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.

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Same old Microsoft

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They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and that’s most certainly true when it comes to the dog named Microsoft. Unless you’ve been living on another planet for a while, you will remember the furore over the Borg’s application to have its proprietary XML format recognised by ISO as an international standard last year.

Just to refresh your memory, Microsoft tried to sneak an extremely dodgy version of its file standard through the ISO system. Fortunately, we thought, the checks and balances came into play and the monopolists from Redmond were sent back to the drawing board to address many of the objections raised by participants in the ISO process. Some months later, the Borg was back with a greatly revised standard that made it through the process. All well and good except for the fact that Microsoft has just released its Orifice 2010 suite featuring, you guessed it, the originally rejected version of the so-called OOXML standard. You read the whole sordid tale here.

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.

And then there were four…

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At the beginning of the month I blogged about appeals lodged with ISO over its ratification of Microsoft’s crippled file format, OOXML. At the time, South Africa, Brazil and then India had all appealed the decision. Well now, it seems that Venezuela also lodged an appeal before the deadline passed.

I’ve just stumbled over a piece posted to ZDNet the day after my blog that offers a fairly comprehensive analysis of where the process is at present. Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like ISO is going to pass the buck (pun intended) in perpetuity. The article ends thus:

“We maintain that the process is open and transparent,” said [Jonathan] Buck [director of communications for IEC]. “We do have specific directives under Joint Technical Committee 1 and at no time were processes not followed.”

The whole process is looks about as free and fair as the Zimbabwe elections.

It ain’t over till it’s over

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The good news started flowing last week when I received an embargoed (at the time) press release informing me that the South African Bureau of Standards has objected to Microsoft’s gerrymandering of the ISO approval process by lodging an appeal. Ok. It doesn’t say it in those words but that’s my interpretation

That was on 28 May 2008. Tectonic reported two days later, last Friday, that Brazil had entered the fray by lodging its appeal and then on Saturday (31 May) that India had also weighed in. So, at the time of writing, three leading developing nations had objected to the ratification of Microsoft’s OOXML format via ISO’s fast-track process, alleging the due process was not followed – or words to that effect. All three appeals have been received by ISO so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. Watch this space.

UPDATE: Mark Shuttleworth was a guest on the weekly ZA Tech show and had some interesting things to say about this and other tech-related issues. Check it out here.

Microsoft corrupts ISO processes

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It was always predictable but Microsoft has managed to corrupt the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and its processes to the extent that the convicted monopolist’s clumsy and far-from-open document standard (PDF 235kB), OOXML, has been approved as an ISO standard. To say the process has been fraught with irregularity and downright dirty tricks would be an understatement but if you want to read the whole sorry tale, Groklaw has a fairly comprehensive account.

{Health warning: it’s long and thoroughly depressing if you care about open standards.}

I only wish I could say it was an April Fool’s joke.

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