Apple And HTC: Let The Suits Begin

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

apple-iphone-3g.jpgAs a geek these are exciting times. Smart phones like the iPhone, Androids and Microsoft’s still-to-be-seen efforts are putting major computing in your pocket. They’re powerful enough that I’ve sometimes been guilty of disregarding my dinner companions as I work the phone (actually everything but the phone).

Of course nothing like this happens in a vacuum. Everyone tries to protect their territory. There’s so much my iPhone can do, if only Steve Jobs would say yes!

Seriously, my phone is purposely crippled in many ways.

An example is the Dragon Dictation app. It does an amazing job of translating spoken words to text. Unfortunately Apple says it can’t speak directly to the email or SMS programs. In order to use DD you have to cut and paste.

Though approved by Apple this applet is hidden from the iPhone’s most powerful features. It’s not that the software can’t perform this task, it’s been prohibited from performing it!

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

This is totally Apple’s choice. They could let it happen tomorrow and I’m sure Dragon would have the updated software waiting.
This is just one in a series of arbitrary or puzzling decisions.

Some friends say I should just ‘jailbreak’ the phone–remove Apple’s grip with a simple unauthorized software download. Good idea, though jailbreaking alone will not make this particular software work as it should.

Maybe I own the iPhone, but only under a strict license which says what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t load into it. It’s as if your Ford was only allowed to use Ford gasoline and could only be repaired with Ford parts. Maybe you should only be able to chill GE water in your GE refrigerator.

Don’t get me wrong, this phone is killer. I love it. I am frustrated though because I can see what is being done to keep Apple as gatekeeper.

Now Apple is reaching out to keep competitors from competing. Yesterday they sued HTC, who makes smartphones under their own name and for others. This has to do with HTC’s phone that use Google’s Android operating system.

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” – Steve Jobs

Apple is enforcing its software patents. That itself is pretty controversial as software patents are a recent ‘innovation’ seemingly granted broadly and with little scrutiny. A software patent case is on its way to the Supreme Court right now.
Though companies with these patents say they are (and probably are) just protecting their investments in research and development, others say patents on software limit innovation.

It’s interesting to hear organizations perceived as liberal, like the Electronic Freedom Foundation use concepts normally reserved for the right.

Software innovation happens without government intervention. Virtually all of the technologies you use now were developed before software was widely viewed as patentable. The Web, email, your word processor and spreadsheet program, instant messaging, or even more technical features like the psychoacoustic encoding and Huffman compression underlying the MP3 standard—all of it was originally developed by enthusiastic programmers, many of whom have formed successful business around such software, none of whom asked the government for a monopoly. So if software authors have a proven track-record of innovation without patents, why force them to use patents? What is the gain from billions of dollars in patent litigation? –

None of this seems to be happening for our (my) benefit.

Maxtor Licensing – You’re Kidding, Right?

I don’t know what font that is, but it’s certainly nothing I’ve seen before or anything I’ve defaulted to. No, I’m afraid this is a little gift from the folks who wrote the software. It looks like they’ve tried their best to make this license unreadable.

A few weeks ago I bought a Maxtor One Touch III external hard drive to back up our myriad computers. Tonight, I decided to install it, so I inserted the enclosed driver/software CD and watched it begiMaxtor Drive EULAn to load.

The attached photo is a true picture of the licensing agreement for Retrospect Express! It’s unreadable like this, so click on the photo for the large, though still unreadable, version.

I don’t know what font that is, but it’s certainly nothing I’ve seen before or anything I’ve defaulted to. No, I’m afraid this is a little gift from the folks who wrote the software. It looks like they’ve tried their best to make this license unreadable.

I was able to highlight and then copy it, and it’s included after the jump. There’s nothing that seems any more evil that any other EULA.

So why is it obscured?

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Sony’s Digital Rights Management

If you’ve already read about this story, my take is probably going to be less thorough than what you already know. However, I don’t think everyone has seen the story… certainly not those who don’t read the “Nerd Press,” so here’s the skinny.

Fingers are being pointed at Sony Music because of their latest copy protection scheme.

Back in the days of vinyl disks and reel-to-reel tape recorders it was very difficult to faithfully reproduce someone else’s intellectual property. Sure, you could make a tape from an album, but it was a royal pain and nowhere as convenient as the original.

All of this started to change with the VCR. We could copy someone else’s property and time shift it to suit our needs. It worked, but it was still cumbersome. How often did you/do you VCR television shows?

Now we’re digital. Whereas copying analog material was difficult and degraded the quality, digital copying is easy and every copy is a true clone of the original. If you go to the Lower East Side in New York, where everything is a knockoff, and buy a bootleg CD, it will sound exactly like the original!

Obviously, this easy copying is scary to rights holders, like movie studios, record and computer software companies. They don’t want us copying, and I understand why. It’s killing them&#185.

They have tried, and are continuing to try to do what they can to hold off a flood of copies. There are laws, which so far have been very ineffectual. It’s bad in the US and worse in many other places. There are also software solutions, and those too haven’t been particularly effective.

Last week a small tech website unearthed Sony’s latest salvo in the war against copying. On his blog, Mark Russinovich reported the discovery of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, installed on his computer without his permission. It was there because he had played a legal Van Zant CD.

This piece of computer code was stealing resources, phoning home and hiding itself. It was installed without permission… without the option to refuse… and without a method of removal!

The story’s on Mark’s website and it’s worth reading (well, it was to me – your mileage may vary). Among the additional charges, this software could allow nefarious hackers a method to hide their intentions in your machine as they do even more sneaky things (use your imagination).

Sony has reacted, but not in the way I expected. They’ve played down the problem and offered software to reveal this hidden code. Reveal is not remove. Removing it is another matter… a complex matter.

When a company is presented with a situation like this and tries to stay the course, even when up against bad publicity (Think back to a math flaw found in early Intel Pentium chips or the Bon Vivant Vichyssoise debacle of 1971.), it always ends up biting them in the tush.

I understand Sony’s desire to protect their property, but this seems a little draconian. Actually, it seems a lot draconian. Having passive protection is one thing. Going into my computer and installing software without my knowledge or permission is quite another.

I suspect this isn’t the last we’re going to hear about this. In fact, I would be surprised if Sony is the first company using this type of code. They’re probably just the first found.

This story will have legs outside geeky publications.

&#185 – I believe this is true, even though I also believe most copies don’t mean a lost sale. Most copies go to people who wouldn’t buy anyway.

Comair – It Was The Software

A few days ago, while pondering the Comair Christmas meltdown, I said:

Comair isn’t letting me into their inner sanctum, but it’s probable that the structure of the computer system that handles their crew assignments, weight balance, manifesting and the like wasn’t equipped to handle all the ‘exceptions’ it was asked to ponder this past week.

I hit it right on the nose! Linked below is a story from today’s Cincinnati Post which details exactly what happened.

Comair says the computer system was due to be replaced. I wonder if the DOT inquiry will show it should have been replaced a while ago. How long was Comair operating close to the limits of their system? Was this problem predictable?

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