It’s not patently obvious

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If you want to know what the current patent battle is about the answer is simple: money. The bottom line is that Apple and Microsoft’s litigation against Google are nothing more that attempts to undermine the Android mobile operating system, which, for those who don’t know, the search giant gives away free, gratis and for nothing to mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, LG and Motorola. This is unacceptable behaviour in Cupertino and Redmond, where serious cash is generated by “selling” operating systems – but I digress.

The bottom line is that I applaud Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s mobile phone business because has potential to defuse the ridiculous patent litigation from Apple and extortionate license fees demanded by Microsoft. You see, Motorola has been around a lot longer than either of those two and has a portfolio of over 17 000 patents. That gives Google the option to threaten litigation of its own and, thereby, keep Android free-of-charge and unburdened by unreasonable licensing.


Microsoft hi-jacks eeePC; SA education

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To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. Last night Asus launched the new 9- and 10-inch models of its eeePC in Johannesburg. That’s the good news; The bad news is the distributor, Rectron, is only bringing four of the ten models into SA – all of them with Windows.

The Asus eeePC 1000, which ships with Linux and is the model I would want

The Asus eeePC 1000, which ships with Linux and is the model I would want

I was gutted. It means that if I want one I will once again have to pay Microsoft for the privilege of using Linux. That sucks. It’s not the money – I was told that the difference in price is only about R80; it’s the principle. Why should I have to pay Redmond for NOT using its crappy software? Of course, I could always contact a friend in Dubai, have him buy me a Linux model and send it over but Asus tells me the warranty would not be honoured locally.

Nice. So the eeePC, which was launched with Linux because Windows was too fat and expensive is now only available is SA with Windows on it. In effect, Microsoft has hi-jacked the eeePC.

And then there’s the deal: Asus, Rectron and Microsoft have signed a R330 million agreement with SADTU, puportedly to avail teachers of Windows-based eeePCs – as IT Web is reporting here. Nice, so now our teachers will only know Windows; They won’t be able to choose the more affordable, more secure and more robust Linux. Sounds like another hi-jack to me.

But the numbers on the deal don’t add up. SADTU represents 240 000 teachers, which works out to R1 375 per unit. The cheapest eeePC model (7-inch screen) currently retails for around R3 000 so would imply either a massive discount, which wasn’t mentioned, or that fewer than half of SADTU’s members are expected to take advantage of the deal to buy a eeePC – the number mentioned was 80%.

SADTU is also understood to be lobbying government to pick up the tab for teachers’ eeePCs. Indeed, acting president (SADTU recently fired its president for political naivity), Thokile Nthola, did make one good point when he questioned the expectation that teachers, 90% of whom are not IT literate, could produce gradutes who are IT literate.

Chinese water torture continues for Microsoft

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Janco Associates‘ latest report on the state of the browser market makes interesting reading. The company’s press release is rather blunt: Microsoft Flops and Loses Another 7% of its Browser Market Share in 12 Months...

What Janco doesn’t show in the press release is the detail (that’s only available in the full report). One table, in particular, is illuminating. In April this year, Janco had Internet Explorer at 65.40%. Now, five months later the company says that market share has dropped to 58.50%. If that decline is sustained it’s entirely possible that Microsoft will drop below 50% in January or February next year.

Also in this report is Janco’s assessment of the Windows Vista failure. The press release headline continues: … Vista Still only used by less than 15% of all users. The full report features another interesting table, one that charts Vista market share against other versions of Windows as well as Microsoft’s total share of the desktop OS market since launch. It shows that not only is Microsoft having trouble converting existing customers but it is also losing some of those customers to the competition: in the time it has taken to get that 15% market share, Microsoft’s overall desktop OS share has dropped by more than 4% – from 96.32% to 92.20%.

And, the data don’t take into account the unwanted licences said to be boosting Vista numbers. This analysis also can’t calculte the possible lack of confidence that will be caused by Vista’s security having been shown to even more useless. If I could afford to be a Microsoft shareholder I’d be thinking about selling round about now.

Ubuntu Linux goes retail


I picked this up off Slashdot this morning where SirLurksAlot writes that US retailer, Best Buy, is now selling Ubuntu, both through its Web site and in its brick-and-mortar locations. It appears to have quietly been made available since May 6th of this year and is apparently the latest Long Term Support version, Hardy Heron (v8.04 if you prefer).

No mention is made of support facilities over and above those available through the various Ubuntu forums. However, Best Buy does note that the product is published by ValuSoft so presumably that’s where the support can be found. Alas, no. A trip to the technical support web site and a search for the term Ubuntu returns this response: “No products were found to match Ubuntu.”

Nice. So I can buy a nicely packaged copy of Ubuntu from Best Buy for the low, low price of $19.99 or I can download exact the same product, free, grattis and for nothing from the Ubuntu website. Hmmm, tough one.

Linux on the desktop is inevitable

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I’ve long believed that Microsoft’s monopoly of desktop computing is doomed. Sadly, it won’t go away tomorrow or the day after but sometime in the future the majority will live in a desktop computing world not dominated by the rapacious lot in Redmond. And you can bet that Microsoft won’t go away without a fight but the writing is on the wall.

