Opera/Microsoft antitrust case drama

It seems Microsoft are in the dock again. This time it’s the turn of Norwegian browser producer Opera, to pursue the software giant. The case is an anti trust allegation, claiming that Microsoft are ‘abusing their powers, by only shipping copies of their operating system Windows, with only their own “Internet Explorer 8.0” browser and none of their competitors’.

The Chief technology officer for Opera, is quoted as having said “Microsoft is ignoring web standards and should use its position to promote competition, among browser”. Meanwhile Mozilla, producers of the popular “Firefox” browser, claimed that the “browser wars are over”, at this years South by South West festival in Texas.

What Mozilla meant by ‘the end of the browser wars’ is that the main browser manufacturers are now working much more closely  together on a common set of standards, to ensure that all browsers act and display information is a uniform way. There have been some minor disputes, one being Microsoft going off and developing their own security systems, but in in their defense, they have made the code available for other vendors to utilize. Internet security is something that most people agree can not wait for agreements to be made, at the expense of leaving clients vulnerable and contrary to Opera’s claim, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8.0 does actually support internet standards.  By default Internet Explorer 8.0  has standards support turned on for the internet , but the  intranets, claiming that this is so that developers can continue to use internet explorer 7.0 while they upgrade their systems.

Microsoft’s stance on the shipping of browsers has been that Explorer and by extension  Internet Explorer form an integral part of the operating system and should be shipped with windows.

In the latest bid to appease the European Courts, Microsoft offered to go back on previous stance, that Explorer and by extraction Internet Explorer form an integral part of the operating system and should be shipped with windows. Offering to ship a version of their operating system for Europe (to be known as version e) without any browser at all.
After discussions with Opera, the courts dismissed this suggestion after a single day, saying “the move would not further its goal of promoting browsers that compete with Internet Explorer.”

The only hearing scheduled in the case, was set for early June, but has been cancelled after Microsoft complained that many European antitrust officials who could attend the hearing as observers were unable to do so because of a competing conference in Switzerland. The commission is under no timetable to release its ruling in the browser case, but in the past, it has publicized crucial decisions, fines and sanctions before leaving for its summer break in late July.

The truth is, that Apple also ship their operating system with only Safari, their own browser and yet Opera have not sued them. In fact its doubtful that it is Microsoft they should be chasing, as Microsoft do not install or ship most of the Windows products that go out, hardware manufacturers do. Companies like Dell, IBM, HP, ASUS often add their own utility software,  anti virus products and other extras, I’m sure that if Opera where truly demanded by end users, then they would be more than happy to bundle them with their products.

The idea of a modern operating system not coming with a browser at all is quite ridiculous, having to get installers on a cd or memory device and install one before connecting to the internet would make registration, licensing ad upgrade a far more arduous task.  Operating systems coming with a choice of  3 or 4 browsers, would also have implications to large corporate IT systems, supporting and keeping on top updates and security control for multiple browsers would be a very large undertaking in many cases.

In some ways I believe it is Opera’s own best interest to have users download their browsers from the internet if they want it, firstly this keeps them competitive as they have to make truly better browsers, and secondly because it gives them much needed information on who is using their browser.

Regardless of what the courts decide, remaining the default browser will be a lot harder than just being put on the installation disk. Opera,  will still have its work cut out, as it does have its downsides, there is a general lack of support for all important plug-ins and a large number of sites that don’t support it.

I myself am a big fan of Opera, and have been using it as my browser of choice  of late, but I do also use Explorer, Chrome, Flock and Safari on a daily basis, each of which has it own benefits.

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Opera/Microsoft antitrust case drama

Microsoft Bing, discovery engine or porn engine?

Within days of the official launch of microsoft’s new ‘bing’ search engine, users have found ways to exploit it, in order to get around corporate firewall, filtering and policy options for viewing explicit pornographic and otherwise prohibited material.

