Software/Open Source

October 04, 2003
Hacker vs. Cracker

Making a good point about this definition, this is worth reading: J. D. Biersdorfer/NYTimes: Q. What is the difference between a "hacker" and a "cracker"?
A. Although the term "hacker" has taken on negative connotations, it was once a flattering label reserved for those who could appreciate, operate and program computers. References to hackers and hacking in the computer culture are thought to date from the 1960's.

As noted in the third edition of The New Hacker's Dictionary (M.I.T. Press, 1996), Eric S. Raymond's compilation of computer-related jargon, a hacker is "a person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary." The text also notes the original definition of the word: "someone who makes furniture with an ax."

Over the years, the term "hacker" came to be used to refer to people who used their knowledge of computers to break into other people's systems to steal data and passwords and wreak havoc.

Old-time hackers who do not condone such behavior refer to these intruders as crackers, but that usage has not gained wide recognition.

Other sources on this: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy (Anchor, 1984)
The Hacker Ethic by Pekka Himanen

I haven't read Hacker: Heroes, but I read the Hacker Ethic a few years ago and it's very good at defining the distinction between hackers and crackers. (Foreword by Manuel Castells.) I think the difference is important and usually try to note that in posts.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
September 03, 2003
Office Now Verses Office in the Future

Microsoft's Office suite is the subject of two recent articles:

The first, by Hal Varian and his son, Chris, addresses their Microsoft Office-Linux Interoperability Experiment where they took samples of Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from the Internet and opened them on Linux systems using free office systems like StarOffice, which was the overall winner in compatibility, with scores of 95 to the 99th percentile depending on which application and type of documents.

One could quarrel with our sampling methodology. Files posted on the Internet are often there to be read by others and may well be more generic than files distributed within a typical organization. Most of the Microsoft Word files that we downloaded, for example, did not use mathematics, outlines, tracking changes, or other such features.

This particular experiment should be considered a pilot study that could be extended to a larger one, and perhaps automated to some degree. Nevertheless, the results are suggestive: The current state of interoperability is reasonably good, although there is significant room for improvement.

The second article by David Becker/CNet says that the New Office locks down documents with DRM or Information Rights Management. "If Office 2003 was just another incremental upgrade, they'd have a hard time getting businesses interested," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research. "For most people, the pinnacle of functionality in Office applications came in 1995. But there are more things that can be done using Office as a platform for delivering new services." Apparently, businesses have been slow to adopt the new Office 2003. So the answer for MS appears to be to include DRM in the form of their IRM as well as XML (both of which require Windows Server 2003 to implement).

This may also break the interoperability the Varians found in their preliminary study between Office documents and other free office ware. And people with older versions of MS Office may not be able to read documents from Office 2003. This may mean that MS can lock-in companies and users and force otherwise unnecessary upgrade even more so than they already are. But if their Office 2003 documents are no longer compatible, does that mean more anti-competative behavior? Robert X. Cringely has a story about the Burst v. MS case. The only thing was, nobody, or almost nobody was watching the case.

Microsoft did not come through the hearing very well as whole new levels of anti-competitive behavior were claimed by Burst AND ACKNOWLEDGED BY MICROSOFT -- levels that will likely haunt Redmond in many legal cases to come. While the Burst case is a different kind of anti-competitive behavior, it appears constant vigilance with MS is critical because of their tremendous power in the market.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:50 AM | Permalink
July 30, 2003
Archeology in Software

Salon has something on the eternal problem of translating the past, in this case, legacy software. The DMCA, Patents and copyright are big issues, as much as the technological hurdles in getting and preserving old code. Of course, the Internet Archive is mentioned as a primary archival site, as well as the Computer History Museum's work.

Points: with a historical record of previous code, checking for prior art in considering a patent app would be much easier; historical needs as well as innovation can be satisfied; and students and researchers will have more access to old code and processes to learn from.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
June 14, 2003
P2P Apps Have an Unfortunate Bad Reputation

ComputerWorld reports that peer-to-peer file sharing applications are unfortunately linked in people's minds to piracy of one kind or another. The article speculates that because most P2P apps are used for piracy purposes, companies and others have not explored and used P2P for more legitimate purposes, but increasingly sophisticated P2P apps are being developed that in future might relieve the burden on file caching companies so that individuals will spread freeware, collaborative work projects and other legitimately shared files. This kind of distributed sharing and collaboration is likely the future of Internet based work for knowledge sharing and development. So the success of certain kinds of P2P may hold back or delay the development of other P2P technologies, due to DMCA related fears of prosecution, as well as the development and adoption of information technology based work practices that rely on P2P applications.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 08:25 AM | Permalink
May 01, 2003
RIAA Suits Against Students May Settle.

