August 26, 2002

Is 10 years really that bad?

I've been following the interesting blogversation between Doc Searls, Dave Winer,  Larry Lessig, and Charles Cooper surrounding Larry's proposal to reduce the copyright of software to 10 years, and to hold source code in escrow so that it can be released after the 10 year copyright is over.

One point kept niggling at me, which was the proposition that Charles and Dave made that a 10 year copyright will seriously hurt small and independent software developers.  Charles writes:
I can't think of a better prescription for formalizing the existing constellation of power that favors the Microsofts and Oracles over the small and independent developers.

At this juncture in the history of the software industry, more so than ever before, 10 years doesn't amount to a hill of JavaBeans--not when you're attempting to build up brand, distribution and customer loyalty in an increasingly fragmented and competitive market.
Dave Winer puts it this way:
After giving it a bunch of thought, I think Lessig is going after the BigCo's, probably Microsoft. But he would also sacrifice the independent companies. If we have to publish our source code the users won't pay for it. Ten years isn't enough time to create a new market. So you wouldn't get any commercial innovation in this system. The BigCo's don't innovate.
Huh?  I don't get it.  I'm a software developer - I make my living through the creation of software, and all my experience and training tells me that these arguments just don't add up.  As a thought experiment, ask yourself how many pieces of software are you using that are 10 years old?  And when did you purchase that software?  I can't think of a single example of software that generated revenue 10 years after it was written, unless you're talking about software for the Space Shuttle or some other old piece of hardware; and even then, that software will have bug fixes and new features, more likely than not - and that code will be covered by the 10 year copyright law as well. 

Now ask yourself, how many old pieces of software would I love to have on my current desktop?  Hypercard, perhaps?  Or how about all those old games for the Atari or Intellivision consoles?  How many programmers would be able to learn and innovate on today's programming world if the source for those old non-revenue generating programs were part of the public domain?  How many old data files would you be able to unlock if you were able to run that old DOS accounting program on your current desktop?  What will happen 30 years from now when the MS Word file format is as anachronistic as a pile of punch cards?

Larry Lessig has written a response to Cooper's criticism, and I think he's dead on.   Lessig quotes an 1829 precedent that shows that the founding fathers felt that copyright terms had to be "limited" so that creative works would pass into the public domain "at as early a period as possible":
Why? Because the framers were keen to have others build upon creative work, after copyright assured the "author" a sufficient return for his or her creativity. They believed, in other words, in a public domain, and they required that copyright terms be "limited" so that the public domain would flourish.
Lessig then builds a strong argument to show how his proposal would actually help small, creative, individual developers, and help reduce barriers to entry into large, established markets while still giving the copyright holder a 10 year head start on new competitors.

Dave Winer makes another argument, which I'll call the "supply vs. demand" argument:
If the customers placed a sufficiently high value on having access to source code, or if they felt our copyrights lasted too long, of course we would have to do what they want us to, or retire from the market. So the proponents of this plan are trying to legislate what they haven't been able to gain in the market. It's a weak position for that reason.
I disagree. There's never really been true power or representation by customers in the market for source code and long-term support contracts - it is just too small, fragmented, and uninformed, especially in the desktop computer space.  Of course, big companies who make custom deals can get license terms changed, including access to source code, but we're not talking about a true level playing field in today's world.  Heck, we've had companies declared monopolies that still browbeat their customers with obnoxious clickwrap licenses and liability warranties that would be considered obscene if they were attached to a physical object like a car or a bridge. These actions are not signs of a healthy relationship between software developers and their customers.  Software, like privacy, has always been a supply-side game - the only recourse a customer has is to not play, and in many cases, that is impossible or untenable.

In short, reducing software copyright to a reasonable term would have a very positive effect for the software market and for its customers.  There would be an incentive to innovate, in order to keep opening up new markets and provide better and better code.  And future generations of computer scientists (and historians) would thank us - with this code in the public domain, we could join the other sciences and stand on the shoulders of giants, not stand on each other's feet.

August 24, 2002

Some self-serving links

I've got a couple of neat links to crow about: First off, Linux Journal has published an article I wrote a little while back, Dot Compost and the Danger to Your Privacy.  The inimitable Doc Searls also quotes me in his recent round-up of the LinuxWorld show which got some pickup (especially my remarks about Jabber) in Peter St. Andre's blog.

Oh, and Projectdocs is now #8 on the result page on a Google search for "Document Management System".  First result page, baby.  Watch out, #1.
Posted by dsifry at 11:51 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

Groove's Corporate Weblog Policy

Ray Ozzie, CEO of Groove Software, has had his counsel create a corporate policy regarding personal websites and weblogs.  I think this is a fantastic idea, and Ozzie has found a great balance between respecting each employee's rights to set up a web site and express his personal opinions, and the potential legal (e.g. SEC, NDA violation) and marketplace (e.g. bad PR, product preannouncement) risks that must be mitigated.

