March 24, 2006

Daniel Lyons: I'm Still Retarded

If anyone wishes to read Forbes' Daniel Lyons give lovin' spoonfuls to Steve Ballmer, then follow this link. Or not, it's up to you if you need the laugh. Lyons is perhaps the most consistent writer on Forbes - he consistently refuses to do his homework or any basic analysis. For example:

Right now, I can go out and get a free alternative to just about every product Microsoft sells. Why do people keep paying you for something they could get free?

And that's just the first question! No need to beat around the bush. It's the type of softball one comes to expect, unfortunately. He could have phrased the question as, "Open source software continues to make inroads into more than one of your key markets. What are you doing to thwart this advance?" But then, that would have required more than two firing neurons.

The only thing funnier than Lyons' questions were Ballmer's answers:

You know, IBM doesn't stand behind Linux. They promote Linux, but if there's a bug in Linux, IBM is not the responsible party to fix that. It's whoever in the community. And you know, let's say that person has a death in the family.

This is just silly, and I don't know whom Ballmer is trying to kid. Of course IBM fixes Linux bugs. Of course there are IBM engineers whose job is to fix bugs in Linux (and Apache and a bunch of other free software tools). Notice his distinction between IBM and "whoever in the community" - as if to say that IBM engineers and researchers are not in the Linux community, when they very much are. The part about "death in the family" is just eery.

Later on, Ballmer goes on to say that he's not as worried about open source as he used to be, because it's become more commercialized, and MS knows how to win that game. But wait, isn't that in direct contradiction to his "whoever in the community" quote above? That was a complete gaffe on his part - he could not have possibly tried to paint free software with the community brush and then argue that it's commercialized so thus nothing to fear. That has to be a mistake.

Not one to be outdone, Lyons comes back with this gem:

"What's going on in terms of Microsoft IP showing up in Linux? And what are you going to do about it?"

Never has there ever been any evidence of any code in Linux having come from Microsoft. Gosh, would it be too much to ask for a citation? There is, however, plenty of evidence of Microsoft code being lifted from Open Source projects. BSD's TCP/IP stack, anyone? Of course, the BSD license allows that, but the point is that it's much easier for Microsoft to use code from open source projects than the other way around.

Furthermore, it's almost guaranteed that some proprietary Microsoft code lurks in other companies' proprietary software and possibly vice-versa. Unfortunately, we cannot know for sure due to the nature of proprietary software.

The funny thing about Microsoft is that they still don't understand what they're facing. They still think that if they can kill the "community spirit" of free software, that they'll win. Witness the open source commercialization comments from the article in question. Little does Ballmer understand that open source is just the result of the same process from which Microsoft benefited in the 80's and 90's - the incessant downward price pressure on software, particularly general use software. Back in the 80's, Microsoft made waves because they made good enough software for cheaper.

Well, in this century, the way you leverage economies of scale to produce good enough software at a lower price is by building a large user base of free software customers or tapping into those that already exist. You can read all about that in my article on O'ReillyNet.

March 19, 2006

CBS Sports Does IT The Right Way™

Hey Yahoo, are you listening? After years of wrestling with your "media helper" (which doesn't, by the way), I've been pleasantly surprised by CBS Sports' treatment of live netcasts. You see, you don't actually need to lock out people who don't use a specific operating system or web browser. You can actually *gasp* make yourself accessible to everyone by simply letting your audience determine if they have the requisite technology. So the question I have for Yahoo is, if I can access CBS Sports' video streams just fine using my Linux laptop, why can't I do the same for yours?

Kudos to CBS Sports with their online production of the NCAA basketball tournament; bullocks to Yahoo.

March 18, 2006

South Park Creators: the Million-year War for Earth Has Just Begun!

Throw this in the cheap-publicity-enhances-already-legendary-satire bucket. Tom Cruise, taking actions that are sure to backfire, has thrown around his Hollywood weight in support of his creepy religion once again. To wit: Cruise threatened to pull all promotional support for MI:3 if Comedy Central continued with its plans to run a South Park episode with a satirical broadside against Scientology - both Paramount (the studio behind MI:3) and Comedy Central (the cable TV channel that brings you South Park) are owned by Viacom. Just say "GAH".

On the bright side, perhaps South Park is about to become relevant again.

March 16, 2006

Bill Gates Hates Children!

Well, ok, perhaps the title is a little over the top. But still, you gotta love the ease with which Uncle Bill demonstrated a debilitating case of myopia with a splash of self-serving egomania. Go Bill, go! Oh yeah, here's TFA.

March 13, 2006

AC/OS: LinuxWorld football grudge match: Funambol vs. Alfresco/Juventus vs. Arsenal

I'm always amused by Matt Asay's weaving Arsenal's football woes into his blog entries, but this one takes the cake.

Edit: I'll probably watch the match with them.

Edit2: Up the Gunners!

Free-dumb, Free software, and free beer!

So... was open source a mistake?

Has anyone ever been more fundamentally wrong than Eric Raymond, when he wrote in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" almost nine years ago, that open source is "better quality"? How the heck do we know that? Unfortunately, we don't. We don't know that open source is inherently better - or worse - than its proprietary cousins. Nor do we know if open source software is inherently more secure. We don't know that the TCO of open source software is any lower than proprietary versions.

But if we look at what's actually happening out in the IT "wild", we can see what open source does actually give customers that adopt it - freedom. The freedom to try it a little bit without having to agree to any terms (GPL and other licenses notwithstanding). The freedom to download it whenever you want without talking to some sales dork first. The freedom to fire your vendor and hire someone else to manage and maintain the software and your deployment. Nowhere in this equation do we get customers adopting "better software, faster" or better security fixes and patches, or lower TCO. We see customers adopting more open source software because it's easy, it's quick, it works (sometimes), and it's possible to change course later if things don't work out. Open source is the perfect technology for IT grunts with a fear of commitment.

About eight years ago, a few smart people got together and decided that the term "free software" didn't cut it. Ironically, the term they chose, "open source", seems to de-emphasize the very thing responsible for its success: freedom. When the open source people cut out the term free software, they were expressing a few fears: fear of confusion in the marketplace, fear of misplaced value (of course it doesn't work - you get what you pay for...), and of course, fear of St. Ignutious himself. In hindsight, perhaps we should consider the possibility that adopting the term "open source" is more of an inhibitor to free software than an enabler.