause other software not to work any more. Of course. Because many of the filthy, evil, nasty folks who distribute spyware or adware bundle it up with software that people actually want to use, and bundle it up in such as way that you can’t get rid of the spyware without killing the other software. Go figure.


For greater certainty, the terms and conditions remove any doubt about who is in control by providing that “this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights.” For those users frustrated by the software’s limitations, Microsoft cautions that “you may not work around any technical limitations in the software.”

Grr. Of course. Show me a commercial license that gives anyone “all” rights to use the software without restriction. Actually, even the GPL doesn’t permit that – there are still limitations and restrictions even in open source code as to what you can and can’t do. I don’t think its fair to point to this type of language and imply that Microsoft is up to no good here. Same goes with the last sentence. Sure, you can’t hack the software. Doesn’t surprise me.

I never thought I’d be defending Microsoft’s licensing practices. Not to mention questioning Mr. Geist’s criticisms of same. But there you go. Not that I necessarily think, OTOH, that you should go out and buy Vista. Though it is pretty.


Interesting post on the Wellington Financial Blog about “Wikiality” – the practice of taking stuff in Wikipedia as the truth, or, to quote: ““a reality where, if enough people agree with a notion, it becomes the truth.”

JN notes that Wikipedia has been cited by the courts, and this is reason for concern. A snippet:

The practice poses two problems:

  1. The references may be inaccurate; and
  2. Even if accurate, the references are subject to change at any point in the future, making it difficult for any future decisions to refer back to the original or understand the context in which it was made.

Given recent reports of Microsoft offering to pay individuals to make changes to certain Wikipedia articles in which they have a vested interest, the credibility of the site as a definitive reference source again comes into question.

A few of my colleagues at the firm also expressed bemusement when a recent case in Ontario (don’t have the citation, sorry) also cited Wikipedia.

I am quite a big fan of Wikipedia. It is, I think a rather useful and handy tool to refer to from time to time. Do I take it as the gospel? No. Would I use it if I were trying to concoct an antidote for a poison that was about to kill me? Probably not. Would I cite it in a legal research paper? Possibly. In fact, quite likely.

Although Wikipedia is by no means without its weaknesses, it also has its strengths. Sure, there is a possibility of inaccuracy. But then again, isn’t something less likely to have inaccuracies if it is reviewed (and edited) by more eyes (and more minds)? Isn’t it more likely that if there is a dispute about what is and isn’t correct, it will come to light, just like the Microsoft incident?

And what source, can it be said, is free of inaccuracies? Certainly not The New York Times. Although the Gray Lady is quick to point out that it was “deceived” by an errant reporter, it is less quick to reflect on the fact that it published fabricated stories. That of course is the clearest example, but history is rife with examples of inaccurate or misleading stories in the press. Less clear, of course, is media bias. And one only needs to refer to Manufacturing Consent. I don’t necessarily agree with all that book has to offer, but it certainly provides some food for thought.

What about scientific publications? Hmmm. Well. Again, truth is quite often relative. The clearest examples, are, of course, outright fabrication. Nonetheless, Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s paper on producting the first cloned stem cell line was considered the truth for several years, until he was discredited. And more generally speaking, is it not true that, in the world of science, what is considered to be the truth is what most scientists believe to be true? Is that not the system of peer review? A great read on this topic is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (as an aside, its also the book that introduced the phrase “paradigm shift” into popular parlance). I won’t bore you with details, but suffice it to say that, at the end of the day, science, at least in concept, may not be that far from wikiality.

My point isn’t necessarily to skewer existing sources of “truth” but rather to point out that such sources aren’t necessarily more reliable or accurate, or less fallible, than something like Wikipedia.

And as for things changing? Make a copy.

Top Ten Twenty Lies

Yes, this is a bit old, but quite good. I was wandering around and found these two articles on Guy Kawasaki’s website, about The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists and The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs. Great, great reading. One small snippet from each. On the VC side:

“This is a vanilla term sheet.” There is no such thing as a vanilla term sheet. Do you think corporate finance attorneys are paid $400/hour to push out vanilla term sheets? If entrepreneurs insist on using a flavor of ice cream to describe term sheets, the only flavor that works is Rocky Road. This is why they need their own $400/hour attorney too–as opposed to Uncle Joe the divorce lawyer.

and one on the Entrepreneur side:

“Oracle is too big/dumb/slow to be a threat.” Larry Ellison has his own jet. He can keep the San Jose Airport open for his late night landings. His boat is so big that it can barely get under the Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are flying on Southwest out of Oakland and stealing the free peanuts. There’s a reason why Larry is where he is, and entrepreneurs are where they are, and it’s not that he’s big, dumb, and slow. Competing with Oracle, Microsoft, and other large companies is a very difficult task. Entrepreneurs who utter this lie look at best naive. You think it’s bravado, but venture capitalists think it’s stupidity.

Great stuff.

Vista – A Love Hate Thing

A somewhat older story in The Enquirer (yes, I’m still catching up) about how, for the author, Microsoft Vista is not an option. The jist: Vista kneecaps its users with DRM, activation, etc. etc. etc.:

What it all comes down to is Microsoft is turning the screw on me too hard. I can’t legitimately use its software without becoming a criminal or spending tens of thousands of dollars. If it gives me a truckload of free copies, I will still be spending the majority of my time on the phone with people in Bangalore typing in licence keys to stay legal.

There’s also another, much longer article (more like a study) on how the content protection in Vista is a bad thing, to wit:

Executive Summary

Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called “premium content”, typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources. Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it’s not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server). This document analyses the cost involved in Vista’s content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry.

Executive Executive Summary

The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history [Note A].

The first article, from The Inq, well, yes, perhaps true, but it wouldn’t bother me all that much nor would I imagine most other users. Meh. The second, however, is a bit more disturbing. After reading through the headaches it introduces, it really makes me question whether PCs will ever make it to the living room in any meaningful way. On the other hand, it might not necessarily be Vista this kills altogether, but the market for the type of content its trying to protect with these measures.

I’ve actually tried the Vista RTM and do quite like it, though haven’t yet experienced the nightmares that both the above folks describe. So I got a feeling that notwithstanding the above, many others will feel the same, will buy it, and will live with the content limitations. And it won’t be the huge disaster that the two folks above foresee it being. Though of course, it would be interesting to see what happens if they are right…