RIAA lawsuits brought last month against the four students making and operating network search engines apparently will settle soon. The Daily Princetonian reports that Daniel Peng, and the three others, have been working with attorneys to negotiate an end to this, and expect some kind of announcement today. "It would be really expensive to litigate," said Peng, who has avoided commenting publicly since the filing. "I would like to reach an amicable settlement."

In a related story, the Daily Cal at UCB reported on 4/29/03 that UCB Administrators had been approached by the RIAA to close off P2P traffic ((on that note, who hasn't? Even thought there is no P2P traffic on my personal network that I know of - Housemates? Is this true? I expect the doorbell to ring momentarily where a big thug in a bowling shirt with "RIAA" embroidered on the breastpocket requests "politely" that I block traffic immediately if I know what's good for me! It's getting to be like the Nixon enemies list, where anyone who hasn't been sued, or at least been asked to stop some activity by the RIAA will feel neglected.... Not to make light of the actual hardships people who are targeted by the lawsuits experience, but the RIAA is totally out of control, suing people for making search engines that happen to capture file listings on systems that may include MP3s, not to mention IMing file sharers with a tisk tisk note.)) The UCB Administrators responded that they have a policy of not interfering with the ways people use the network and could not comply because the network is set up to respect this. I don't have more details because the Daily Cal has had trouble with it's website recently, and I'm waiting to get a copy of the article to post. Will update then.

Update: Donna Wentworth points out the Settlement for Peng, et. al. at $59,000 (verses the $98 billion they were sued for).

Update: Here is the link to the Daily Cal Story.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
March 29, 2003
Super-Mini-DMCAs, Blogs and Media

Ed Felten has been covering the Super-DMCA issue in FTT including several posts as well as linking to various state bills as passed or proposed, and even posting the Massachusetts bill.

The Register picked it up, and just quotes him because it's so well done. Basically, several states have passed or are considering super-powerful, but state level (hence the mini descriptor), versions of the DMCA (pdf) that will make sending and receiving encrypted email illegal, as well as using network address translation for addressing packets (this is written from behind both soft and hardware firewalls with NAT turned on -- I can't imagine high bandwidth connections not using either or both of these to keep some measure of security), not to mention the usual OS's like Windows that use NAT would be outlawed. The Register covered this topic but essentially just reprinted Ed's explanation.

Which brings up the blogging and media issue. For sometime, the debate about whether blogging is journalism has been discussed, and while this is receding there are still those who believe it cannot be, because of the lack of editorial oversight and the unreliability of blogs (a biz tech reporter at a large regional paper told me this two weeks ago). In effect, Ed becomes a journalist for the Register, because they ripped his stuff. Ed's blog is a great contribution to the advancement of the debate around IP issues, because of his unique experience (CS prof, fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and Tech, recipient of RIAA lawsuit, encryption expert, blogger). Like anything on the Internet, trusted sources are critical, but the blogging medium really has nothing to do with veracity and usefulness. The value of his writing stands regardless of the medium's lack of editorial oversight.

Update 03/30/03: Declan McCullagh also wrote about this Friday in CNet, and posted to Politechbot today (thanks to Frank on the CNet article as well).

Posted by Mary Hodder at 05:00 PM | Permalink
March 26, 2003
Wifi, Spectrum and Pringle Can Antennas

Cory Doctrow (of EFF, of 93,000 free downloads, of boingboing) talked tonight at the JSchool about the spectrum commons, with wiki notes.

Notable ideas:
-by waving your arms around, and yelling "terrorists", you can cloud men's minds (and women's too). People (in Congress?) have lost perspective, partly due to entities like the RIAA who associate terrorists with pirates, and somehow get away with it because they are using the word, terrorist.

-wifi is the junkband, where anyone can transmit, after conforming to a few FCC rules and standards, like 802.11, and there are wireless networks all over like SFLAN, or Schlotzky's deli, or Jhai or on the tops of water towers in rural parts of the midwest. Wifi is cheap, ad hoc, verses the G3 situation, where massive investment, infrastructure and consumer costs have to be in place, not to mention lots of standards, for the system to work. Instead, mesh-networking might fill the 3G need.

-in order to prevent the Napsterization of digital TV and movies, the MPAA, et al, have proposed the broadcast flag. But what happens when all it takes to get around this is $200 in Radio Shack parts and some free software from the internet?

