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HTMLfixIT Archive for April, 2005

Sunday, April 10th, 2005 by Franki

I’m not going to go into a big anti-Microsoft PR FUD diatribe here, I think this ZDNET column speaks volumes all by itself. Somehow “Microsoft could lose up to 10 percent of mid-sized business customers to Linux in the next three years” when reported to the public became: “Linux Fails in Small Business Market“. How is that for creative PR work folks? You can see why they earn the big bucks right? As the saying goes, there are Lies, Damn Lies, and then there are Statistics. Read this little ZDNet snippet by Dana Blankenhorn as it says everything I would have only better. Techies are not supposed to listen to reports like these, these babies are destined for the CIO/CEO’s of the corporate world that don’t know any better. So before you believe everything you read, ask your resident geek for a reality check first. Microsoft is already losing to Open Source software in the webserver market by roughly 65/25%, so contrary to reports of this nature, a good many companies are running Linux or other OSS Operating systems. Just apparently not many of the ones asked by info-tech. There are some interesting snippets from that article though. Here’s one: “Of the respondents only 27 per cent runs Linux inside their organisation.” I’d prefer to word that as: “WOW!, 27 percent of mid-sized businesses are running Linux inside their organisation.” 27% is amazing when you consider how quickly Linux as risen to “enterprise capable” status. I’ll leave the conclusions to somebody smarter than myself, except to say that something smells seriously fishy.

INSERT: Joe Barr of Newsforge has written about the mis-representation of the facts in the original survey that tried to imply that Linux was stalled in mid sized enterprise. Turns out that these guys are the only ones that believe that to be the case and I believe IDC far more then Infotech. So should you.

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Friday, April 8th, 2005 by Franki

With all the recent stories about people being fired for blogging about their work, it is becoming important that people realise that there may be repercussions for their online actions unless they take the relevant steps to protect themselves. To that end, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has put together a nice list of the things you can and should do to keep your job and your blog. Well worth the read.

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Friday, April 8th, 2005 by Franki

Robots.txt is hardly new and is almost as old as the net itself. Having said that it is very handy when it comes to making sure that the search engines only spider the parts of your site that you actually want to show up on search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, Altavista etc. You can make your own robots.txt file with a text editor, or you can use this handy online tool from Webtoolcentral. With the reports coming in about security flaws and data mining happening via specially crafted search engine queries, it makes more sense then ever to ensure that you limit what information people can dig out of search engine indexes. It can also be handy for limiting bandwidth caused by excessive spidering as I found out yesterday.

I’ve been trying to work out why so much of our normally sufficient bandwidth was suddenly getting used up for no immediately apparent reason. After much searching, tcpdumping and access_log watching, I discovered one of our hosting clients had a huge directory of video and music files, some of which were 250MB in size. It turns out much of the traffic was actually search engine bots downloading them, presumably to add to one of the new video searching facilities the search engines have all jumped on. After crafting a nice robots.txt and adding code to my download manager program to block search engine referrers from downloading the files, the bandwidth usage has dropped dramatically. It turned out that one of the worst offenders was ConveraMultiMediaCrawler, which showed up almost continuously in the access log. With my robots.txt and my modified downloader, none of the search engines can access those video and music files unless configured to allow it. Robots.txt may be old tech, but don’t let that make you think it isn’t a useful tool. It should be added that for it to work, the bot in question has to support the robots exclusion standard, but all the big ones do and that ensures you can control where your information ends up.

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Friday, April 8th, 2005 by Franki

Forgent, the company that litigated loads of money from companies using the JPEG image compression format is looking for more money and so has decided to go after DVR video. Luckily it remains to be proven if their patent was the first related to such technology and as such the patent has yet to be proven in court.

My problem with the patent system is that there are not enough people at the patent office who are sufficiently knowledgeable on Tech issues to decide that a specific patent is valid or not. So we end up with companies being able to patent the vaguest ideas and extort millions from companies that are doing the actual innovating. If I speculated about using my nose to control a computer cursor and patented the process, anyone that actually did the work of making it feasible, even if they didn’t know I had previously speculated about it, could have at least part of their proceeds funnelled to me.

