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HTMLfixIT Archive for May, 2005

Friday, May 27th, 2005 by Franki

Zdnet has an interesting article about Microsoft and the patent system. Microsoft recently indicated that they thought the patent system needed serious reform, they then went and patented a heap more obvious or non original ideas apparently to prove their case that the patent system needs reform. I suspect Microsoft’s idea of reform is a system where they get free run, but where people challenging their patents or people suing them for infringement don’t. Microsoft has patented 3000 “ideas” so far this year alone, so I can see why they patent system needs reform, but it’s not until you consider that it costs Microsoft $100,000,000 a year to defend itself in patent cases that you get an idea of why they might think it needs reform.

To reform the patent process isn’t that hard, the problem stems from the overworked and underpaid folks working at the patent office who don’t have knowledge or experience in all the fields they are being asked to rule on. What should happen is an industry consortium of experts in each field should be created. And all patents for their field should have to pass though those experts before being granted. This would ensure that people actually knowledgeable about a field would be making the decision that something is innovative and non obvious. There should also be some sort of period just before approval when applications are made available in a public forum and the public get a chance to show prior art or other reasons why a patent should not be granted. The experts should then have to review any relevant evidence that came up before making the final decision. Zdnet’s idea that frequent offenders be banned from the table is a good one also.

It isn’t perfect, but it would be much better then what we have now. I have no idea if anything I’ve written offends any patents out there and it’s likely that I won’t know until the holder takes me to court and that worries me a lot as I’m just a little guy plodding along in the trenches. This doesn’t discuss the need or implications of software patents directly, I personally think copyright is all that is needed for software, just like print media, movies and music. But the problems detailed above are 100 times worse when applied to as intricate and ill defined a process as “software”.

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Friday, May 27th, 2005 by Franki

If recent news from the UK is correct, then Intel are trying to quietly slip hardware DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology onto their users. Why is that bad? You ask. Well, DRM can mean handing control of your rights over to record or movie companies. They will be the ones that get to force what they consider to be fair use” onto users. Apparently Intel is not talking details, they have admitted that the DRM technology is in there, they just are not telling us what it does or how. I’d imagine the reason for that is out of fear of the same sort of public outrage that happened when Intel introduced the retrievable CPU unique serial number some years back. It is suspected that the next version of Windows will contain DRM features throughout, tied to hardware where possible.

If PC and software makers are going to continue to dictate what I can and cannot do with my own PC, then I’m going to buy the fastest dual core AMD chip I can find that has not yet had any DRM features added and build a system running a nice clean DRM free copy of Linux and leave it at that. To hell with any company that would try to dictate what I can and cannot do with products I’ve legally bought. I’ve often thought that, contrary to popular opinion the record and movie companies, along with many software companies love the digital revolution. Why? Well because there were just too many freedoms they could not remove from analogue audio and video by the nature of the formats themselves that they can strip away quite easily from digital formats. I suppose that the alternative is to move to France, where the movie and music companies are having a much harder time convincing the courts that users have no right to have rights. I don’t swap music or movies, I don’t even run any peer to peer software and I’ve never sat in a movie theatre holding a camcorder. I just want to be able to play music and movies I buy on the electronic devices I’ve also bought. That includes in the car, on the phone/PDA, and on my dozen or so PC’s. Is it so wrong to want this?