-spectrum allocation is big. It is the reason the Titanic sank. Which btw, all good stories start with either the Titanic sinking or some other disaster. Anyway, the Titanic was blocked as it tried to send distress signals because it was in between two ships. This prompted the forming of the Federal Radio Commission, the precursor to the FCC.

-The Spectrum Policy Task Force, put together by Michael Powell of the FCC rethought spectrum in the commons model, concluding that there is no free market when the freeway is divided into 5' sections. Instead, make the freeway free, and then let monopolies exist at the property at the offramps for minimarkets, etc. There is enormous value created when you don't charge for the commons.

-Like Napster showed us, each new copy is another, so there are no less than existed before. This is true of spectrum commons.

-From Reed & Co: when two beams cross, they pass through each other. Interference is a product of the receiver, and more sensitive receivers will solve this problem.

-Tim Berners-Lee didn't have to go to federal regulators to make http and html, he just did it. Innovation is stifled when the costs are too high and there are too many restrictions.

-to make the pringle's can antenna, punch a hole near the intersection of "sodium" and "carbohydrate", and another in the left eye of the icon.... Who needs standards associated with expensive equipment when you have a perfectly formed and printed pringle's can to mark up and make into an antenna for throwing wifi signals around.

--Nerd determinism: our superior technology will trump your inferior laws
--Nerd fatalism: all laws are shit.... legal and possible are synonymous
We have to get the techies to participate in solving these issues because one or both of these are the way many people feel.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 10:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
March 04, 2003
DVD Jon Back in Court

IT world reports today from Norway that Jon Lech Johansen, also known as dvd Jon, is scheduled to return to court for the appeal of the case filed against him by, among others, the Motion Picture Association of America. Johansen was sued, then aquitted, for creating DeCSS, which makes it possible to decrypt movies in DVD format.

Posted by Valentina Pasquali at 11:20 PM | Permalink
February 28, 2003
DRM Conference, Day 1

Two tutorials, with Drew Dean, SRI; Barb Fox, Microsoft Corp.; Brian LaMacchia, Microsoft Corp, about DRM technology, and one with Pam Samuelson on the legal and policy landscape regarding DRM.

It was a lot and will take a bit to post here, but late last night, I did finish the question (below under "more") that was the most interesting....

MORE...
Posted by Mary Hodder at 05:54 AM | Permalink
February 11, 2003
DMCA Redux? At Least A Look-See Is In Order...

The IEEE IP Committee has asked Congress to re-examine the DMCA because of two recent cases, Elcomsoft and Ed Felten, as well as members' concerns about the chilling of innovation and research. The IEEE wants Congress to review and clarify when encryption research can be published and discussed as protected under the DMCA, and to give ISP's direction in how the "notice and take down" section of DMCA should be handled when a customer posts something in question that may be under copyright protection. Sometimes the ISP's get excited and remove the whole site, when in fact only a page or small amount of the content is in question.

"The position statement just establishes that there is a problem," Tenney says. "We don't know which solution is the best but we want Congress to look at it."

Posted by Mary Hodder at 05:18 PM | Permalink
February 10, 2003
Shrink Wrap Licensing

Software is usually purchased, and then plastic wrap and little white envelope with some additional licensing information printed on the seal are opened, to see what you've bought, and see the license. So (News.com says) Cathy Baker of San Rafael, CA has brought a class action suit against several software and resale companies, claiming (pdf) that their shrink-wrap license agreements unfairly forced buyers to agree to them without reading them. She suggests posting the licenses on the company websites, and in stores. But it's not all that clear what the damages are.

Another seating license of a sort.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:02 AM | Permalink
February 04, 2003
The Semantic Web

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, is working on a new project, the Semantic Web, at the World Wide Web Consortium, based at MIT.

The idea is to create a system allowing computers to understand the data on websites, making the data reusable as chosen by the systems themselves based on the meaning. To work, people would have to code their all websites and data using the standard. It may be far-fetched and a long way off, and people may never be willing to do this, but it is an interesting idea.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
December 31, 2002
MS Will Give the Indian Government Windows Source Code

Microsoft has agreed to share the Windows source code in a proposal to the Indian ministry of information technology, which the president of MS India confirmed. The article speculates that this comes at a time when governments in India are considering Linux because the source code is free and downloadable from the Internet. The end of the article explains that open source is preferred because it allows for innovation of the code from a broad base of users, but that proprietary interests insist that open source can't work in a commercial environment.

