An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
MusicNet Goes After iTunes Music Store
The success of Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store has prompted established rivals in the online music space to step up their feature sets and lower pricing in an effort to compete. The first company to make a major move is MusicNet, which is migrating from RealNetwork's music format to the superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 format. MusicNet offers more than 350,000 songs--more than Apple offers--but the service currently has a monthly fee, a feature Apple nicely lacks. MusicNet is also available only to AOL subscribers, although that situation will soon change, I'm told. I don't honestly believe that MusicNet offers much competition for iTunes right now, but if the service, or services like it, can offer WMA-encoded tracks to Windows users well in advance of Apple moving iTunes to Windows, Apple might be in trouble. Ultimately, by limiting iTunes to Mac OS X only, Apple might once again find itself swept aside in a product category the company innovated.
Microsoft Snags AV Maker: Why?
Earlier this week, Microsoft announced its acquisition of GeCAD Software, a tiny antivirus software company based in Romania, setting off rumors that the software giant is out to destroy yet another market. Calm down, Mulder. One of the first facts known about Longhorn, the next Windows version, was that Microsoft will offer plug-in antivirus technology--similar to the way the company provides firewall software in Windows XP--that will provide basic functionality and let third parties--such as McAfee and Symantec, in this case--add features. So Windows integration is clearly the area in which the GeCAD technology is heading. Furthermore, I've often asked why a media player and movie editor are part of Windows, when more obvious and necessary functionality--such as antivirus software--isn't. Antivirus software obviously needs to be part of the base OS; it's a security imperative. Rather than question why Microsoft is adding antivirus software to Windows, we should be asking what took the company so long.
PC Notebooks Pass 3GHz Mark
Intel-based notebooks surpassed the 3GHz mark this week with the release of the 3.06GHz Pentium 4 Processor - M, which provides desktop-level performance to the hefty, heavy laptops known as desktop replacements or "desknotes." The 3GHz Pentium 4 Processor - M joins its 2.4GHz, 2.66GHz, and 2.8GHz siblings in the high-end space, although how many batteries a person would need to power such a beast on a cross-country flight is unclear. Oddly enough, desktop replacements are often among the least expensive notebooks; Dell sells a 3.06GHz model for just $1500. Yikes.
So Who Owns UNIX?
The SCO Group's battle with Linux has raised some interesting questions, including questions about which company, exactly, owns UNIX. Predictably, the answer is complex. SCO says it owns "all rights to UNIX technology, including the copyrights ... and trademarks." As a company representative said recently, "SCO is the owner of the UNIX operating system, as well as all of the UNIX contracts, claims, and copyrights necessary to conduct that business." That's nice. But The Open Group says that SCO "holds the rights only to the operating system source code originally licensed by AT&T and does not own the UNIX trademark itself or definition of what a UNIX system is ... SCO has never owned 'UNIX'." Instead, The Open Group says it owns the UNIX trademark and the UNIX specification (that subsequently became the Single UNIX Specification). "As the owner of the UNIX trademark, The Open Group has separated the UNIX trademark from any actual code stream itself, thus allowing multiple implementations. Since the introduction of the Single UNIX Specification, there has been a single, open, consensus specification that defines the requirements for a conformant UNIX system." Furthermore, The Open Group notes that, "There is a mark, or brand, that is used to identify those products that have been certified as conforming to the Single UNIX Specification ... now UNIX 03. Both the specification and the UNIX trademark are managed and held in trust for the industry by The Open Group." Make sense?
SCO and IBM Deadline Looms: What's Next?
And speaking of SCO, the deadline in that company's lawsuit against IBM is midnight tonight. If IBM doesn't settle with SCO by the end of the day, SCO will likely file a revocation of IBM's UNIX license on Monday and a preliminary injunction that will force the computer giant to stop selling its AIX product, which is a UNIX version. SCO, as I'm sure you now know, is suing IBM for $1 billion, charging the company with misappropriating SCO trade secrets by using them in Linux, an open-source software (OSS) product that works like UNIX. If you aren't Microsoft, $1 billion might sound like a lot of money, but consider this: IBM had a $3.6 billion business selling UNIX servers in 2002 alone. Still, the stakes are high. And yes, this situation could get ugly.
Linus Torvalds Refuses to Sign SCO NDA
Linux creator and copyright holder Linus Torvalds has refused to sign SCO's nondisclosure agreement (NDA), and SCO says it will therefore deny him the opportunity to view SCO's evidence that Linux contains code stolen from UNIX. The NDA basically asserts that anyone who signs the agreement can't discuss the evidence publicly. "Clearly I can't sign \[the\] NDA," Torvalds said. "I did ask \[SCO CEO\] Darl McBride to show it to me but didn't expect them to make it available. They didn't." SCO says that assertion isn't quite accurate. "It is not true that SCO has refused to show the code to Torvalds," SCO wrote in a statement this week. "SCO has already shown the code to several reporters and analysts and continues to do so. SCO continues to be willing to show the code to Linus as well." Torvalds just needs to sign the NDA. But he won't, so SCO won't. And so on.
