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TBTF for 1998-05-18: Talking's done

Keith Dawson ( dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com )
Tue, 19 May 23:57:46 -0400


Contents


Talking's done

Windows 98 ships, lawsuits are filed

Twenty states and the federal government were poised to file lawsuits last Thursday accusing Microsoft of violations of the Sherman antitrust act of 1890. Microsoft was poised to ship Windows 98 to computer manufacurers last Friday -- the very system at the heart of the dispute. At the 23rd hour all sides agreed to hold off action and talk some more. That lasted quick. Microsoft and the federal and state authorities were actually done talking on Friday, but they met on Saturday anyway to wrap it up. Many lawyers have spoken to many reporters since then and you can read details [1] of how the talks broke down -- according to the NY Times they never really started at all. Once everyone realized how far apart the two sides are they gave it up. Boston Globe columnist David Warsh skillfully spins the spinning that emerged from the weekend's breakdown [2].

Now both the states and the feds have filed their coordinated lawsuits [3], [4]. Neither lawsuit seeks to block Windows 98 from shipping. The states' antitrust claims are broader than had been expected, and include charges of anticompetitive pricing of office software suites as well as seeking relief on the browser front. The states claim that Microsoft "illegally stifled competition, harmed consumers, and undercut innovation in the software industry."

The states' suit seeks to force Microsoft to include Netscape's browser with every copy of Windows 98 that ships. Microsoft likened this request to forcing McDonalds to tell a customer who asks for a Big Mac to go visit Burger King first. At a press conference today one of the state attorneys general commented on this remark. He said a closer analogy would be to imagine that Coca Cola controlled the distribution of all soft drinks through every supermarket in the world

Texas was an early instigator of the state actions (with Massachusetts), but got wishy-washy and dropped out of the filing under pressure from its local computer makers. Here is the final roster of states.

      California      Louisiana        North Carolina
      Connecticut     Maryland         Ohio
      Florida         Massachusetts    South Carolina
      Illinois        Michigan         Utah
      Iowa            Minnesota        West Virginia
      Kansas          New Mexico       Wisconsin
      Kentucky        New York         District of Columbia
Try this CMP/TechWeb hub [5] for links to many of Microsoft's woes. While it has sections for DoJ vs. Microsoft, states vs. Microsoft, etc., it does not mention efforts undertaken by Japan, Europe, the Congress, the Software Publishers' Association, the Business Software Alliance, Ralph Nader, etc. For all of these, follow "Ganging Up on Microsoft" in TBTF Threads [6].

Or you could settle for this report [7] from the Bogus News Network, but I won't be held responsible if you believe it.

[1] http://www.wired.com/news/news/business/story/12357.html
[2] http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe/globehtml/139/First_casualty.htm
[3] http://www.cnnfn.com/digitaljam/9805/18/microsoft_suit/
[4] http://news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22201,00.html?pfv
[5] http://www.techweb.com/wire/news/1997/10/1097microsoft.html
[6] http://www.tbtf.com/threads.html#Tgum
[7] http://www.elf.com/~gub/ms_nuke.txt

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Sun to Microsoft: Ship a compliant Java

As one legal wrinkle is smoothed another is wrinkled

On 5/13 a three-judge panel ruled unanimously [8] that the 1995 consent decree binding Microsoft does not apply to Windows 98. On the same day Sun added to Microsoft's world o'trouble by filing for an injunction [9] to force Microsoft to include a complete and compliant Java implementation in Windows 98. No injunction was immediately issued and Microsoft's OS tuneup shipped to computer manufacturers on 5/18.

[8] http://www.bootnet.com/bootwire/98.5/98.5.12.html#MicrosoftWinsAppeal
[9] http://www.news.com/News/Item/Textonly/0,25,22018,00.html?pfv

______

E-Data patent falls in court

Justice grinds slow but it grinds exceeding fine

In 1996 when I last wrote about the E-Data patent [10], also called the Freeny patent, TBTF's email circulation was a quarter what it is today [11], so this story will be new to most of you. Here's a timetable [12] to fill in the history.

The Freeny patent [13], filed in 1983, describes a method of reproducing goods made of bits (e.g., music) in physical form at a point-of-sale terminal, after receipt of an authorization code. The patent kicked around for years until it was acquired by Interactive Gift Express, later named E-Data. This company, three guys and a patent, sued 43 companies and sent letters of infringement to a further 139, then began sending letters offering "amnesty" to 75,000 software authors and vendors if they agreed to settle on given terms. Several companies settled with E-Data -- IBM notable among them -- and a couple of dozen more went to court in 1995 to contest the patent.

