April 29, 2006
French German Alliance Look to Compete Against Google, Yahoo!
In The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror V, Homer fixes a toaster that takes him back in time. Each time he returns to the present things are not quite the way he left them. In one sequence he comes back to baby Maggie who (voiced by James Earl Jones) says "This is indeed a disturbing universe." French President Jacques Chirac must have felt that way when he decided that his lasting legacy would be for the state to create a French/European alternative to Google and Yahoo. The project is called Quaero, from the Latin meaning "I seek." Chirac has been working with Germany and industrialists from both countries for about a year now to put a European identity on search options. Quaero will focus on multimedia, with the French working on image search and the Germans on audio. Chirac has committed €450 million (about $569 million US) to the project.
There is no word on whether English will be a player on the database. Given the protectionist role the French government takes on French culture, the answer is probably not. This from a country that changed the word "blog" into the French word "joueb". Such is life!
April 27, 2006
Net Neutrality Loses in House
Telecoms won a victory in the House Energy and Commerce Committee when a Democratic sponsored amendment was defeated by a vote of 34 to 22. The amendment would have prohibited telecoms from creating a fast lane that would discriminate against content providers. The bill in committee is part of the broader re-write of telecommunication laws to bring them up to date. Most commentators agree there is a long way to go on all of this.
April 26, 2006
Microsoft at the EU Court of First Instance Days Two And Three
Day Two continued on the use of the Media Player as a bundled application. Irish Judge John D. Cooke questioned the EU Commission lawyers on the viability of the remedy. He seemed to lean to a similar remedy concluded in the United States where the player could be hidden or removed. The Commission lawyers argued that was not good enough.
Day three shifted from tying the Media Player to the operating system to the issue of whether Microsoft was providing enough information to competitors that let them create software that was interoperable with Windows. In typical Microsoft fashion, the company attorneys tried to shift the focus of the hearing by reshaping the issues more favorable to the company. They did this in the four federal discovery cases leading up to the hearing where they represented the Commission could not get documents from competitors. In reality, the Commission had the documents and wouldn't give them to Microsoft. Different judges issued scathing opinions noting how Microsoft misrepresented the situation and had an easy time turning down the company. In fairness, Microsoft was more likely trying to be innovative with legal precedent and the meaning of laws. Innovation is their mantra after all.
The practice seems to continue at the Court of First Instance where the company complains that it must give up valuable intellectual property to comply with the Commission order. There's plenty of competition out there, claims the company with 90% plus of the OS market. Judge Bo Vesterdorf told the company to stick to the issue at hand.
The EU Commission stuck to their view of the issue in that Microsoft abused its monopoly position by refusing to supply certain information to competitors that is normally supplied in industry practice. Lawyers for an industry group supporting the Commission noted that Microsoft was blowing up the patent/IP issue and downplaying the monopoly power issue. Again, an innovative argument for Microsoft.
There are two more days of this stuff. A decision is not expected for about a year, glacial in terms of how the tech industry moves, but not the justice industry.
April 25, 2006
Microsoft at the EU Court of First Instance Day One
Microsoft opened its hearing before the European Court of Justice yesterday over the European Commission's antitrust order and fine. The first day of hearings focused on the bundling aspect of the case, that involving Media Player included with Windows to squeeze out rivals such as Real. The rest of the case will focus on the interoperability of Windows with software via competitors. Microsoft claims that it should not be forced to share intellectual property with other companies. More on this as it develops.
NYC Employee Can't Be Fired for Internet Browsing
Ever do something on your work computer not related to work? Lots of people do. The consequences depend on the rules of the employer, but most places tolerate it. New York City as an employer is not one of those places.
The City apparently tried to fire one of its long-time employees in the Department of Education for ignoring supervisor warnings not to browse the Internet at work. An investigation ensued which showed Toquir Choudhri had browsed news and travel sites. Mayor Bloomberg had fired an employee in the Albany legislative offices when he noticed a game of solitaire on the worker's computer.
This time, however, the union representing Choudhri challenged the dismissal and won. Judge John Spooner from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings decided that the City lets employees take personal calls or do other things such as reading newspapers as long as the activity doesn't interfere with the work. There was no evidence that Choudhri ignored his work or let it slip.
At worst, Choudhri gets a letter of reprimand in his employment file. The better part of this result is that the solitaire playing employee now has a chance as well.
While Mayor Bloomberg may take a hard line on goofing off while on City time, I wonder if he devotes every waking moment to making the city a better place to live.