Microsoft’s Interoperable Assimilation

What’s interesting in the war of words between Bruce Chizen of Adobe and Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft is that Dan’l used to work at Apple and has a perspective from Apple’s old days that Microsoft software was essential to the Mac’s early success. He cites several examples of interoperability leading back to Apple, including the Microsoft Office suite, but then he wants us all to think about Microsoft in terms of “Java, Linux, Open Source, IP access, open standards, and more.”

Ouch. Microsoft was once sued by the creator of Java, is now threatening patent litigation in exchange for deals with Linux vendors, and is certainly no fan of Open Source. Do we really want the company meddling with IP access, open standards, and more? As Dana Blankenhorn points out in Open Source (regarding a Harvard Study that explains Microsoft’s political problems with Open Source software), “Controversy and suspicion follow Microsoft wherever it goes in the open source world.”

Bruce Chizen of Adobe has good points. He cited Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer as examples of Microsoft products that are still being developed for Windows but have been ended for the Mac platform, and he suggests that Microsoft’s new Silverlight will suffer the same fate. (Silverlight is a recently unveiled browser plug-in that allows Web content providers to offer a rich video and interactive media experience from directly within Web sites. It leverages Vista’s graphics framework, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Microsoft is promoting it as a direct competitor to Adobe’s Flash.) Adobe’s Macromedia division knows interoperability, and developers (such as YouTube) have depended on this feature of Flash. I don’t want to champion or defend Adobe more than I have to, but Adobe has a far more illustrious history of interoperable solutions than Microsoft, dating back to PostScript, EPS, and the now ubiquitous PDF. You would have to go back 30 years to find a Microsoft that cooperated with the rest of the industry to build interoperable products.

Coincidentally, as I write this I’m unable to use my Mac to open a document sent to me by a normal business that tells me they are using Microsoft Word. I have in my arsenal the Mac version of Word, OpenOffice 2.0, NeoOffice, TextEdit, and on the Web, Google Docs — all of which open older Word docs and standard formats. Sure enough, the only program that would open this file is Word running on Windows XP, and only after installing some kind of unspecified converter from the original CD-ROM. Maybe this is just a glitch, or some form of temporary insanity while we all adjust to a world of Microsoft “standards”.

Peeking inside with BBEdit, I see that the document appears to be a variant of XML. This document was saved that way by a normal business that has other things to do than change default settings so that documents can be opened on other systems. And this is how Microsoft gets away with “interoperability” — co-opting proven standards (like XML) and turning them into Microsoft pseudo-standards, which are then set as defaults for the program while offering the real standards as options. Normal businesses don’t realize how these default settings — which keep them locked into Microsoft products — disrupt rather than unify our multiple-platform world.

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Microsoft’s Interoperable Assimilation

What’s interesting in the war of words between Bruce Chizen of Adobe and Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft is that Dan’l used to work at Apple and has a perspective from Apple’s old days that Microsoft software was essential to the Mac’s early success. He cites several examples of interoperability leading back to Apple, including the Microsoft Office suite, but then he wants us all to think about Microsoft in terms of “Java, Linux, Open Source, IP access, open standards, and more.”

Ouch. Microsoft was once sued by the creator of Java, is now threatening patent litigation in exchange for deals with Linux vendors, and is certainly no fan of Open Source. Do we really want the company meddling with IP access, open standards, and more? As Dana Blankenhorn points out in Open Source (regarding a Harvard Study that explains Microsoft’s political problems with Open Source software), “Controversy and suspicion follow Microsoft wherever it goes in the open source world.”

Bruce Chizen of Adobe has good points. He cited Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer as examples of Microsoft products that are still being developed for Windows but have been ended for the Mac platform, and he suggests that Microsoft’s new Silverlight will suffer the same fate. (Silverlight is a recently unveiled browser plug-in that allows Web content providers to offer a rich video and interactive media experience from directly within Web sites. It leverages Vista’s graphics framework, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Microsoft is promoting it as a direct competitor to Adobe’s Flash.) Adobe’s Macromedia division knows interoperability, and developers (such as YouTube) have depended on this feature of Flash. I don’t want to champion or defend Adobe more than I have to, but Adobe has a far more illustrious history of interoperable solutions than Microsoft, dating back to PostScript, EPS, and the now ubiquitous PDF. You would have to go back 30 years to find a Microsoft that cooperated with the rest of the industry to build interoperable products.

Coincidentally, as I write this I’m unable to use my Mac to open a document sent to me by a normal business that tells me they are using Microsoft Word. I have in my arsenal the Mac version of Word, OpenOffice 2.0, NeoOffice, TextEdit, and on the Web, Google Docs — all of which open older Word docs and standard formats. Sure enough, the only program that would open this file is Word running on Windows XP, and only after installing some kind of unspecified converter from the original CD-ROM. Maybe this is just a glitch, or some form of temporary insanity while we all adjust to a world of Microsoft “standards”.

Peeking inside with BBEdit, I see that the document appears to be a variant of XML. This document was saved that way by a normal business that has other things to do than change default settings so that documents can be opened on other systems. And this is how Microsoft gets away with “interoperability” — co-opting proven standards (like XML) and turning them into Microsoft pseudo-standards, which are then set as defaults for the program while offering the real standards as options. Normal businesses don’t realize how these default settings — which keep them locked into Microsoft products — disrupt rather than unify our multiple-platform world.

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Shut Up and Play Your iPhone, Volume 1

The news from the Apple Developer Conference is mostly good (Leopard), and only a little bad (developers for the iPhone are not happy yet), but certainly not as ugly as it is on the dark side (critical Vista and Internet Explorer 7 patches).

While the debate rages on about its lack of a mechanical keyboard, the iPhone has already changed the way people think these devices should work, and how developers should provide third-party applications (besides, the iPhone virtual keyboard turns out to be quite useful, according to friend and co-author Andy Ihnatko). Developers should do as much as they can using Web 2.0 standards (such as Ajax) right now. Develop really cool widgets and iPhone-specific applications? Maybe later… But right now, make the iPhone work the way it’s supposed to regarding the Internet, because that’s the first major hurdle.

The iPhone is, as I wrote before, a platform in infancy, waiting to be exploited in the next decade. Even as naysayers pointed to the lack of a decent software developer kit for third-party applications, two new iPhone applications appeared from third parties within two days of Steve Jobs’ appearance at the conference. When it ships on June 29, 2007, the iPhone may very well be the first platform designed for Web 2.0 technologies. This is significant because Web 2.0 applications that run on servers demand a certain level of performance in the browser to work properly. Showing real, unadulterated, unfiltered Web sites and running Web apps — that’s the full Internet experience Apple needs to promote to get beyond the smartphone set and make iPhone a success for everyone, including third-party developers. It’s a good move for Apple, not a bad move for developers, and guarantees that the iPhone experience won’t be ugly.

The iPhone uses the full Safari browser, which will also be available for Windows, completing the platform picture. Web 2.0 developers are accustomed to making their services work in Explorer and Firefox, but anything that works with Safari will most likely work with these other browsers as well, making Safari a “least common denominator” for testing their services. Expect Google Apps (with word processing and spreadsheets) to be available on the iPhone, maybe not when it first ships, but soon thereafter — as Google Apps are part of the Safari 3 framework. (I am writing this using Google Apps and will be reporting immediately on how useful an iPhone is for this purpose, as soon as I can get one of my own.)

But developers are peeved that Web site are considered “third-party applications” — even if those sites offer Web applications. Developers want to make something unique to differentiate their offerings. They want to innovate on the iPhone platform with the same gusto (and developer resources) that they brought to the task of innovating on the Mac platform.

There’s that word again: platform. Bottom line — to quote one commentor on the miffed developers story: “Developers should be bloody relieved that there IS actually a way of developing 3rd party apps for iPhone!”

* * *

Not every security training program, but ccie and mcse becomes much easier for comptia a+ students if they prepare from testking planners.

* * *

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Microsoft Protection Racket Helps Novell with SuSE Linux

Of the many definitions of extortion, this one is my favorite: “Illegal use of one’s official position or powers to obtain property, funds, or patronage.” While one might question whether it is illegal (and therefore truly extortion), Microsoft is certainly using a threat to litigate as leverage to obtain patronage from the Open Source community — in this case, the cooperation of Linux vendors to work with the jolly Redmond software giant on various compatibility issues. The return for this patronage is protection from any patent litigation involving Linux.

Microsoft’s shakedown of the Open Source community turned Novell into a Microsoft partner with SuSE Linux; now it has turned Xandros into a partner as well. Microsoft made them a deal they couldn’t refuse. The Open Source community has already decided to “grandfather” (or should it be Godfather) the Novell-Microsoft partnership into the final draft of version 3 of the General Public License (GPL 3). The controversial section of this license — on blocking future patent agreements — is now inapplicable to the Microsoft-Novell agreement (for details, see “How the last-call draft of the GPL 3 impacts the Microsoft/Novell agreement” by Ryan Paul in Ars Technica). Most likely the community will also sanction the Xandros agreement.

Like garbage hauling contractors in the Northeast Jersey of The Sopranos, Xandros and Novell have nothing to lose by paying tribute to Microsoft. In fact, the Linux desktop implementations, as well as Linux servers (well we knew that), are thriving in the shadow of Microsoft’s cold war. In particular Novell’s SuSE Linux is kicking ass and taking some customers away from Microsoft. It’s difficult to gauge what resistance there might be for businesses to adopt Linux in the shadow of Microsoft’s patent threats, but whatever resistance there is melts away in the light of Microsoft’s protection racket. That makes SuSE Linux and Xandros look more attractive for small and medium-sized businesses than other Linux distributions.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. Whitelaw Twining, a Vancouver, Canada law corporation specializing in insurance and construction litigation and a Novell customer, evaluated a move to Vista (as well as to Xandros) before selecting SuSE Linux. “Novell had the best desktop solution for us,” said Richard Giroux, IT Manager at Whitelaw Twining. “We evaluated solutions based on the ability to create a safe environment, as well as what it would cost us in time and money to maintain them.” According to the IT manager, migrating from Windows 2000 to SuSE Linux was no more difficult than migrating to Vista. At the very least, Whitelaw reduced its hardware costs by 30% with the ability to run on cost-effective PCs, and reduced desktop maintenance time by 20%. The Nevada Department of Corrections, another Novell customer switching to SuSE Linux and Novell’s Open Enterprise Server, is saving potentially millions of dollars in software licensing costs.

OK, so if legal firms and government agencies feel safe, Microsoft’s protection racket must be working. Novell benefits from it now, and Xandros will benefit shortly. Are you a Linux vendor going it alone but looking for a way to protect your large customers and developers from legal ramifications in Redmond? Good luck with that.

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iTunes Plus: Paul is Not Dead

The new iTunes Plus portion of the online iTunes Store is now available, offering higher-priced, higher-quality, DRM-free songs and albums you can play on any device and copy endlessly. These tunes are from EMI, as reported here previously.

The news media had a momentary lapse of reason about personal information in the song tracks. Apple’s new DRM-free songs still have your full name and account e-mail embedded in them, just like the lower-priced songs sold on iTunes. According to Ars Technica (“Apple hides account info in DRM-free music, too” by Ken Fisher), “The hidden data [in the DRM-free songs] is more significant since it could theoretically be used to trace shared tunes back to the original owner.” But of course all iTunes-purchased songs have this data, which is really not so hidden — it’s plain text, according to “iTunes Plus scaremongering” by Stephen Withers in itwire. The point is that DRM-free songs might be shared; and if they are, Apple or the record labels could track it.

As of one day after it was announced, boomers rule. Of the top 25 songs, 15 are from boomer artists such as Pink Floyd and The Beach Boys (12 are by Paul McCartney!). The #1 album is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Paul’s Band on the Run is #3; conspicuously absent are Beatles albums but that seems only temporary. Where is all the new music? It is certainly hyped on the front page of iTunes Plus but it has to compete with the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and even Frank Sinatra.

The Baby Boomer generation still has more influence than most people think. We are not all washed up… yet. 40 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles (read a brief history, or read the news story) was introduced to the world, and we still celebrate it. How many other music albums are celebrated this way? And as the titans of our industry, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, put on a show for the technorati this week, the word was love in all the press reports, and Jobs even quoted from the song “Two of Us” to summarize their technobuddy relationship. On the day that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arrives in the iTunes store, the entire world will know about it. Unfortunately today is not that day. Maybe next week.


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Apple at the Speed of Sound

Sir Paul McCartney and Wings will soon grace the iTunes Store pages with music that is digitized at a higher bit rate and not copy protected — thanks to the Apple deal with EMI and the settlement of the Apple-Apple Records dispute. Sir Paul’s new album, Memory Almost Full is available for digital pre-order now.

The iPhone has been granted FCC approval and the blogs expect Apple to be on time with the iPod-phone’s introduction. According to The New York Times, Europe is all abuzz over the iPhone and Apple may push forward plans to implement the so-called 3G (third-generation) mobile technology for the European market, if only to secure the right carrier (U.S. models don’t offer 3G). The iPhone will be available for sale by the end of June at 2,000 retail store fronts (Apple’s and AT&T’s).

The iPod will soon sport a force-sensitive touch-surface on the back side with the display on the front side, according to reports of a recent Apple patent filing. You’ll be looking at the display while your finger manipulates controls on the back to select menu options, music, etc. The design enables you to operate the iPod with one hand, selecting items and moving through menus without lifting your finger. It might even incorporate a virtual keyboard that you type on with your hand facing up rather than down as you look at the display.

Toyota is rolling out an integration kit this summer for plugging an iPod into the car glove box and using either the steering wheel or usual audio system controls.

So it is no wonder that as of this writing, Apple stock is soaring. Bear Stearns analyst Andy Neff gives it an Outperform rating with a price target of $143 per share.


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FUD-Slinging Microsoft Bullies Open Source Crowd

Microsoft is resorting to a Cold War on Open Source and Linux, using fear and uncertainty as it primary weapons — even as key blogs within the organization are telling developers not to worry and be happy. According to Mary Jo Foley in All About Microsoft, Microsoft’s public relations agency began circulating the patent infringement story among the press on May 14, timing it with the release of a Fortune magazine interview with Microsoft’s head top lawyer Brad Smith. In the article, Smith alleges that the Linux kernel violates 42 Microsoft patents, while its user interface and other design elements infringe on a further 65. OpenOffice.org is accused of infringing 45, along with 83 more in other free and open-source programs. News stories like this one from CNET News.com fanned the flames of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).

What’s happening is really of no concern to users who buy computers, though it may concern large companies that customize Open Source software for their own use. Microsoft is using this threat to bring Open Source developers and Linux suppliers — and their large clients — to the bargaining table to pay licenses. The large clients have no political reasons to fight and will pay up to avoid costly legal bills.

Show Me the Patents!

Microsoft’s patents should be challenged, because many of them are probably suspect. Microsoft is not known for innovation but for adapting other inventions into products (such as the Windows interface). The only patents that might carry weight would be in the realm of Microsoft Office, especially Word and Excel, which were developed a long time ago by Microsoft; yet even Excel is based on Lotus 1-2-3. Check out Mike Masnick’s analysis in Overhype, “Microsoft’s Claims About Linux Patent Infringement Are Old News And Old FUD“:

…this really is all meaningless unless Microsoft actually is willing to point out the 235 patents, say where they believe the infringement occurs and is willing to defend itself in court and at the Patent Office on those points. So far, we haven’t seen that. Perhaps that’s because Microsoft recognizes how badly that would backfire. If there ever were a high profile case that might get the Supreme Court’s attention on whether or not software patents are legal, Microsoft trying to knock down the success of Linux seems like just such a case. [Emphasis mine.]

But these patents probably won’t be challenged in court, because Microsoft does not want a public legal fight. With its monopoly on operating systems, Microsoft can’t afford the bad publicity of opening a can of worms with the Justice Department over whether or not the company is using patent laws to maintain or expand that monopoly — which would likely violate antitrust laws. Besides, Microsoft does not want these patents studied, disputed, or worked-around. It is likely that of the 235 patents, half are vague enough to be disputed. U.S. patent laws allow for time to rectify errors or transgressions (assuming they weren’t knowingly committed), and the Open Source community would probably jump on the opportunity to devise work-arounds for the rest of so-called infringements. That would leave Microsoft with a dwindling supply of patent infringements to claim. Microsoft would rather keep the Open Source community muttering underneath its breath, and reveal nothing.

So no, Microsoft really doesn’t want to make each patent infringement a federal case. Even the claims are not new, except perhaps to Fortune magazine, which is pretending that Microsoft is making the claim now for the first time to drum up publicity (and of course the story is all over the blogosphere as a result). So why do it? It turns out that Microsoft’s campaign falls right in line with its past efforts to scare people out of using Open Source software and in particular Linux.

Remember the SCO

We all should remember the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) story — the company that couldn’t kill Linux with lawyers (although the SCO fight is still not over). Once a fun-loving group of programmers in Santa Cruz, Calif., the original SCO epitomized the image of a company run by long-haired, bearded hackers rooted in counterculture values — and more inclined to use Elmer Fudd as a marketing tool than FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Alas, by 1995, the market for Unix had dwindled, and Novell, which had bought the Unix source code from AT&T, sold its Unix business to SCO. As the original SCO programmers faded back into the labyrinth of nearby Silicon Valley or moved to other companies, SCO was taken over by lawyers who had probably never seen the beach at Santa Cruz. The mission of what is called The SCO Group is as remote from Santa Cruz culture as you could imagine. The company exists to sue anyone who uses Linux or develops products or solutions using Linux.

Microsoft knows a good disruptive effect when it sees one, so it jumped on this bandwagon and helped ensure that SCO could mount this fight by providing major financial help. In early 2003, Microsoft started paying SCO what eventually grew to $16.6 million for a Unix license, according to regulatory filings. Microsoft provided a second, though indirect, boost later in 2003 when it referred SCO to BayStar Capital, a fund that arranged a $50 million investment. The two moves demonstrate Microsoft’s ulterior motive — after all, why would Microsoft want to help prop up a company that is demanding millions in royalty fees from it? “Microsoft obviously has an interest in this,” Larry Goldfarb of BayStar Capital told CNET in 2004, “and their interest is obviously in keeping their operating system on top.” While SCO’s plan to raise revenue from licensing largely failed, the company succeeded in spreading clouds of doubt over Linux, even though a Michigan judge threw out all of SCO’s claims against DaimlerChrysler, and SCO’s lawsuit against Novell was dismissed. But large customers such as General Motors started demanding indemnification from any lawsuits concerning the origins of Linux. As a result, companies that distribute Linux, including industry leader Red Hat, now routinely indemnify their customers.

Undermining the GPL

So, FUD works… for a while. Microsoft is simply at it again, and the timing has a lot to do with the impending release of Version 3 of the Free Software Foundation’s General Public License (GPL). So says Mary Jo Foley in “GPLv3 the impetus for Microsoft’s latest Linux attack campaign” (ZDnet’s All About Microsoft). “The company’s latest decision to go public with claimed patent infringement numbers and other inflammatory statements, to me, shows Microsoft must think the GPL v3 has teeth.”

And as the Fortune article noted, the GPL v3’s provisions regarding the Microsoft-Novell deal suggest that Microsoft itself could be considered a “Linux distributor,” and thus beholden to the GPL v3 terms. And even if that doesn’t happen, under the GPL v3, other Linux distributors would be barred from doing deals like the one struck by Novell and Microsoft. Unless some company stands up to the patent challenge, Microsoft’s campaign of fear might cause problems for the adoption of Version 3 of the GPL.

What’s really happening? Why is Microsoft overhyping the patent issue again? Companies have stopped paying these licensing fees now that the SCO legal fight is winding down. Version 3 of the GPL is a threat to Microsoft’s ability to partner up with companies like Novell. And the lawyers need something to do, as there are still vast amounts of money sitting in Microsoft’s coffers waiting to be spent on pummelling the Open Source movement in public.

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OnHollywood: The Weird Turn Pro

Down in Hollywood
Better hope that you don’t run out of gas
Down in Hollywood
They’ll drag you right outta your car and kick your ass

The song “Down in Hollywood” by Ry Cooder (on iTunes, on Amazon) is going through my mind as I walk the famous street to the Roosevelt Hotel for the OnHollywood conference, hosted by Tony Perkins of AlwaysOn. I pass a homeless mental case screaming obscenities at the street itself, a cackling squad of middle-aged Japanese tourists counting the stars on the sidewalk, foreign-born shopkeepers muttering quietly as they sweep up last night’s party trash, hustlers peddling dope, hookers peddling sex, and scores of kids babbling and texting and probably Twittering with their mobile phones, oblivious to their surroundings. (And what are you doing right now?) At Hollywood and Highland I turn into the Roosevelt’s entrance clogged with casually dressed technofolk, mostly from Silicon Valley and San Francisco, mingling with a minority of suited finance types from both coasts and about a handful of Big Media moguls. Inside it is cool, dimly lit, and way too stylish for the streets outside — a virtual representative of “old Hollywood” reality. Arianna Huffington and Carson Daly are the most visible representatives of the professional media that have taken the plunge into blogging and video channeling; but the true stars are the geeks and weirdos that have turned professional.

This is a conference that featured, among many demonstrations of video delivery methods, social networks with video, and video blogging, a panel on whether new technologies are killing good writing. The younger generation is not reading anyway — they’re watching videos and creating their own videos, and expressing themselves in instant messages. Tony Perkins started the conference with a slide that indicated how badly the Boomer Generation “gets it” — while those under 30 spend far more time doing instant messaging than email, those over 40 are hooked on email and Big Media content (presumably those between 30 and 40 maintain some kind of balance, maybe even a life). Even those over 40 who “get it” always seem to fall back on sports — scores, live games, stats, etc. — as the best example of how people will use streaming video on their mobile phones. Perhaps this reflects the male-dominated high-tech industry with its full-court-press attitude. All I know is, as a man over 50, after seeing that slide I’ve been haunted by the youth market. (And yes, those that are not busy being born are busy dying.) And I figure that if anyone can find a way to bring Boomers into this new media explosion, the advertising dollars will flow more freely. Why? Because the Boomers have more purchasing power than the teenagers.

Big Media has stalked teens for their pocket change as far back as Elvis. And now, as scary as it may seem to Clueless Boomers to have hundreds of new video distribution methods and millions of “channels” of video, it is much scarier to Big Media (most of which is run by Boomers), and Big Media is indeed running out of gas. Less people are watching TV, even less are watching the ads on TV. User-generated video, if not actually affecting the advertising revenue of broadcast networks and cable TV, is at least putting the scare into Big Media. It seems ludicrous that a geek like Justin Kan, broadcasting his entire life 24×7 using a webcam strapped to his head (Justin TV), is intimidating to Big Media, but Justin was there, at OnHollywood, almost as big as the other new Web 2.0 brands. And marketers are awaking to the opportunity to not only target advertising better to specific audiences, but also to track how well the ads are doing — something television networks can’t provide.

(In fact, finer measurements of the TV audience’s view of ads, proposed year after year by Nielsen, has been quietly ignored, according to Blake Krikorian of Sling Media, because TV networks don’t want advertisers to know how ineffectual the response really is. And while it is possible to put the Nielsen codes in videos that appear on various TV networks so that the Nielsen boxes measure responses, the information advertisers get is idiosyncratic to the network — Comcast’s data is different than data from other networks. Sorting through these different data sets to determine an ad campaign’s response is a business intelligence problem that advertisers haven’t addressed.)

The conference served to point out not only how unconnected Big Media really is to the buying public, but how irrelevant they seem to be to the new Web 2.0 companies. The one panel that featured the Big Media moguls had the attendees leaving in droves for the schmooze lounge. Funny thing about that: the techno people are terrible schmoozers. The social media nerds are not very sociable! Nor do they pay attention to the panels. They’re more interested in the instant comments from the new global “peanut gallery” attending the conference from the computers far away — the chat room, on display next to the speakers. Everyone laughed not when Carson Daly told a joke about having bad hair on stage for the world to see, but when someone out in the world commented back that Carson’s hair looked fine. We are giddy with what technology can do, but since we haven’t mastered social connections in the real world, how can we possibly make them work in the virtual?

Andrew Keen in his blog, the Great Seduction (“Virtual reality in Hollywood“), has this to say (which neatly sums up the mood of the conference):

This surreal panel [“What’s in store for Virtual Worlds?”] was held in a room named the “Cinegrill” in the basement of Hollywood’s historic Roosevelt Hotel. After a few minutes of virtual reality talk, I began to look around the room. There must have been around fifty people in the audience — digital entertainment executives, Hollywood wannabe moguls, media journalists, bloggers, posers like myself. Only three of them (and I counted, I promise) were looking at the four executives up on the stage of the Cinegrill. The others were peering at their electronic toys — laptops, BlackBerries, phones, Treos. Nobody was paying attention to what was happening in the Cinegrill. Everyone had been consumed by their screens.

And yet, just about everything at the conference was interesting — possibly because it was limited to the top 100 companies that AlwaysOn’s judges believe are tops in the field. This “hit list” of 100 companies include some brand names like Gracenote and Sling Media (which is number one on the list). YouTube was on it last year. Here are some new services that struck me as really interesting, and I’ll be covering more over the next few weeks:

  • Start your own video channel with me.tv. The service packages a .TV domain purchase with pre-designed themes and easy-to-use video management tools. Channel “broadcasters” can browse top video sites and with a single click grab embed code and links for their favorite videos, allowing for quick and easy programming of their own .TV channels. Each .TV channel is its own social networking site with private or public profiles, blogs, message boards, on-site messaging, user ratings, favorites, friends lists, comments, and photo albums. MTV VJ Carson Daly opened the OnHollywood conference with his new .TV channel.
  • BlogTalkRadio lets bloggers add a live talk show to their blogs, with live interaction over the Internet. Listeners can call the host during the blogshow using any phone, whether it be a landline, mobile, VOIP, soft phone, etc., or visit the blog and use their favorite instant messenger client. Free to bloggers, the service plans to put advertising in the shows and share revenues with bloggers.
  • Cozmo.TV lets you build your own video channel, but it also helps you time-shift television content and search by keywords. If you are familiar with scheduling your TiVo today online through TiVo Central or Yahoo!, you basically get the same functionality with Cozmo. Like TiVo, Cozmo will offer a wide variety of categories to browse from: history, documentary, science fiction, etc. and have full search capability. Even more interesting is the ability to tag television content with keywords, to make content discovery easier.
  • Joost is already putting TV shows on the Internet for anyone to watch; the fact that it started with reruns is no surprise but this trend is seriously catching on, with mobile phones the next medium for watching these shows.

As I left the Roosevelt bound for Burbank, the same kids were still Twittering on the sidewalk, the Japanese tourists had moved on to the Chinese Theater, the junkies crowded around the hustlers, more hookers were flaunting more booty, and the homeless mental case was still screaming obscenities at the street. Nothing had changed except people at the conference left feeling a bit more anxious, and virtual reality was beginning to look promising as the only escape.

Stay tuned — same iTimes blog, same iTimes channel…

Ry Cooder - Bop Till You Drop - Down in Hollywood

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‘Scuse Me, While I Kiss This Guy

Yes, and “Doughnuts Make Your Brown Eyes Blue”, “There’s a bathroom on the right”, “The girl with colitis goes by”, and “Good collie, Miss Molly”!

May you never suffer such mondegreens again. As reported by Michael Liedtke of Associated Press, Yahoo is set to unveil what it calls the Web’s largest legally licensed database of accurate lyrics — 400,000 songs properly licensed from their publishers. While you can find lyrics on other Web sites, many of those sites are technically breaking copyright law by posting the words without the approval of the copyright holders. Many are also inaccurate due to relying on submissions from the world at large rather than licensing the actual published lyrics.

According to other reports including Reuters (brought to us courtesy of CNET News.com), Gracenote, the company that developed the CDDB and technology used in iTunes that automatically recognizes the tracks on compact discs, led the way by putting together the database and licensing deals. Yahoo will share with copyright holders the revenue from the ads that will be displayed alongside the lyrics. Most of the largest music publishers are part of the nearly 100 publishers that contributed lyrics, including BMG Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group and Warner/Chappell Music.

Yahoo doesn’t actually integrate these lyrics with iTunes or your iPod — to do that today, you need a utility such as Canto Pod from staylazy, which is now available for Mac OS X as well as Windows. It grabs song lyrics from a different database of over 200,000 songs (Leo’s Lyrics) and lets you copy the lyrics to your iPod’s Notes section as well as to the song information (Lyrics tab) in iTunes. The new version is popular among Mac users — on April 16th, Canto Pod was approved on Apple’s Widget Download website, placed as a staff favorite, and downloads have skyrocketed according to staylazy. But  I wonder how long they can stay lazy with Leo now that Yahoo is in the game. But Canto Pod is coolio — its iTunes Song button lets you search for lyrics while listening to a song, without having to type anything.

I expect that a deal with iTunes will emerge in the near future that will use Gracenote’s technology to put the lyrics where they belong: in the iTunes song information field for lyrics. Someday soon you will see all kinds of utilities and iTunes features involving lyrics.

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The Myth of the Insecure Mac

I once wrote that supposed vulnerabilities in Apple Macs are just tempests in a teacup; that editors (and mainstream bloggers) should remember that when they bend over backwards to give security firms and contests free publicity in exchange for exciting headlines.

The point is, if Apple’s OS X ever became seriously vulnerable to a virus or worm in the wild, as Windows is routinely vulnerable to, it would create press headlines way, way beyond what you see now. Still, every tiny chance that a Mac might be vulnerable is seized upon by the press and bloggers and turned into a minor story (see “Safari vulnerability exposed in MacBook Pro hacking contest” in Jason D. O’Grady’s Apple blog, “MacBook hacked in contest at security event” in CNET News.com, or “A Mac gets whacked, a second survives” in The Register).

Can’t blame them — an OS X virus, worm, or zero-day exploit in the wild would be a major scoop. But it’s just not going to happen, as it would have happened already. This story (in particular the version in Infoworld, “Myth crushed as hacker shows Mac break-in“) is itself a Crushed Myth. The MacBook was not hacked remotely; the hack required user interaction; and the hack exploited a hole in the browser’s Java, not in OS X. Besides, the hack was part of a contest, not running in the wild. It turns out that the vulnerability that enabled the MacBook hack is in Apple’s version of Java, and not specific to Safari. If you use, for example, Firefox with Java enabled, you are vulnerable to this kind of attack.

For a good summary of this tempest in a teapot, see “InfoWorld Publishes False Report on Mac Security” in RoughlyDrafted. As the article points out, Apple makes responsible efforts to design security into its products, while Microsoft hasn’t until very recently.

It’s not that it is impossible to infect or exploit a Mac, it’s that Apple hasn’t shipped millions of Macs listening wide open for commands to act upon, or shipped a web browser designed to naively run programs like Microsoft’s ActiveX did, or installed an email program designed to automatically run commands that arrive as attachments as Outlook did.

Arguments about whether browser vulnerabilities reflect badly on the operating system miss the point: OS X does not require Safari, which you can remove easily if you want; whereas Windows not only fastens parts of Internet Explorer and Outlook to its basic functionality but also doesn’t let you remove them easily. OS X is built on the time-tested Unix core system designed from the ground up to be secure as multiuser systems; Windows is, well, not.

.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

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