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May 04 2012

Top Stories: April 30-May 4, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

The U.K.'s battle for open standards
Influence, money, a bit of drama — not things you typically associate with open standards, yet that's what the U.K. government is facing as it evaluates open options.

Mobile web development isn't slowing down
Over the last two years, mobile web development has continued its rapid evolution. In this interview, Fluent speaker and "Programming the Mobile Web" author Maximiliano Firtman discusses the short-term changes that caught his attention.

Editorial Radar: Functional languages
O'Reilly editors Mike Loukides and Mike Hendrickson discuss the advantages of functional programming languages and how functional language techniques can be deployed with almost any language.

Jason Grigsby and Lyza Danger Gardner on mobile web design
In this Velocity podcast, the co-authors of "Head First Mobile Web" discuss mobile website optimization, mobile design considerations, and common mobile development mistakes.

Parliament / Big Ben photo: UK parliament by Alan Cleaver, on Flickr

Fluent Conference: JavaScript & Beyond — Explore the changing worlds of JavaScript & HTML5 at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference, May 29 - 31 in San Francisco. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

May 03 2012

Four short links: 3 May 2012

  1. The History of Key Design (Slate) -- fascinating and educational. I loved the detector lock, which shows you how many times it has been used. Would be lovely to see on my Google account. (via Dave Pell)
  2. Why Telcos Don't Grok Open Standards (Simon Phipps) -- Their history is of participants in a market where a legally-constituted cartel of suppliers commission specifications for key shared standards. Technologists contribute freely on the expectation they will recoup their costs through royalties for licensing the patents on their contributions. [...] Since every participant usually ends up having at least some ideas accepted, most participants in the process have some claims on each standard, with the result that net royalties payable between the participants may not be the relative burden they appear if taken in isolation. But it does mean that late entrants to the market can face an insurmountable cost barrier.
  3. The Next Big Thing (Umair Haque) -- Umair frequently skirts the boundaries of Deepak Choprah-esque vacuous self-help, but I applaud his constant challenge to know your values and live truthfully by them. Hence here's a minor challenge. Unless you want to spend your valuable life painstakingly eking out barely better solutions to problems we've already solved which give us answers that fail to matter in the enduring terms of the questions which do, consider the following: If we're going to reboot our institutions, rethink our way of work, life, and play, then what are we going to redesign them for?
  4. The Jig Is Iup (The Atlantic) -- The thing about the advertising model is that it gets people thinking small, lean. Get four college kids in a room, fuel them with pizza, and see what thing they can crank out that their friends might like. Yay! Great! But you know what? They keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you'd get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavor: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong. A different angle than Umair, but a challenge to think beyond building another declining value acquisition for your own personal benefit.

May 02 2012

The UK's battle for open standards

Many of you are probably not aware, but there is an ongoing battle within the U.K. that will shape the future of the U.K. tech industry. It's all about open standards.

Last year, the Cabinet Office ran a consultation on open standards covering 970 CIOs and academics. The result of this consultation was a policy (PDF) in favour of royalty-free (RF) open standards in the U.K. I'm not going to go through the benefits of open standards in this space, other than to note that they are essential for the U.K.'s future competitive position, for spurring on innovation and creating a level playing field within the tech field. For those who wish to read more on this subject, Mark Thompson, the only academic I know to have published a paper on open standards in a quality peer reviewed journal, has provided an excellent overview.

Normally, I put these battles into an historical context, and I certainly have a plethora of examples of past industries attempting to lobby against future change. However, to keep this short I'll simply note that the incumbent industry has reacted to the Cabinet Office policy with attempts to redefine open standards to include non-open FRAND (fair, reasonable and non discriminatory) licenses and portray some sort of legitimate debate of RF versus FRAND, which doesn't exist.

Whilst this is clearly wrong and underhanded, there's another story I wish to focus on. It relates to the accusations that the meetings have been filled with "spokespeople for big vendors to argue in favour of paid-for software, specifically giving advocates of FRAND the chance to argue that free software on RF terms would be a bad thing" as reported by TechWeek Europe.

The back story is that since the Government policy on open standards was put in place, the Cabinet Office was pressured into a u-turn and running another consultation by various standards bodies and other vested interests. The arguments used were either fortuitous misunderstandings of the policy or willful misinformation in favour of current business interests. The Cabinet Office then appeared to relent to the pressure and undertake a second set of consultations. What happened next shows the sorry behaviour of lobbyists in our industry.

"Software patent heavyweights piled into the first public meeting," filling the room with unrepresentative views backed up by vendors flying in senior individuals from the U.S. It apparently seems that the chair of the roundtable was himself a paid lobbyist working on behalf of those vested interests, a fact that he forgot to mention to the Cabinet Office. Microsoft has now been "accused of trying to secretly influence government consultation."

