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Thursday, July 14, 2005

M$FT and OSS: the cat and mouse game

Steve Ballmer once decried Linux and open source as a cancer. In a recent interview, he said "We compete with products. We don't compete with movements". The reality is that that open source poses the biggest competitive threat Microsoft has ever encountered. If you've been following Microsoft's attitude toward OSS in the last year or two you may have seen some big changes. Our friends in Redmond are really softening their stance showing more willingness to start a dialogue with the open source community which shows that they finally recognize that OSS is a threat and it is here to stay.

Here are some amazing events you may have heard of:

- Last year Microsoft released some of its code under an open-source license (CPL), and posted it on SourceForge. Microsoft had made its source code available under a variety of licensing mechanisms, all under its "shared source" umbrella. Microsoft made available an internally developed product called the Windows Installer XML (WiX) to SourceForge. WiX is a toolset for building Windows installation packages from XML source code. The project seems to be getting on average a couple hundred downloads a day.

- Microsoft spent money earlier this year by sponsoring targeted open-source conferences. They even paid for a platinum sponsor at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) held in San Francisco.

- In April 2005, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, called for bridge building between Microsoft and the open-source community.

- Today Microsoft customers can see and control Linux servers with Microsoft's management software, and they will eventually be able to run Linux and Windows on the same machine. This is a big change from previous policies.

- Microsoft has hired a bunch of engineers who have a high profile in open-source circles. After Shaun Walker who came with his product DotNetNuke , Microsoft hired Gentoo founder Daniel Robbins, who is helping them understand open-source development. Another open source figure joined Microsoft, Jim Hugunin, is working on the IronPython project to support the Python scripting language that Microsoft would like to support in .Net to better compete with the LAMP stack.

- Stuart Cohen, CEO of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) declared that Microsoft may be shipping their apps on top of Linux sooner than we think.

- In earlier this month (July 2005), Microsoft surprised many of the attendees at its annual worldwide partner show by allowing a third party to present a "hands-on lab" that allowed attendees to play with a range of Linux desktop software. Is Microsoft toning down it anti-Linux crusade? Probably not! Just trying to get some PR and play nice by using some diplomacy with OSS community.

I could go on and on but this clearly shows a change in Microsoft's attitude. So why are they doing all this? Can the OSS community finally trust M$FT?

Some believe Microsoft needs to change its image especially in areas where OSS is taking off big time such as developing countries (see my post on Brazil) and Europe (see my post on Norway or these telling headlines). Microsoft has to play well with OSS in these regions (especially Linux servers). Most RedHat or Novell Suse customers have Microsoft products in house. Microsoft has to appear open to both proprietary and open source software.

Once again I am a firm believer in rewarding companies and developers for their work on software. I am all for commercial software so I am not expecting or asking Microsoft to open source Windows (or any of their core products) just like I wouldn't expect Oracle to open source their database. It would be insane and suicidal. All these conciliatory statements and gestures with the OSS world are revolting and repulsive to me. I will accept them when Microsoft acts differently. Here are some things Microsoft could do to change their position toward open source and standards. First of all don't send a lawyer to build bridges with the open source community, they don't like lawyers. Secondly, stop impeding standard efforts, Microsoft has a pretty bad history of hijacking standards (Kerberos is an example) and making them proprietary. There are similar stories/issues with W3C standards. Secondly they should get inspired by IBM who donated over 500 patents to the OSS community earlier this year. Instead Microsoft continues to use its patents weapon. Another one and I'll leave it at that is opening up their formats (like Word) and stop suing people who write software that interoperates with these formats.

Until I see Microsoft implement some of the actions I mentioned above I will continue to think that they are reaching out to the OSS community to better understand their enemy before strangling it. Only this time the enemy is not a smaller vendor, it is distributed globally, growing fast and very hard to fight. So let's see how this plays out, this time around the cat may have some difficulties catching and killing the mouse, just like the cartoon Tom & Jerry.

Keeping the pulse on the Mobile space

One of the privileges of living in Silicon Valley is the variety of events (networking, technology, funding, etc.) that are available to me at a stone's throw distance. Lately I've been following the wireless/mobile industry quite a bit for a variety of reasons.

A friend of mine sent me a link to this website: so I decided to check it out. This week it was hosted at AOL a few blocks from where I work. Cool!

