The company took a few on the chin this week, but won some too
Appeals court suspends special master Lessig
The best news Microsoft has heard recently: its appeal of the appointment of a special master received a favorable hearing . The appellate panel took the unusual step of reaching down to undo the decision of a lower court. The suspension will last at least until April 21, when the appeals court has scheduled a hearing on Microsoft's request to dismiss Lessig. Judge Jackson's case is, if not on hold until then, at least slowed down; the judge may need to schedule hearings and perform other aspects of the fact-finding he had delegated to Lessig .
11 states, the Feds (again), and Congress
Attorneys general of 11 US states have issued or will soon issue subpoenas demanding of Microsoft documents relating to the release of Windows 98 . The states are concerned with the company's announced intention to integrate the Internet Explorer browser even more tightly and inextricably with Windows 98 than was done in Windows 95. The action came as no surprise -- prosecutors from nine of the states had met in December  to discuss the case. The states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas. One report I read quoted a Microsoft spokesman to the effect that the company welcomed the subpoenas -- the court proceedings based on a subpoena incorporate strong protections for a company worried about its intellectual property.
In a further widening of inquiries into Microsoft, the Justice Department has asked for material from Microsoft's partner content providers listed on Microsoft's Active Desktop , such as Digital Wired.
Congress was full of anti-Microsoft rumblings last week as well , though some Senators sided with the company, including Jack Kemp, a probably presidential candidate in 2000.
New SPA guidelines ding Microsoft practices
The Software Publishers Association, of which Microsoft is a member, has issued a series of "competition principles"  intended to serve as an antitrust guideline in the modern age of software. The principles are aimed squarely at the anti-competitive practices of the dominant player, though Microsoft is not mentioned by name, and though the SPA officially denies any such targeting. Microsoft is taking these developments with little grace -- it has threatened to leave the organization in August when its membership expires . The SPA's actions have opened up a schism within the organization, as members dependent on and close to Microsoft leap to its defense while the anybody-but-Microsoft crowd -- Novell, Netscape, Oracle, IBM, etc. -- returns fire.
Two cream cakes
You've heard, no doubt, that a "pastry terrorist" hit Bill Gates in the face with a cream cake  in Belgium. This news spread on the Net faster than any story in history, not excluding the Heaven's Gate suicides . Here's a movie of the attack  (725K). The bandwidth-challenged may prefer this 98K animated GIF of the aftermath . Win95/NT users can play an interactive pie-throwing game  (requires the ThingViewer ActiveX control). The perpetrator -- or entarteur -- was a Belgian by the name of Noel Godin . Two accomplices were arrested at the scene and released  two days later when Microsoft (wisely) chose not to press charges. The second cream cake, this one virtual, was thrown by old Internet hands after Gates delivered a speech  in Finland in which he introduced the term "digital nervous system," meaning a network (possibly wireless) of interconnected devices. Here's a representative virtual cake from Einar Stefferud, who has lead or participated in Internet standards efforts since 1975, posted on an IETF mailing list:
Question: Will the Internet need to get a usage license for our long exisiting Domain Name System when MS Trademarks "DNS"?
On the Microsoft culture
The Economist this week has a thought-provoking article  on the top-down culture at the Redmond campus: honed for competing and winning, not for bowing the neck to a government decree. (The cartoon is worth the price of admission.) Expressing its culture, Microsoft announced a reorganization  -- something the company does approximately yearly -- and raised eyebrows by moving responsibility for Internet Explorer Development into the Windows 95 product group.
$30 domain name fee may be illegal
1.7 million registrants may be due a refund
On 2/2 a federal court issued an injunction  barring the government from spending $46 million collected from NSI's registration of domain names. The money has been held in a fund intended for Internet infrastructure improvements, as specified in the 1995 amendment to the 1993 contract between NSI and the National Science Foundation setting up the current monopoly domain-name registration system. $30 of each $100 initial registration fee has been allocated to the Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. No plan was ever developed for spending these funds, and last year the Congress conducted what amounted to a raid on the account, earmarking half for the Internet II project. Last October a group of domain-name holders filed suit in federal court claiming that the NSF had no authority to allow NSI to collect any money in excess of its cost of providing the registration service. Judge Thomas Hogan said Monday that the plaintiffs had "made a significant showing that the fund is an illegal tax."
Naming as an export product is growing fast, and a new TBTF resource keeps you up to date
Turkministan has teamed up with NetNames  to offer names in its country top-level domain, .TM, to any applicant worldwide. Turkministan thus joins the elite early company of national homesteaders in the namespace land rush: Niue (.NU), Tonga (.TO), and the earliest, Norfolk Island (.NF). NetNames is one of the 88 companies that signed up with CORE as a registrar to handle their 7 proposed new gTLDs, now facing an uncertain prospect . See the TBTF Guide to Non-US Domain Name Registries  for details on the offshore NICs.
Hell makes ice
At a Philadelphia debate featuring anti-spam workers and the self-proclaimed Spam King Sanford Wallace, the latter stunned his audience by apologizing for the spam excesses he perpetrated with his company Cyber Promotions. The Philadelphia Enquirer coverage  provides local color:
He then apologized for his company's bulk e-mailing practices. He said he was wrong to pursue an aggressive business practice that resulted in many Internet "vigilantes" pursuing him and sending him life-threatening messages.
Industry group seeks agent protocol to grease friction-free commerce
A coalition of commerce and content sites is defining a standard way for Web sites to talk amongst themselves about prices . The vision of Firefly Network, Vignette Corp., Adobe Systems, and others working on ICE (the Information & Content Exchange Protocol) is to allow catalog sites and content aggregators to interrogate commerce sites automatically for price information. Microsoft joined recently . ICE is being built on XML, the emerging metalanguage of the Web. The coalition does not seem to be working on the real problem with such schemes: the lack of motivation for commerce sites to publish their prices in such a way as to allow a robot to compare them on a single page. Most merchants would sooner throw sand into this friction-free exchange.
The long-running Inslaw scandal reawakens
A secret hearing of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board was told the Canadian government paid $31-million during the early 1980s for state-of-the-art software to track Canadian citizens by interfacing with credit card transactions, banking data, driver's license information, pension records, taxation information, criminal records and immigration records, according to transcripts. The U.S.-made Promis system could provide details of a person's health care and even library transactions. Updated versions are reportedly still being used by the RCMP and CSIS, but neither agency could be reached for comment. (Ottawa Sun 2 Feb 98)
A look at trends from the developer's POV
This TBTF feature looks at the industry through the lens of sales patterns at an established bookstore for computer professionals, founded in 1983. Rick Treitman, who with his brother Bob runs Softpro in Burlington, Massachusetts, writes:
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1998 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Com- mercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.