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About this Author
Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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Feel free to contact me about articles, websites and etc. you think I may find of interest. I'm also available for consulting work and speaking engagements. Email: ernest.miller 8T gmail.com

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Category Archives

« Open Source | Open Standards | Patent »

June 22, 2005

June 13, 2005

May 24, 2005

MS to Lock Up Office Documents, Lock In Customers

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News reports on a couple of initiatives by Microsoft to bring more security into the workplace (Facing 'New World of Work,' Microsoft Locks Up Office). Apparently Microsoft will be adding new forms of DRM to their popular office suite so that companies have more control over where their internal documents can go. Strangely, the article never bothers to ask whether this technology will have an open protocol or will be used to lock in customers as it locks up documents.

The article also discusses a new, corporate form of IM that is subject to centralized control by the corporation:

"What happened is the dynamic of IM changed when people knew it was being logged," Greifeld said. But both Capossela and Greifeld said that the change is not necessarily a bad thing.

"For us, the value of instant messaging isn't the sideshow where people get to have private conversations," Capossela said. "The value of instant messaging is the ability to connect with somebody absolutely real-time and to have that quick burst back and forth."

Privacy is such an antiquated concept.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Digital Rights Management | Open Standards | Privacy | Security

May 17, 2005

August 30, 2004

The Google File System

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Slashdot points to an extremely interesting Google Gmail hack - the Gmail File System (GmailFS - The Google File System):

GmailFS provides a mountable Linux filesystem which uses your Gmail account as its storage medium. ... GmailFS supports most file operations such as read, write, open, close, stat, symlink, link, unlink, truncate and rename.
Most of the comments on Slashdot deal with the fact that this hack probably violates Google's terms of service and may result in users having their accounts abruptly terminated. However, there are some insightful ones (Re: GoogleOS).

More importantly, this does point towards another piece of the internet operating system puzzle (or, more specifically, Google Operating System).

Gee, I wonder if the advent of a Google Operating System will have any impact on copyright law, telecom regulation, etc., etc., etc...

UPDATE 2200 PT
On a somewhat related note Discourse.net (GoogleWatch Says 'Google Is Dying').

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Copyright | Internet | News | Open Standards | Telecomm | Tools

July 06, 2004

Quote of the Day: Telecom and DRM Edition

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Telepocalypse discusses why DRM is bad for communication networks (DRM - enemy of telecom):

Ultimately, telecom is about communications, not media. DRM inhibits communications. That’s the opposite of what you’re after. If we’d had DRM before the Internet became widely available, telcos would have sold a lot less dial-up and broadband, and the industry would have even more unlit fiber than it does today.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Digital Rights Management | Open Standards | Telecomm

June 01, 2004

Microsoft Extends Software Support; Intuit Forces Obsolescence

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News reports the somewhat surprising move by Microsoft to extend support for older versions of their software that are still widely used (Microsoft slows to support customers' pace). Microsoft has been frequently accused of dropping support for older software in order to force users to upgrade to newer software. After all, if Windows 98 works just fine for a business, there is little incentive for them to upgrade to Windows XP or Longhorn. If there is no upgrading, Microsoft doesn't make money.

In this case, extending support is likely a response to the Linux threat. One of Microsoft's main claims against Linux is the claimed lack of support for the open source operating system. Doesn't sell your case if you don't have much in the way of support either.

Related to the support issue is the claim that Microsoft updates its file formats in order to also encourage upgrades of software. If Word 98 doesn't open files from Word XP, eventually I may have to upgrade to Word XP in order to easily read the files others send me. Personally, I wouldn't even have a copy of Word on my hard drive except for my need to read Word documents from others.

Prof. Michael Froomkin reports an exasperating example of such file format upgrade cycle shenanigans by financial software giant Intuit: Annals of Software Obsolescence: Intuit is Evil (Quicken Dept.) and Annals of Software Obsolescence: Intuit is Even More Evil than I Thought.

Apparently, Intuit isn't satisfied with dropping support for older file formats in newer versions of its software, but they are somehow encouraging banks to stop supporting older formats in communicating with their customers. Froomkin was quite happy with Quicken 2000, which allowed him to easily download account information from his bank and reconcile his records. He was not happy with Quicken 2003, which locked up his display. So, he switched back to Q2000. Now, however, his bank has upgraded their system and he is unable to automatically download and reconcile his records. He can still do it manually, but that is nearly as inefficient as reading a paper bank statement.

