February 28, 2007

The big news, IMHO, this week is Alcatel-Lucent’s patent infringement win over Microsoft for MP3 technology. Now, before I discuss the ramifications of this suite, I just want to state that in this case I feel that Microsoft is a completely innocent party who was scammed by Fraunhofer who sold them (and everyone else who has ever used MP3s) worthless licenses for the proprietary technology. Microsoft paid their license fees and this shows by software patents are so poor in the United States. Years after everyone involved believes the business is completely legitimate a non-player can pop out of nowhere, claim patent ownership and sue for billions of dollars over a wortless, outdated technology that people were only still using because it was “handy” and not because it was good.

The basics of this suite are that Alcatel-Lucente owns the rights to the MP3 audio codec and that the codec which we thought was finally free of patents and could be used legally by anyone is, in fact, not. So now using MP3, once again, could get you into deep patent hot water. The biggest problem with this is that the MP3 format is not even a good audio format. AAC, MP3Pro, WMV and Ogg Vorbis all outperform MP3 and Ogg Vorbis is completely patent free now and forever. The lesson that we should learn here? Obviously that patents are bad and poorly managed. But barring the ability to convince the US Patent Office to behave responsibly or to join us in the twenty-first century the lesson that each and everyone of us can take away from this is to seek out and use unencumbered software that has no patent claims on it. We can never be completely sure that any technology is patent free – one of the true blunders of the US Patent Office making every single American live in fear that at any moment they could be liable for patent infringement on a technology that are not even aware of on a patent that violates US patent law from a company no one has ever heard of for a patent that even a patent lawyer couldn’t identify.

But, in this instance, MP3 was well known to be an encumbered technology and it is very difficult to determine who is the legal licenser of the patent. Everyone has thought for years that it was Frauhofer and everyone has been paying them money for it. Much like SCO licensing UNIX when it was, in fact, owned by Novell. And, more recently, licensing Linux even though it is owned by the Linux developers. Anyone who has bought a license from SCO not only paid money unnecessarily to a patent con-artist (pun intended) but also did nothing to protect themselves from the legitimate technology owners. But how could any normal person know? Even the courts are taking years getting to the bottom of it all. We cannot let the entire American marketplace grind to a halt while we wait for any new technology or appearance of technology to age significantly before it is safe to use. And now that the US Patent Office is allowing patents on obvious business practice nothing is safe. “Good customer service”, “cool web site”, “order now button” are all possibly patents that we have to be worried about. Amazon even managed to patent the number of times you click to place an order!

So what do we do now in the wake of this ridiculous MP3 patent issue? Simple. Switch to Ogg Vorbis. OV is easy to use. Gives you smaller file sizes than MP3 most of the time. It gives you higher quality audio than MP3 most of the time. It is FREE. Go use it. Go. Now.

In Star Trek news: Scientists at Purdue University have developed the real life tricorder. Also the first dynamically balancing robots have been developed which is very impressive as it is the first robot to actually walk like a human. We have come a long way indeed.

Last night, after I got home, Dominica and I went immediately over to the Theater Square Grill for our “get to know your neighbours” party. The party was awfully early so very few people were able to make it. Even getting out of work early I was only barely able to make it before everyone started to disperse. People do things earlier in Newark than anywhere else on Earth, I do believe. They had free wine and hors d’oeuvres which were very good. We did get to meet a couple of people that live in our building so we did get to do a little of what we had gone there to do. We enjoyed the food so much though that we decided to stay and have dinner. We ended up talking to the general manager of the restaurant for a while and had a really good time.

Dinner was excellent and we are very happy that we got an opportunity to try out the Theater Square Grill. It is so close to our home and the food is excellent. It is always strange to find a place like that so close to where we live that we can just walk there anytime that we want. Very handy.

We came home and pretty much went straight to bed. It was an early night for us. I didn’t manage to get everything that I had hoped to accomplish done before going to bed but I did get everything critical done.

Work was busy today. Busy enough to keep me hopping all day just to keep up although there weren’t that many requests for things coming in. Just a lot of project stuff that needed to be done. No rest for the weary I guess. A lot of paperwork today too. I hate paperwork.

Even being busy today I still managed to finally get caught up with RocketBoom. I am pretty sure that I have, once again, watched every episode ever made. That is a lot of RocketBoom. From there I decided to move on to the Jet Set Show which I am also behind on.

I also managed to pay the bills today. Grrr. I hate bills.

Dominica has decided that she is really tired and that she has been traveling too much so she is planning no staying in Newark this weekend while I go up to Geneseo to continue the packing process. There isn’t very much packing work for her to do anyway. Almost everything requires me to work on it so it isn’t too bad for her to take the weekend off.

I stayed at work a little on the late side tonight to get myself caught up with everything as much as possible. Like I said, it was a busy day.

I found an intriguing story about Microsoft’s Windows Vista download today. Apparently you are able to purchase Windows Vista, at a discount, as a download instead of going to the store to pick up a copy. Just one of the ways that Microsoft is attempting to catch up with Linux from ten, nay, fifteen years ago. (Similarly Windows Vista finally does serious caching utilizing all of the available memory to speed things up – another page from the Linux playbook of yore.) However Microsoft does not allow you to create an installation DVD from the download. Therefore this must only be available as an update option. The real problem comes in when the installation fails. Apparently when Vista dies both the built in help functions AND Microsoft’s own tech support have no solution but to go and buy Vista on DVD so that you can complete the repair. That is all they have. Now THAT is what I call tech support. I can’t believe that people pay for this stuff! This is a pretty sad state of affairs for Vista. Once again showing that Microsoft can attempt to copy Linux but can’t pull it off when it counts. Almost any Linux distribution will happily allow you to download the entire package, make a CD or DVD for installation, never force you to do a upgrade when a full install is always so much better and I can’t imagine when they would ever require you to go “get something else” to fix the system.

It was almost seven before I reached escape velocity from the office.  Tomorrow is my work from home day.  Oreo has barely had any time to get worn out this week.  I expect that he will want to play a lot tomorrow.

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