Everyone at this event loves gadgets and owns the latest/coolest cell phone on the market and uses it for voice/data/games and much more… I looked like a boring beginner with my lame Treo 600 exclusively used for voice and email.

Okay, here are some of my notes on the companies who presented this month:

- Rodney Aiglstorfer with mFoundry showed two applications built with their tools. They have a server side platform (mWorks), Eclipse-based plug-ins and an onset module that runs Moblets on the phone. Their claim to fame is that they were able to produce mobile versions of complicated Web sites in two weeks using their know-how and their toolset. I am going to check out their technologies, it sounds intriguing to me. In addition to some proprietary aspects (Moblets, MIL, etc.) of their offering, they seem to support a limited number of devices, which means they've got a long way to go to cover the masses.

- Next up we got a demo of Airena's Airset. These guys think that the email for mobile phones/PDAs is a crowded space, however, they see an opportunity for a centralized management of your calendars and your address books and have that delivered to you wherever/whenever. It's an SMS-based access to multiple groups from your phone. They also have a web-based app that allows you to enter your profiles and set up your groups. It is true that sometimes I get frustrated with some limitations in Yahoo Calendar and Yahoo Addresses but I am not sure it is painful enough for me to look for other solutions. The demo was pretty cool, not sure I will use it.

- Next up was Mike Li from 6th Sense Communications. I really liked this presentation because I had this idea a couple of years ago and started thinking about ways to solve the same problem but it's not one of those things you can do on the side. In a way they are after the same market as Dodgeball (a two people start up recently acquired by Google). In fact they are using the same look and feel but not the same technologies. Dodgeball doesn't need Bluetooth whereas 6th Sense relies on Bluetooth to find people around you. So what's cool about these two companies? You set up your profiles (professional profile, dating profile, etc.) and as you walk around town or go to events or to a bar, your phone tells you that the VC you were looking for is just a few feet away or the hot brunette of your dreams with the same interests you have is in the same bar, etc. It can also be used for advertisement, if you walk by a Starbucks everyday they can send you a 50% discount on your favorite drink as you walk by the store, wouldn't that make you want to buy a latte? IMHO 6th Sense should consider integrating ASAP with Friendster, LinkedIn and Myspace. Peopla hate typing their profiles over and over again. I could go on and on, I think it's pretty cool!

- Next was a boring (sorry) presentation by the not-so-motivated BuddyBuzz guys. They have implemented a pre-alpha software for your phone/PDA that allows you to read fast using the RSVP technique out of Stanford.

- Then we had a demo of fotochatter, an SMS-based service to send your favorite freshly taken photo to a group of friends and get their comments back… Not sure if these guys are trying to make a business out of this (I hope not) but the demo was cool. They have a Java version (with a better handling of the image size based on your specific device) as well a WAP version. They also offer a Web-based interface to create your profile, your groups and read all the messages/comments you get back from your buddies.

- Dale Larson from ipsh! Presented their solution for marketing campaigns (delivering wallpapers, promotions or ring tones) using an SMS-based technology. They seem to be doing pretty well and they can do mass or targeted marketing with a claimed 20% to 60% response rate which (if true) is a terrific rate.

- Natasha Minenko Flaherty with Immersion Corporation presented the VibeTonz System includes two products: VibeTonz Studio SDK, a complete software development kit for creating touch effects, and VibeTonz Mobile Player, an effect player which is embedded in the mobile handset. They essentially allow developers to precisely control the vibration motor on your device to add as much realism to your phone experience as possible. I am not going to use any of those products anytime soon, primarily because I am not a gamer and it adds more value to games than anything else (MHO). This said one of the benefits or her demo is that I realized how far behind we are (in America) compared to Japan or Korea. One of the demos loaded a 60MB game on a crazy SK Telecom phone, it looked so good and felt so real I thought we were looking at an Xbox demo.

- Last we saw a couple of demos from Dhana Pawar with TeleCommunication Systems. The first demo was built for Rand McNally Traffic, it provides real-time traffic updates on the phone. This includes speed and accident info in a map, list and SMS format. This app was a finalist in the Best Info category at the BREW conference in San Diego.

All in all I thought it was time very well spent. I learned a ton about the technologies used to build applications targeted at our phones and PDAs. I also got a an idea of what startups in this space are trying to build here in Silicon Valley. BTW most of the applications we saw this month are free; make sure you try them out. Some presenters were not really sure how they were going to monetize their creations yet. I will definitely attend the next MobileMonday and recommend it to anybody interested in innovation and creativity in the Mobile space.

