November 4, 2006
Berners-Lee Warns on Internet Development
Tim Berners-Lee, acknowledged inventor of the Internet, is concerned that "bad things" could happen if the development of the web is left unchecked. Sir Tim (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth some time back) has concerns about the impact of the Internet on social experience. Undemocratic elements and misinformation could arise if the web is not understood better by the people who use it. This is why he proposes a "web science" discipline that studies social and technological implications of Internet development. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the UK University of Southampton will begin collaborating on such an initiative.
Comments in the interview Berners-Lee gave to the BBC suggest that a broader group of people understand the social impact of the web to prevent a few from manipulating it for negative purposes. Comments he makes bear this out:
"We're hearing complaints from companies when they need people that really understand the medium from both the technological and social side."
"So we'd like to put it on the curriculum so that there are a lot more people who understand this."
This isn't exactly so startling. The market has taken the web and thought of new ways to deliver commercial services such as email on cellphones, music on portable devices, wireless capabilities and others. But ubiquitous services also bring in new criminal or morally questionable intrusions such as identity theft, virus attacks, pornography, stalking, and (I'm talking to all the Mark Foleys out there) inappropriate contacts with minors.
Given all the flaws in Windows and Internet Explorer that Microsoft has to patch, one wonders if Microsoft was a bit naive when the architecture for Windows embracing the Internet was designed. Active X controls were looked at as ways of making advanced web programming easier for developers to deliver cool new services for then and for the future. Did anyone stop to ask what would happen if someone designed a malevolent control? In fairness, other manufacturers and other operating systems have to be on guard for the same issues via their own protocols and scripts. The idea of studying the web as a social structure as much as a technical one may help developers anticipate bad stuff before the fact.
A good starting point for some of the literature that has developed is in SSRN. A search for the terms Internet and social bring up 202 hits. Another search for Internet and cultural brings up 52 hits.
Here's one example of the results:
Understanding the Impact of Global Networks on Local Social, Political and Cultural Values
Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods
KENNETH H. KELLER
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
LAW AND ECONOMICS OF INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS, Christoph Engel/Kenneth H. Keller (eds.), Baden-Baden (Nomos), Vol. 42 [of book series], 2000
Opportunities and risks are twins. There are few to deny the opportunities of global networks in general and of the Internet in particular. But many fear for the concomitant risks, or what they perceive as a risk. Racist speech, pornography and personality profiling rank highest in public awareness. Some concerns are quasi universal, like child pornography. But for others there are at least differences of degree. Following its history, Germany has tabooed right wing publications. And Americans, in their majority, feel hurt by nudity, which most Germans find quite inoffensive. Such examples lure into a simplistic opposition: global values threaten local values. The reality of global networks, and of their interrelation with local values, is much more complex. This volume explores different paths for understanding global networks, local values, and their reciprocal impact. It stretches from social philosophy to technology forecasting, from cultural theory to law, from systems theory to economic history, from sociology to external relations studies, from economics to political sciences.
The volume collects the following papers: W. Kersting, Global Networks and Local Values -- D. Farber, Predicting the Unpredictable - Technology and Society -- P. David, The Internet and the Economics of Network Technology Evolution -- M. Hutter, The Commercialization of the Internet -- D. Baecker, Networking the Web -- M. Thompson, Global Networks and Local Cultures: What are the Mismatches? -- K. Keniston, Cultural Diversity or Global Monoculture -- M. Kahler, Information Networks and Global Politics -- R. Werle, The Impact of Information Networks on the Structure of Political Systems -- S. Sassen, The Impact of the Internet on Sovereignty -- C. Engel, The Internet and the Nation State -- L. Muller, Discussion Report
There are other results that are as relevant. The BBC story with more Berners-Lee comments is here.
November 2, 2006
Microsoft Warms to Linux, Makes News with Vista
Microsoft made news on several fronts recently. Some of it was expected and some of it is startling. The expected news is that Vista for Enterprise will be released on November 30th along with Office 2007 for business customers. The consumer versions are still scheduled for some time in January.
The more startling news is that Microsoft has signed an agreement with Novel to work with that company to make its brand of Linux work with Windows Server. This comes after the years of vilification over Linux in comments by top Microsoft executives. Claims were made that Return-On-Investment was higher with Windows, that Windows was more reliable, and with case studies trumpeting Microsoft-friendly scenarios. That didn't stop customers from adopting Linux, however.
If Microsoft didn't find Linux religion, it at least found reality in that Linux wasn't going to go away any time soon, especially with Oracle getting into the business. Now Microsoft gets a toehold in the Linux environment with a partner who isn't completely hostile to it, and perhaps blunting Oracle's business push somewhat. The CEOs of both companies, Steve Ballmer and Ron Hovsepian, were on hand to announce the deal which include Microsoft recommending Novel to customers wanting to run Linux; an agreement not to sue each other's customers over patent infringement; and a joint research facility that will help customers work on integration strategies with Lunix, Windows Server, Office, and Open Office.
Nonetheless, Steve Ballmer made clear that the two companies were competitors despite the agreement. Europe will likely look favorably on the deal as server interoperability is the big issue in competition concerns there. While this move may not solve Microsoft's antitrust problems with the European Commission, it shows some acknowledgment that not everyone wants the complete wall to wall Windows experience. Of course, Microsoft has a habit of announcing deals that signal a new attitude in dealing with customers and competitors on one hand and executing them in the same heavy-handed way in which the company has always operated. We'll see if this is the same or not in due time.