The Federal court judge hearing one of the two resulting cases [14] issued an Opinion & Order [15] on May 13. The judge construed the patent so as to cut the legs from under E-Data's claims. The essense of the Opinion & Order is this slap at E-Data:

In an obvious attempt to expand the scope of its patent beyond that which was intended, plaintiff implausibly asserts that its patent covers certain uses of the Internet and World Wide Web, and applies to certain CD-ROM applications. It is abundantaly clear to the Court, however, that the Freeny patent claims and specification do not support plaintiff's broad interpretation.
The case is not over, but the individual defendent companies are now likely to file motions asking the court to dismiss the claims against them, and the judge has construed the Freeny patent's claims so narrowly that it is likely that many if not all such motions would be granted.

[10] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-07-14.html#Tspx
[11] http://www.tbtf.com/growth.html
[12] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/freeny-timeline.html
[13] http://www.patents.ibm.com/details?patent_number=4528643
[14] http://www.patents.com/ige.sht
[15] http://www.patents.com/ige/order.htm

______

E-PRIVACY bill introduced

It's the most crypto-friendly bill yet filed. Why does it raise the little hairs on the back of my neck?

Senators John Ashcroft and Patrick Leahy have introduced the E-PRIVACY Act (and have back-formed a plausible expansion of the acronym, with which I won't bore you). Here is the text of the bill [16] and here is an analysis of its plusses and drawbacks from the point of view of privacy and civil liberties [17]. It was largely drafted by the industry group Americans for Computer Privacy, whose purpose is to get encryption export controls lifted for the benefit of US commerce and trade. Despite their name, privacy for citizens is not ACP's main concern. The E-PRIVACY bill contains a provision criminalizing any use of crypto in the commission of a crime, and it subjects products for export to heightened, if expedited, scrutiny. Finally the bill would establish a federal resource center to train local law enforcement officers in code-breaking and other technology useful for wiretapping or eavesdropping. The bill is given little chance of passing in this session of Congress.

[16] http://www.epic.org/crypto/legislation/eprivacy.html
[17] http://www.epic.org/crypto/legislation/epriv_analysis.html

______

Linux news

bul Corel lines up behind Open Source software

The Canadian company is porting all of its applications, including WordPerfect, to Linux. Corel has also repositioned its NetWinder NC, originally conceived as a Java-based thin client, into a fully functional desktop computer running Red Hat Linux. The NetWinder is built around Digital's StrongARM processor. Here is Wired coverage of these developments [18]. Open Source guru Eric S. Raymond commented: "Corel, a mainstream corporate entity with no special ties to open-source hacker culture, has completely accepted the logic of open source."

[18] http://www.wired.com/news/news/business/story/12187.html

bul Intel helping Linux port to 64-bit Merced chip

Strengthening a rumor picked up in last week's TBTF [19], a French news page [20] has reported that Intel is helping 5 Linux companies port to Merced. The rumor was discussed on slashdot [21] and resulted in a front-page story in PC Week (UK), according to reporter Barry de la Rosa <bpdlr at dial dot pipex dot com>.

The following is badly translated from the French by Babelfish and me (with corrections from readers) from the French news page [20].

"Between now and 1999 we will publish the Merced specifications, but accompanied by a confidentiality contract to be sure that they are well used," explains D. Bhandarkar, processor architect for Intel's workstation division. No-one [from Intel] seems concerned that while the instruction set remains secret, in fact, no Linux port to Merced would be feasible. However: "We're working with five companies to port Linux to Merced," Tom Gibbs told us on 1998-04-28. Gibbs is in charge of development at Intel's workstation division. Merced is the Intel processor that will implement its new 64-bit architecture. Merced is announced for mid-1999.
[19] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-05-11.html#s01
[20] http://www.lmb.cnrs.fr/aelArchiv/actu107.html#anchor198735
[21] http://www.slashdot.org/articles/985191848.shtml

bul Use the Source, Luke

Ellen Ullman writes [22], persuasively and beautifully, on the folly of locking up our best knowledge in source code and forgetting how to read it. Here's her take on the "wizards" that have proliferated since Microsoft introduced them in Windows 3.1:

No matter if, like Microsoft's definition of a software object, [the wizard's] viewpoint is haphazardly designed, verbose, buggy. The tool makes it look clean; the wizard hides bad engineering as well as complexity.
Ullman tries Linux, installing it clean on a new Wintel box, and revels in uncluttered software that you can see all the way down to the bottom of.
Don't let anyone ever say that Linux is an unsupported operating system. Out there is a global militia of fearless engineers posting helpful information on the Internet: Linux is the best supported operating system in the world.
[22] http://www.salon1999.com/21st/feature/1998/05/13feature.html

______

A carbon nanotube transistor

Shaving-close to the cutting edge of research

Unless you're on a private mailing list with the researchers, you won't find more timely dispatches from the frontiers of physics than those served up by Physics News Updates service of the American Institute of Physics. Last week's email brought this story [23] on work toward a transistor on the scale of single molecules (graphic [24]). To subscribe to Physics News Update, email listserv@aip.org with any subject and with message: add physnews .

