December 14, 2007
Opera Files Antitrust Complaint with the EU Over IE Bundling
Norwegian software maker Opera has filed a formal complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission over Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. They also want Microsoft to use more standardized technologies so that products from third parties can interoperate with its Internet software. The article in Information Week quotes Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner as saying "We are filing this complaint on behalf of all consumers who are tired of having a monopolist make choices for them." There are marches in the streets of Europe by indignant citizens over a wide range of issues, but Internet Explorer technology tied to Windows is likely not one of them.
So lets assume that Microsoft decides to sell a version of Vista without a pre-installed browser. History tells us that the version of Windows without Media Player (Windows N) was a market non-starter in Europe. The Commission got what it wanted legally but as a practical matter no one who bought Windows cared to affect the media player software market. A version of Windows without a browser would be even less of an attraction because without a browser, how would one acquire a different browser? Opera wants Microsoft to carry alternative browsers in their package. Even the U.S. courts rejected that one as a remedy during the antitrust litigation. I suppose Opera could flood consumers with CDs as AOL did with their ISP subscription software. That ought to get them noticed, at least by comedians, past their 0.99% market share.
In this case Microsoft is quite right to note that consumers can download and set any browser as the default on their machine. Choice extends to media players, IM clients, mail clients, calendars and a variety of other Internet based software. Anyone can ignore Microsoft software bundled with the operating system. And what about other operating systems? The Mac OS and Linux have bundled browsers. What about them?
The other argument that Opera raises is that Internet Explorer doesn't follow web standards well enough for Opera to compete with Internet Explorer. The case that Microsoft recently lost on appeal had to do with protocols within Windows that Microsoft would not document for third party developers to integrate their software effectively with the OS. Web standards come from somewhere else than Microsoft. Moreover, they tend to be in flux. Opera should find the fact that their browser does conform to established standards as a marketing plus for them, assuming consumers cared enough. Apparently consumers don't. This is honestly a case of failed marketers seeking refuge in the apron of regulators. It's hard to see a problem when Firefox has a market share somewhere in the mid 20s. Where were they three years ago? Somewhere outside of Oslo even the elk are laughing, and Norway's neighbors to the east are Borking it up.
December 12, 2007
Ask.com Gives Users Control Over Search Data, Sort of, Mostly
Ask.com will allow its users to erase search data from their servers, with some exceptions. They include data turned over to 3rd parties as part of advertising deals, and information legally requested by the government as part of a law enforcement inquiry. The program is called AskEraser. Details are here. Here's a story on it in Ars Technica.
CDT Report Finds Government Information Lacking in Search Engines
The Center for Democracy and Technology has issued a report that details how government information is not fully represented in commercial search web sites. One would think that government web sites would be fully available to crawlers, but they're not. Some materials available on web sites aren't even available through USA.gov, which is the government's own portal and search engine. This is just shocking news, except possibly to reference librarians who regularly use government web sites.
December 11, 2007
Is Ripping Legally Owned CDs Legal?
The blog Recording Industry vs The People is highlighting a court filing by the RIAA that claims that ripping legally own CDs to MP3s is a violation of copyright, or as the RIAA puts it, an "unauthorized copy." The case is Atlantic v. Howell. This is contradicted in the oral arguments the RIAA lawyers made to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Grokster case where they said ripping legally owned CDs is perfectly legal. The story is picked up and commented on by Wired and others. The filing is linked at RIvTP. The site specifically notes the quoted text from the Grokster oral argument. The Wired story mentions the statement by Sony BMG anti-piracy officer Jennifer Pariser that ripping songs was a nice way of saying "steals one copy."
The RIAA brief doesn't directly make the argument that ripping one's own CDs is illegal in all circumstances. The organization links that activity with making the ripped files available for distribution, irrespective of whether file sharing takes place or not. The evidence they point to shows that the ripped files were in a shared KaZaA folder, and the brief is careful to always mention that connection. Still, it shows that the RIAA is always pushing up to the line of fair use with the idea of moving it further and further away from traditional consumer rights.
Consumers, of course, get lots of mixed messages on this. Virtually all of the mainstream media players have the ability to rip CDs into MP3s or other file formats without any restrictions. Vista's Media Player library comes with file sharing capabilities, at least for a home network. Microsoft has also partnered with various hardware manufacturers to create the home server that stores music files among other media for sharing on the home network. That's probably all within the legal realm provided one doesn't give away copies to friends. All of this shows, if nothing else, that what is practical and what is legally possible with digital music is no where near reconciled in spite of these legal pronouncements by the RIAA. And it's not going to be any time soon.
December 10, 2007
Microsoft Office on the Web Inches Along
Microsoft Live Office Workspace is expanding its beta program, but is still not available to the general public. More from Computerworld on this.
Doris Lessing States The Obvious
Nobel winner Doris Lessing blames TV and the Internet for the decline of the great tradition of books and reading. Well, duh. Someone get this woman a Kindle. At least one of her texts is available for the device.