If you would like to check out some Mobile Monday pictures, here is their Flickr tag.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Microsoft? Nor Way!

Yesterday I wrote about the growing open source wave in developing countries and how using OSS helped some of them realize much needed savings.

How about other governments who can afford to buy software, why are they encouraging, and sometimes even enforcing the use of OSS?

I mentioned in a few blog entries that several European governments (including the U.K., Italy and Germany) were encouraging the use of open source. Today I read this article on InfoWorld that talks about a country with a much stronger stance against proprietary software. It's a rather wealthy country: Norway.

Norwegian officials are quoted saying things like: proprietary formats will no longer be acceptable in communication between citizens and government… and adding that this would be the last time they make a presentation available on the Net with proprietary media software (talking about PowerPoint and Excel). Even though they tend not to name Microsoft specifically it’s pretty obvious. It's funny to see that despite all this, the Norwegian government works closely with Bill Gates on worthy charitable projects.

Why do you think all these countries are on a crusade to destroy Microsoft? Is it really about savings? Or freedom? Are they jealous of Microsoft's (and to a larger extent American software vendors) dominance and want to break free from America’s lock on the global software industry? Do they believe OSS is much safer and offers better quality software?

The cool image used in this post was borrowed from

Monday, July 11, 2005

Brazil: the hearth of FOSS

I wrote a couple of pieces on the global wave of legislation which is inducing government-owned agencies and companies, to use FOSS except when proprietary software is the only option. This wave is primarily seen in Europe and developing countries. Some of the reasons behind this phenomenon are obvious (such as cost savings) and some are more subtle. Some experts believe there is a clear desire to break free from the U.S.' lock on the global software market/industry. Analysts say concerns about autonomy and national security are likely to drive passage of more laws discouraging use of proprietary software. Proponents of this wave like to call it "software libre" to describe software that is not only free but whose development is not controlled by a single organization/company.

One of the first developing countries to clearly stand behind OSS was Brazil. For the last five years Brazil’s government lead by President Lula is abandoning proprietary software (mainly Windows) in favor of OSS. Sergio Amadeu who runs the National Institute for Information Technology estimates a $500 saving in software for every machine owned/operated by the government which saves Brazil overall $150M a year. These savings allow Lula's government to sponsor new machines as well as recycled machines and distribute them in the favelas (very poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Sao Paulo and Rio).

The trend could be troubling to software giants like Microsoft, which has eyed the proliferation of open-source software nervously despite the fact that it still controls about 90% of the planet's desktops. Earlier this year Bill Gates tried to meet with President Lula privately at the World Economic Forum in Davos but he was unsuccessful. Following this, Microsoft released a stripped down (cheaper) version of Windows XP in Brazil

Finally last month FISL (stands for Fórum Internacional do Software Livre) 6.0 took place in Porto Alegre Brazil with prestigious sponsors and speakers. Thousands of enthusiasts got together to discuss how OSS could help them build their country. More on this by Bloomberg.

It's also refreshing to see that Iraq is also taking advantage of OSS. BBC reported that Linux user groups are being created with hundreds of members.

Finally I would like to reiterate for those who read my blog for the first time that I am not an anti-Microsoft or an anti-proprietary/commercial software guy. We all have to make a living. I support OSS because I believe it forces software vendors to innovate and constantly add value. Also I am intrigued by the collaborative and distributed aspects of OSS which inspire and influence the development processes of several commercial vendors. More importantly, I like OSS because it allows some developing countries who cannot afford to pay Microsoft $500 per machine to get the ball rolling and provide computer and internet access for the disadvantaged.

Java: stuck since 1998

If you were like me, wondering why we got stuck with the number/version 2 in the names of the Java platforms… In a recent post on his blog, Graham Hamilton announced the new names for the Java platforms. In a nutshell they are dropping the "2" in J2SE, J2EE and J2ME. Even though this announcement is nowhere as important or desirable as open sourcing Java once and for all, I still welcome it. Why would we call Java standard edition version 5.0: J2SE?

The reality is that Sun introduced J2SE and J2EE in 1998 to break away from Java's first generation and got stuck with it as a brand.

If you'd like to read more about the new naming system, go to: