Touch type

telus_fastap_02.jpgAs anyone who’s ever tried to type a name into their cellphone’s addressbook knows, T9 is a joke. It is about as coherent as a wino on a Saturday night. Fastap, a special keypad developed by Digit Wireless, should make text messaging less of a pain to use. Telus Mobility, partnered with LG, will be the first wireless provider in the world to offer a Fastap-equipped phone to its subscribers. The fast time-to-market is partly thanks to Telus investing in Digit Wireless.

Picture from infoSync World

Leave a message. Beep.

Wow, where has USA Today been for the past five years? They trumpet the discovery of clever IM away messages like capri pants. Sorry McPaper, people have been writing silly away messages since the invention of the answering machine.

In my freshman year, my roommate and I recorded fascinating answering machine messages. Once he played “Flying Bee” on his violin as I frantically claimed we were being chased by bats. We eventually stopped doing it due to time constraints and the fact we were looking for summer employment. Recruiters who arrived at a recording proclaiming we were some New Age meditation centre rarely left messages nor called back afterwards.

Bomberman once wrote in his ICQ Away message: “I am meditating with Tibetan monks. I’ll get back to you when I am no longer one with the universe.”

During one summer, I wrote “Be back in five. Sticking my head in the freezer. Ahhhhhh.”

Just wait until USA Today finds out that people leave funny bylines in their MSN Messenger Display Names. I expect an enthusiastic article sometime around 2007.

Another love TCO

There are a handful of Windows vs. Linux TCO studies available. IBM and usually cites this one by the Robert Frances Group that was published in September 2002.

The rest of them, unfortunately, are all bankrolled by Microsoft. In the same way cancer studies funded by the tobacco industry always seem to put cigarettes in a favourable light, the majority of IT staff take these MS-funded TCO studies with a chunk of salt. So when Yankee Group and Sunbelt Software claimed to have released the first-ever independent Windows TCO vs. Linux TCO study, I was intrigued.

Even more intriguing was its conclusion: that Windows TCO was less for large corporations that have predominantly Windows-based, and more for smaller startup firms. These questions immediately come to mind:

Possible Conflict of Interest

  • Sunbelt Software is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner whose entire revenue is derived from selling Windows NT/2000/XP tools and utilities.
  • Laura Didio, the primary Yankee analyst of this study, is infamously known as having championed SCO’s legal battles against IBM and the Linux community.
  • The survey involved 1,000 IT administrators – however, the sample selection was not random. The survey was given to subscribers to W2KNews, a Windows NT/2000 newsletter published by Sunbelt.

Study Methodology

  • The study’s control case is of a company already running Windows systems. It would be logical to assume that sticking with Windows would be less expensive than migrating to another vendor, whoever that might be. After all, it is always cheaper to keep your existing car, even if it’s a lemon, than going out and buying another one.

    Aside: In a way, this point inadvertently highlights the lack of interoperability within MS products; companies who are Windows shops are often “locked-in” with licensing contracts and sunk costs which leaves them helpless in negotiating pricing and support.

  • No analysis on upgrade costs or marginal costs to scale, nor to the soft costs of running damage control for viruses and security exploits.

The paperback continuum

Remember Penny’s “computer book” in the ’80’s cartoon Inspector Gadget? It was a PDA, cellphone, tricorder and hacking tool all in one, and consisted of paper-like colour touchscreen pages bound into a hardcover tome. How I wish for an ebook like that!

Alas, the ebooks of today have not taken the world – or word – by storm.

At least one ebook company, Waterfront Media, has cleverly differentiated its products by harnessing ebooks’ greatest strength – their interactivity. Turning their ebooks into 1414.jpghypermedia generates value-add that would be impossible with content on paper. For example, Waterfront’s diet books have shopping list generators and integrated access to their support forum website.

On the other front, Sony will be releasing the Librie, the first ever portable e-ink ebook reader. Based on Phillip’s e-ink technology, the Librie can hold 500 texts and display them on a 170dpi, 800×600 greyscale screen. While still too rich for my blood, ebooks need ultra-high resolution, anti-reflective displays to match the quality of print and paper, and initiatives such as this and IBM’s Reontgen 200dpi LCD display brings us one step closer to that goal.

The tainting effect, explained

When lawyers talk about the GNU General Public License, they talk about it having a “viral nature” or “tainting effect”, which isn’t very flattering. Executives are often left with the impression that the GPL is like a litigious leper, spoiling all intellectual property it touches and turning it into free stuff. Executives don’t like their stuff being free. They want people to pay for stuff.

