News Snips

The asian market XBox will be manufactured in China. Like TabletPC and PocketPCmanufacturing,the Chinese/Taiwanese-led high-tech groups are maturing very quickly to be independent of (and maybe superior to) their U.S.-controlled mentors.

Financial Express in India writes about the development of a similarly promising local expertise. India and China have very different sets of pros/cons, but both are clearly in a position todevelop intotwo of the most formidable domestic high-tech industries in the world soon.

Charles Cooper is rightwhen he says that officials in China are worried about the Windows because of fears that the U.S. government may have inserted back doors into Chinese stuff. He should have read my long-ago post on this exact topic— this is a real issue. His article seems to conclude that this is good news, though, so he seems to have missed the part where I explain that this means they will equally mistrust any non-domestic Linux. This is the whole reason that Red Flag Linux (which is not Red Hat) was created. And Red Flag might as well not be Linux, because Charles Cooper can’t do anything with it. Chinese government is behaving in a manner consistent with history and their perception of national security, and like my original post pointed out; with good reason. To read any more into things than that, as some Linux advocates seem to be doing, is wishful thinking.

(Honestly, I would love to see FSF try to sue China for source code to changes the central planning committe authorizes to domestic Red Flag copies. This would be one of the funniest ironies of a lifetime.)

Cooper does a good job raisinganother point;computer “state of art” is still pretty lousy. Software is only achieving 1% of what it should be doing for people, and unlocking just a small bit of that 99% potential can keep us busy for many years. Nobody in this industry should ever be worried about lack of opportunity or scarcity of ideas.

The example of McNealy and the Russian woman he uses to illustrate a pointseems very suspicious, though. I have heard that same anecdote since 20 years ago in a number of other contexts completely independent of Mr. McNealy as well, so it is likely that McNealy was simply relaying the anecdote and Cooper confused it for being a personal tale — or maybe McNealy forgot whether he had heard it or experienced it — who knows? In any case, I don’t think Russian women cry in supermarkets anymore (if they even did when I was 8 years old). And some of McNealy’s best employees are Russian women (and men), so he should really be more careful and retire the silly old anecdote already. I have visited at least three supermarkets in Beijing that were bigger than any I’ve seen in the U.S., but that is no reason to cry — itis just because nobody in China wants to shop some place that is not grandiose (in other words, small niche botiques are not considered “upscale” there; they are considered crummy alternatives to the superstores).

MSFT Server Market Share increases. No big surprise that Linux is cannibalizing other versions of Unix more than windows. Scott McNealy weighs in on why Dell should be selling Sun, but won’t. The interviewer is pretty persistent, and McNealy is very direct in his answers. The interviewgivesreally great insight into the market position that Sun is facing right now. Even with all of those challenges though, Sun gave $6 billion of profits on altruistic donations of software. Seems like some fuzzy accounting going on there, though — one wonders why they didn’t just go for bust on the tax breaks and shoot for 12 billion by donating twice as many copies.

Curious that ZDNet filed under “eBusiness” a story about “U.S. raids online date-rape drug sellers“. But sadly not surprising that they continue to propagate misconceptions. GHB was sold in health-food stores as an antidepressant and bodybuilding supplementup until the last decade, and gammabutyrolactone is widely used in industry for purposes other than manufacture of GHB. I can only assume that the other chemical they list is now being used as a precursor to GBL or GHB now that GBL is highly restricted.

Who Loves Namespaces?

The discussion over namespaces in RSS 2.0 isturning outto be a very instructive study for those of us whobuild XML infrastructure, training courses, and productsfor developers. I hope that anyone who makes a living catering to XML developersis paying attention.

Most XML “experts” would consider it insane to attempt using XML for interop without using namespaces. However, this is exactly the subject of the current debate over RSS 2.0. Dave has listed the three possible options for RSS 2.0 use of namespaces.

At first glance, it seems like option 2 (require namespace on all elements)is the obvious choice. Reading Sam Ruby’s “Gentle Introduction to Namespaces” explains why. An element with a name like RSS’s “Title” is common enough that you are virtually guaranteed to have name collisions in large scenarios if you fail to disambiguate somehow. For example, if I want to attach someone’s iCard (used for contact info by Outlook, Netscape, etc.) to the header of their RSS feed, how will I know which “Title” element refers to the person’s job title and which refers to the title of the blog item?

But before we make any decisions, let’s make sure that namespaces are really so gentle as Sam’s introduction implies. The first hint that things might be more complicated for RSS 2.0 comes from anxml-dev thread spawned by Don Box and Aaron Skonnard, titled “Default namespaces are evil!

The thread goes right to the heart of Dave’s other two options: 1) Nothing has a namespace, or 3) Namespaces are optional. Since RSS 0.9x versions all used option 1, it’s rather difficult to achieve any sort of backwards-compatibility if RSS 2.0 adopts mandatory namespaces. But, what we learn from scanning the xml-dev thread is that any use of blank namespaces is risky. It seems that RSS 2.0 is in a difficult position.

Now, it would be foolish to make a decision based on some disorganized rants about the evils of default namespaces, so let’s look for something more comprehensive and objective. Aaron Skonnard’s “Understanding Namespaces” offers some general discussion regarding issues with default namespaces, andDare Obasanjo drills into specifics, exhaustively covering the potential pitfalls of namespaces in XSLT and XPath, and in XML Schema. Well, now we have confirmation that RSS 2.0 is in a difficult position!