Questions Arise About SCO's Possible GPL Violations
In the interest of never letting this SCO and Linux controversy die, we present yet another story in this saga. This week, open-source advocates charged that SCO might be violating the GNU General Public License (GPL) under which Linux is licensed, but only if SCO's charges about UNIX code being copied into Linux are true. Try to follow the logic; it's rather convoluted. Let's say SCO is right, and Linux developers illegally copied code from UNIX into the Linux kernel. Because SCO has shipped various Linux distributions over the years, the company must abide by the GPL, which states that any code shipped in a GPL product is now open source and available freely to the world. Thus, that stolen UNIX code is no longer copyrighted and proprietary. Got it? Well, the situation still isn't that simple. Unlike SCO's lawsuit, the GPL violation charge is simply a pedantic argument, not a legal cloud hanging over the industry. Still, why not muddy the waters further?
Apple Sued over Use of UNIX Name
But wait, there's more fun UNIX news this week (and you thought UNIX was dead). The Open Group, which you might recall is challenging certain aspects of SCO's "ownership" of UNIX, is suing Apple because Apple uses the term "Built on UNIX," along with a nonstandard UNIX logo, in its Mac OS X advertising. The Open Group says that Apple is infringing on its UNIX trademark and has asked Apple to stop using the UNIX name and logo in the company's advertising and product promotion. Baloney, says Apple. "Apple does not use the term UNIX as a trademark in connection with Apple's product," a court filing reads. "Apple accurately uses the generic term UNIX merely to identify or describe an aspect or feature of Apple's Mac OS X operating system. This is consistent with past and current industry standards." In any case, the San Jose, Northern California District Court this week extended the case until next year, giving the companies time to negotiate. Maybe this case will work out better than the SCO and Linux case. It almost has to. And in a rare event, I'd like to publicly confirm that I back Apple.
FTC Seeks Spam-Fighting Powers
This week, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked Congress for sweeping new powers that would let the agency prosecute spammers, both domestically and overseas. The proposal, dubbed the Consumer Protection Enforcement Act, would extend the agency's general fraud-fighting powers, but some privacy groups are concerned it will give the FTC too much power. Spam has to be stopped, and if letting the FTC go after these clowns is part of the deal, I'm all for it.
Adobe Tests the Product-Activation Waters
Adobe Systems is treading in controversial waters this week with a pilot program in Australia that mimics Microsoft's oft-reviled but successful Product Activation technology. In Australia, Adobe is selling Adobe PhotoShop 7.0 and some versions of Adobe Collections software with product activation, which ensures that one copy of the software is tied only to one PC, ala Windows XP. If the pilot is successful, the company will likely roll out the technology in other products and markets. "Adobe is currently piloting activation technology in Australia designed to deter casual copying of its software," a company representative noted in an online forum recently. "Activation protects the intellectual property and innovation at the heart of the software industry. In the activation pilot, Adobe is committed to eliminating unauthorized use of its software and is doing so in a manner that has a minimal effect on licensed users. Activation maintains customer privacy, and does not change the terms of the existing End User License Agreement."
Microsoft: Windows 2003 SP1 Is Imminent
Microsoft said this week that the company will begin its beta program for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) by midsummer, moving quickly to provide the product with bug fixes and other updates. However, SP1 won't ship until late 2003 at the earliest, and what features it will supply beyond compatibility with AMD 64-bit hardware is unclear.
Standards Board Approves Final 802.11g Specification
The IEEE-SA Standards Board approved the final 802.11g wireless standard specification this week, paving the way for a new generation of wireless hardware that transmits data at 54Mbps, compared with Wi-Fi, the 802.11b wireless standard, at 11Mbps. Despite the recent standardization, some vendors, including Apple, shipped 802.11g hardware months earlier, potentially putting customers at risk if existing hardware wasn't upgradeable to the final specification. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and Apple and other companies say their 802.11g products will be firmware upgradeable. 802.11g is highly regarded for its compatibility with the popular 802.11b, compared with 802.11a, which offers speeds similar to 802.11g but is incompatible with 802.11b. Now that the specification is finalized, you can expect to see 802.11g take off in a variety of PCs and devices, including a new version of the integrated Intel Centrino solution for notebooks.
Report: MSN Messenger 6 Hits 2 Million Downloads. No, It's Not Publicly Available.
Here's some strange news: Despite the fact that Microsoft hasn't made MSN Messenger 6 available as a public download, more than 2 million users worldwide have downloaded the leaked beta, according to an internal memo from Microsoft. The memo says the leak means that the pirated software has "seen unprecedented global consumer enthusiasm," thanks to its new features, such as Web-camera integration, audio- and video-chat features, and a new set of animated emoticons. When a real public beta will ship is currently unknown, but expect it sometime this summer. And no, I don't know where you can download the leaked MSN Messenger 6 beta, sorry.