Jobs on DRM

Could this be the beginning of the end for DRM? Steve Jobs surprises everyone by revealing that he wants rid of it. Or as ZDNet put it:

“You’ve got to hand it to Steve Jobs; he knows how to attract attention and how to deflect attention,” said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research. “He turned the whole European DRM question on its ear. ‘You want me to open up FairPlay? Well, I don’t even want FairPlay’.”

I think he needs educating on why MP3 and AAC are not open formats (even if you do put the word “open” in quotes) and his calling on all European citizens to protest to their local big evil record company does come across as a rather thinly veiled attempt to deflect the criticism that certain countries have directed towards Apple on the issue. But overall really encouraging.

The RIAA’s response to Jobs’ post was… Interesting. So interesting in fact that you have to wonder if they even read it through.

The Recording Industry Association of America, however, issued a statement interpreting Jobs’ letter as an offer to license the FairPlay technology. “Apple’s offer to license FairPlay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels. There have been many services seeking a licence to the Apple DRM. This would enable the interoperability that we have been urging for a very long time,” it said in an emailed statement.

Apple clearly have a lot still to do to actually convince the record companies that this is the right way forward, but clearly it’s a step in the right direction.

Jobs on DRM

Could this be the beginning of the end for DRM? Steve Jobs surprises everyone by revealing that he wants rid of it. Or as ZDNet put it:

“You’ve got to hand it to Steve Jobs; he knows how to attract attention and how to deflect attention,” said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research. “He turned the whole European DRM question on its ear. ‘You want me to open up FairPlay? Well, I don’t even want FairPlay’.”

I think he needs educating on why MP3 and AAC are not open formats (even if you do put the word “open” in quotes) and his calling on all European citizens to protest to their local big evil record company does come across as a rather thinly veiled attempt to deflect the criticism that certain countries have directed towards Apple on the issue. But overall really encouraging.

The RIAA’s response to Jobs’ post was… Interesting. So interesting in fact that you have to wonder if they even read it through.

The Recording Industry Association of America, however, issued a statement interpreting Jobs’ letter as an offer to license the FairPlay technology. “Apple’s offer to license FairPlay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels. There have been many services seeking a licence to the Apple DRM. This would enable the interoperability that we have been urging for a very long time,” it said in an emailed statement.

Apple clearly have a lot still to do to actually convince the record companies that this is the right way forward, but clearly it’s a step in the right direction.

Lecture Notes

Brought to my attention by a reference in a ZDNet article I was reading this weekend was an event Oxford’s Saïd Business School hosted on Monday, curiously titled event called Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford. Chaired by the FT’s Enterprise Editor Jonathan Guthrie, the event gathered together a varied group of Valley experts to look at how innovation and entrepreneurship can be better fostered in the tech sector.

The article linked to a webcast of the evening panel session which featured a number of luminaries including Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Matt Cohler from Facebook, Chris Sacca from Google and Allen Morgan from Mayfield. This is well worth a look for anyone interested in building Internet technologies, businesses or both.

Some interesting business-y points that came up:

  • As Matt Cohler pointed out, HE institutions need to find a compromise between pure theoretical research favoured at for instance Yale and Oxford and the more applied approach taken by Stanford (and drawing similarities myself, Warwick) in order to give people the right skills they’ll need as entrepreneurs.
  • Anecdotal evidence presented by the panel suggested that this year’s students have a lot more confidence and entrepreneurial energy than in previous years, but turning their ideas into a reality may be challenging. Most of the time it comes down to having the right contacts, which in turn relies on having the kind of culture that encourages that.
  • VC isn’t dead, but there’s a lot of “scar tissue” around, according to Morgan. People are still investing in start-ups, but they need to have a solid model behind them. Encouraging stuff, given that Alfresco is one of the companies that Mayfield have funded in the last year.
  • Guthrie came up with some interesting comparisons between the technology sector over the last ten years and investment in the railways and canal infrastructure in Britain in the 17-1800’s. Unlike the canals, the railways at least lasted longer than fifty years, but in both people lost a lot of money that they’d poured into flawed and ill-conceived projects in both. Sound familiar?
  • The failure of a business can be a positive thing in some cases, if you can spot when it’s going wrong before it’s too late.

And on technology:

  • Everyone talked of how social networks are increasingly important on the web and will become even more significant over the next few years. Most communities are based on users gaining some form of notoriety or reputation for themselves, such as on LinkedIn and MySpace. The best way to build a community is by giving it’s members something in return , i.e. there must be some form of self-interest.
  • Matt Cohler talked about how monetising a community online requires you to focus on a particular demographic, but while still making that target group as big as possible. Maximising value requires that you find the right balance between the generality and specificity of a service.
  • Chris Sacca looked at how users can be divided by either their generation or their age group and the distinction between the two. Services can be designed across these divides, and Google Talk was given as an example.
  • There was agreement that we’re still in the early days of the web and we need to develop more advanced systems of authentication and accountability in order to build trust between people. Morgan summed this up well when he said that “Anonymity doesn’t always bring out the best in people”.
  • As ZDNet discussed in their analysis, Sacca referred to the “gated communities” that currently exist on today’s wireless and mobile networks, comparing this with the net neutrality issue in the US. There was general speculation (mostly gloomy) on what will happen to the providers once IP finally becomes ubiquitous on mobile devices, with lots of analogies contributed about dams coming down and various techies in Silicon Valley trying to work out how to take them down faster.

