Patent Fights Are About Hearts and Minds

As much as I talk about Imaginary Property on the blog and on Twitter, I don’t often get a chance to really lay out the problem with Intellectual Property and copyright quite as nicely as this article does. Discussing the latest round of M$ / Google / Oracle / Samsung arguments over patents, the author gets into the really important bit for everybody else:

Google vs Microsoft Isn’t Just A Battle of Products, But A Battle of Ideas | Epicenter |

Don’t underestimate the reach of these caricatures. This spring, I was playing Angry Birds with a seven-year-old who patiently explained to me why he liked Apple more than Verizon, because Verizon’s Droid phones just stole all its ideas from Apple’s iPhone. (I still haven’t told him that I have a Verizon iPhone now.)

My young friend may have been mixed up on the details, but he was lucid, he was deliberate, and most importantly, he was absolutely convinced. That’s what Google’s fighting here, in public — and that’s why Microsoft and others will be fighting back.

The question of why copyrighting does or does not hurt innovation is a topic which I have yet to address on the blog. I’m thinking I should start doing better with that.


Google, Integration and the “Microsoft Syndrome”

CNN’s Fortune Tech section offers an interesting analysis of #Google and its current development cycle, relative to #Microsoft and its chief advantage / shortcoming, which is integration of products:

Is Google suffering from Microsoft Syndrome? – Fortune Tech.

And yet, it seems that those at the Googleplex are increasingly giving in to the temptation to integrate new product development into a “synergistic,” if monstrous, whole. Integrating new products into existing ones, the story goes, should give a new product a boost with a built-in user base and in-product feature merchandising, not to mention enhanced “strategic” and “platform” value, which basically translates to customer lock-in.

I understand the temptation to make this comparison and have even thought the same things, from time to time. Android’s fusing of phone, Gmail and FaceBook contacts is incomplete at best and leads to duplication. Google Desktop Search was an invasive resource hog. Buzz, the article’s chief whipping-horse, was definitely a huge fail that still surprises me in its ability to avoid the ax.

There are, however, a number of differences between Microsoft’s integration scheme and Google’s. The first and most obvious is that, while Microsoft was trying to find a way to fuse Access databases and your music library, Google’s core competency has always been search. And search is a natural fit for all manner of activities online or on your computer.

Secondly, while Microsoft has been interested in your desktop experience on your PC, Google’s integration is about web services. Web services – from RSS to Twitter – are all based on a unifying principle in the first place: I publish my tweets and trending links to my website, other people have their latest Foursquare checkins on their sidebars. We share articles on WaPo with our friends on FaceBook and take suggestions on dinner choices from Foursquare. Thus fusing the +1 button and Google+ with other services like search isn’t just good business sense for Google: it is the edict of Web2.0 all over again.

Third, Microsoft’s penchant for integration comes directly at the expense of the security of their operating systems. From ActiveX vulnerabilities to Internet Explorer bugs exploited through Windows Media Player, integration has always been and we may presume shall always be Microsoft’s primary weakness. Google is not providing you an operating system, though it could be argued that the suite of Google tools online nearly replaces your operating system. Still, while there is a new growth in #Android malware, the chances that hackers will find the same wealth of security vulnerabilities that they do in Microsoft is unlikely.

Finally, while Google is certainly not without flaws, their core product remains not just good but outstanding. Microsoft, in the meanwhile, is dogged by any number of persistent, endemic problems to their core software that nearly define the company.


IPs as Personal Information

Via TL on FaceBook, a federal judge rules in a case vs Microsoft that IP addresses are not personal information… because they identify a computer, not a person.

So, to be clear: your car’s VIN number is not personal information; your address is not personal information; your place of employment is not personal information. Because none of it specifically identifies you, merely things associated with you. That’s good to know, because I’ll bet a lot of us thought differently up till now….

One might make the argument that, since IP addresses are leased by your cable or phone company – and since one IP address could actually be used for a number of different computers over time – IP addresses are therefore not your property. But if by using your IP address, an entity can narrow your location down to a few houses, that’s close enough to private information in my book.


News Updates for Monday

An interesting 1, 2, 3 punch in the world of Microsoft and tech jobs, Obama pushes for fuel efficiency and more today in this news roundup. Let’s get started:

  • President Obama is taking steps to roll back the Bush legacy of environmental “policy,” pushing to have CAFE standards raised to the proposed 2011 standards immediately, ordering the EPA to allow states to set more stringent environmental policies than the federal levels (California, ah-hem?). You know? I remember thinking that the Bush Administration went too far too fast reversing Clinton policies, I do wonder if the Obama Administration won’t suffer the same fate. Careful with that axe, Eugene.
  • Pfizer is buying Wyeth to create the biggest drug company, ever. The fact that so many of their own patents are coming to an end in the next few years is what has prompted the company to take this move despite their own financial problems. So, great. Now we have an even bigger company with more lobbyists to run around Washington.
  • Silicon Vally is experiencing a huge layoff crush right now. Microsoft is among the companies that’s laying off 5,000 workers. Punch one.
  • Meanwhile, as it lays off workers, Microsoft also continues to push beyond it’s capacity by trying to forge ahead with wireless plans (ask anyone who has an MS phone, they’ll tell you they’re in hell). However shall they do that while laying off workers? Punch two.
  • Funny you should ask. Senator Grassley of Iowa was wondering about the same thing. Specifically, he wondered why they should be laying off workers when they’ve got so many foreign visa workers that work so cheaply. Huh! Imagine that.