This is very forward thinking, and is also great PR for Ozzie and for Groove.  More CEOs should be blogging.
Posted by dsifry at 8:41 AM | View blog reactions

August 23, 2002

Roundup of the Starbucks/T-Mobile/HP announcements

There has been a lot of good coverage of the recent announcement of T-Mobile's (formerly VoiceStream, formerly Mobilestar) HotSpot rollout in 1200 locations.  By far, the best coverage is found at Glenn Fleishman's blog, 802.11b News

Oh, and it is great to see Steve Stroh blogging more frequently on broadband wireless issues.  I've added a link to his site over in the Links column.
Posted by dsifry at 9:37 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

August 22, 2002

The AOTC and you (and me)

For the last few months, I've been helping to build the American Open Technology Consortium and its sister organization, GeekPAC.  Well, last week, the rewritten AOTC website went up, and even though it is still rough around the edges (missing some content, etc), ther have been some great posts to the blog-oriented site.  If you're concerned about internet radio, digital rights management, laws allowing hollywood to hack into your computer, and the general loss of free speech and the elimination of the digital commons, ! come to the site and consider becoming a member/donor, or at least add your voice is support or criticism.  We also have a mailing list that is updated whenever a new blog entry is posted, so you can easily stay up-to-date.
Posted by dsifry at 12:14 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

August 19, 2002

Robert Cringely is an idiot

Well, he's at it again.  Bob Cringely, after going out and making up a column earlier this year, he's decided that WiFi is dead, long live... HomePlug?  Hmmm.  OK, perhaps 802.11 wireless networks don't work everywhere, that's true.  And perhaps you can use a HomePlug-type device to act as a connection between WiFi APs on different sides of the house, but the fact of the matter is that 802.11 networking ain't going away.

Forget for the moment that 802.11 networking chips are already built into high end laptops, and that Intel is rolling 802.11 chips in its next generation of mobile chipsets.  Forget that WLAN shipments are up 15% last quarter, nah that stuff doesn't really mean anything, does it, Bob?

It almost makes you think that Cringely is just trolling for ideas - with the burden of writing a weekly column about technology, perhaps he's just hit the doldrums and is generating controversy just to generate controversy. (Thanks to Glenn for the link and initial commentary)

Warjogging in Manhattan

Kudos to Cory Doctorow for the link to Noderunner.  A group of New Yorkers are planning to jog through Manhattan with WiFi-equipped laptops in a race to see who can cover the most mileage while logging the most wireless access points.

August 16, 2002

IBM jumps into the cross-network roaming ring

In what appears to be a direct threat to other cross-network roaming startups like Green Packet and Padcom, along with more established players like Ecutel IBM has announced the Everyplace Wireless Gateway, an extension to Websphere.  It is currently being used by the Toronto Police.
Posted by dsifry at 10:06 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

Singapore gets 180,000 square meter hotspot

StarHub, in association with iPass and GRIC, has revealed its 180,000 square meter hotspot in Suntec City.  It looks like the business model will be a simple WISP model with roaming offered through iPASS and GRIC,  but Wong Ah Long, the CEO of Suntec City Development is looking at it as a springboard, stating that the 802.11 public network will serve as a 'backbone' for Suntec City to explore the integration of General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) and 3G technologies as well.
Posted by dsifry at 9:45 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

Thank you Doc Searls

Linuxworld Expo San Francisco was this week, and I had the privilege to host a good friend and prolific alpha blogger, Doc Searls.  Even though he works his ass off for Linux Journal, we still had time late at night and in the early morning to shoot the shit, and talk about things ranging from the future of Linux, Internet Radio, entrepreneurship, and how totally lame the show floor was.  It is actually kind of wierd - Linux has practically achieved our half-heartedly joked goal of world domination, but rather than exciting, it's actually kind of boring.  Kinda sad when the show floor is dominated by IBM, HPaq, AMD, and Intel, and no mid-sized companies, but hey, that's how it goes when a technology leaves the pioneering stage.  Still, I miss the quirky fun startups and their booths, like the Ximian jungle booth

Anyway, Doc added to his enormous karma by writing up his experiences with projectdocs, an online document management tool that I wrote last winter.  The place was flooded with new visitors today - more today than in the entire month of August so far - and I hope some stay around and use the service, and give feedback.

Thanks, Doc!
Posted by dsifry at 1:07 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

I'm a winner!

Hey, I've got my new Golden Penguin Bowl award warming my mantle.  I actually can't believe that my team won - we had Jeremy Allison on our team, and he never wins.

This is also the first post using my new and improved email-to-blog interface.  It now supports HTML in the email, so I can just use my favorite email client, Evolution to send in blog posts.

August 14, 2002

Full text and boolean search now available!

Cool, I've taken the well-designed mt-search package and added it to this blog, so now you have search capabilities, either on the upper right hand corner of each page, or a more advanced search available. This is all built in perl and integrates pretty nicely with Movable Type's core. Heck, it can even handle regular expressions for the geeky.
Posted by dsifry at 11:18 AM | TrackBack | View blog reactions

August 2, 2002

WiFi and the WAR prefix

In Doc Searls' blog on Wednesday, he asked me how I felt about using Wireless Access Reconnaissance as an acronym fill-in for all of the war- prefixes currently in vogue around WiFi, like Wardriving, Warchalking, Warwalking, Warbiking, etc., etc, etc.

Frankly, I don't like the use of the prefix at all, and I encourage people to think of better words when describing the community usage ofwireless broadband access, because like it or not, these military analogies only server to heighten the "cracker, hacker, lawbreaker" image that has become associated with wireless community activists in many of the mainstream press.

I suppose if we're going to put an acronym around the WAR prefix post-hoc, I'd rather use:

Wireless Activist Reality

Enjoy the meme.