Update: There’s also a webcast of the lunchtime panel sessoin available here.

Edgy ate my X server

The Ubuntu team released Edgy Eft – otherwise known as version 6.10 – a few days ago so last night I took the plunge and upgraded my previous Dapper build that I’d been running (mostly) happily for the last few months.

The package manager took care of downloading all the updated packages and installing them while I went to the pub (although it did need a couple of pointers when it came to overwrite a couple of config files that it thought I’d modified, for some reason). It offered to restart the system for the kernel upgrade (2.6.17) to take effect, which I dutifully did.

But then things started to go wrong – the X server failed to start up, leaving me with only a command prompt. Gah! Several attempts at reconfiguring X failed, until I managed to reinstall the Xorg ATI driver which at last gave my a graphical login screen. Not bad after three beers, a G&T and a cointreau on the rocks, eh? 🙂

Now, after a brief struggle with my wireless drivers this morning I’ve just about got everything working, other than the ‘improved’ boot-up screen which fails to output anything sensible to my monitor. But the updated software bundled with the release more than makes up for that, with Firefox 2, Rhythmbox 0.9.6 and Gaim 2.0 beta 3 all crammed in there. Pretty impressive considering the final FF2 was only actually released two days before Edgy. And it’s prettier than Dapper, too.

So overall worth upgrading. But I think there might be a reason why they called it Edgy.

Exclusive

According to today’s Guardian (complete with poster of salad greens – what’s with that?) Keane are to launch their new single – Nothing in My Way – on a USB memory stick through HMV at the end of the month.

HMV are doing a lot at the moment to improve their offerings in a world dominated by the likes of MySpace and Apple and where digital distribution of music is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In the last few months they’ve launched a new download service at hmvdigital.com – which allows users to download tracks without installing the HMV Music Player required by their older subscription site, introduced new access channels such as Txt2Buy and in-store kiosks, and in a desperate move to halt their recent decline in profits have even started slashing prices.

In short, these guys are desperate for our business, and as a result they’re increasingly looking for alternative ways to reach consumers – and most importantly that crucial 16-24 year old demographic.

But they’re not the only ones – further up the food chain, the record companies are too looking at new distribution models, and as a result you can buy many newly released tracks via CD, download or even your mobile phone. That’s great, right? Because surely with more ways to access music than ever before, more people are therefore able to enjoy that music?

Sadly the reality doesn’t always match this and often that choice isn’t there. So-called “exclusive” deals such as the Jamiroquai greatest hits album shortly to be available on a mobile phone near you a whole three weeks before you can get hold of it via CD mean that people are actually being stopped from listening to music – in this case for three weeks but in others for longer. The mobile operators signing deals with the record company licensing clips of concerts for exclusive use by their own subscribers are playing an even more dangerous game, competing with each other on who provide the most “exclusive” content.

So the net result is that people get locked out of content – “you can watch this music video, but only if you have the latest mobile phone” or “you can listen to this track, but only if you’re on Network X”. Add to this the fact that you need a credit or debit card to access most online music services, and 99 percent of music sold on those stores comes encumbered with DRM crap that will stop you listening to your collection if you ever stop paying for that service (or if your PC or iPod dies) and you’re increasingly slamming the door shut on legitimate consumers. These are people who want to listen to music and are happy to pay, but who if they can’t get at it easily will either download it illegally or worse – not bother at all.

So go ahead Mr Greedy Record Company – you go destroy your whole business through a series of misguided and short-sighted strategies that determine how you distribute the content that you so protectively guard. That’s fine. But remember that there are some people out there who actually are struggling to make a living out of selling music. People like HMV and of course the artists, who would probably rather that you didn’t destroy the whole entire industry when you eventually keel over like the big huge dinosaur that you are gasping your last dying breath.

Ahem.

Just say no

Fortunately, it’s been a while since I felt the need to rant about software patents, the EU not yet having tried to resurrect that dead duck of a piece of legislation over the patentability of computer implemented inventions that it ended up having to drop last year.

I’d presumed that this was just a temporary setback to the thundering IP juggernaut, but perhaps the tide is beginning to turn. As well as Microsoft and IBM – possibly the two most active patent-ers in the IT industy – standing up to demand reform of the US patent system, an appeals court judge back on this side of the Atlantic has this week openly questioned the need for the patenting of computer programs in a seminar for the Society for Computers and Law in London.

