Monthly Archive for November, 2006

In memorium: Nick Clarke

Nick Clarke passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer. His was one of the memorable, reassuring, and gentle voices on Radio 4. I cannot think of another political interviewer who did not seem to have any outward display of loving the sound of their own voice. I shall certainly miss him.

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.

Repeal the consent laws

Terry Grange, a chief constable of a Welsh police force has courted controversy by stating the bleeding obvious: that criminalising sex between consenting young people simply because they are on opposites sides of age 16 is ridiculous. [Sex with under-16s ‘grey area’, BBC News]

Some people may well get upset but Mr Grange is absolutely right – unfortunately he does not go far enough. The obvious conclusion to his argument is that the consent laws, in so far as they apply to anyone who has attained the age of puberty, should be repealed. The idea that any arbitrary age should be used as a qualification for being “allowed” to have sex is just inept, and fails to recognise the reality of human nature.

In my view we should not have laws that cannot be enforced. Unenforceable laws make the law appear an ass and so make it harder to enforce other, more reasonable laws. You are on very shaky moral ground when you start to pick and choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore. We are not going to prosecute every 16 year old who has sex with a 15 year old. So this law must go.

There are two key issues, of course, that need to be dealt with. The first is that we need a proper legal definition of paedophilia. I find Mr Grange’s argument that it should be linked to “puberty” to be persuasive but incomplete. I think we also need to protect young people from those who abuse positions of trust, without stigmatising certain professions. However these cases can, and should, be dealt with by targeted legislation. This would have to be a pre-requisite for any repeal of the consent laws.

The second issue is that of marriage. I think we have made marriage far too difficult in society. The apparent demand for civil partnerships for heterosexuals, (often by those who misunderstand the concept of civil partnership to believe it extends marital rights to co-habitees) is testament to that. I believe marriage is an important building block in the fabric of society. If we accept that youngsters will have sex (and they do, I’m told) before attaining the age of 16 why can’t they then be married? People mature at different ages and the law should recognise this.

Yes marriage is “a lot of responsibility” but that’s the whole point. Removing barriers to marriage should re-enforce a culture of marriage in society. Such a society can only be beneficial to those young women who today are left stranded by men who fail to accept the responsibilities that go with their relationships. And I somewhat suspect that, within the security of marriage relationship, teenage pregnancies might actually go down.

Bill Gates on America, post-superpower status

In a lecture at Stanford University, Bill Gates argues that with the rise of China, the US needs to look beyond the American century and adopt a multi-lateral view, both economically and militarily. [“US superpower status challenged – Gates”, The Register]

Interestingly, Mr Gates shrewdly points to increasing immigration controls as one of the trends that is having a negative impact on USA competitiveness and innovation. What hope then for the UK and the rest of Europe where problems with community cohesion are causing genuine public unrest over immigration, resulting in politicians rushing to show-off their anti-immigration credentials? Our economic future depends on successful immigration. Let’s hope our leaders can rise to the challenge of community cohesion rather than simply pandering to reactionary prejudices.