In what is possibly the clearest clarification of GPL’s tainting effect is tackled by a posting written by paralegal Pamela Jones of Groklaw fame. Basically, yes, if you are a programmer and you use GNU licensed code in a program you are writing and releasing to the public, your program must be released under the GNU GPL as well. This means also releasing the program’s source code.

For example, you are free to sell a GPL’ed program for fun and profit. The caveat is, you have to provide the source code, and you cannot stop someone else from selling the same thing.

The GPL is, however, non-exclusive. If you are the sole creator of a program, you can provide a free GPL version of your program + source code, and then turn around and sell an enhanced “Deluxe” version under a commercial license. And you don’t have to give out your code for the Deluxe version.

The tainting effect is misunderstood, sometimes even by intellectual property management. It actually only applies to specific cases of program distribution. For example, if you are just user of a GPL’ed program, the GPL does nothing to restrict your movements. You can copy or sell it as much as you please. That is the beauty of public licenses; while commercial EULAs are full of “do nots”, public licenses let users do whatever they wish.

The tainting effect only manifests itself if you, as a programmer, physically merge your code with that of source code licensed under the GPL. A proprietary program and GPL’ed program can sit on the same CD, without any fear of tainting. This is known as “aggregation”. A proprietary program can also intimately interact with a GPL’ed program, and retain its IP rights. For example, videocard drivers, traditionally chockfull of highly sensitive code, can run on Linux without fear of having their source code revealed.

You can even take a GPL program back to your organization, modify it, and be under no obligation to make your changes public, as long as you keep everything internal. You would only have to apply the GPL rules of distribution should you decide to distribute or sell the compiled code to the world at large.

In any case, even if your product has been tainted with GPL code, it does not mean you’re doomed. You still have a way out. You can consult with the Free Software Foundation, remove the GPL code and replace it with your own, and continue on your merry way. The FSF are often quite accomodating as long as your organization honestly made a mistake.

Incidentally, while about 85% of all open source software are licensed under the GPL, including Linux and The Gimp (which released Version 2.0 this week!), the GNU GPL is by no means the end-all and be-all of public licensing. Many open source programs such as Mozilla, OpenOffice and Apache operate under their own specially-designed public licenses which offer substantially more protection to a developer’s IP rights.

Shameless Linux plug

Take a gander at Knoppix, an unique Linux distribution from Knoppix Linux is a fully functional, bootable Linux OS that runs right off the CD. That’s right – no hard drive installation is required. It even comes with other fully functional open source goodies: the Konqueror and Mozilla web browsers, the XMMS media player and OpenOffice. It’s great if you want to test drive Linux hassle-free, or a maintenance tool for fixing messed up Windows systems. It’s free to keep, use and copy.

One Groklaw reader also points out Knoppix could even be the key to a guerilla marketing campaign for Linux and OSS.

In the future there will be blogs?

Trust in journalism has been declining for a generation,” says a study on the state of the US news media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism:

“Only 5% of stories on cable news contain new information, the report found. Most were simply rehashes of the same facts. There was also less fact checking than in the past and less policing of journalistic standards.

Quality news and information were more available than ever before, but so was the trivial, the one-sided and the false.

Consumers with the time and patience to distinguish between many different sources of news might be better informed, but many were likely to find news outlets that echoed their own view of the world without providing alternative viewpoints.”

Distrust in the media goes far beyond the Jayson Blairs and Jack Kelleys. It’s affecting the very institution itself.

spanishinquisition_foxnews1.jpgFor example, in Canada, all mainstream media are owned by just five companies – Rogers, CanWest, Bell Globemedia, Quebecor and Torstar. This is what is known as “media ownership concentration”, and many believe it is unhealthy for so few people to have such influence over the public voice.

CanWest has already decreed that at least one editorial per week be sanctioned and generated from their Winnipeg corporate headquarters and appear in all 14 of their newspapers. “CanWest

Time only knows

If you’re going to be late going home, call the home and let your woman know. Especially if you and your friend (say, Juice) go on a roadtrip to Costco. If you don’t, it is advisable to bring back some treats, such as grilled chicken penne alfredo for supper and two freshly made catuccis (pastry rolls filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips dusted with powder sugar) for dessert.

POP.jpgIn the D drive: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The Prince finally makes a debut to the 3D world in proper style (unlike Prince of Persia 3D). Very smooth, simplified gameplay with a great soundtrack, although combat with multiple enemies can be thorny. You see, the Prince will automatically “lock on” to the last target that struck him, and you cannot switch targets manually. This can be frustrating if you are just about to give the final blow on one monster, only to automatically switch to the one behind you that just took a swing at you. Also, only half a dozen enemy types, and you’ll have fought them all 30% into the game.