The problem is that a patent should need to be really explicit, not at all general, and most patents are not. I believe the term is “overly broad”. To have the idea of using my nose to control a cursor isn’t enough, it should be necessary to explain in the patent exactly how I plan to get the nose mouse working. More often then not, that sort of detail is not considered necessary for a patent application. So what we end up with is millions of overlapping patents and lawsuits up the wazzo, often over patents that should never have been granted in the first place. Lets be honest here, the current process means that all the get rich quick mobs are starting patent portfolio companies, so they can come up with vague ideas, patent them and make a quick buck from the companies that do the actual innovating. And they want to extend this rubbish to Software in the EU as well? They need only look to the US courts to see why that is a bad idea.

As it stands now, I expect Forgent to hold out their hands to anyone trying to create devices that record video (such as TV) to disk such as TIVO. The JPEG fight earned them about 100 million dollars and hasn’t finished yet, and I guess a taste like that gets you addicted.

You’re probably asking yourself “Why should I care?” and that’s a valid point, but consider that if the manufacturers of these devices have to pay say $5 dollars per device to one patent holder, and other $5 dollars to another, then you can bet that extra $10 dollars will be added to the price of the device. So you the customer ends up paying these patent hoarders with your hard earned dollars. That is one reason you should care.

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Thursday, April 7th, 2005 by Franki

Linux desktop champion MandrakeLinux recently merged with Conectiva Linux and have just announced that their new name is to be “Mandriva”. The reasons (according to the announcement) are the merger itself and the long running the trademark lawsuit with the owers of Mandrake the Magician (Hearst Corporation) over their choice of name. The old site is here and the new site can be found here:

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Wednesday, April 6th, 2005 by Franki

Sun’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz has come out against GPL licensed Open Source Software and for (naturally) their own CDDL license recently, which begs the question, can we trust this guys opinion? Let us look at some points of consideration.
1. Sun and Microsoft were the bitterest of enemies for many years and took regular potshots at each other during that time.
2. Microsoft’s settlement with Sun involves payments totalling around 1.95 billion dollars.
3. Sun now takes potshots at Open Source GPL licenses and Linux’s biggest distributor RedHat in much the same way as they used to target Microsoft.
4. Before the MS settlement Sun used to like the GPL, they bought the StarOffice office application suite and released the code as GPL which resulted in the office suite, Sun are now apparently working around that by making OpenOffice dependent on Java, which as we all know, isn’t Open Source or GPL.
5. After the Microsoft settlement, Sun creates the new CCDL license with is incompatible with the GPL and plans to release OpenSolaris under that license.

Does anyone else see a trend developing here? What I see is that Sun gets a massive payout from Microsoft, and then decides Linux and the GPL makes a much better target then Microsoft, while at the same time releasing OpenSolaris under their GPL incompatible license in the hope of attracting Open Source developers while keeping the ability to release proprietary software based on the work of others and keep a ironclad hold on Solaris development. Microsoft has done much the same thing by releasing some small pieces of code under various Open Source licenses and also starting the “shared source” initiative.

What they don’t seem to understand, is that the GPL became so popular not because it was Open Source, (because the BSD license has been around for allot longer) but instead because the GPL means you cannot take somebody else’s code, add your own additions and release it without offering the improvements back to the community so that everyone benefits. Many programmers prefer that as it means that their work is being shared by millions and co-opted by none. Look at it this way, If Linux had been released under Sun’s license, it’s development would likely have stagnated long ago. Why? Well because there would be no incentive for developers working for proprietary software companies to return the benefits of their work to the community, so you’d have lots of potentially incompatible forked proprietary versions (which we know about because it happened to UNIX well over a decade ago) and the base source code would be missing most or all of the benefits contained in the forks. Everyone gets to benefit from Linux precisely because of the GPL. Improvements made by companies like Redhat, Novell, SGI and IBM all end up being available to the rest of the community. Will the same thing happen in OpenSolaris? It’s possible I guess, but somewhat doubtful. It seems the things that Sun doesn’t like about the GPL are those very things that make sure everyone benefits from source code improvements and additions.

