Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Microsoft, patents, and a reminder as to why Open Source is "good enough".

Today came word that a US Court of Appeal has denied Microsoft's appeal in a case regarding an XML related patent lawsuit filed by the Canadian company, i4i. The initial injunction handed down in August 2009 claimed that Microsoft had infringed on a patent held by the company and prohibited Microsoft from selling copies of Word 2007 in the US. This move, while appearing draconian and downright silly in nature, is just another example of the dangers of software patents and how it can stifle innovation. This story however isn't about the lawsuit, the injunction, or the denied appeal by Microsoft. This story is about Microsoft's approach to making things right and their choice of words in expressing it.

Today Microsoft issued a press release outlining their plan of action. Of particular note is the following statement:

With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature (emphasis mine) from these products.
I don't believe there are many ways of interpreting this statement. Microsoft has, in their own words, pointed out that a particular feature found in one of their products is hardly used by its customers. This obviously isn't a groundbreaking or even unknown fact, but it does bear acknowledgement.

One pervasive complaint when it comes to utilizing Open Source software in place of incumbent proprietary systems has been the often times true observation that Open Source tends to have a smaller feature set. Very few persons in the know would deny this fact, however proponents of Open Source will often times refer to the venerable 80-20 rule: 80% of a system's features are used by only 20% of its users. What this simply means is that a smaller feature set, in the grand scheme of things, may have little effect on a user's productivity and in many cases simply contributes to software bloat. Microsoft's statement seems to not only reinforce this notion, but manages to single out a very relevant example.

I hope people can take a simple lesson from this. Certainly a product with millions of dollars spent on R&D will excel in feature count over a F/LOSS variant, but persons should always ask themselves whether these features apply to their particular case and if it's worth the extra money (acquisition, training, maintenance, upgrades) to get them.

I'm not an evangelist of Open Source, I'm an evangelist of knowledge and choice.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Linked List Exclusion

I wrote this paper for you. Enjoy: Linked List Exclusion.