What's surprising is that the majority of this had been uncovered by two journalists — Mark Ballard at Computer Weekly and Glyn Moody — who work mainly outside the mainstream media. In fact, the mainstream media has remained silent on the issue, with the notable exception of The Guardian.

The end result of the work of these two journalists is that the Cabinet Office has had to extend the consultation and, as noted by The Guardian, "rerun one of its discussion roundtables after it found that an independent facilitator of one of its discussions was simultaneously advising Microsoft on the consultation."

So, we have two plucky journalists who stand alone uncovering large corporations that are bullying Government to protect profits worth hundreds of millions. Our heroes' journey uncovers gerrymandering, skullduggery, rampant conflicts of interests, dubious ethics and a host of other sordid details and ... hold on, this sounds like a Hollywood script, not real life. Why on earth isn't mainstream media all over this, especially given the leaked Bell Pottinger memo on exploiting citizen initiatives?

The silence makes me wonder whether investigative journalism into things that might matter and might make a positive difference doesn't sell much advertising? Would it help if the open standards battle had celebrity endorsement? Alas, that's not the case and the battle for open standards might have been extended, but it is still ongoing. This issue is as important to the U.K. as SOPA / PIPA were to the U.S., but rather than fighting against a Government trying to do something that harms the growth of future industry, we are fighting with a Government trying to do the right thing and benefit a nation.

If you're too busy to help, that's understandable, but don't ever grumble about why the U.K. Government doesn't do more to support open standards and open source. The U.K. Government is trying to make a difference. It's trying to fight a good fight against a huge and well-funded lobby, but it needs you to turn up.

The battle for open standards needs help, so get involved.


February 24 2011

Four short links: 24 February 2011

  1. Charles -- a debugging proxy that lets a developer view all HTTP and SSL traffic between their machine and the Internet. (via Andy Baio's excellent "How I Indexed The Daily)
  2. The Rise and Rise of Mobile Broadband -- the Blackberry is now the standard measure of traffic, apparently. The outcome is simple - Cisco estimates that global mobile data traffic grew 159% last year and will grow another 131% this year. They contend traffic will increase 26 times versus 2010 levels, a 92% cumulative annual growth rate. I hope the network engineers are ready.
  3. Pattern -- BSD-licensed Python tools for data retrieval (Google + Twitter + Wikipedia API, web spider, HTML DOM parser), text analysis (rule-based shallow parser, WordNet interface, syntactical + semantical n-gram search algorithm, tf-idf + cosine similarity + LSA metrics) and data visualization (graph networks). (via Hacker News)
  4. ODF Plugfest -- when you have open standards, you need interop events like this to ensure that theoretically compatible programs are actually compatible. (via Jono Bacon on Twitter)

October 20 2010

Developer Week in Review

Here's what recently caught my attention on the developer front:

The new Microsoft, wow with 100% less architecture

This week, The Creature From Redmond announced the upcoming departure of Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's Chief Software Architect. Ozzie took up the mantel of CSA from Bill Gates himself, and Steve Ballmer has indicated that the position will not be continued after Ozzie leaves.

I can't help but raise an eyebrow at this. In a company with as pure a software play as Microsoft, and with as much emphasis on a unified development methodology for independent software vendors, not having someone at the top to herd the cats strikes me as a recipe for divergence and a splintered framework.

Another good press week for Apple

On Monday, Apple announced they made a bazillion dollars last quarter, and that every living human on the planet and many of the dogs now own iPads or iPhones, or something like that.

Expect the lovefest to continue on Wednesday (today) with another press conference, this time announcing the new tech for the Mac product line, including -- it's rumored -- OS X 10.7. Is OS X 10.7 redundant? Shouldn't it be OS X.7, or OS 10.7? And the rumors continue to swirl that a CDMA version of the iPhone will come to Verizon in 2011.

The BSA, neither trustworthy, loyal, nor honest, evidently

No, not the Boy Scouts of America, the Business Software Alliance. Word has come out this week that they have been lobbying hard to keep open-standard-friendly language out of the EU's European Interoperability Framework. This has, not unexpectedly, brought the Free Software Foundation into the fray.

Having just watched "Firefly" and "Serenity" with my son for the first time (his, not mine), I can't help but think that "the Alliance" is a great name to tag the BSA with. I'm having trouble plugging Richard Stallman into the Malcolm Reynolds role, though ...

if (C++ == 0x19) printf("Happy Birthday!!");

It may seem like it's been around forever, and maybe 25 years is forever in computer language years, but last Friday marked the 25th birthday for C++. A little long in the tooth, perhaps, but it still manages to power a good chunk of the world's software. I never really got into C++ -- I moved directly from C to Java, and I've now made a perverse sidestep to Objective-C -- but I know lots of developers who swear by it (and a few who swear at it ...). Wonder if we'll still be leaning on it as heavily when it hits 50?

That's it for this week. Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.

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