DRM is not bad in and of itself, used correctly it stands a good chance of improving user security and reducing several of the problems we as net citizens face on a daily basis. The problem is that when you put so much power in the hands of hardware and software manufacturers, that power is nearly always eventually used against the user. Lets face it, if a record company were to go to a “software” company and say “We’ll give you 30 million dollars a year to use your software/hardware DRM system to make sure that people can’t back up any digital music bought from us”, there is a good chance that your rights have just been handed to the record company. Technically they can do that already without hardware, but when you add hardware to the equation, you’ve just created a system that is much harder to get around. If movie and record companies really want to do this, they should be charging far less for their digital copies then they currently are. I can buy a CD and manually rip it (not legally in Australia because we don’t have “fair use” laws) and use it on my car stereo, my music player etc, but using DRM digital data, I must apparently buy copies for each device, which works out much more expensive then just buying the CD and ripping it myself. If they want to make DRM fair, they should be charging 10 or 20 cents per song rather then the online extortion they have going now. It’s been proven time and again that software DRM isn’t infallible, the number of times Itunes and other services have had their DRM broken is quite surprising, but when hardware comes into the picture it will be considerably harder to work around, so your rights will be what they tell you your rights are. That’s just not good enough for me. I’ve not been a fan of Intel for many years. Back when I worked for IT wholesalers I discovered that Intel’s marketing is far more important to them then their technology and that were it not for AMD (and before them Cyrix), we’d all be paying much more for our PC’s then we do now. The problem here is that AMD are apparently going to be jumping on the “Trustworthy computing” bandwagon as well. Unless the governments step in with specific laws dictating what rights they can take from users, we’re all in trouble. They are slipping this past users using security as the bait, but rest assured their is much more to DRM what you won’t hear them touting to the public until it’s too late to do anything about it. You can read more about the issues involved in DRM on’s DRM page.

Intel have since denied any hidden DRM in the 945 chipset. They say that they support many types of content protection and plan to support more, but that there is nothing hidden.

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Friday, May 27th, 2005 by Franki

Netcraft just released a toolbar for Firefox that among other things protects users against Phishing attacks. They released a version for Internet Explorer months ago and this new release equals the playing field. The interesting thing is that the IE toolbar has only been downloaded about 100,000 times over all those months, whereas the Firefox version was downloaded 60,000 times in the first few hours of it’s release. This seems to show that Firefox users are much more concerned about their security then Internet Explorer users, (hardly surprising really all things considered.)

In other browser news, Netscape 8 breaks some XML rendering functionality in Internet explorer. Microsoft has apparently recommended that people get rid of Netscape 8 and use Internet Explorer (hardly surprising advice from Microsoft really). I can’t think of anything safer for users then to have a broken Internet Explorer, but unfortunately this bug only affects the display of XML data and some people take that kind of think personally. Netscape 8 is a good browser and has some innovative features, but it seems that they really rushed though the beta and release period without enough diligence. They (AOL) have indicated a fix is in the pipeline and should be available next week.

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Friday, May 27th, 2005 by Franki

Linksys, Cisco’s consumer division have released several routers with firmware based on parts of the Linux operating system. In order to do that they had to license the firmware as GPL and make the source code available for free online. Earthlink (a giant ISP) has taken that firmware and modified it to support IPV6 addresses (as opposed to the IPV4 IP addresses the vast majority of us are using now). The benefits of IPV6 are many, but among them are the fact that we are running out of possible IPV4 addresses and so we must use NAT (Network Address Translation) to offer Internet connections to people behind private internal networks. IPV6 removes this limitation has it has an infinitely larger number of available addresses. The point of the story is that by offering their Firmware under the GPL license, the power to modify or bugfix their router is in their own hands, you need not wait for ages to get the functionality or bug fixes you need. There are already several groups about that are adding extended functionality to the router firmware so if the manufacturer doesn’t offer the function you need, the chances are good that somebody else has done the work for you or are working to do so. Isn’t sharing great?

Read TheInquirer for the full story or see Linksys for the Linksys WRT54G firmware upgrade.

