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TBTF for 1996-03-03: Binding with briars my joys and desires

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 3 Mar 1996 14:12:49 -0500

Threads Software patents
See also TBTF for
2000-03-31, 1999-08-30, 06-14, 02-15, 01-26, 01-13, 1998-12-15, 08-31, 05-18, 05-11, 04-27, more...

A case study of the effects of a software patent

In December 1994 Compuserve served notice that it intended to enforce a patent covering the GIF graphics format. GIF was, and is, the most widely used compression method on the Web. Michael Console Battilana <mcb at cloanto dot it> wrote a history and analysis of the resulting controversy. Recently Greg Aharonian's Internet Patent News Service carried revision 3 of Battilana's history, dated 1996-01-27. Follow this link to read revision 2 (1995-03-31). Aharonian's mailing list chronicles the increasing prevalence of nuisance lawsuits arising from dubious patents issued with scant regard for the prior art. See Aharonian's data on the numbers of software patents issued.

A case study of the effects of a software copyright

Harry George <hgeorge at eskimo dot com> decided to re-implement the classic Numerical Recipes algorithms in Modula-3, and found that a software copyright can be just as thorny as a software patent. Some background:

Numerical Recipes: The Art of Scientific Computing is a series of books published by Cambridge University Press beginning in 1986. The books, and software to correspond, are available for a variety of computer languages: initially C and Fortran, more recently Basic, Pascal, and Modula-2.

Modula 3 is a modern computer language that shares many design goals with Java. It descends from Mesa, Modula-2, and Cedar, and resembles Oberon and Euclid. Its features include objects and classes, exception handling, garbage collection, lightweight processes (threads), and the isolation of unsafe features. Its adherents swear by it. George writes: "I am typcally an order of magnitude faster in M3 than in C, Lisp, Ada, Perl, C++, or (god forbid) COBOL, Fortran, or Assembler. (Java at least has similar semanics, but the syntax is a mess.)"

George posted about the project and his progress to the Usenet newsgroup comp.lang.modula3 and kept the work-in-progress on his Web site. Some way into the project he contacted the NR people about the work, suspecting that there might be some copyright issues. Indeed there were. He was told that the only legal way to proceed with the project would be a "clean room" approach, involving a collaborator who had never been exposed to the NR books.

Here is the letter George received from Bill Press at Numerical Recipes and posted to comp.lang.modula3 in late January. It appears on the TBTF archive by permission.

Thanks to Olly Stephens <olly at dylan dot zycad dot com> for alerting me to this story.

An analysis of Sun, Netscape, Microsoft, and Apple moves

Fabrizio Bartolomucci <fabry at flashnet dot it> has devoted considerable thought to the strategic import of recent actions by these pivotal players in the emerging Internet market. See his treatise, An Across the Ocean Account on Browsers and Machines, which he updates from time to time. While some subsets of these companies temporarily form tactical alliances, Bartolomucci's analysis treats them as rivals in an n-way struggle for position at the beginning of a new era in computing. Assuredly Bill Gates thinks this way; I'm less certain that some of the other players, especially Apple in its recent turmoil, are as single-minded and focused as Bartolomucci's ex-post-facto analysis assumes. But his perspective is certainly thought-provoking, and one of these companies ought to get in touch with him and pay him a retainer for exclusive access to his insights.

Network security scanners

This class of software tools, long the exclusive purview of system administrators wearing pointy hats, gained wider attention last April with the free public release of a tool called SATAN (Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks) -- an event that got one of its inventors, Dan Farmer, fired from Silicon Graphics. (He was immediately picked up by Sun.) NSSs analyze an Internet host or a network and report on possible security vulnerabilities. Since last year several commercial scanners have come on the market, and in a posting dated 1995-03-05 PC Week reviews Internet Scanner 3.2, PingWare 2.01, and NetProbe against the now-venerable freeware SATAN. A pointer to this article came across the security alert mailing list included in the TBTF Essential Tools collection. Internet Security System Inc.'s Internet Scanner 3.2 came out on top in this review.

Comparitive review of Web search engines

Cnet Online reviews ten search engines and nine search multiplexors (which they call meta-search engines) -- thanks to Don Rota <drota at atria dot com> for pointing it out. This exhaustive review is a good starting point for someone with no experience as to which engines might be useful for what kinds of searches.

Threads The Communications Decency Act
See also TBTF for
1999-02-01, 1998-12-15, 12-07, 10-27, 10-19, 10-12, 09-14, 07-27, 1997-11-17, 06-30, 03-21, more...

Followup: a new lawsuit against the CDA

On Monday 2/26 the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC) filed a court action to block the Communications Decency Act. The federal court quickly consolidated this new lawsuit with the original suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others moments after President Clinton signed the telecommunications reform bill that contains the CDA. Testimony before Philadelphia Federal court will begin on 1996-03-21.