There are a couple of recent papers on Open Source:
Yochai Benkler, an NYU Law Professor, has published "Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm (PDF)" explaining "commons-based peer production" for open source software and how the "information opportunity cost" for closed source development is too great a burden for an innovative society to carry, if the "object of production is information or culture". He takes the title from Ronald Coase, author of "The Nature of the Firm" and the penguin symbol used for Linux.

Eric von Hippel at the MIT Sloan School of Management has another interesting paper "Horizontal innovation networks - by and for users" looking at the economic advantages of user innovation networks in open source development.

MORE...
Posted by Mary Hodder at 10:36 AM | Permalink
December 25, 2002
Elcomsoft Transcripts

Here are a few transcripts from the Elcomsoft trial.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
December 24, 2002
"What Do Intellectual Property Owners Want?"

Andy Oram writes about the new censorship, how DRM should be developed, and how it will fail because developers want to take neither the time for an open review process with other researchers, nor are they cooperative toward DRM as the security profession tends to attract people that are averse to using systems that protect people's rights.

Oram says "perfect control will fail. That's the first grounds for optimism.... The second is that people will get bored of controlled content and will turn to open systems that are intrinsically more exciting and engrossing." See his article "Stop the Copying and Start a Media Revolution." And, "third is that the public fights back. The ElcomSoft case shows that the public can understand the issues and stand up for its rights when given a voice."

Posted by Mary Hodder at 12:36 AM | Permalink
December 20, 2002
TCPA, an Offering You Can't Refuse

Hit the power button on your computer, and once it's off, what have you got? An unwieldy, expensive paperweight. Now imagine that each file on your computer is connected to a unique power button of its own. Hit the file's power button and the file turns off. It still exists, you just can't use it. Turn off a single MP3 file, and you can't listen to it. Turn off the MP3 player program, and you can't listen to any MP3s. Every file switched off would nudge your computer infinitesimally closer to its powered off, paperweight state.

Now imagine that someone else had his finger on the power buttons. As a user, you would never want this 'feature', but the very companies that spent the last decade putting computers into millions of homes and businesses are working to implement just such a scheme. The initiative is called the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance or TCPA.

MORE...
Posted by Daniel C. Silverstein at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
December 17, 2002
IE has 95% of the Market

On no. This isn't a monopoly. And yet, according to OneStat.com, a Danish company whose website says it is "the number one provider of real-time web site analytics" and maker of log file analysis tools, Internet Explorer has 95% of the worldwide market.

The Register has reported on difficulties experienced by Linux users in viewing many webpages, as well as alternative web browsers such as Mozilla and Opera. Designers respond to the dominance of IE, by designing for IE, which reinforces IE's dominance. That article even has a lengthy list of "sinners", or look at the more comprehensive Banks 'n' Browsers for a list of difficult banking websites. Interestingly, on the banking list, many US banks and Credit Unions including the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, don't support Netscape, as well as the lesser know browsers.

MORE...
Posted by Mary Hodder at 06:32 PM | Permalink
Elcomsoft Not Guilty

The jury in the DOJ v. Elcomsoft case acquitted the eBook decryption maker on all counts of circumventing the DMCA today.

"The DMCA has clear criminal penalties that can and should be imposed in cases of direct or attempted theft of software and other digital content we would urge prosecutors to continue aggressively pursuing alleged violations of the law," said in a statement from the Business Software Alliance, which seems to mix up piracy with decryption. If the software is lawfully purchased, decrypting it so that it will read back a book for a blind person doesn't seem to be theft, or otherwise illegal according to the Jury.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 06:11 PM | Permalink
December 05, 2002
December 04, 2002
ElcomSoft Trial Coverage

The ElcomSoft eBook encryption trial is under way in federal court in San Jose, CA, and several media outlets apparently will be providing regular coverage. They include the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle and Wired News.

Hopefully some IP-related Weblogs will be posting first-person commentary by people at the trial, similar to what GrepLaw did with the observations of Berkman Fellow Blythe Holden at the Grokster/Morpheus case in Los Angeles. If anyone knows of coverage like this, please post a comment with the details.

Posted by Paul Grabowicz at 06:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
November 29, 2002
Sklyarov Will Make the Trial

Update on two earlier bIPlog posts on Sklyarov not being given a visa to attend the landmark trial over the DMCA in US v. ElcomSoft - he reportedly has now been given a visa, so jury selection starts Monday in San Jose. The prosecution must prove "intentional criminal violation of the statute (DMCA)," according to Joseph Burton, ElcomSoft's attorney.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 01:02 PM | Permalink
November 18, 2002
"Akin to Swimming in a Shark Tank with a Nosebleed"

On the heels of two recent postings along this theme (11/17/02 and 11/16/02), the SF Chronicle published an article today about patents and their increasingly prodigious value to technology companies -- particularly during economic downturns.

