Of iPods, Lock-Ins and the DMCA

August 15, 2006

As an ambivalent owner of an Apple iPod I’ve given a lot of thought to the fact that songs I download from Apple’s iTunes will not play on a portable device other than an Apple iPod. If I want to play my iTunes music collection on another manufacturer’s MP3 player, today or five years from now, I’ll be unable to play the tunes downloaded from iTunes. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prevents competitors from reverse engineering the protection Apple embeds in these files, and therefore Apple has, in effect, a government enabled lock-in. The only legal way around this restriction requires users to burn the iTunes songs to a CD and then import (rip) them back into iTunes as MP3 files. This eliminates Apple’s digital rights management (DRM) and “frees” these tunes, but what a hassle and disincentive to buy music from iTunes. Do I do this? Yes. Do I like it? Ah …. (If you’d like to gain a better understanding of how iTunes DRM works and how to avoid it, click here.) Cory Doctorow has written a scathing editorial in Information Week discussing the policy and legal issues involved in Apple’s DRM program. A few choice quotes from the article: Reverse engineering is a common practice in most industries. You can reverse-engineer a blender and make your own blades, you can reverse-engineer a car and make your own…

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"Google’s Plan Is Even Bigger Than Microsoft Can Imagine"

November 14, 2005

Technology. The business war between Microsoft and Google has the Internet and business communities riveted. This is the best business rivalry in years, better than Coke/Pepsi, better than Microsoft/Sun, better than Microsoft/Apple (okay, I’m stretching with the last one). At least for the moment Google is perceived to be, potentially, maybe (no one’s sure) a fundamental threat to Microsoft. Who knows, maybe later today Google will release (in beta, of course), an online suite of products superior to Microsoft Office that will be file compatible with Office, allow users to store documents with complete security and privacy on Google servers, and put Microsoft out of business (sans Xbox, of course) by the end of the week. Disruptive technology, thy name is Google. Well, its possible, isn’t it? Robert X. Cringely writes most entertainingly on this subject this week, in his article Paper War.

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Google and Turing’s Cathedral

November 6, 2005

Technology. Science historian George Dyson visited Google recently, upon the 60th anniversary of John von Neumann’s proposal for a digital computer. His musings, in the form of a short essay published by Edge, are provocative and fascinating. My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral – not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. . . .

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Politics, Sausages and Computer File Formats

November 2, 2005

Technology. Did you ever think you’d see politicians debating software file formats? Massachusetts has become embroiled in a politicized debate over a state agency’s decision to move away from Microsoft’s proprietary standards and require that all state employees, commencing in 2007, save documents in two state-approved file formats: Adobe Acrobat PDF files and the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications. The logic behind this issue is simple: if Massachusetts moves to Oasis OpenDocument, anyone with Internet access will be able to read state documents. As things now stand, if a document was created with Word or Excel (representing the two most common applications, word processing and spreadsheets), a citizen would need to have a licensed copy of Microsoft software to read the document. Of course, Microsoft claims that its Office formats are sufficiently open to satisfy the Commonwealth’s requirements. Needless to say, there have been all kinds of business and political cross-currents swirling around this issue since it first emerged, and it has thrust the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (or ITD), which usually labors in obscurity, into the spotlight. A comprehensive backgrounder on the entire issue was written by my partner Andy Updegrove, and is available here. All of this came to a head (or perhaps the first of several heads), on October 31st, when the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight held a standing-room only hearing…

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Interview With Tim Berners-Lee

July 12, 2005

Technology. Tim Berners-Lee is widely recognized as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Today, he is the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, Senior Researcher at MIT‘s CSAIL, and Professor of Computer Science at Southampton ECS. Mr. Berners-Lee’s current project is the development of a Semantic Web, a dramatic enhancement of the current web which is described in detail here. This Spring (2005) my partner Andrew Updegrove interviewed Mr. Berners-Lee regarding the Semantic Web. To read this important interview, click here.

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