Think people are badly informed about vaccinations? Yes they are

From loosewire:

Evoting? First Bad Omen

I’m in the Philippines to look at their preparations for an automated evoting election in May. This morning’s visit to the hotel’s business center wasn’t a good omen: no antivirus software on their computers.

This might not tell us very much about the potential for disaster in an election which is supposed to be entirely electronic, but the staff’s attitude might. When I told her that her computers weren’t running antivirus, she nodded and said she knew that, as if to say that was a luxury this $120 a night hotel couldn’t afford.

While we could blame Microsoft for badly designing DOS and Windows in the first place, we must also ask why people has such a bad understanding of computer security. Most people I know are not aware of the need for anti-virus software on Windows, nor of the existence of many good *and* free (as in beer) AV software. Instead, they run years-out-of-date bundled AV software from brand names such as Symantec or McAfee.

Part of the blame must go to computer vendors. Knowing that many people don’t upgrade their AV subscriptions, should they not at least offer a choice on first boot, between a free trial and a free AV? But that would jeopardize the lucrative bundling business…

And you think people are stupendously misinformed about biological vaccinations… the digital counterpart is even worse. Granted, computer virii and worms don’t kill… yet.

Vista: 64-bit usage climbing

We from the multilib-enabled Linux world extend a belated welcome to our Windows-using counterparts
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Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not control the hardware that its software runs on. This means that Apple can more easily move all its users to an x64 operating system: all Macs currently have 64-bit CPUs, and Snow Leopard is rumored to be a 64-bit-only release. Windows 7, on the other hand, will still be released in x86 and x64. Microsoft would prefer not to make Windows 7 available on computers with 32-bit CPUs (indeed, Windows 7 Server will be x64-only), but the decision is driven by software compatibility demands.

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Midori : NT/Vista :: NT : Win95

Looks like Microsoft is preparing for their next great leap forward in OS design. Just as Windows NT’s kernel is a clean room without any DOS baggage, Midori is based on the Singularity research kernel, that is written in .NET and utilizes a new compiler backend to output native code.

This will be rather interesting to watch. The idea of writing an OS kernel in a strongly-typed language makes sense — witness House and Singularity. The effort is not expected to be ready for years — this is not Windows 7, and I’d guess there will still be a traditional Windows 8, even if Midori is ready by then.

Incidentally, the OSS community already has a strongly-typed virtual machine designed for efficient native code generation: LLVM. If one takes a Unix kernel (or, more practically, microkernel) and get it to compile using LLVM’s C front-end, one then has the opportunity to gradually rewrite it one module at a time in any language with LLVM front-ends. In the time it will take for Midori to get ready, would there perhaps be an ML-like front-end to LLVM?

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Every once in a while, an article gets posted somewhere in the blogosphere about how Microsoft needs to release a complete Windows rewrite, something along the lines of what Apple did with Mac OS X. Most people realize that Microsoft is in no position to pull a stunt like that at the moment; it’s hard to see Microsoft phasing out support for a billion-Windows-PC-strong user base, but that day may one day come, perhaps thanks to robust virtualization technology.

But in the meantime, Microsoft has settled on rewriting bits and parts of the Windows operating system as it sees fit, with Vista being one of the biggest rewrites (a fact which partially explains the many hardware and software compatibility issues XP’s successor experienced at launch). Speculation around a non-Windows operating system in the works at Microsoft has been present for years, but recent trustworthy tidbits of information have found their way into the hands of Microsoft ZDNet bloggers Mary Jo Foley and Ed Bott.

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Silverlight for Linux. And it’s open source!

As reported by Linux Weekly News, Microsoft has just announced version 1.0 of their Adobe Flash competitor, Silverlight.

An interesting development is that they are also working with Novell to bring the technology to Linux (to be known as Moonlight). Moonlight supposedly will be GPL’ed, with the exception of the binary codecs needed for playback of proprietary Windows Media formats.

So Linux is still a second-hand citizen (version 1.0 is out, and development on the Linux port is just announced?), but this might be interesting for those of us (read: most Linux desktop users) that have been waiting for a decent Flash playback (forget authoring) solutions. Still no x86_64 support after all these years, forcing people to stick to 32-bit browsers (or use nspluginwrapper). And unless Adobe has changed things since acquiring Macromedia, anyone who has merely used the Flash plugin is tainted and can’t work on Flash reimplementations!

(From this interview [] with principal developers of Swfdec and Gnash)

Rob: The Adobe EULA for Flash forbids anyone who has installed their Flash tools or plugin from working on Flash technologies. This has had a chilling effect on the development of free Flash players, since a developer must either choose to decide that Adobe won’t sue them over this, or to do what Gnash does, which is a slow and inefficient, clean room, reverse engineering project.

As I argued, Novell would most likely require copyright assignments on contributions to Moonlight, and thus the use of GPL is not going to hinder Microsoft benefiting from community contribution (interesting, from a once anti-GPL company). The framework is conveniently written in C# as well, so it’s not going to directly benefit the Gnash and Swfdec projects (Flash), but depending on how clearly Novell marks up their code for patent-encumbrance, it could still either benefit or act as a time bomb for Flash projects..