It all boils down to one simple fact: Microsoft has had the power to make and break hardware manufacturers for far too long and they’re tired of it. Even Intel has now admitted this. And while it’s only a small step from there to hardware manufacturers realising that they can get out from under the Microsoft yoke and actually make a decent margin on the operating system while also offering lower prices to the channel, the reality is they’re still too locked in to Microsoft’s sliding scale rebate system.

Despite the success of the Linux-based ASUS Eee PC, other vendors are still only dabbling in Linux and have been for some time. For example, HP here in South Africa conducted a little experiment a while back: it released a single laptop model with a choice of three operating systems: Free DOS, Linspire (one of the more expensive versions of Linux) and Windows, at three different price points: R4199, R4499 and R4999.

The down side was the HP N1000 was a crappy low-end model, hardly comparable to my T-series ThinkPad. But the beauty of that offer was that I could I have bought a notebook without having to pay Microsoft for crappy software I would never use – which is exactly what I had to do.

I wrote about the HP experiment and others here back in July 2006. Sadly, my conclusion then still applies today: “PC manufacturers say they cannot fund the marketing efforts so if Linux is going to grow, the investment will have to come from the likes of Red Hat, Novell, Mandriva, Linspire, Xandros and possibly even IBM as an agnostic Linux supporter. Is it going to happen? Only time will tell.”

I have a dream (apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr)  that one day we won’t be forced to pay the Microsoft tax.

French police take last step to freedom

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El Reg is reporting that the gendarmerie is now ditching Windows XP in favour of Ubuntu, having already switched browsers to Firefox, and dumping MS Office for OpenOffice. Apparently, 70 000 desktop PCs are involved in the migration. Smart.

That’s a similar process to that followed locally by the CSIR – as I reported last year in CIO Africa, which sadly is a print only publication – and also almost exactly what I did almost four years ago: switched email to Thunderbird, browser to Firefox, office suite to OpenOffice and, finally, operating system to Linux. The result: stability the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since the advent of Windows. And it seems others have stumbled upon this migration path – if the recent uptake in Firefox use is any guide.

As I can attest, it works, like a charm. Still, the fear factor remains – something that Microsoft exacerbates with all the FUD it spreads around Linux and open source. Luckily, the CSIR’s Open Source Centre is availing its expertise and migration services to South African SMMEs wishing to get off the proprietary software treadmill.

Update: I managed to find an electronic copy of my CSIR story, and posted it here (1.2MB jpeg).

Indepth review of the OLPC

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The Register is running an excellent and detailed review of the OLPC project‘s XO laptop. By necessity it’s very long but if you have any interest in the topic is well worth the read. Reviewer Brian Hurley concludes:

“There’s a lot to like about the XO laptop. It’s tough, it’s great as an eBook reader, it has a big (for its category), high resolution screen. It runs silent and cool, has good battery life, and the clean design of the Sugar interface is easy to use.”

But he does note that several areas need work, among them the web browser and the file system as well as multimedia performance and support. Read the full review here.

Dell sells 40 000 Ubuntu PCs

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El Reg is reporting that Dell has moved 40 000 Ubuntu PCs since making pre-loaded models available on it’s web site. And while that may sound like a lot it’s a mere fraction of the roughly 3.3 million machines the company ships each month. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Read the full story here.

Ubuntu Rocks; Vista Sucks; No surprises


ZD Net tech journo Rupert Goodwins has blogged an interesting comparative evaluation between the latest version of Windows (Vista) and the most recent release of Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon or 0710). Unsurprisingly, he concludes that Ubuntu rocks and Vista sucks (my words, not his). Here’s an excerpt:

On Friday, I decided to update [Ubuntu] from 7.04 to 7.10. That took a single click – no, honestly – in the system software manager, and about ten minutes downtime, most of which was me playing about. While most of the software was downloading and installing itself, I could carry on working.

Maybe Goodwins has a faster internet connection – oh hell, of course he has a much faster internet connection because he doesn’t have to suffer Telkom – but when I did the same upgrade myself (last Friday) it took about an hour to download everything. And while I was able to continue working too, the local bandwidth problem meant that anything net related was slow as molasses – but I can’t blame Ubuntu for that. On Vista he writes:

… mostly: it’s slow, it’s intrusive, and it’s arbitrarily different. It takes minutes to wake up from various sleep states or from a restart; minutes in which parts of the system seem to get going only to lapse into an unresponsive state where you’re not at all sure whether your mouse clicks are registering.

Now I can’t comment on that because the copy of Vista Microsoft gave me to review in January is still sitting on my shelf, neatly shrink-wrapped. That’s not because I don’t want to evaluate it; I simply don’t have a spare PC with enough horsepower to do so – other than my ThinkPad which is my production machine so there is no way I’m risking it. I’m hoping to get a Vista-capable PC shortly and I’ll be able to report my own experiences thereafter.

Anyway, for the whole story read Goodwins’ blog here.

Linux vs Windows: African style


An interesting battle up in West Africa. French Linux vendor, Mandriva, closed a deal with the authorities to supply software and support for 17 000 desktop PCs destined for schools in Nigeria. That was in mid-August.

Behind the scenes Microsoft struck a deal with the local company installing the PCs, Technology Support Center (TSC), to wipe Linux and install Windows on instead. Apparently, Redmond was going to give TSC a $400 000 marketing rebate for doing so. Now, however, a government agency funding 11 000 of the PCs has overruled the supplier. Read the whole story here.

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