But wait! It’s worse! While RSS 0.9x versions stuck everything in a null default namespace, RSS 1.0 forked off to be based on RDF 1.0. RDF uses “RDF Namespaces”, which look seductively like XML Namespaces, but are completely incompatible in the most annoying ways. “RDF Namespaces”, just like “XML Namespaces”, are used to disambiguate local names, but the disambiguation rules are different.

So, who’s fault is it? It is easy for the XML “elite” to blame the user when confusion arises. But this is a cop-out, and in this case, we are talking about people who are at the cutting edge of XML. Dave Winer a clueless user? I doubt it. The “RDF Lobby” a bunch of confused newbies? No way. So how did all of these smart people end up in such a mess? And if RSS has evolved this way, what hope does the average IT organization have?

I’m not saying that evolving XML schemas is a hopeless task, but I think the industry participants need to pay way more attention to this problem and give our customers better overall guidance. Customers shouldn’t have to be having the sort of debates that RSS 2.0 is having. If they do, we failed.

And none of thissays that XML itself is a failure in RSS. There is an old saying about “code talks”. regardless of the fact that RSS 0.9x and RSS 1.0 are completely incompatible, there are scores of implementations out there which handle both just fine. And there are already a number of apps which handle RSS 2.0. The specifications exist so that people can write interoperable apps, and so far they have been quite successful at this. Obviously things are going to be more difficult when people start trying to mix various XML vocabularies with RSS, such as the iCard example above. But maybe that’s not the highest priority for the customers of RSS.

Orlowski Does it Again

Andrew Orlowski at “The Reg” writes a perfect polemic on the state of American “innovation”. When it comes to wirelesspersonal communications technologies, North America is a backwards backwater. It sucks to look at all of the cool phones everyone is using in cities around the world, and know that I won’t be able to use the technology in North America for another two years. There wasn’t even any incentive for me to bring my GSM T68 to China — AT&T doesn’t work in China, so I would have hadto use a different carrier; and I can rent much cooler phones here for practically nothing anyway.

Lingua Starbucks

I did some QA on the Starbucks inside the Forbidden City in Beijing yesterday. Using standard starbucks lingo, I asked in Englishfor a “double tall ice latte with caramel sauce”. They got it just right.

The store near my hotel is pretty cool: they make the jiaozi dumplings right there in the aisle, and shoppers just grab them out of the bins shown here by the handful.

Simon Phipps Responds

I commented on Simon Phipps CNet article recently, and he responded on his blog, accusing me of having “knee-jerk opposition”.

I can understand how he could have become confused into thinking that my rant on my personal blog was about him, but if you read the post again you will see that I was very careful in my phrasing. Phipps was only used in the first two sentences of the article as a springboard to launch into my thesis, which is about the newspeak of Stallman and Lessig when they say “Free Software is about Liberty”.

Sun’s position on intellectual property is far closer to Microsoft’s than to Stallman’s. Sun, like Microsoft, realizes thatopening code and protocolscan form apowerful nexus of community, and can be liberating in many circumstances. Both Microsoft and Sun have released code and protocols under various licenses, ranging from public domain to purely proprietary.

In fact, for a company who has said that “software is a feature of hardware”, Sun keeps tight rein on her software intellectual property.For example, Microsoft donated C# to theECMA international standards body very early on, but Sun still refuses to open up Java to real community participation. There is something known as “Java Community Process”, but the word “community” is considered by most to be newspeak, since Sun created and continues to exercisetight control over the “process”. The number one non-Sun Google hit for “Java Community Process” yields a page titled “Java Gated Communty Process“, which is a hint of how many Java user’s feel about the “liberty” provided by JCP.

Anyway, I’m not trying to criticize Sun’s record, since that’s not the point. Sun deserves a lot of praise from the community; for contributions like NFS, Java, and even Crimson. The point is that Sun (wisely)treats licensing as a tool rather than a religion, and could therefore never live up to the intent of Stallman’s phrase “Free Software is about Liberty”.

Simon’sappropriation ofthat famous Stallman quote in his CNet article was clearlyused in a context that Stallman had not intended. Simon’s blog seems to imply “there are lots of definitions of liberty; can’t we all just get along?”. But I would only point out that Stallman was thinking more like “I am a freedom fighter, so the ends justify the means”. There is no room for compromise or cooperation in the newspeak “Free Software is about Liberty”.

Since Sun remains pragmatic about licensing, it’s clear that Simon’s use of the Stallman quote was not indicative of any FSF-ization of Sun’s position. Andhis lamenting“the attack Microsoft continues to make on the community of open source communities” is rather melodramatic. This is tired politics: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Microsoft is our enemy, so we must be friends”. That technique was once effective, but silly in today’s post-bubble reality.

Microsoft and Sun share many of the same customers, and when it comes to helping our customers grow their businesses, we share a common purpose. Microsoft continues to make significant contributions to various independent and open developer communities, recognizing that the industry’s collective future depends on these communities. In the act of serving this important constituency, too, Microsoft and Sun are partners. Simon is entitled to be bitter about Microsoft’s current role in the industry, considering Sun’s long history of credibility in Internet standards. But I think people realize that Microsoft is involved for the same reasons as Sun — to serve our mutual customers. People are tired of the paranoia.