The interesting irony in this story is that ZDNet’s article on this has a link to an MP3 of Jacob’s talk on the topic. For anyone not in the know, MP3 is that offshoot of the work carried out by the Motion Pictures Expert Group back in the nineties and a format so encumbered by patents that you need a licence to distribute any codecs that allow you to play a file encoded in the format. Fine perhaps for firms like Microsoft and Apple who can easily afford the licences, but not so good for Linux distros like Fedora and Ubuntu which can’t currently include these in their operating systems (although some clever people over at Fluendo – who are also doing some interesting work with the BBC on their new royalty-free Dirac codec – seem to have now come up with a solution to this problem).

Wikipedia’s article on the MP3 format has a bit more on the licencing and patent issues around it.

Thomson Consumer Electronics controls licensing of the MPEG-1/2 Layer 3 patents in countries that recognize software patents, including the United States and Japan, but not EU countries. Thomson has been actively enforcing these patents. Thomson has been granted software patents in EU countries, but it is unclear whether or not they would be enforced by courts there. See Software patents under the European Patent Convention.

I don’t think the connection occurred to the author of the article, but this seems like a great example of how software patents harm technological innovation by creating legal uncertainties and other such evil means. Let’s just hope we never have to worry about it too much at least in Europe, anyway. Say no to software patents!

Building Rhythmbox

If there’s one thing I’ve realised over the course of the last few weeks, it’s that I have a lot to learn about Linux. Although I’ve been hooked since I first installed a copy of Red Hat 9 on my old PC and have now been using Ubuntu as the OS on my main PC for some time now, I’ve mostly stayed clear of delving into the actual code and tinkering around with it. Until now, anyway. 🙂

One of the benefits of not having a full-time job is that it gives you time to do a few of those things that you’ve been meaning to do for a while but just never got round to. So this week I checked out the source code for one of my favourite Linux applications – the GNOME music player Rhythmbox – and tried my hand at building the application from there.

Needless to say, it wasn’t as easy as I first thought. I had to download a whole heap of development libraries, master the black art that is accessing a CVS repository on the command line and get the hang of using the various GNOME build tools needed to compile the code. I even had to correct a couple of errors in the C code that prevented the application from compiling at first.

But I did it. I now have a working version of the Rhythmbox development code built, installed, working and running on my PC. This is the code straight from CVS HEAD that people are adding to and improving on a daily basis. And I can download, build and use this on a day-by-day basis. I love open source software!

One of the best features that’s only in CVS at the moment is AudioScrobbler integration, which updates your last.fm music profile with the tunes you’re listening to at the moment. There’s no nasty plugins or anything: any time I listen to a piece of music in Rhythmbox it’s automatically added to my Recent Songs list, assuming I have a network connection at the time. And even if I don’t, Rhythmbox remembers which tracks I’ve listened to and submits the list to the server the next time it gets a chance.

Actually, that’s quite scary… Perhaps I should delete those S Club songs…

Rhythmbox

Last.fm profile page

Recovering from: Yet another job interview, but it went well!
Talking to: Naked people on the phone

Photo nostalgia

Today started off as rather a non-day. I intended it to be such, having told myself I wasn’t going to touch any work at all today and have some time off.

In particular, I vowed I wasn’t going to do any more coding on the semi-work related monitoring tool I’ve been writing in Python over the last week, and which has been taking up large amounts of my time, both at home and at work. I tried doing some more work on it yesterday whilst at work, but I just couldn’t focus at all and ended up just watching Big Brother on the plasma screen in the office. I’m hoping having a day away from it will help and I can be more productive tomorrow.

So looking for something else to do (aside from putting my washing out on the line and having to bring it in half an hour later because it’s pouring with rain) with my day, I ended up installing F-Spot on my computer to have a play around with it.

It took a few minutes to import the fourteen thousand or so digital photos in my Photos directory, but it did so without a hitch, leaving me ready to begin the laborious process of adding tags to the photos to describe their content. I was a bit sceptical about how managing your photos in an iPhoto-type application was better than just arranging them in subdirectories on my hard disk as I’d been doing until now, but now I’m a complete convert. Having all your photos available in a single place that you can browse by date or by the people in them, or by the place they were taken at just rocks and I’m discovering photos I’d forgotten I even had.

F-Spot

Suddenly looking through my photos is a pleasure rather than a chore, and I’m hoping that this will help me put together the photography portfolio that I’ve been wanting to do for a little while now. All thanks to F-Spot, which is possibly the first bit of Novell software I’ve used that actually works.

So long, PSU

So today, I was enjoying my day off work when suddenly and mysteriously my PC turned itself off. Further investigations confirmed that the power supply had quietly passed over to the other side whilst I was browsing the web.

The dead PSU lying on my bed

Luckily, one of the joys of being a geek is that you always have a plentiful supply of spare parts lying around the place in case of such a disaster occuring. So out came the scewdriver, and the PSU from my old PC that I have stored away in the airing cupboard was yanked out and used to replace the sadly deceased component.

With the computer now working fine but making a noise rather like a light aircraft, I wasted no time in buying a new silent PSU and a new silent processor fan to go with it. Consumerism is so bad for me.