The site streams video and places images directly into to the browser on the bing page, bypassing the original web address and thus avoiding any url based filtering. Explicit content is only shown to users who have set there adult content filtering to off, put this is on a user by user basis, which companies have very little control over, the default is to safe search for users that are not logged in, under a user profile.

Microsoft already have produced a work around, enabling IT departments to block all explicit content. This works very simply by redirecting all explicit results to the web address http://explicit.microsoft.com which can then be blacklisted on firewalls and filter lists.

This morning the urls were already being blocked by websense and other filtering services, and the bing.com server was reportedly receiving so many requests it was not able to allow users in to log in under their own profile.

Related posts : the bling of bing

Microsoft Bing, discovery engine or porn engine?

Pirate party gets into european parliment!

I’m not sure whether to be amazed, impressed, shocked or dismayed to hear that Piratpartiet gain a seat in the European Parliament yesterday. Piratpartiet, translates to ‘the Pirate Party’, are a Swedish parliamentary party, that want to reform copyright law to legalize file sharing sites like ‘Pirate bay‘.

According to their website, The Pirate Party ‘wants to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected. With this agenda, and only this, we are making a bid for representation in the European and Swedish parliaments.

piratpartiet - The Pirate Party (sweden)
Piratpartiet - The Pirate Party.

Under Swedish law, Piratpartiet had to go through six distinct stages in order to become an official political party, this process started with collecting a petition of signatures  in early 2006. Creating a website to harness the power of the internet, they achived the required number very quickly. This is all the more amazing, when you consider that all signatories must give there name and address, and for many that is admitting to breaking the current laws by using illegal file share sites.

While Piratpartiet have had a number of followers from the start, this number was greatly boosted by of all things a police crack downs on the ‘pirate bay’ group,  with an initial speed up in sign up when charges were made and a massive increase when the organizers were later jailed.

Over the 3 years since it was set up Piratpartiet has slowly gained momentum overtaking the  Green Party in December 2008, the Left Party in February 2009, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats in April 2009.

Piratpartiet is now the third largest political party in Sweden in terms of membership, and Ung Pirat, the Pirate Party’s associated youth organization,  is now the largest political youth organization in Sweden. Its sudden popularity has given rise to parties with the same name and similar goals in Europe and worldwide.

Alongside other fringe and extremist party victories around Europe, (including the first ‘british national party’ parliamentary seat), I’m not sure whether this is more an indication that the current political system is broken, or that the we really believe that copyright theft should be legalized.

While I understand what drives people to vote for parties like Piratpartiet, I can’t help but wonder how they will handle power. Its fine to stand for increase privacy, but how will they view hacking, police powers , anti terrorism measures. It may be that criticising government is somewhat easier than running it.

One thing that is for sure, is that as with the Obama election in the states, that the internet can used with tremendous effect to bring about politican change. At the moment this power seems to be targeted at the young, but as more and more of us start to use twitter, and blogs and the internet on a daily basis this is likely to spread.

Sources: Pirarpartiet | wikipedia

Pirate party gets into european parliment!

Discovering the Bling of Microsoft’s Bing!

This has been one busy month when it comes to search. In mid May, Stephen Wolfram brought us the first public release of  his computational knowledge engine, ‘Wolfram Alpha‘. Then there was the announcement that Google would be releasing their  new ‘Google Squared‘ product, and finally there was the release of ‘Bing‘ microsoft’s much anticipated successor to ‘live seach‘ .

bingLogo

Microsoft CEO,  Steve Ballmer Unveiled BING.com at the ‘All Things D conference’ in San Diego, on 28th May, and it went ‘public’ a few days later on 3rd June.

There have been several rumors going around, concerning the story behind on the name,  ‘Bing’. The official line is that it is a short, memorable and globally acceptable name, with positive connotations, reminiscent of the noises often made at moments of arrival or discovery. Steve Ballmer is said to have told ‘Wired magazine’ that he had drawn some inspiration from the charachter Chandler Bing’s name in TV show friends. But my personal favourite is that it stands for ‘But Its Not Google’.

