Why You Should Fear Microsoft

There’s been an ongoing discussion on the Beowulf list for Linux clusters about SGI and Windows clusters (which I’ve not had a chance to read), but as part of it the inimitable Robert G. Brown (or one of his AI bots that he must use to keep up his prolific and ever useful posting rate) wrote a lengthy and very interesting piece about why he is, and others should, be afraid of Microsoft’s dominance. It is written in response to a posting from a Microsoft employee, which in itself is an interesting turn up.

He makes lots of references to “hydraulic monopolies”, so it is worth reading up on hydraulic empires for some background to the historical context.

One point he makes is about their impact on pension funds:

Finally, there is Microsoft and pension plans and the general stock market. This is perhaps the scariest part of Microsoft’s supermonopoly status, one that a gentleman named Bill Parrish seems to have devoted himself to uncovering and laying bare to an obviously uncaring world. Microsoft stock is a rather huge component of stock owned by both pension plans and individual “S&P Index” investors (and individuals) all over the world. If Microsoft stock were to collapse, or even to slip steadily down in nominal value, the economic consequences would be catastrophic. It would make the collapse of Enron look tame by comparison, because Microsoft is considerably larger at baseline than Enron ever was. This creates a HUGE disincentive for individuals and companies to challenge Microsoft’s hydraulic legacy — Microsoft has essentially tied the future well being and wealth of an entire generation of corporate employees and index fund investors to their own continued success.

Here he is using an essay by the afforementioned Bill Parish which was done as an editorial for Barrons (from the WSJ people) in 2003 and available online, where Mr Parish writes:

For anyone owning a S&P 500 index fund, Microsoft automatically was almost 4% of their investment. Microsoft’s stock has since declined 58.5%, from $58.38 a share on Dec. 31, 1999,(adjusted for a subsequent split) to $24.21 on March 31. That’s a loss of more than $363 billion, an amount exceeding the gross national product of all but a few nations. The loss also happens to be almost five times the total market value of Enron at its peak.

For reference, MSFT are currently trading at US$30.74 and a market capitalisation of US$302.19 billion. That’s about twice the GDP of Ireland and half the GDP of Australia.

Rob has kindly granted permission for its reproduction here, but he retains copyright.

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Vacation released

This is a minor bugfix release to the 1.2.6 series of Vacation inspired by looking at the sorts of things Linux distros patch for their own usage.

Vacation no longer builds as -m486 by default, though it will build as 32-bit on AMD64/EM64T because GDBM is not 32/64-bit portable and trying to run a 64-bit version against a 32-bit created GDBM causes it to fail and syslog a success message. This is sub-optimal.

The Makefiles CFLAGS handling has been tidied up a fair bit as a consequence and will hopefully make life a little easier for distributors and it no longer tries to strip the vaclook Perl script on install, which was very silly.

Vacation also now accepts the -i option as well as -I to initialise its database.

Download from SourceForge here.

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Vacation beta 3 released

Another quick release, this time changing the address parsing for From: and Reply-To: headers to use Eric Raymonds rfc822.c library from his Unix Cookbook and fetchmail rather than the old homebrew code which couldn’t parse many RFC2822 addresses. You can enable the old behaviour by compiling with the -DOLD compiler option (though you probably won’t want to).

It also fixes the bug that broke the -r option, there was a stray “:” in the getopt(3) call that meant it expected an (unnecessary) argument.

There’s a couple of trivial tweaks too.

Please report successful and unsuccessful uses!

Available here.

Vacation beta 2 released

This new beta may be more on the alpha side of beta as it includes a substantial number of changes to improve security. Rather than using the standard strcpy, strcat, etc it now uses the OpenBSD secure string handling functions strlcat and strlcpy and use of sprintf has been changed to snprintf to try and avoid possible buffer overruns. I’m not actually aware of any attacks but this is quite old code so you never know your luck.

I’ve also changed the implementation of the nsearch() function to use strcasestr() which makes it much simpler.

You can download the release from Sourceforge.

Please test and comment!

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China Destroys Satellite in Weapons Test ? (Updated)

An interesting news article from the BBC, it is believed that the Chinese military did an anti-satellite weapons test against an old weather satellite of theirs and successfully destroyed it with a surface launched ballistic missile.

The report said that a Chinese Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite, launched in 1999, was destroyed by an anti-satellite system launched from or near China’s Xichang Space Centre on 11 January.

There is the usual outrage over the test, but I do wonder whether they would have said anything if it was the US who had done the same..

Update: China has confirmed that this test took place.

Melbourne and Victoria Power Failures

Power outages all over Melbourne (as well as Victoria). The Age says:

Large parts of Victoria including much of metropolitan Melbourne are now without power, after bushfires in the north-east of the state knocked out vital transmission lines connecting Victoria to the national power grid.

To see the areas around central Melbourne affected you can go to the CItipower Outages page.

Traffic lights are out, trains are still running (but delayed). Be careful folks..

Update: This report says that the fire has disrupted 2 gigawatts of power that the state would normally have access to.

Intel Development Tools on Debian & Debian Derived Linux Distributions

If you have an interest in being able to run the Intel developer tools (( the C & Fortran compilers, Vtune, etc )) under Debian or a Debian derived distribution such as Ubuntu then please sign up and make your views known on the Intel instigated poll on their forums, please!

At the moment they only support RPM based distributions (mainly RHEL and SLES) and whilst you can get the compilers going through some documented hacks getting Vtune to install is a real pain – the only way I’ve heard so far is this hack that involves having a machine running one of those distros to hand.

Intel make these tools available to people doing development on projects for no recompense (but be sure to read their FAQ on who does and doesn’t qualify).

Microsoft OpenXML – Patent Minefield

Microsoft still don’t get open standards – their new OpenXML office file format is patent encumbered, but not in a way that is obvious. Sam Hiser has an interesting evaluation of the license for OpenXML and it appears that whilst MS do promise not to sue you for any patents that cover anything that is explicitly in the specification they do not do so for anything that you need to implement that specification.

We know of a great deal of Microsoft technology which does in fact contain patents and which lies outside the specification which would need to be implemented by such a 3rd-party for the formats to work. The Microsoft Office Open XML formats are therefore dependent upon a host of patented Microsoft technology.

In effect, this license means that if you are making a well-functioning, complete implementation of the Microsoft Office Open XML specification, then you are not covered by the “promise” in the License. In other words, Microsoft effectively prohibits you legally from making a complete and working implementation of its new formats in your software. If you do, you run the risk of being sued.

In other words, here is an open specification that you can only implement if you either (a) are willing to get sued, or (b) lucky enough not to live in a country that has stupid software patent laws..