Read Froomkin's posts for the details of this evil example of forced software obsolescence.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Standards

March 26, 2004

TiVo's Quasi-New Extended Commercial Model

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Posted by Ernest Miller

A few days ago C|Net News reported that TiVo is planning on rolling out a quasi-new advertising model this fall (TiVo looks to tune in to advertisers). The new system is described thus:

Known as Video-to-Video, the idea is to let viewers click a button on their remote control to immediately watch a 3-minute video describing products and services that might appeal to them. The marketing clips are promoted through small icons that appear on the TV screen as viewers fast-forward past regular ads.

This is a perfect example of TiVo forgetting what made it successful in the first place. Remember those cool, early commercials for TiVo in which a couple of guys charged into a television network's offices and tossed a programming exec out the window? While the commercials might not have been terribly effective (many people still don't "get" TiVo), they did get to the heart of what makes TiVo successful: empowering viewers. With TiVo you no longer had to watch programs when and how the network execs (or advertisers) chose.

...continue reading.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcatching/Podcasting | Open Standards | Telecomm

February 11, 2004

RSS for TV, Music

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Andrew Grumet is developing a very interesting TiVo hack (RSSTV: Syndication for your PVR). Basically the idea is to share PVR program recording information via RSS. So, when you subscribed to an RSSTV feed, your PVR would record the shows in the feed. Friends and bloggers could easily suggest shows to each other and even create their own virtual networks. Channels would no longer manner; we would watch Mary TV, or the Felten tech channel, based off these RSSTV feeds. Goodbye NBC, CBS, and ABC. Hello, Balkin's Pop Culture for Constitutional Scholars TV.

Of course, another thing I would really be interested in is a nice RSS feed for music. Programming playlists is too much work, and I like the structured serendipity of a good radio show. Why not RSS feeds for music that my MP3 player would synch with? It would be great if it would download stuff I didn't already have, but even without that, it would be pretty darn nice.


via David Galbraith

Comments (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism | File Sharing | Open Standards | Tools

January 16, 2004

Why Not Run Your Own Game Server?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Terra Nova has an interesting little article on so-called "rogue servers" that host MMORPGs (Free Rogue Server Achieves Significant Population). Most, if not all (any P2P MMORPGs out there?), MMORPG are based on the client/server model, where each user has a client that talks to a centralized server. The client programs are either sold for a one-time fee or given away. The business model is based on charging subscriptions for the client programs to have access to the server. The issue of rouge servers arises when hackers reverse-engineer or obtain by other means the server software and begin running their own servers.

From a free speech and copyright overreach point of view there are serious legal and policy issues in any attempt to thwart many of these "rogue servers." See, EFF's work on the Blizzard v. BNETD case for some details on some of them.

The discussion on Terra Nova is quite interesting and there is the suggestion of franchising the running of servers. But why not go farther? Compete with these rogue servers by creating server subscriptions. That is, you can have a client and subscribe to the main server farms, or you can run your own server (for you and your friends/clan, perhaps). As a server manager, you subscribe to a service that keeps your server up-to-date with patches and new content (which you use to keep your friends happy).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Copyright | Culture | File Sharing | Games | Open Access | Open Standards

December 18, 2003

OpenOffice in More Government Shops

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News reports that more government organizations, this time in Israel and Texas, are adopting or testing open source desktop software, such as OpenOffice, as an alternative to Microsoft Office software (OpenOffice makes government inroads). This is great news. However, I'm not nearly as concerned that the government uses Microsoft software as that the government organizations are not committed to open formats. Sure, the government should be able to use Microsoft Office software if it is more efficient, but the government should publish and receive documents in open formats. I shouldn't need proprietary software to open a government document properly. I applaud the switch to open source, but I would cheer a firm commitment to open formats.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Source | Open Standards

November 06, 2003

W3C Working Draft on Anti-Robot Tests

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been one of the leaders in ensuring the web is accessible to everyone despite disability (Web Accessability Initiative). Now, C|Net News reports that the W3C is concerned about access for the visually impaired being hindered by so-called "robot tests" (W3C criticizes antirobot tests). These tests, which are frequently used by websites for registration purposes, require a visual verfication of text and numerals obscured in an image so that a computer cannot decipher the text, but a human (with our awesome text processing capabilities) can. If you've recently signed up for a Hotmail account or for eBay or something, you've run into one of these tests. The tests have been fairly successful at preventing spammers and other bad actors from accessing protected services. Problem is, the visually impaired are also prevented from accessing these services.

This is a tough problem and I sympathize with both sides. The W3C has put forth a working draft in an attempt to develop some solutions (Inaccessibility of Visually-Oriented Anti-Robot Tests: Problems and Alternatives).

