Microsoft v. Apple, Round ??

Another recent story/editoril in The Inquirer egging on Apple to divorce the way cool OSX and license it separately from the somewhat maybe less cool hardware (at least in the eyes of the Inq). And who else to better promote OSX than Dell. Anyway, a snippet:

Apple could position the move as “Dell is so cool, we had to do a deal with them.” Underlying that is “Let’s face facts, with the exception of a pretty case, and a couple of hardware features, we’re an Intel box all the same.” (I know I’m going to get foaming rabid Mac owners that say the bits under the hood of their machines are especially selected by Zen Master Craftsmen and assembled by virgins in a far off land with blessed incense burning on a 24×7 basis, but it just ain’t so).

What has Apple got to lose? Zero.

I certainly would be interested in seeing Apple do this. On the other hand, I don’t know if it would come at “zero” cost. As their user base increases, so do the variations of hardware that people will want to use, and the drivers, and the third party software and, before you know it, you’re starting to make compromises here and there to let everything work. Then as more users come on board it starts becoming more of a target for hackers, who then start working feverishly to craft attacks, trojans and viruses, then leading your users to suggest that your platform is inherently security-deficient, requiring further investment in updates, patches, etc. Then of course you get on MS’ radar, who also produces a rather important office productivity app for OSX and may not take too kindly to Apple trying once again to eat its lunch.

I don’t know. I just don’t see it happening. OSX is nice and all, but to my simple mind, there is, and has been, a viable alternative to Microsoft operating systems for quite some time – replete with easy installation, cool features, nice interfaces, good security, and even relatively broad hardware compability – its called Linux and its free. And unlike the old Slackware days, Ubuntu (along with several other variations), is pretty easy to install and configure. But even with all this, where’s Linux on the desktop? Yes, its certainly being used, but has it made more than a few percentage points dent on MS market share? No. Why? Inertia. Windows has the biggest installed base, therefore the biggest possible customer base, so developer develop for Windows and put less effort into others (with of course some exceptions). Therefore more apps for Windows. And users don’t pick an OS because they like it – they pick it because of the apps they can run on it. So they continue to buy Windows. Not because its that much better than Linux, or OSX, but because they have MS Office, Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, Premiere, SAS, Mathematica, Cubase, AutoCAD, etc. etc. etc. all at their disposal. Sure, there are some nice apps for Linux and of course OSX – but certainly nowhere near the depth or breadth of Windows apps.

Given this, why the heck would Apple bother trying where Linux (which has a nicer price point) hasn’t (yet) succeeded? I guess we’ll see. It would be neat to see how far they get. But I ain’t holding my breath.

Microsoft Patents RSS. Or Tries To. Maybe.

Interesting post on someone else’s blog about Microsoft apparently trying to patent RSS:

The applications, filed last June but just made public yesterday, cover subscribing and discovering what Microsoft calls “Web feeds.” That comes as a bit of a shock to anyone who’s been working on RSS, which has its origins in a format developed seven years ago at Netscape Communications.

Microsoft executive Don Dodge, while not involved in the patent applications, says he suspects the filings were made to defend the company against “patent trolls”. (The filings were made shortly before Microsoft announced plans to build RSS technology into its upcoming Vista operating system.) Still, if granted, the patents would give Microsoft a legal cudgel to wield against other companies using RSS.

Well. They do have a point. Generally speaking, I don’t think patent trolls (those that basically file overly broad patents and then sit on them in a dark cave until someone who actually does something useful, and therefore has deep pockets, unwittingly infringes, at which point the troll comes out and clubs them over the head with a lawsuit or settlement) are a good thing. That being said, its ironic that Microsoft feels the need to abuse the system in the same way as patent trolls in order to proactively defend itself. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

Unfortunately, I’m not necesarily sure that prior art would necessarily invalidate these patents – after all, most of NTP’s patents were more or less considered invalid, but that didn’t stop them from collecting several hundred million from RIM. And its not like there haven’t been other, um, rather broad patents asserted in the past. You know, like back in 2002, when British Telecom asserted ownership of hyperlinks (which they lost) though of course BT doesn’t quite fit the description of a patent troll.

Then again, it begs the question as to who or what should or shouldn’t be considered a patent troll – for example, its well known that IBM has a huge, gigantic, enormous arsenal of patents at its disposal. IBM also actively licenses these patents (and of course threatens litigation where it believes its rights are being violated), but it isn’t necessarily the case that IBM would otherwise have exploited these patents in what I’ll call “active” business – i.e. making and selling something based on the patent as opposed to primarily seeking royalties and licenses from those do – even though IBM does do so in some cases. So does that make IBM a patent troll? What about Philo T. Farnsworth who, arguably, never started producing televisions but instead sought legal claims against others?

My perhaps overly simplistic take on this is that patent trolls are not inherently the problem, but rather the ability, primarily in the US, to register patents that should have never issued in the first place. If someone comes up with a smart, cool, inventive, and truly novel way of doing something, then they should certainly be free to either produce something with it, or sue the living daylights out of someone else who comes along and infringes the IP even if they don’t (or can’t) make productive use of it themselves. Not actively exploiting a patent is not necessarily tantamount to being a bad guy, IMHO.

It will be interesting to see what happens on this front, if anything. If nothing does, then I may well turn to drafting patents, the first being “Method of Utilizing a Rhythmic Cadence in the Expansion and Contraction of Multiple Muscular Groupings to Faciliate Indefinite Continuation of Metabolism of Cell Structures.” I like the sound of that. Yes indeed.