Somewhere in between expect and startling is the news that Microsoft has bowed to pressure and changed its Vista licensing agreement on the transferability of licenses between machines. The first terms to come to light limited the transfer from one machine to one other. Most consumers wouldn't be affected by this as the OS is tied to pre-configured machines from Dell, HP, and others. Still, these terms drew immediate criticism from individuals who build and upgrade their machines on a regular basis. Microsoft now allows multiple transfers of the OS provided it is not shared between existing devices. In other words, one license per one working machine.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of expected news, IE7 is now being pushed out as a critical update via Windows update. I tried to get it for one of my machines (which I built myself) and the update did not go as planned. In fact, I now have to reinstall Windows on that machine to clear up the problem. Good thing the XP operating system license allows me to do this, and good thing that the Vista licensing will continue this policy.
November 1, 2006
The Internet Now Has 100 Million Domain Names
So, the Internet has hit 100,000,000 domain names, which is double the 50,000,000 that existed in 2004. That comes from the Netcraft Web Server Survey. You can find all the details here.
Non-English Domain Names Coming, Albeit Slowly
ICANN is having mixed feelings about introducing non-Latin characters in domain names. On one hand, nationalism in countries with different alphabets want their residents to access the Internet in a language they understand. On the other hand, mixing alphabets can lead to site spoofing and confusion for some users. The possibility exists for whole swaths of the Internet to separate along country or language lines if this isn't done right. That was the message at a U.N. sponsored conference on the future of the Internet. Given that there are approximately 6,000 languages in the world, getting it right is important to bring the benefits of the Internet to non-English speakers.
One interesting fact in news reports is that live testing on non-Latin addresses would begin later on this year.
October 31, 2006
MySpace, YouTube Get Serious About Copyright
Social networking site MySpace is going to use MusicID technology from Gracenote to identify and then remove copyrighted music from site pages. The technology works by analyzing a digital fingerprint of music and comparing it to a database of millions of songs. The form is irrelevant to the analysis. The source could be wave files, mp3s or other popular formats. Music can also appear in the background of videos and may still be identified.
Gracenote says that even different versions of songs by the same artist in the same studio can be distinguished from each other. A song may be mis-tagged either accidentally or deliberately. Gracenote has the ability to correctly identify music even under these circumstances. Some media players that use Gracenote have the ability to correctly identify music and replace faulty tags for computer files. The technology has been around for about a year now although it is just coming into play on identifying potential copyright violation on a mass scale.
MySpace and other sites have long held the policy of removing copyrighted materials from their sites when brought to their attention. This process automates the notice and speeds up the removal process. Some news reports speculate that the deep pockets behind the most popular sites that include MySpace (News Corp.) and YouTube (Google) have a vested interest in playing nice with content providers. Other reports note that YouTube is taking down clips (some 30,000 or so) from South Park, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report at the request of Viacom. Some critics view that request as short sighted as the fan fervor fuels a buzz about both shows. It's Viacom's call, though, as they own it and their rights are not in question.
The Gracenote MusicID technology could conceivably have greater application beyond getting sites to adopt it. Perhaps the future is for organizations such as the RIAA to set up their own bot search engines to seek out unauthorized music on the web.
October 30, 2006
British Think Tank Urges Changes to Copyright Law
The UK based Institute for Public Policy Research is calling for revision of British copyright laws to allow legal ripping of CDs and DVDs by British citizens. Whenever someone there rips a CD to place a song on a portable device they are breaking the law. The call is to have the law match public practice.
Various industry groups have taken the opposite approach with even the RIAA suggesting at one point that a US citizen, for example, ripping a legally purchased CD violates copyright law. British law and American law are different from each other in this respect. The report notes that the government should be the one to set the rules rather than the music labels. What a novel concept.
The report is free with registration from the organization's web site.
Vista 64 Bit Security Hacked and Other Developments
Security vendor Authentium claims that it has found a way through Microsoft's PatchGuard protection in the 64 bit version of Vista. The company will disable PatchGuard, install its kernel patches, and then re-enable PatchGuard. Access to the kernel in Vista has been a contentious matter with Symantec and McAfee claiming Microsoft has an unfair advantage with its own security products. Microsoft has said that it doesn't compromise PatchGuard with its software.
Microsoft can't be thrilled that it has to patch a product that hasn't been released. It has promoted Vista as the most secure operating system yet. In fact, some news reports indicate that Microsoft was somewhere between furious and intrigued by Authentium's claims. This comes on the heels of reports that the scheduled release-to-manufacturing for October 25th was delayed until November 8th to track down a serious bug. The software is generally scheduled to be available to consumers some time in January, 2007. What shape and how secure it will be is still a matter open to question.
The Christmas season will come and go without Vista on consumer PCs. Microsoft is offering an upgrade coupon for Vista capable machines sold between October 26th and March 26th. Recent reports, though, indicate that there will be no upgrade path to Vista Ultimate via coupon. Gartner has also weighed in on 64 bit Vista, suggesting that there may not be enough compatible products out there to work with that version of the software, and that it may take years for the security and antitrust problems to work themselves out.
In other Vista related news, Microsoft released Media Player 11 for XP. The player is in Vista but will be available to XP via download. It contains tight integration with the Urge music store that MTV and Microsoft created. The store may also be irrelevant once Microsoft makes the Zune player and store available. Is it possible that MTV might feel suckered on this one?