An electronic device based on a single rolled-up sheet of carbon atoms has been built by researchers in the Netherlands, providing a demonstration of room-temperature, carbon-based electronics at the single-molecule scale. A semiconducting carbon nanotube (only about 1 nm in diameter) bridges two closely separated metal electrodes (400 nm apart) atop a silicon surface coated with silicon dioxide. Applying an electric field to the silicon (via a gate electrode) turns on and off the flow of current across the nanotube, by controlling the movement of charge carriers onto it. Although carbon nanotubes are robust and durable molecules, they can't yet be made uniformly. While this can provide disadvantages (a slight deviation from the desired radius can give the nanotube metallic properties), it can also bring about advantages -- such as the possibility of a metal-semiconductor junction made completely of carbon nanotubes. (S.J. Tans et al., Nature, 7 May 1998)
[23] http://www.aip.org/enews/physnews/1998/split/pnu371-3.htm
[24] http://www.aip.org/physnews/graphics/html/tubefet.htm

______

An NT 5.0 beta Easter egg?

Fun and games at buttoned-down Microsoft

Are you running NT 5.0 beta 1 (NT5.00.1734)? I don't have access to it myself, so I can't verify this report from a usually reliable informant. Try this experiment: fire up Internet Explorer 4.0 on that version of the OS and visit www.sun.com. See if you aren't redirected without warning to www.arl.mil, the Army Research Labs site. Let me know what you find. This adolescent little Easter egg was apparently removed in a later build of NT 5.

______

A jaundiced take on Steve Jobs

Jorg "jbx" Brown takes the microphone

Brown is the genuis at Connetix responsible for RamDoubler, SpeedDoubler (a better 68K emulator than Apple could write), and Virtual PC. His talk at the Apple Developers' Conference is enshrined at Macintouch [25]. Thanks to CobraBoy <tbyars at earthlink dot net> for the pointer.

Steve Jobs completed the takeover of Apple. Whereas others would spend hundreds of millions to acquire a large stake in Apple, then force a board meeting to discuss a hostile takeover, Steve Jobs was paid $400 million, _sold_ all his shares but one, got the board to fire the president, then fired the board and replaced most of Apple's high-level management with newcomers or old colleagues from NeXT.

Steve pioneered the art of using mostly dead spokespeople, some technophobes, to market a computer brand, and did it with a slogan that many argued was grammatically incorrect. His personal touch of industrial design inspired a Macintosh for the education market that was a scale model of his lower left wisdom tooth, and more recently, a $1299 beanbag-shaped vacuum cleaner designed for the Internet.

[25] http://www.macintouch.com/m10jorg.html

______

Schachter's Hypothesis

The lowest common denominator of Web searching

Joshua Eli Schachter <joshua at burri dot to> was scouring the Net for information on any interface between Perl and MAPI, the Microsoft Mail application programming interface. He stumbled upon Schachter's Hypothesis while poring over the uniformly odd results from submitting "+perl +mapi" to AltaVista [26]:

Given two unrelated technical terms, an internet search engine will retrieve only resumés.
[26] http://www.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/query?...

______

Unpronounceable

Yadda-yadda, wack-wack, and other oddities

One of the reasons I ran the piece on pronouncing "http://www" in the previous issue was to mitigate a case of internesia [27]: an age ago in Net time I had come across a lonely one-man campaign to get Web-site owners to name their sites "web dot" in place of, or in addition to, "www dot," but promptly lost track of where on the Net I had seen this suggestion. Figured someone would send it to me in response to "Lizard lips" [28]; and so several folks did.

no dub dub dub Dave Yost is the man and his WebDot campaign [29] is perking along nicely. A quick check with Infoseek reveals more than half a million "web." URLs out of its database of 25 million.

Here is a selection from the mailbag in response to "Lizard lips." (Correspondents from the current and former British Empire will note that I have regularized punctuation around quotes to the American style.)

Note added 1998-05-18: The following additional suggestions trickled in after press time.

[27] http://www.tbtf.com/jargon-scout.html
[28] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1998-05-11.html#s12
[29] http://web.Yost.com/Misc/webdot.html
[30] http://www.qnx.com/~glen/deadbeef/2225.html


Sources

bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html.


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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
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