MORE...
Posted by Maggie Law at 10:48 PM | Permalink
November 16, 2002
Hunting Bounty for the Geekset

Not as much fun as Tia Carrere in a push up bra, or Star Wars Bounty Hunter but close. At least for the guys imagining themselves out hunting bounty. But it's real and anyone can do it. BountyQuest.com offers up bounties for hunting the winning information in a prior art documentation contest, to refute patent cases they and their clients believe are worth fighting. A $10,000 reward is offered for the first evidence that does so in the areas of biotech, computers and mechanical patents.

Apparently Federal Circuit judges are split on whether to expand or contract patent law. PanIP's suits, against little companies, for infringing on their E-Commerce patents for automating web sales, which may be a precursor to going after Amazon and eBay are a good example. The patents are for a computerized system of selecting goods and processing transactions, which sounds suspiciously like all eCommerce. Red Herring talks about far-reaching patents and the PTO process.

MORE...
Posted by Mary Hodder at 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
November 15, 2002
W3C Still Gets It

After a brief brush with insanity, the W3C came to its senses and decided that enshrining patented technologies in open standards is a bad idea. This by way of Slashdot.

This kind of near miss is an unsettling reminder of just how fragile the open architecture that made the net possible really is.

Posted by Daniel C. Silverstein at 11:26 AM | Permalink
November 13, 2002
Eolas Suit with MS Might Kill IE

Mike Doyle of Eolas Technology Inc., which holds a patent on embedding plug-ins, applets, scriptlets, or ActiveX Controls into Web pages, is suing Microsoft, and says he won't settle. He wants MS to stop using the technology altogether. This comes from a Cringley column that quotes Doyle as saying that no one would make the investment in a serious web-OS with a browser as the interface if MS Internet Explorer (using plug-in support) is the competition. But he believes the whole market could open up if he is successful. If MS loses, it may kill their browser.

Here is some information on what must be proved by a patent holder to win a suit.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
October 18, 2002
Microsoft's Poor Social Skills

Microsoft still refuses to share, despite the anti-trust settlement against them. Tech companies and their lawyers are crying foul over the contrived hoops MS requires them to jump through in order to access details about the communications protocols its products use to transfer information (both internally and with non-MS products). Without such protocols, competing gadgets and software won't work as well with Windows as Microsoft's own products do.

Seems the only game they know how to play is monopoly.

Posted by Maggie Law at 02:18 AM | Permalink
Citing DMCA, U.S. Throws the eBook at ElcomSoft

Moscow-based ElcomSoft Co. Ltd. became a household name last year when, at the behest of eBook software maker Adobe Systems Inc., the FBI arrested Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian resident and ElcomSoft software engineer who had been visiting DEF CON 2001 in Las Vegas. Sklyarov was incarcerated from July 16 to August 6, 2001.

After a failed attempt to dismiss the case on constitutional grounds, US v. ElcomSoft, the first (and, more importantly, precedent-setting) Digital Millenium Copyright Act criminal trial will begin this coming Monday.

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Posted by Maggie Law at 01:28 AM | Permalink
October 17, 2002
DMCA and censorship...

The Register has a really strange article about Red Hat's latest update. Apparently, for people from the US, Red Hat can't, under DMCA rules, explain the update. Instead, Red Hat directs people to thefreeworld.net's site where it tells you:

If you're a US citizen and you are hurt because the DMCA doesn't allow you access to the information on this site, you should realise that you live in a democratic country and it's time for you to change the law so that you aren't hurt by it. Don't expect us to take the risk of going to jail because of a law which is inconveniencing you but write your congressmen instead....

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Posted by Mary Hodder at 07:54 AM | Permalink
October 14, 2002
Could MS be catching the open source bug?

Ummm... not. But perhaps they are moving, ever so cautiously, in that general direction? InternetWeek reports (here and here) that Microsoft's new (as of last July) licensing/auditing terms, along with by now famous security concerns (for example...), are sending some smaller customers chasing after the Linux bandwagon. Around the same time, MS announced that companies, academics, developers, and gov't agencies will soon be able to license source code for its controversial (some say scary) Passport software.

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Posted by Maggie Law at 12:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
October 10, 2002
More on Bowers...

...and shrink wrap license - fair use issues. An amici brief was submitted asking the court to clarify their position that it's okay for companies to use a shrink-wrap license to waive consumer copyright protections.

Posted by Mary Hodder at 08:10 AM | Permalink