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Permanent link to archive for Thursday, August 02, 2001. Thursday, August 02, 2001

Julien Moorrees: "I have built a web service which you can use to add a Messenger (like ICQ , MSN Messenger, America Online Instant Messenger) to your applications."

I did my part to help the world economy. I bought a new suitcase today. It's my first suitcase with wheels. It was on sale. It's really cool.

Bob Dylan: "Mama's in the factory, she ain't got no shoes. Daddy's in the alley he's lookin for a fuse. I'm in the kitchen with the tombstone blues."

Scratch the bit about Evan not tackling controversy. He says "I can't invest in Microsoft anymore." That's how I feel too.

Bill Seitz wrote a narrative of his experience with Frontier starting in 1995. I find these kinds of stories fascinating.

News.Com: Appeals court rejects Microsoft, DOJ requests.

Monday dinner plans 

Uno momento por favor. I'm on the phone with Vincent now. I told him that there would be a party of 30 at 8PM. I'm going to give him a call on Monday morning to confirm. He says we'll get tables of eight or ten. That's how it worked in Amsterdam in May. It's not as convenient as one big table, it's hard to have a discussion among everyone.

RSVP: Dinner in NY on Monday.

Vincent's Clam Bar, 119 Mott St, at Hester St (212-226-8133). "Little Italy restaurant serving fresh, cheap and spicy seafood dishes clams, mussels and squid."

OK a couple of jokes 

A woman gives birth to twins and names them Juan and Amal and then gives them up for adoption to different families in different parts of the world. Twenty years later she gets a letter from Juan with his picture. "What a handsome young man!" the woman says. "I just wish I had a picture of my other son," she continued tearfully. "It wouldn't matter," says her husband "because if you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

A hotel manager sees two people playing chess on one of those couches by the elevator that no one is supposed to sit on. He walks up to the pair and asks what they're doing. "We're just playing chess dammit, and we're playing it very well!" says one of them. He notices that the other has a crazy look in his eyes. He walks away in a huff. One of maids, after seeing the whole thing asks "Why are you so angry?" He says "I just can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!"

Now for today's serious stuff..

Microsoft's poisoned ecosystem 

Based on email, people are confused about yesterday's section about Microsoft and patents. Let me try to clear it up.

Microsoft files and gets lots of patents. Last week for the first time they said they will use patents to limit competition. That means if you produce software that uses some technique that Microsoft has patented, they'll either make you take the feature out or send you a bill.

Now suppose you're an open source developer, doing it for love, not money. They're going to shut you down. Let's say you're a small commercial developer trying to prove an idea so you can get funding. Yup, you're out of the game too. Maybe you're IBM with a huge hoard of cash and patents. No problem. You pay the bill or trade patents. As Microsoft's reps acknowledged last week, there's no room in their plan for independent developers. In their vision of the software ecosystem, you have to get a job working at a BigCo if you want to make software.

The possibilities for abuse are fantastic. Microsoft may send a bill to UserLand, but not to Blogger, perhaps because I say things about them here that they don't like, and Evan sticks to lighter themes. Or I might get a bill in the mail, refuse to pay it, and every time I criticize them they up the ante legally. It wouldn't take too long before the cost of criticizing Microsoft was too high, and there goes free speech. All it takes is one BigCo to spoil the whole thing.

Of course the USPTO should never have allowed patenting of software, it's too close to patenting speech, and that's the first sacred freedom guaranteed by the US Constitution. I think ultimately that's how we'll get rid of this problem. (BTW, in general, lawyers have been of no help on this. I've tried to get Lessig to look at this angle, but I don't think he understands how close software is to speech.)

7/30/00: Software and the First Amendment.

Tim O'Reilly pointed out that Microsoft has benefited from a lot of non-patented art that it ripped off, citing the Macintosh as an example. It's much worse than that. I designed features of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the Windows file system browser. My lawyers suggested that we file a patent on these inventions, but I felt then as I feel now that it is unethical for a software developer to try to prevent competition that way. I let Microsoft use the ideas for free because I thought it was better for progress in the software business. (In 1985, when the outlining feature was going into Word, they didn't hide that they were studying ThinkTank and Ready. The subject of licensing the design of our user interface never came up in the discussions we had with them, and we didn't raise the issue after Word-with-outlining shipped. Same with PowerPoint, which eventually adopted many of the features of MORE. I had a meeting with Microsoft's Pete Higgins where I explained how outlining would work in spreadsheets. Shortly thereafter the feature appeared in Excel. Again, no problem sharing the idea, I didn't have a spreadsheet to put it into, they did, so I gave them the idea. The same free sharing of ideas happened in 1998-2000 when we worked with them on SOAP, based on prior work at both Microsoft and UserLand. Getting Microsoft on board was important. We made a significant contribution to their product strategy.)

BTW, I asked John Montgomery of Microsoft, while SOAP was in development, to confirm that they had not filed any patents on this technology, and I got confirmation that they hadn't. The red flag was raised by Sun, in a private meeting, who claimed that they knew that Microsoft had filed patents in this area. The BigCo's play a pretty nasty game, I learned at the time.


Last update: Thursday, August 02, 2001 at 5:41 PM Eastern.

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