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Sound recommendations for business

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From an interview with Mitchell Baker [free registration needed], former CEO and now Chairman of Mozilla Corporation and a director of Mozilla Foundation:

The Quarterly: What can other leaders learn from the Mozilla project about running an innovative company?

Mitchell Baker: Turning people loose is really valuable. You have to figure out what space and what range, but you get a lot more than you would expect out of them, because they’re not you.

Second, figure out where you want input. There are different varieties of input and user-generated content. Figuring out what you really want is very important because you can get benefits out of any of those things. But if you’re doing one thing and sending out a message that you’re doing another, I think you’re dead.

Third, look hard at whether there are areas where you can give up some control, because the returns are great.

Open is good for everyone

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The big news in the developer and social networking worlds is Google’s Open Social. Reading Marc Anderssen post, my radar beeped excitedly:

Open Social — by making this exact same kind of opportunity available to any other social network or container and every app developer and site on the web, in an open and compatible way — will prevent Facebook from having any kind of long-term proprietary developer lock-in. Developers will easily write to both Facebook and Open Social, and have every reason to do so — in fact, 100+ million reasons to do so.

If you’re Facebook, you’d probably prefer to have that proprietary lock-in, and so this announcement may not make you that happy. However, all is not bad for Facebook, because a big part of what’s happening today is market expansion, and Open Social will definitely help fuel market expansion, which is in everyone’s interest, including Facebook’s.

This is the same direction VRM is taking. Soon any lock-in online will have the same chance of survival as the proverbial snowball in hell. It will not happen at once, there is much huffing and puffing from those whose business models and industries are predicated on being able to herd and keep ‘consumers’ in their proprietary pens. Looking forward to the chicken run.

Bonus link: Free customers make free markets

Quote to remember

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“Innovation happens elsewhere”… there are always more smart people outside a company than inside it. So the question is how to somehow harness the innovation that these other people are creating. Open source turns out to be an excellent way to do so.
- Bill Joy mentioned by Ron Goldman in Part Two of a Conversation With Sun Microsystems Laboratories’

BBC, iPlayer and Microsoft

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From Grocklaw interview with Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium in the UK.

…it’s a Verisign Kontiki architecture, it’s peer-to-peer, and in fact one of the more worrying aspects is that you have no control over your node. It loads at boot time under Windows, the BBC can use as much of your bandwidth as they please (laughter), in fact I think OFCOM, you know, made some kind of estimate as to how many hundreds of millions of pounds that would cost everyone [Ed: see this video interview with Verisign Kontiki executive, and this one], there is a hidden directory called “My Deliveries” which pre-caches large preview files, it phones home to the Microsoft DRM servers of course, it logs all the iPlayer activity and errors with identifiers in an unencrypted file.

there’s a lot of pain going on in the user forums, and some of the main technical support questions in there are “how do I remove Kontiki from my computer?” See, it’s not just while iPlayer is running that Kontiki is going, it’s booted up. When the machine boots up, it runs in the background, and it’s eating people’s bandwidth all the time. (laughter) In the UK we still have massive amounts of people who’ve got bandwidth capping from their ISPs and we’ve got poor users on the online forums saying, “Well, my internet connection has just finished, my ISP tells me I’ve used up all of my bandwidth.”

No, they can’t throttle it. It really is. It’s malware as well as spyware.

Before you start wondering about BBC conspiracies, which would undoubtedly require the level of efficiency that the BBC Trust has been aiming for, let’s see who’s behind the iPlayer.

…the BBC management team who are responsible for the iPlayer are a checklist of senior employees from Microsoft who were involved with Windows Media. A gentleman called Erik Huggers who’s responsible for the iPlayer project in the BBC, his immediately previous job was director at Microsoft for Europe, Middle East & Africa responsible for Windows Media. He presided over the division of Windows Media when it was the subject of the European Commission’s antitrust case. He was the senior director responsible. He’s now shown up responsible for the iPlayer project.

This is getting worn out by now, Windows-only platform alone is asking for trouble, then there is the ET-phone-home behaviour of the iPlayer itself, then the caving-in of the BBC to the ‘rights holders requirements’ regarding DRM that read like a checklist of Microsoft DRM (I am shocked! shocked! at the DRM abuse going on here!) and finally the lack of clarity and rationale of the whole process. Oh, and fraternisation with a corporate monopolist to the tune of £130 million over the four years, paid by the taxpayer licence fee payer.

via Ben

Bonus link: Use MacOS? Linux? Solaris? Stop the BBC becoming Microsoft slaves!