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Access | Open Standards

The Problem with Incompatible DRM

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Posted by Ernest Miller

C|Net News has an interesting piece on the incompatibilities created by the use of DRM (Stalemate on digital content?). The underlying video might be standard MPEG, but the differing DRM used by two different systems makes the formats incompatible. You can't listen to Windows Media Audio (WMA) on iPod, and you can't listen to Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) iTunes on anything but iTunes.

This is sort of like the war between Beta and VHS, except here you have un-DRM-encumbered formats such as MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. Are Microsoft and Apple secretly trying to reduce the market success of their licensed music downloads?

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Digital Rights Management | File Sharing | Open Standards

October 27, 2003

Microsoft to Apple: Vae Victis!

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Seth Schoen takes a look at Microsoft's response to iTunes for Windows (I discussed MS's response here: Microsoft on iTunes for Windows) and finds Microsoft's declaration of higher numbers of compatible systems as compared to Apple's iTunes to be risible (Madness):

Interoperability isn't a popularity contest. It's about the answer to this question: What does a prospective implementer have to do in order to make the implementation work? "Read the public specification" is the right answer. Answers involving signing contracts and paying money are the wrong answer. Microsoft and Apple both have media formats with the fatal defect of an attempt to require contractual privity with implementers. (In the free world, that attempt will fail, but that's little comfort to us in the United States.) Here Fester is suggesting that Microsoft's media format is obviously preferable because more implementers have signed Microsoft's license than Apple's.

His argument is not logic. It is Vae victis! [Link added]

via A Copyfighter's Musings

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Standards

Alternate Reality Visions of the Computing Future from Microsoft

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The New York Times (reg. req.) has a confusing report on the competing visions for the future of computing from Microsoft and IBM (Two Companies at Odds Over the Internet's Future). Not surprisingly, Microsoft denigrates IBM's vision:

"I.B.M. is talking about taking all the things we do now and outsourcing it," Mr. Gates said last week in an interview. "The utility model suggests that it is not about empowerment."

And Microsoft is about empowerment? Mr. Gates must be using a different dictionary then I do. Well, actually, Mr. Gates can afford to have the dictionary changed or at least he acts as if he can. Speaking of outsourcing ... what exactly do you call it when you buy your software on a subscription basis (the model Microsoft is trying to move the market towards)? If I don't actually own my software, but only have access so long as I pay the Microsoft tax subscription fee, isn't that outsourcing my software solution?

Microsoft executives compare the first stage of the Internet to the mainframe era, with the Web server computer the equivalent of the mainframe and the browser as the equivalent of the simple, "dumb" terminal of the mainframe days. The personal computer, they say, brought an explosion of creativity and opportunity as millions of people began using computers and programming themselves. Some were professionals, they note, but many others were ordinary people using the simple programming tools in a spreadsheet, for example, to simulate and test new ideas for a business.

Microsoft praising the "explosion of creativity and opportunity as millions of people began using computers and programming themselves?" Has the world gone mad? Did I somehow slip into the same parallel dimension where Spock has a goatee? Is Microsoft actually encouraging PC empowerment at the expense of centralized, chokepointed systems such as a privately owned monopolized operating system?

The next stage of computing, employing the Web services software standards, will do the same thing for the Internet, Microsoft executives say. "The Internet will be programmable," Microsoft's chief technical officer, Craig Mundie, said. "And there's no reason why the bulk of humanity won't be able to apply the tools we're talking about to this new world."

Ummm, isn't Microsoft's vision that the only tools you can use will be Microsoft's tools? Well, perhaps not the only tools, just the preferred tools:

But, of course, the Microsoft message is that the preferred technology for building and experiencing the next generation of the Internet is Windows.

Ah, turns out I am still in the right dimension.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Access | Open Source | Open Standards

October 23, 2003

Microsoft Haters - MS Wants to Hear From You

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Robert Scoble, who is blogging for and about Microsoft's next major operating system, Longhorn, on the Scobleizer LonghornBlog, has posted a piece soliciting Microsoft haters to actually help Microsoft improve its products (How to Hate Microsoft). It is an interesting look at how Microsoft is exploring new ways to meet the challenge of open source and there are some good comments and replies. I particularly like this comment on open standards and this reply to another question on open standards. Though I doubt Microsoft would really care, what is the answer to this question?:

OK, you're a Microsoft executive now. Why again would you invest in developing [open] standards such as those?

via Scripting News

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Open Source | Open Standards