When it comes to search, Microsoft seem to never quite made it into the big leagues. And in fairness to them, I  don’t think its has been as much to do with the technology, as it has been to do with the way they’re perceived. Google made it to critical mass first, and built a brand trust and loyalty that now seem to be almost unbreakable, even though the products themselves were pretty similar.

Its interesting then that Microsoft have chosen to position themselves as a ‘discovery engine’ rather than a ‘search engine’, possibly making a decision to go with a large portion of a niche market, rather than trying to compete head on with the Google , Yahoo’s for the middle ground.

Here’s microsoft’s introduction to Bing to give you a flavour of what its all about…

Sounds pretty cool, huh? But how did I find it when I took it for a spin.. well, I have to admit initially I wasn’t that impressed, and when Microsoft evangelist Steve Clayton wrote about it on his blog ‘geek in disguise‘, I left a comment saying as much, but Steve being Steve challenged me to back up by words with some examples. So I decided I’d better take a closer look, and dig around a little more, before answering that challenge. What I found was;  its actually pretty good at a consumer level. If you want help getting information to buy a product, make a trip or look up a general local or health information, then it does take some of the work out of making sense of the search results, In fact the more basic your search, the more help you’ll get, so for example if your enter ‘digital cameras’ it will bring back lots of information it will split this into categories, like brands, types, accessories and images, it will suggest a selection of related searches, it will order the information by relevancy bringing you the best matches at the top and picking out key data from deep within pages and its even has a price prediction technology to help you save money on any purchases. But if you’re searches are more complex, if you’re doing academic study or looking for specialist information, you’re much less likely to see any of these features, I do tend to do this type of ‘power searching’ and that may be why initially not wowed by bing, because at that level you don’t see many of the blingy consumer features. Another reason that I didn’t see the full features of bing on first test, was that I had the UK set in my preferences, but at the present the full feature set is only enabled if you sellect ‘United States (English)’.

Other things I noticed were; when I ‘Binged myself’ it brought up my webite after my Facebook and Linked-in accounts, and it worked better if I key ‘Who is David Coxon’ rather that just searched on my name (go on ‘Bing’ yourself – you know you want to!), I also noticed that when I looked for images, the image retrieval was really fast, but not as relevant as the live search results were, video results were nicely presented, with the ability to watch the movies directly in the search window without having to click through to the source. another strange one was that I got better results searching with the incorrect spelling of centre when I search for ‘Baltic centre for contemporary art’ perhaps this is because I was using the US preference though, and when i search for ‘contemporary art galleries in gateshead’ it didn’t find Baltic at all, but rather only came back with a gallery in Darlington (30 miles away) the same search on Google placed Baltic at the top of a list of 10 within 2 miles of Gateshead and 30 within the area.

In my opinion,  Bing could have done with a little longer in Beta, before being released. They should have at least got all the core functionality working,  in each of  the key regional setting working. At the moment you only see the advanced options working when you have your regional setting set to United States English so see the full functionality of Bing.

Although Steve Ballmer stated Microsoft are like a startup compared to the market leaders Google, it is rumoured that microsoft are spending 80-100 million on the Ad campaign for Bings launch this summer. Here is how the ad looks…

All in all, I think that that Microsoft have made the right decision to go down the route of  ‘doing something differently, but doing that incredibly well” – it’s a good business plan and it might work! It’s rushing into it , launching a prduct before its ready, (even if that is partially because your contemporares have released their’s) and insisting on going ahead with a huge markiting project for that product before its ready –  is nothing short of insanity. As for going down the consumer route, again I think is the right way to go for Microsoft, its the far less costly, its more sustainable and easier to achieve. I hope in time that they’ll go to apply the same features to other areas and cater for researchers as well as the  consumer market.

Resources: Bing tones for your phone

Related posts: Search Technology, Search history Privacy, Semantics searching for meaning, Bing – discover engine or porn engine?

Discovering the Bling of Microsoft’s Bing!