Microsoft double-standards

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A few month’s back I noted Microsoft’s failure to get approval for their Open Office XML standard by a sub-group of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The plot thickens:

During the voting period, more and more countries joined SC 34, the committee within ISO/IEC’s Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) that addresses document formats, at the Observer (O) level. Then, in the final weeks and days before the voting closed, many of these new members as well as many longer term members suddenly upgraded their status to Principal ((P) membership, thereby gaining greater influence in the final vote under the complex rules under which the committee operates.

The countries in question were for example, Malta, Venezuela, Pakistan, Poland, Egypt, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa, Romania, Sri Lanka and Chile. So good to see them taking interest. There is a problem though, none of them is taking an interest to maintain even the minimal obligations of their membership.

…since the OOXML ballot closed on September 2, not a single ballot has received enough votes to count in this important committee. Why? Because the last minute arrivals to SC 34 are not bothering to vote.

It seems that those countries took extraordinary interest in Microsoft OOXML and once the vote failed, there is nothing else that motivates them. I wonder what that means?

The resulting gridlock of this committee was as predictable as it is unfortunate. The extraordinarily large number of upgrades in the final months, and particularly in the final days, therefore seemed attributable not to an abiding investment and interest in the work of SC 34, but in the outcome of a single standards vote. That conclusion is now certain, given the voting performance of the upgraded members since they cast their votes on OOXML.

Since the recent influx of new P-members to our committee, not a single ballot has had a sufficient number of responses to be considered.

So if anybody tells me that Microsoft is playing fair, I don’t think I will listen until they can beat this explanation:

1. committee to vote on important matter which is strategic to large company
2. committee suddenly gets packed with yes-men, one cannot imagine who’s funding them
3. committee vote fails anyway — but is a close-run thing
4. yes-men all spontaneously get bored and walk away from their commitments
5. committee becomes dead in water due to voting procedure requiring input from now-vanished yes-men
6. committee dies?

Another nail in DRM’s coffin

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And not a moment too soon! Well, more like wasted years.

I’m here to tell you today that I for one am no longer going to fall into this trap. If the licensing labels offer their content to Yahoo! put more barriers in front of the users, I’m not interested. Do what you feel you need to do for your business, I’ll be polite, say thank you, and decline to sign. I won’t let Yahoo! invest any more money in consumer inconvenience. I will tell Yahoo! to give the money they were going to give me to build awesome media applications to Yahoo! Mail or Answers or some other deserving endeavor. I personally don’t have any more time to give and can’t bear to see any more money spent on pathetic attempts for control instead of building consumer value. Life’s too short. I want to delight consumers, not bum them out.

via Simon Phipps

Copyright blues

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This would be hysterical, if it were not so benighted.

Pariser [the head of litigation for Sony BMG] has a very broad definition of “stealing.” When questioned by Richard Gabriel, lead counsel for the record labels, Pariser suggested that what millions of music fans do is actually theft. The dirty deed? Ripping your own CDs or downloading songs you already own.

Gabriel [lead counsel for the record labels] asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ’steals just one copy’,” she said.

The poor (and I use this term very loosely here) lawyers are actually following a certain logic. It is the logic of physical property rights that have been translated into ideas and intellectual property. This was done at the time when technology was lined up behind those who controlled production and distribution of the goods based on those ideas. Supply chains and business models followed. But technology (and behaviour based on it) has changed that and the current understanding of copyright seems a rather crude application of property rights to the realm of ideas and innovation.

So the lawyers are not being ‘evil’ in following the letter of law but in their inability to look beyond it. I know, I know, they are not paid to do that by those who want to protect the status quo of copyright. However, this is going to be a legal battle. The users-pirates can bring on the pressure to shift the debate but ultimately, it will be lawyers who will have to create a legal framework that reflects reality.

via Simon Phipps

Confusing Free with free

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Simon Phipps explains – for the thousandth time I imagine – some basic things about Free/Open source software.

From what the blog says – “Yes, clearly it’s cheaper, but does it really save money in the end?” – it’s clear this part of Adobe thinks of Free/Open Source software purely as a commodity and a way of cutting corners. That it’s ultimately only about saving money. They seem to confuse Free with free, liberty with payment. In the process Adobe is missing a huge opportunity.

Alas, outside the open source communities, this is not being explained/understood widely enough. So thanks to Simon for delving deeper:

As Stallman points out, software freedom is not about avoiding payment, it is about preserving and exercising liberty. I don’t accept that pursuing profit and respecting software freedom are unrelated, much less that they run counter to each other. Profit and liberty are not orthogonal. I also profoundly believe that competing against software freedom provides (at best) a short-term advantage.

And now he’s talking my language:

For a company like Adobe, to compete against software freedom is to ignore the inexorable progress of disruptive technologies and the Innovator’s Dilemma.

