Archive for March, 2008
The browser is king in an increasingly web-centric world and I don’t mean web-centric in the manner of communication – email, chat etc (which are certainly important) but increasingly people are relying on web application to carry out LOB (Line of Business) tasks and activities. With that in mind, the browser has taken a central role in computing generally. Microsoft owns the browser market and has done so since it successfully trounced Netscape in the now infamous browser wars. However, the sweet taste of victory and perhaps also some arrogance and complacency about its market, Microsoft decided that the browser was no longer worth its attention (Just look at IE 6). As you may be aware Firefox changed Microsoft’s view of the browser and spurred them to put more resources into the development of IE which brought tabbed browsing to IE with the release of IE 7. Microsoft’s work is not done as yet since IE has never really supported standards other than what Microsoft thought was best. Don’t get me wrong, initiatives by individual players in a particular software category could lead to increased innovation in the category but alas that is a post for another time.
The follow up to IE 7 has just been released in the name of Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1. This beta release is targeted at web developers and designers and includes ‘super standards’ mode that the browser uses by default. Not that there are super standards but the simple meaning of the super standards mode is that IE 8 will adhere to web standards more closely when displaying web content. The inclusion of super standards mode as the default rendering engine means some additional work for developers and designers who want their wares to use anything but the super standards mode. The additional meta-tag added to web pages to trigger non-super-standards mode rendering on IE 8 is a testament to the continue special treatment that will be lavished upon IE when developing and designing web sites. It is not all lost though since I believe that making super standards mode the default for rendering will in the long run result in web designers and developers producing more standards compliant web sites.
I just installed IE 8 Beta 1 and I am kind of impressed by the installation experience. The download size was not that big but then again this is still an early beta – who knows what will happen by the time IE 8 is ready for release. The installation went on without any glitch. I should mention that I decided to install the beta because of IE 7 emulation which ensures that I get IE 7 rendering when I need it (though it requires a browser restart at the time of this writing).
I chose not to accept the default settings for my personalization of IE 8 Beta 1 which meant that I got all the options that are there with regard to search engines, web providers etc (I was not aiming to produce a professional account of my installation experience 🙂 ). Of course IE 8 offered to make itself the default browser on my machine but that honor currently belongs to Firefox (though for some reason, I can’t get Google Desktop Search to use Firefox for display even though it is the default browser but I digress). IE 8 customization offered to import my settings from my “other” browser which in this case is Firefox. The interesting part of the customization was when IE 8 detected the Firefox extensions I have installed and offered to find similar extensions.
The search for IE extensions took me to Windows Market places (windowsmarketplace.com) which looks rather wrong with IE 8 super standards mode running. Notice how the web site’s navigation bar is out of place?
The packaged software business is a multi-billion dollar (American) industry that has come a long way within a relatively short period of time. Companies like Microsoft, Oracle and the rest of the players in the software industry are well known amongst common people and perhaps among most enterprises as Information Technology has taken center stage. A debate has always raged through out industry and academia about the advantages of intellectual propriety rights (IPR) in the context of software. Recent trends, perhaps helped along by the increased prominence of open source software, indicate that selling software may not be a viable business model in the long run thus increased interested in offering software as the basis of a service based business model. Well, unless if you are Microsoft with a huge interested in package software then you would dream up something like Software + Services as a business model. The software + services route might just work for Microsoft because they hold some pretty huge influence with regard to install base in both operating systems and productivity software categories.
Piracy has been and will always be fundamentally damaging to a business model based on selling packaged software though that assertion is from an ethical perspective which assumes that the effects of piracy are always negative. Condoning piracy would appear to be a winning strategy as far as gaining market share and achieving a critical mass with regard to install base. However, allowing piracy may not seem that ethical at all because the software producer is clearly entrapping end users by making it easy to pirate the software in the first place. At the moment, with increasingly capable and more user friendly open source software, the possibility of users switching to open source alternatives cannot be ignored anymore. In order to deal with the threat that OSS databases like MySQL represent, most of the major database source vendors offer a free version of their flagship products for free. So aggressive pursuit of anti-piracy policies may possibly result in erosion of market share as time passes though I think Microsoft can afford to shed off some points from its OS and office productivity install base.
The piracy problem perhaps points to a fundamental flaw in the idea of IPR in the context of software. The protection of IPR in software is amazingly weak considering the artifact that is being protected. Making a comparison between physical property (or intangible property that can be locked in a cup) and the so called intellectual property that comprises of bits and bytes, the latter can always be reverse engineered or various work-around devised to allow for unauthorized usage. The effort to ensure that the software is not stolen would probably also enable the software not to gain any meaningful relevance in the market thus losing the original investments made to produce the software the first place.
The story of the Internet and perhaps that of the computer industry has been that of sharing and in the latter case down right circumvention of copyright. Anyone interested in the history of Silicon Valley should have a look at how the companies (Compaq, HP etc) that produced clone machines got started. These people successfully reverse engineered the IBM PC without violating Big Blue’s copyrights at the time and this effort went along way, arguably, to make the PC the success that it is today. The Internet started as a medium for collaboration between researchers in academia and it grew from there; that succinctly explains its openness and how much of the security that it has seem to be more of an after though than an original design of the platform itself. If security had been designed as part of the Internet from the outset perhaps it may have been possible to enforce IPR on digital content and material but as it is too many components of the Internet architecture have security features that seem to have been grafted on.
In conclusion, it is hard to protect IPR within the context of software because of the artifact itself. The IPR laws that exists can be applied in the software realm but they can never work as well as they have worked in IPR in the context of tangible property or intangible properties whereby the originator has true control over the intangible property in question. The OSS movement seem to have a fundamental understanding of the flaws inherent in selling packaged software: software should be the basis of a service based business model.