The CIEC is coordinated by the Center for Democracy and Technology, America Online, the American Library Association, and others including People for the American Way. Follow the link for a list of 24 named plaintiffs in the suit -- including Microsoft, Apple Computer, and Wired Magazine -- and an additional 17 organizational members of the CIEC.

A unique feature of the lawsuit is a provision allowing individuals to join it, until 1996-03-15. When I added my name on Wednesday evening 2/28 I was the 2,087th person to do so; the tally was over 5,000 by Friday afternoon. Follow this link if you want to sign up to join the suit. Since this page is hosted by the Center for Democracy and Technology, it prominently features a privacy statement spelling out the limits on the use CDT will make of any information you supply.

Paint it red

As a plaintiff in the CIAC lawsuit (see above), Microsoft favors individual control of what people see on the Internet, as opposed to government mandate. Microsoft announced on Thursday 2/29 that the next version of its Internet Explorer browser will support a voluntary content rating system called RSAC-I. The system will let parents and teachers block a computer's access to Web sites based on criteria such as nudity, violence, or sexual themes.(The ratings system was developed by the Recreational Software Advisory Council.)

RSAC-I is one of a number of rating schemes built on the industry-defined Platform for Internet Content Selection, or PICS, which is supported by the World Wide Web Consortium and a group of 22 online firms. For a detailed description see the SafeSurf page. Upon learning of the PICS rating system one frequent poster to the Cypherpunks mailing list, Lewis McCarthy <lmccarth at cs dot umass dot edu>, just had to use it to paint his page scarlet:

> I couldn't resist the temptation. I rushed out and rated my home page
> as evil incarnate, at least according to the SafeSurf rating system.
> No innocent rugrats are gonna be learning anything about my work in
> crypto and symbolic computation on the web!

McCarthy's home page is now flagged thus to any browser that honors the SafeSurf ratings:

> Recommended Age: Explicitly for Adults
> Profanity: Explicit and Crude
> Heterosexual Themes: Explicit and Crude or Explicitly Inviting Participation
> Homosexual Themes: Explicit and Crude or Explicitly Inviting Participation
> Nudity: Explicit and Crude
> Violence: Encouraging Personal Participation, Weapon Making
> Sex Violence and Profanity: Explicit and Crude
> Intolerance: Advocating Violent or Hateful Action
> Drug Use: Soliciting Personal Participation
> Other Adult Themes: Explicit and Crude or Explicitly Inviting Participation
> Gambling: Providing Means with Stakes

If you would like to paint your own page with a scarlet letter, put the following code directly after the <HEAD> statement of your HTML document:

<META http-equiv="PICS-Label" content='(PICS 1.0
  "http://www.classify.org/safesurf/" l r (SS~~000 9 SS~~001 9 SS~~002 9
  SS~~003 9 SS~~004 9 SS~~005 9 SS~~006 9 SS~~007 9 SS~~008 9 SS~~009 9
  SS~~00A 9 SS~~100 1))'>

Thanks to Peter Langston <psl at wolfenet dot com> for forwarding the scarlet letter.

As you may have noticed, starting with the previous issue I began using a new endnote style for URL references in the email version of TBTF. My previous practice of weaving URLs into the text cost considerable time in rewriting to fit 76 columns, and was occasionally stymied by ultralong URLs. While it made TBTF distinctive it added to the difficulty of putting out a timely newsletter. One reader wrote to complain about the new style -- he uses a mailreader that presents URLs in email as hot links; clicking on a link launches Netscape. So he finds it inconvenient to have to jump to the bottom of the page to follow each link. Personally, I thought my reinvention of endnotes in the email/Web realm was a pretty elegant solution. If you want to venture an opinion, write to <dawson@world dot std.com>.


[ 1] <http://mm.iit.uni-miskolc.hu/Data/amiga/AR/ar311_Sections/feature5.HTML>
[ 2] <http://www.tbtf.com/resource/sw-patents.html>
[ 3] <http://www.nr.com/>
[ 4] <http://www.vlsi.polymtl.ca/m3/>
[ 5] <http://www.tbtf.com/resource/nr-copyright.html>
[ 6] <http://www.thru.com/art/uk/ocean.html>
[ 7] <http://www.zdnet.com/~pcweek/netweek/0205/tdaem.html>
[ 8] <http://www.tbtf.com/essential-tools.html>
[ 9] <http://www.cnet.com/Content/Reviews/Compare/Search/>
[10] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-02-19.html>
[11] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-02-10.html>
[12] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-02-04.html>
[13] <http://www.cdt.org/ciec/>
[14] <http://www.cdt.org/ciec/join_ciec.html>
[15] <http://www.rsac.org/>
[16] <http://www.safesurf.com/>


>>Internet Patent News Service -- mail patents@world.std.com with
> message: help .

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Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.


Copyright © 1994-2014 by Keith Dawson. Commercial use prohibited. May be excerpted, mailed, posted, or linked for non-commercial purposes.