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Thursday, May 26th, 2005 by Franki

There has been much talk that the new Xbox 360 is running an modified version of Windows 2000, and much more talk about the connectivity features of the new console, but it doesn’t seem that many have put the two together. Lets consider, a Windows 2000 based OS with Internet connectivity and millions of inexperienced kids…. How long till we start seeing Xboxes infected by worms and viruses? Virus writers are smart, they have managed to find ways onto computers by using flaws in Instant messaging, web browsers and dozens of other application types. When there are 40 odd million Xbox 360’s out there with broadband connections you can bet that it won’t be long before they start getting serious attention. In fact there is already a huge code base of worms and Viruses available for the Win32 platform of which Xbox and Xbox 360 are a part, many of them could be modified and ported to affect Microsoft’s gaming console. Give it time folks, it will happen. Maybe Microsoft will then extend their new OneCare subscription service to Xbox users so they can rake in a few more dollars. Consider that there have already been viruses written for PDA’s and mobile phones, then consider how much better a target a PC based device on a broadband connection is, consider also that the Xbox 360 is reported to be able to interface and share with Windows Media PC’s and the target is looking better and better. In fact it’s already starting with news that a denial of service flaw has been found in Microsoft’s popular Halo: Combat Evolved game and a cross-site scripting flaw in Microsofts site which is part of Microsofts Xbox live subscription service.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2005 by Franki

According to Reuters, Apple and Microsoft (among others) are pushing for extended patent protection. They argue that they need broader protection to stop Open Source companies that make their money from services instead of software sales from stealing their “innovations”. The ironic thing is that Apple didn’t mind taking from the Open Source community when it based OSX on FreeBSD, and they also didn’t mind when they based their Safari web browser on KDE’s (One of Linux’s most popular graphical user interfaces) KHTML rendering engine. Now they want protection from Open Source companies? I’m not overly fond of Microsoft, but at least they never claimed they like and support Open Source in business.

Let us look at some facts here, neither Apple or Microsoft invented the Graphical User Interface, neither invented TCP/IP (the protocol used by the Internet and most networks), in fact Microsoft’s early TCP/IP implementation was said to be pulled out of BSD as well. Neither invented E-mail, Instant Messaging, web browsing, digital music and movies, spreadsheets, databases and all manner of other things we take for granted on our PC’s (In fact neither invented PC’s either). That’s right folks all of those REAL innovations were created by other people and companies and copied by Apple, Microsoft and pretty much everyone else. Fortunately the creators of these innovations were not as money grabbing as these two or there is a good chance that the modern PC would look very different from what you are reading this on. I’m saddened and disgusted at how our early pioneers have been replaced with money grabbing opportunists who appropriate the best ideas from others, but patent ever decent idea of their own (and from what I’ve seen they patent a good many bad ideas as well). The older I get, the more I think Richard Stallman might really be onto something.

If you find yourself wondering how software patents favour the big companies, consider that both Apple and Microsoft were very small companies once. Had they been told they had to pay millions in license fee’s to use a Graphical User Interface, or any of the other innovations mentioned above, would either of those companies be as big as they are now? In fact I’d go so far as to say that if GUI’s (for example) had huge patents attached to them, IBM would own most of the software industry as they were one of the very few that were already big enough to have paid big patent licence fees when the GUI was invented by a Xerox research lab.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2005 by Franki

Nokia is traditionally known for their mobile phones where they hold a significant lead over their competition in the cell phone marketplace. They are apparently looking to expand their horizon and are doing so with a fairly unusual new product. They have released details of the Nokia 770 which is a small touch screen tablet PC with a 4 inch (800×480) screen running a more or less standard desktop Linux. The primary use of said device is to use as an extra Internet device for broadband houses. It has Bluetooth and Wireless for connectivity. Software for the first version will include a browser, RSS reader, multi-media player, Internet radio and an image viewer, the software is apparently user upgradeable and future upgrades will include VOIP and Instant Messaging. Photos of the device have also been made available.

The way all the big cell phone and PDA manufacturers are jumping on Linux is truly astounding. I’d guess that in about 5 years Linux will hold a considerable piece of the market, Mostly due to the fact that there are no license costs owed to the likes of Microsoft because Linux is freely available and has proven to be a stable mature and open platform they can use as a base for their own applications.

Update: You can read an excellent review of a pre-production version of the 770 at jkOnTheRun.

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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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