One of the challenges that open source faces is that its most significant and enduring impact is at the level that most businesses don’t pay attention to. The level of innovation that goes beyond the product, market or industry analysis usually based on controllable and measurable variables and the bigger-picture-doesn’t-get-me-through-the-next-quarter kind of thinking. A classic case of what doesn’t get measured, gets ignored. And misunderstood. So often Free/Open source software is seen as a comparable alternative to proprietary applications and the comparisons are made in terms of the wrong dichotomy, as Simon points out.

But the point is, the dichotomy Adobe paints is of its own making. It is not inherent in either Free software or in the open source communities which create it. And by trying to protect their short-term revenue, Adobe avoid affinity with some high-energy developers while pushing their customer base to increasingly attractive Free – and free – alternatives.

In fact, they are not comparable as you simply cannot compare the dynamics of community behind Free/Open source to the arbitrary, insulated and often turgid development of ‘closed source’ software. If the internet has shown anything it is that open is better, faster and ultimately more powerful. The principles that apply here:

the hand of Doc

IOS Brussels

No one owns it.

Everyone can use it.

Anyone can improve it.

These principles are so basic, they undermine all efforts to deny them.

Viacom in a copyright doomloop

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This is pretty rich but somehow not surprising:

One guy thought it was so cool that he recorded the clip of Web Junk that featured his own video and posted that on YouTube so he could blog about it. And, in an incredibly ironic move, Viacom sent a takedown notice to YouTube forcing it offline. Just to make it clear: Viacom used this guy’s work without permission and put it on TV. The guy then takes Viacom’s video of his video and puts it online… and Viacom freaks out claiming copyright infringement. Effectively, Viacom is claiming that it’s infringement of Viacom’s copyright to display an example of Viacom infringing on copyright.

Here is the story from the horse’s mouth:

So Viacom took a video that I had made for non-profit purposes and without trying to acquire my permission, used it in a for-profit broadcast. And then when I made a YouTube clip of what they did with my material, they charged me with copyright infringement and had YouTube pull the clip.

Folks, this is, as we say down here in the south, “bass-ackwards”.

Well, there are many more names to call this… Another, bigger story here is that it may, just may turn out that Viacom was acting within the current laws, although I don’t think so. It appears that the blogger who used his Viacom-processed video clip was within fair use provisions. Still, the tension between Viacom using videos taken from YouTube, which is in turn under constant fire from the company policing its own content is palpable. Call it hypocrisy, call is lack of balance, something about it just isn’t right. It is like the playground bully coming and nibbling at the cakes that the smaller kids made together. Whilst beating them up for baking in the first place…

Then there is the copyrighted content that is now getting a far better reach and exposure now that various shows and film moments are living on through the clips on YouTube. Think of all the Monty Python sketches that are now accessible and can be used in blog posts! Such joy.

I wonder what will happen to the bully in the end. Will he end up hungry and with no-one to play with bully?

Copyright is not frivolous

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Maura Corbett warns of abuses of copyright by media corporations that often include gross misrepresentations of federal law and characterize as unlawful acts that are explicitly permitted by law.

Warnings attached to movies, sports broadcasts and other media often provide wildly misleading information about consumer rights under copyright law. For example, warnings on many Universal DVDs state, in part, that “any unauthorized exhibition, distribution or copying of this film or any part thereof (including soundtrack) is an infringement of the relevant copyright and will subject the infringer to severe civil and criminal penalties.”

This statement is simply untrue–the federal copyright statutes specifically allow unauthorized reproduction for criticism, commentary and other purposes

She concludes:

We should not permit rights holders to use copyright law to create new powers for themselves. Even as we urge consumers to respect the law–and we should–large copyright owners have the same obligation.

Copyright law was never intended to serve as a big stick for the rights holder to wield against the freedom of information and ideas.

Pearl in a nutshell

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For my geek friends. :)

via Tim O’Reilly

Lower than pirates

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News Blog (at has news of a disturbing attempt to stomp on file-sharing:

Swedish authorities last week were preparing to shut down
The Pirate Bay, according to Peter Sunde, one of the site’s founders.
Was the site facing closure for helping users find bootlegged music or
video files, as the film and music industries have long alleged? No,
The Pirate Bay was being accused of distributing child pornography.


"The government is angry at us because they can’t shut us down," Sunde said. "Now they are trying to ruin our reputations."

Sunde called the allegations against the site "unsettling." He worries
that the incident might signal a new willingness by the forces warring against copyright infringement to use smear tactics.

The internet has exploded the ability of people to get hold of, share and distribute content that has previously been locked into media business models. And they have been fighting back since they realised what’s going on. In the long run fighting your own markets and customers is a bad bad idea, in the short run, they are squeezing what they can from the lock-in they still have. This is not going to be a pretty fight as they are not hesitating to use whatever force they can. But child-porn accusations? That’s sinking far lower than the pirates they accuse of depriving them of revenue…

via Instapundit

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