Recession a Boon for Open Source?

Recently a friend of this website observed that the economic downturn, however down it turns, will probably mean the end of all those free goodies we’ve come to expect on the Internet.  But Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat thinks different.  Since the downturn will force companies to spend less on new technology infrastructure, innovation and improvement may well come through Open Source (which basically means “free”) solutions, which if not always free, are dramatically less expensive than Microsoft and other profit-driven, proprietary models.

Its an interesting and probably sensible theory.  Since Open Source developers are working largely for their own personal intellectual satisfaction rather than to create copyrighted software, OS development will probably not be significantly impacted by the economic downturn.  Conversely, since profit-driven companies will need both companies willing to shell out cash and R&D projects which rely on that cash, they’re likely to take a big hit.  Internet innovation is likely to continue unabated, whereas the next generation Microsoft Operating System will be significantly slowed down.

On the other hand, gaming this notion a bit further, its just as likely that the loss of revenues in the IT market will spring new fights over copyright and new litigation warfare from Microsoft.  Even when hurting, Microsoft can afford the lawyers to keep winning in court, but Open Source projects would need to divert valuable resources to such a fight.

Time will tell, but things are going to get interesting in the IT world.


Justice May Sue Google for “Being Evil”

Actually, it looks like it might just be anti-trust.  No big whoop: the Bush Justice Department probably just wants to look like it’s doing something.

Google recently announced a deal with Yahoo! to provide advertisement on Yahoo!’s network, sharing the profits with the portal company.  This deal, should it be put into action, would make Google the soul source of 80% of all Internet advertising revenue.  That’s a fairly staggering figure that does make you wonder about the potential monopoly.

But what is genuinely amusing about all this is having Microsoft lawyers tsk-tsking over Google’s dominance in search and advertisement:

Microsoft also has objected to the deal, saying it would unfairly foreclose competition on the Web. In Senate hearings in July, Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, testified that “if search is the gateway to the Internet, and most people believe that it is, this deal will put Google in position to own that gateway and the information that flows through it.”

Well, now. Ain’t that rich?  Basically, Microsoft objects to Google’s dominance primarily because they want to be the dominant company.  If anybody should be sued for anti-trust, it should be Microsoft.


PC Pathos

How can you tell a project at Microsoft isn’t going too well?  I mean, really isn’t going too well?  Check out their latest advertisement on Hotmail:


What a Mesh

Microsoft is in the midst of a bid to buy Yahoo! Wonder why? Well, they’ve lifted the veil a bit on their newest product line, Live Mess Mesh:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Microsoft unveils its web vision

Live Mesh is designed to blur the lines between running software and storing data on a desktop and “in the cloud”.

You know? The last thing I want Microsoft to *intentionally try* to do is “blur the lines” between anything. How ’bout you folks work on establishing something clearly-delineated first, and work your way up? I remember working for Comcast as a tech support rep, patiently explaining to customers that they didn’t need to be connected to the Internet to view their Word documents. Trust me, the lines are already plenty blurred.


Microsoft: Spanked in EU, Skates in US

Seven freakin’ years of this is quite enough.  Yesterday, the EU spanked Microsoft for it’s anti-competitive practicing of over-charging developers for rights to ASP.NET projects.  And they spanked them hard: 1.3 billion dollars in penalties.  Ouch.

But when the same company that makes it nearly impossible for other companies to compete in the same market – the same company which threatens to sue any company with even appearance of violating one of their dubiously-held patents – violates the patent of another company and gets pinched for it in the U.S., what do you suppose happens?

Why, the penalty established in a lower court gets bounced back once it gets to a high enough court, close enough to the Justice Department.  But of course.  Practically from the inauguration of this ill-gotten president, this White House has done everything it can to keep Micro$oft out of whatever trouble it might have gotten itself into.


Use FireFox

If you need still further evidence that Internet Explorer is a losing bet – if better standards compliance, superior plugins, great skins and overall better performance don’t sway you – check out The Beeb’s latest article on yet another Windows virus propagated through IE on malware sites.

Microsoft: Way to Treat Your Loyal Fans

I can understand why people who don’t know much about computers or people who don’t care to know much about their computer don’t switch to something like Linux. But what I really don’t get is the people who are PC-savvy enough to be professionals who are constant cheerleaders for this asshole company. Look at what nastiness is in store for users of Windows Vista Beta: – Vista beta prepares for self-destruction

Unless Vista Ultimate Beta 2, Release Candidate 1 (RC1) and RC2 are upgraded to a legal copy by Friday, machines running those editions will automatically reboot every two hours. This crippled state will continue until Aug 28, at which point the operating system will refuse to boot.

Jackasses! I can understand (or at least, I can take as predictable) the desire to make people all use paid-for versions of your Operating System. But why do you have to be such an asshole company about it and go through all that crap? I mean, even an unregistered version of Windows XP will just stop working.

Google and DoubleClick:

Google is set to merge with DoubleClick, and that fact is causing some real concerns among privacy advocates:

Google Deal Said to Bring U.S. Scrutiny – New York Times

In the complaint, the groups noted that Google collects the search histories of its users, while DoubleClick tracks what Web sites people visit. The merger, according to their complaint, would “give one company access to more information about the Internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world.” Google has built a lucrative business in selling small text ads that appear alongside its search results and on other Web sites. DoubleClick is the leader among companies that specialize in placing graphical and video ads online.