We can guess Microsoft’s agenda in this, they have already proven they can out-market and out-smart Sun, and they have failed to out-market and out-smart Linux and the GPL community and their customers/users. Getting Sun onside and fighting the GPL and Linux makes sense because they think it can only hurt Linux uptake and that they can handle Sun with their traditional tactics in the event that they win.

So to answer my own question, can you believe Sun’s rantings? No, I don’t believe you can, their agenda and motivation is simply too obvious. Another point I should bring up, is that many online news sites have been saying that the CCDL is based on the Mozilla public license, without mentioning that Mozilla themselves have been moving away from the MPL and towards a tri-license system whereby the code can be available under the GPL: is working towards having all the code in the tree licensed under a MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license; for more information, see the Relicensing FAQ.

One last point I’d have made is in regards to this quote from Schwartz’s diatribe:

The GPL purports to have freedom at its core, but it imposes on its users “a rather predatory obligation to disgorge all their IP back to the wealthiest nation in the world,” the United States, where the GPL originated

As some kind soul on Groklaw pointed out: “Schwartz fails to mention the reverse is also true; under the GPL, the wealthiest nation in the world must disgorge its IP back to the poorest nations in the world.” Which is the whole point, GPL allows you to benefit from the work of some of the worlds smartest programmers (be they in the “richest country” in the world or not). So by the GPL forcing developers to contribute their improvements and extensions back to the community, you can be assured of a fast developing and well supported code base. It’s basically a tit for tat license, You get to stand on the shoulders of giants and save years of development cost yourself and the giants get to benefit from your input as well.

What Schwartz hasn’t told you, is that with the CCDL license, other (perhaps competing) companies can benefit from your code, if you are community aware enough to release it, but with no obligation that your competitors will contribute any of their improvements. So what they have created is an “Open Source” license that actually discourages the sharing of improvements and enhancements. It allows them to get some of the good press that Open Source projects are getting, without having to support the concept at heart.

Matthew Broersma of Techworld now has an article along similiar lines here, which is well worth a read as he makes some additional points not covered by us here.

To read a rather good review of Sun’s CCDL license, you could do worse then head over to Shirky to see why Sun’s Open Source license isn’t real Open Source and why it isn’t likely to work in the way the GPL has with Linux.

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Wednesday, April 6th, 2005 by Franki

The free Firefox web browser has gained an amazing following in the 6 or so months that it has been a stable release. According to the Asa Dotzler of fame, Firefox has just about reached the 40 million downloads mark. Not a bad effort for a free Open Source web browser. The statistics do not count downloads from the auto update patching system, only direct downloads are counted. The other surprising tidbit from Asa’s post is that Thunderbird, Firefox’s much less known free email client sibling has been downloaded over 5 million times.

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HTMLfixIT Site Stats.

Browser Statistics
Internet Explorer 85.88%
IE 717.63%
IE 62.3%
IE 50.00%
IE other8.6%
Moz Firefox 3.x3.03%
Moz Firefox 2.x0.18%
Moz Firefox 0.x/1.x26.65%
Netscape 8.x0.00%
NS 6+/Mozilla2.73%
Moz Seamonkey0.00%
Netscape 4.x0.00%
Opera 9.x0.00%
Opera 8.x0.00%
Opera 7.x0.42%
Opera 6.x0.00%
Opera other0.42%
Safari Mac/Intel5.21%
Safari Mac/PPC0.06%
Safari Windows25.2%
Google Chrome1.51%

Resolution Statistics
640 x 4800.25%
800 x 60026.14%
1024 x 76836.55%
1152 x 8640.25%
1280 x 80011.68%
1280 x 8540.00%
1280 x 102417.01%
1400 x 10500.00%
1600 x 12001.02%
1920 x 12007.11%
2560 x 10240.00%

OS Statistics
Windows 741.55%
Windows Vista2.4%
Windows 20033.91%
Windows XP20.86%
Windows 20000.36%
Windows NT40.05%
Windows 98/ME0.05%
Windows 950.00%
Mac OSX8.03%
Mac Classic0.00%

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