How software vendors are like political parties

In a previous blog article I compared software vendors and political parties. This is a theme I've been discussing for years. When speaking to politicians I suggest they know more about software than they think, and that the most important dynamics they need to understand about software are similar to political science.

Lawrence Lessig wrote in Code about how computer code (or "West Coast Code", referring to Silicon Valley in the USA) may regulate our lives similar to how legal code (or "East Coast Code", referring to Washington, D.C.) does. While there are rare examples of individuals authoring their own code that governs their own lives, in the majority case the code is authored by one group of people and governs many people who in some way choose to be governed by that group.

How much choice people have in what team authors the code they are governed by is considered critical in legal code, with many in the west considering it worth going to war to protect their right to choose in the form of democracy. In most countries we choose individuals part of a team, with those teams called political parties.

We wouldn't require Liberal party membership for access to PARL.gc.ca features, would we?

A blog article by Kady O'Malley about a new feature on the parliamentary website suggests that rather than moving towards Internet standards that the parliamentary IT folks are moving to being more software vendor dependant.

In this case it was a new "View this Video" feature only being available under Microsoft's Internet Explorer. There is an ugly hack called IETab which allows Internet Explorer to run within Firefox or Chrome, but that still requires the use of a specific brand of browser that only runs on a single historically popular operating system.

The popularity of an operating system or device at any moment in time should not be considered relevant to new features on the parliamentary website. At one time the Liberals held a majority, and by the logic of suggesting that having a majority once means that things should be mandated forever we should be mandating that only Liberal party members be able to access new features on the parliamentary website.

Cautionary Tales About Collective Rights Organizations

I've received a few emails about a document (PDF) describing the track records of Collective rights organizations (CROs), including from InfoJustice and one of the founders of Unglue.it (Another awesome alternative to CROs).

My own concerns about how CROs often push for exceptions to copyright in the form of compulsory licensing was included (See page 18, 19), with a reference to "Independent authors just wanting a little respect... from fellow creators and collective societies".

Privacy/security battleground in your computer, not just on network and in cloud

I want to highlight and frame something said by Christopher Parsons in a recent interview on CDNTech network.  When asked about encryption (time 6:12), he clarified that surveillance will most often involve going around encryption, such as by installing malware on the computer of the person being surveilled.  The alternative would be to intercept the communication on the network or as stored in the cloud, and try to decrypt.

This should point to an often forgotten truth:  that the question of who controls your computer is just as, if not more, important than how Internet Access Providers (IAP's) or services (Facebook, Google, etc) are regulated when it comes to protecting your rights and interests.

Ownership, or emotional attachment to a right?

A CBC Spark interview with James Grimmelmann about the ReDigi case in the USA highlights some of the confusion around the usage of the word "own" in the context of copyright.  I understand why recipients of copyrighted works are confused given the confusing language used by the recipients of the government granted monopoly of copyright itself.

Should first to file vs invent matter in a well managed patent system?

This is a discussion that has bothered me for a long time.  There are debates and studies which try to suggest that one or another of "first to file" (FTF) or "first to invent" (FTI) is better for one or another type of inventor (small inventors, etc).

A recent article in IP Osgoode demonstrates the problem.  In referencing a study the article suggests, "The study finds that the shift to FTF resulted in a reduction in the number of patents granted to individual Canadian inventors and small businesses".  This is a study based on the Canadian experience having made the switch to FTF in 1989, with the USA switch coming into force in 2013.

The assumption of the article, and most of the debaters, is that if some patents are good, more are better.   The fact that the number of patents granted went down after a change should not be presumed to be a bad thing, when in fact patents not being granted may just as easily be a good thing for innovation.

Circuit Design Research Contest from Patexia

I received the following note about a contest from Patexia to find prior art on a specific patent. Given the critical problem of patent quality, where innovations that are low in utility, novelty and/or unobviousness are granted a patent statutory monopoly by governments, tools to invalidate poor quality patents are an important part of the solution.

Douglas Rushkoff on Program or Be Programmed

This morning on the way into work I listened again to the interview CBC Spark's Nora Young did with Douglas Rushkoff as part of their Summer audio blog. I recommend everyone listen to this interview. Greatly simplifying, he speaks about how we live in a programmed world, and that people who don't understand at least a little bit about programming will not be able to be full participants.

Looking for feedback on comment system.

Currently we are using the built-in Drupal commenting system on this site, which requires that people get a drupal account to comment. This seemed like the right thing to do when the site was set up, and we wanted everyone to have accounts so that they could also more easily send letters to their MPs.

I now wonder if the extra step to sign up, and the use of a simplistic editor forcing people to use HTML encoding, is no longer the right choice. From the comments I see on Twitter, Google plus and elsewhere talking about articles from this site, it isn't a lack of interest that has meant there isn't comments here. It is likely the commenting system.

From Pet to Nexus: 31 years in the personal computer market

Jeremy Reimer of Ars Tech published an article From Altair to iPad: 35 years of personal computer market share. It is a great read both for those who have been involved in the industry for many years, or new people who may not know any of the history.

The interesting thing about history is that different people who were there experienced it differently. The interesting thing about statistics is that the details of what the methodology is counting is often more important than the numbers that come out. Much of the Ars article this month and from 2005 were based on IDC numbers, which I have been critical of for years for being wildly inaccurate in reporting alternatives to Microsoft Windows running on Intel/AMD machines.

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