Naturally, I’d still advise anyone to refrain from using Silverlight/Moonlight unless it’s being used as a container for standard (H.263/4) codecs. WMV is an abomination dating back to the AVI days — note how most HD- and BD-DVDs are encoded in H.264, not VC-1 which is basically WMV.

USPTO and Microsoft’s patent FUD: an incentives-based solution

As Linux Weekly News reports, Microsoft’s general counsel has intensified the company’s sabre-rattling against Open Source projects, this time putting numbers on the alleged patent infringements in the Linux kernel, desktop projects and Open Office.

Conveniently left out is the one-sidedness of this smear campaign. Microsoft could take all their time to look at open-sourced code, but on the other hand, Microsoft’s code is sacrosanct. One wonders if Microsoft’s “Shared Source” licenses and EULAs allows the licensee to sue Microsoft for patent violation? One would suspect otherwise.

The patent system is broken. And it’s a matter of incentives. As I wrote in response, the US Patent and Trademark Office grants overly-broad patents without checking carefully for prior art. Thus Microsoft’s claim is probably true in a very twisted way: nobody can write anything meaningful without violating some patent that one of the big tech companies (IBM, Sun, Microsoft, etc.) holds. Any company with a legal team worth their salt would play the system and file for as many patents as they can, no matter how dubious. Some even boast about it (Steve Jobs, about Apple’s iPhone). The culprit is thus the patent system, not the owners of the dubious patents (who are ethically responsible to their shareholders only. Corporate law is also very flawed, but that’s the subject of another post), and certainly not the authors of the infringing software.

Regardless of whether software patents is a good idea or not (I personally think it’s not), the USPTO and Congress have a serious conflict-of-interest problem here. Granting more patents earn them more money, and examining patent applications carefully cost them money. Plus, they don’t lose anything for patents that are overturned. The Justice department should charge USPTO for the time wasted by patent challenges, if the patent ends up overturned because of USPTO’s fault. That way they’d have an incentive to be more careful.

Microsoft-Yahoo rumours resurface

From New York Post, via Monsters and Critics:

According to the New York Post, Microsoft is asking Yahoo to re-enter formal talks in order to finalize a merger of the two companies. This move was attempted in the past just shortly after Google emerged, but in the end went nowhere. After the huge loss last month to Google over the DoubleClick purchase, Microsoft is intensifying their plans to acquire Yahoo.

This is disturbing. Yahoo has traditionally been quite open-source friendly (Yahoo! Toolbar is available for Firefox, their AJAX library is open-sourced, and they even produced a Linux client of Yahoo Messenger, long time ago — it still works, though not updated), or at any rate, more platform-agnostic.

Of the three companies, Yahoo Messenger supports OS X on par with Windows, with Linux being an afterthought, while Microsoft’s Messenger client is a joke on a Mac, and GTalk .. is currently Windows-only (Google employs a key Pidgin developer, so now that the dispute with AOL over their old name, Gaim, has been settled, hopefully audio chat support will be coming to the free Unices (and OS X) soon.

What will a Microsoft buy-out entail? First of all, presumably the downgrading of Mac support (look at Virtual PC, or IE for Mac). Microsoft would cancel a product that’s making them money (VPC), and forbid the use of home editions of Vista under virtualization, to sabotage Mac interoperability, while at the same time offer (read: promise) a free version of their Flash competitor Silverlight for the platform (not authoring tools, naturally. Everyone knows digital artists <prefers> working in Windows). Imagine the fate of Yahoo Messenger, what with Apple aggressively pushing iChat into the corporate market. Microsoft will probably calculate that they are better served undermining OS X’s viability as a business platform, at the expense of a miniscule loss of marketshare.

So we in the FLOSS world are in this unconfortable situation of hitching our wagons to Google as the lesser of the two evils (despite privacy concerns). I’m personally using GTalk (through Pidgin) at least until Jabber becomes the established IM protocol standard, but if anyone has a suggestion for a good non-big-3 search engine, I’m definitely considering putting my eggs in more baskets.

Vista is a failure, but is Microsoft doomed?

The Inquirer would have you think so (Microsoft admits Vista failure). Dell has bowed to the lack of consumer enthusiasm about Vista (especially those laptop users dismayed at power management issues, but people whose applications suddenly break won’t be amused either), reinstating Windows XP availability on their customer line-ups. This is, at best, a grace period of one year, since Microsoft currently plans to stop XP sales entirely in 2008.

They have a point there. I have a problem with their assertion that the $3 Windows edition is another admission of failure. True, the stronger anti-piracy controls on Vista means that Microsoft’s closing one eye on piracy no longer reduces Linux’s price advantage as much. But there’s the point of government tie-in: to be eligible for the cheap Windows licenses, governments have to step in and subsidize the hardware!

So Microsoft might have a weakened hold on its current OEMs, but it is hoping to gain entire countries as new clients. In which case the price drop cannot be compared against the full price of Windows, but what Dell, HP etc. gets charged (less than $50 a piece, I’m sure). An order of magnitude less. Which is a side issue — Microsoft is not currently gaining anything from those pirated copies anyway (apart from mindshare). The main worry is that another generation will be locked into Microsoft products, and want to bet there’s a clause in the fine print promoting the so-called Open XML over Open Doc?