☞ Evolutionary Pressures

  • Announcement – Illumos Project
    “A number of the community leaders from the OpenSolaris community have been working quietly together on a new effort called Illumos, and we’re just about ready to fully disclose our work to, and invite the general participation of, the general public.” (from the announcement on opensolaris-discuss)
  • Brazilian Government Signs OpenJDK Manifesto
    Concerned about Oracle’s approach to communities, the Brazilian Government has signed up to testing and using open source Java platforms (notably OpenJDK) instead of the proprietary one. (Linked page is in Portuguese – translation)

☞ Competitive Behaviour

☞ Maturity and Misbehaviour

Main link:

  • O’Grady has come to the same conclusion that I did at OSCON, namely that the “open source bubble” may be over – the period where it was assumed open source would be directly monetised – and it’s time for a resurgence of the traditional approach of many parties with their core business elsewhere synchronising fragments of their interests with fragments of the interests of others. The announcement of OpenStack was iconic, but there were plenty of other signs once I’d started looking for them.

    There’s naturally plenty of scope for variety, but I am certain that businesses whose leverage of open source extends only to the licence and not the community will find it increasingly hard to survive. Those whose revenue is derived from software must have models that at worst cope with and at best leverage the presence of many interests in the communities upon which they depend.

Other links:

  • Oracle shut down its three PostgreSQL build farm servers without warning…”If they had given us, say, three months warning, I’d have been less peeved,” Dunstan told iTnews. “It can’t have been costing them much – the thing pretty much runs itself, and they can’t be short on hardware.”
  • “Intel’s rebates amounted to 38 per cent of Dell’s operating profit in the fiscal year 2006, and rose to 76 per cent (or $720m) in one quarter alone, Q1 2007. While almost all of the Intel funds were incorporated into Dell’s component costs, Dell did not disclose the existence, much less the magnitude, of the Intel exclusivity payments.” — Entirely jaw-dropping disclosure shows Dell was not the profitable behemoth it appeared. I wonder just how much of this Intel has done over the years?
  • “Do you know where your data is in the cloud?” Fascinating map to explore that summarises the privacy legislation in each country around the world.

✭ Jailbreaking Decision Is Temporary Relief

While the decision by the US Library of Congress to create exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for unlocking cellphones and jailbreaking iPhones (among other things) in the USA are very welcome, the reaction has been just a touch too euphoric. Not by everyone, mind you. Dan Gilmore begins to explain why this isn’t a solution, and Wendy Seltzer nudges close to the problem as well. But plenty of people think they’ve been granted more than they really have.

Background

What’s happened? Well, the DMCA makes it an offence in the USA to circumvent technical copyright protections created by the manufacturer. The law was aimed at protecting digital restriction measures (DRM, other people may expand the term differently!) but through poor drafting also provided a welcome legal weapon for ink cartridge manufacturers, cellphone makers and a variety of other classes of technical business to lock their competitors out of the market.

Notably, it was probably an offence to unlock a cellphone or jailbreak an iPhone in the USA under the DMCA. In US law, the Library of Congress are able to define copyright uses that are exempted from DMCA cover, and after pressure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) they have applied a three-year exception for several common acts including these and making DVD backups.

There are two big reasons I’m only vaguely impressed, and neither of them are down to the fact that I live in a different jurisdiction where the trend is opposite. One concerns market power and its potential abuse, the other concerns global trade. Both lead to a toxicity which is harmful to digital liberty in general.

Market Power

First, market power. This action only removes one weapon (admittedly a nasty one) from the arsenal that is available to Apple and other behemoth corporations to control the market in which they operate. Unlike printer manufacturers, they can no longer file suit against you under the DMCA when you want to operate outside the patterns they have deemed acceptable for their customers and partners. They should probably never have been able to – copyright already has plenty of exceptions concerning fair use and reverse engineering that should have been respected when the DMCA was created. But Apple won’t have a problem enforcing their will without it. The contractual terms they are able to impose on both their partners and their customers do the trick perfectly well.

Yes, participation is optional, but to avoid getting burned you have to stay out of their kitchen completely. As a customer it’s too late to discover your device is incompatible with something you want to do after you’ve invested in it for a few months, and as a partner it’s too late to discover your business is too close to something Apple would rather control and own once you’ve submitted the app to the store. They can’t have you thrown in jail so easily any more, but they can just as easily prevent you participating and impose sanctions if you fight back.. They will no doubt continue to do so as capriciously as they have already.

Having just got a great Android phone, I’m less gloomy about this than I was; Android is a powerful Foundation to Apple’s Empire (as long as there’s no Mule – check Wikipedia if you’re behind on your Asimov).  It’s possible that the removal of the DMCA as a blunt instrument may be enough to balance the market forces and promote true competition, facilitated by open source.

Global Trade

Second, global trade. US legal norms for technology businesses for patents and copyrights may still be forming (for patents they are still “only” the result of case law), but that hasn’t stopped the US Trade Representative (USTR) and US trade missions globally from treating them as if they were handed down on stone tablets. They have been using conformance with “US norms” as a trading card in their rough games of political poker with various world governments. You know the sort of thing. “Nice export industry you have there for your agricultural produce. It would be a shame if anything happened to it. You can make sure it doesn’t if you legislate to prevent your citizens harming our noble media industries.” Kipling wrote about it eloquently, but people are still paying the USTR-geld.

Which is probably the intent of the copyright- and patent-dependent companies sponsoring the action anonymously through their trade associations. If they can get foreign governments to make hard rules where they can only persuade their own governments to make soft rules, the battle is all but won for them. They can use “international harmonisation” as the justification to get the draconian rules reinstated. That seems to be the reason ACTA has been given so much endorsement by the USA, as well as why they have been so keen on veiling its proceedings in secrecy. It’s not just USTR either – the equivalent functions in the European Commission seem to be working just as hard against their citizens’ interests.

Muted Applause

My positive reaction to the decision by the Library of Congress is thus more out of a sense of gratitude toward the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and their excellent and insightful team than any long-term relief. It was largely their work that produced this advance and it will likely be their work that holds back the process I’ve outlined. No wonder the media industry puppets hate this sort of organisation. But no-one should believe for a moment that this development makes it OK to jailbreak your iPhone. Doing that is asking for trouble. Its masters have merely been pushed back a layer in their defences, and temporarily at that.

[Also posted to my ComputerWorldUK blog and to Opensource.com]

☞ Public Service

☞ What Will You Do?

  • Worthwhile reading for a Monday from Clayton Christensen.
  • Bryan Cantrill says his farewells but rehosts his blog promisingly at dtrace.org and makes this great observation: “One of Sun’s greatest strengths was that we technologists were never discouraged from interacting directly and candidly with our customers and users, and many of our most important innovations came from these relationships.”

☞ Early Standardisation

  • In the debate about open standards at the Cloud Summit on Tuesday, one speaker argued powerfully that standards follow innovation rather than delivering it, an observation that those of us with involvement in the world of standards have long understood. Early standardisation indicates there are vendors attempting to lock a market, and that’s exactly what lay behind the formation of WS-I in 2002. Now that web services are generally marginalised in favour of REST, WS-I has packed up shop and archived itself at OASIS. Good move.
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