Archive for the 'Rant' Category

Why are only Microsoft’s competitors allowed to innovate?

Adobe is apparently thinking of suing Microsoft for including a ‘Save as PDF’ feature in Vista, the new version of Windows due for release next month. [Adobe boss won't rule out suing over Vista, The Register] It comes on the heels of year in which companies like Symantec have come sobbing to competition authorities because Microsoft has built antivirus and security software into Vista. And let’s not forget that only a few years ago Microsoft was prosecuted (“successfully”) on both sides of the Atlantic for breaching competition rules by bundling functionality into Windows that competed with established third party software (e.g.   the web browser [United States vs Microsoft, Wikipedia], and media player [European Union Microsoft antitrust case, Wikpedia]).

Supposedly the reason behind this is that because whilst it is not illegal to form a monopoly, once you have dominance in a market you must not abuse that position to create a monopoly in another market. That’s fair enough, actually. The problem is when geeks get to define the market in unfairly narrow terms.

Let’s face it to the average user a personal computer system is a tool. They don’t, in general, care what particular bits of software or hardware are in it. They are interested in the complete package and what it can or can’t do for them. Let’s take the motorcar industry as an analogy. Let’s say Ford had a dominant position in the market. Would we then prosecute the company for using that position to then establish dominance in the market for car light bulbs or stereos? Of course not! To the average user its just part of the car. It’s part of the experience. So, the bundling of a web browser, disk compression or any other feature is just part of the personal computing experience that consumers seek to buy.

No-one has ever prosecuted Apple or assorted Linux/Unix suppliers for bundling their preferred browser into their operating systems. My Macintosh has had “Save as PDF” functionality built-in for years. It’s something I really value. Why shouldn’t Microsoft be allowed to include that too? Or are we so jealous of those that are commercially successful that we have to find what way we can to cripple their innovation?

All this talk of unfair competition is poppy cock. Microsoft is in the software business and should be allowed to include whatever functionality it wants within its software. Only geeks care about the boundary between an operating system, a web browser and a PDF creator.

School bogs still need cleaning up

I was amused to see an article on CBBC Newsround (no I don’t normally look at children’s websites – I followed an interestingly-titled link from the BBC News Education page) showing that 70% of children are put off using their school toilets.

When I was at school I couldn’t bear to use the toilets. Aside from being filthy the stench was just unbearable. I always used to ‘hold’ it in until I got home. Given my school was 1.5 hrs away by bus that did unfortunately mean that in the early days I did inevitably have one or two leaks before I got home… Since then my bladder has adapted such that I can quite happily go most of the day without visiting the toilet – though I’m not sure this is particularly good for my kidneys!

I appreciate that spending money on toilet hygiene is not as fashionable as reducing class sizes or buying text books but really I do think it is something important. It is shocking that we have such low levels of hygiene in our schools in a modern, civilised society.

Scientific research or just a waste of public money?

Research is important. Scientific research that is. And in order to get it right, that’s why we are supposed to be concentrating it at elite institutions (i.e. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College and University College, London). Unfortunately that still doesn’t leave enough money to fund all “the big science” research we are supposed to be doing.

Sometimes, however, I wonder whether the problem isn’t so much a lack of funds as just money being wasted on stupid science.

This evening I was resuming one of my, now lapsed, habits of perusing through the foriegn media. As I worked my way through my News bookmarks I came to Pravda, former bastion of the Soviet politburo. They usually have an interesting ‘take’ on world affairs and gave a very different perspective of things like the Iraq war last year. What I was least expecting to see, however, was an article about the medicinal benefits of passionate kissing.

Bemused I sent the link to a friend who I was chatting with on MSN. They sent me back a link to a BBC article on how masturbation prevents cancer (basically because it flushes out your plumbing…). Now, of course, this is silly. Whilst it might increase your life expectancy, I wouldn’t want to be blind in old age…

But the point is this: is this really research? Is this worth the funding it gets from the taxpayer? Are these pointless studies an indirect cause of top-up fees?

Or have I just temporarily lost my sense of humour?