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The OSS post

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I guess where I should start this post in OSS is by going back. This time 20 years ago, we were in a time of economic irrational exuberance so large as to be like a fairy tale in comparison to Brexit and the coronavirus.

Irrational exuberance

Everyone believed that the future was going to be rebuilding the catalogue shopping business online. Consumers would have a raft of choice.

Japanese newsprint

Advertisers were going to swap print and TV advertising for banner ads. Something that looked like small advertisements on the pages of newspapers at the time. Because of this, online display advertising was over-priced and everyone was happy.

In order to do these businesses, you needed a lot of servers and a lot of software. If you had the money you bought really good software and servers from Silicon Valley. Companies like Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics or Digital Equipment Corporation. These all ran variants of the Unix operating system.

If you were less fortunate you might be running on an Intel server running Windows NT, anything by IBM or repurposing a Mac from the design studio. The Mac made a surprisingly robust server solution mainly because the computer was so ‘dumb’. There wasn’t a lot that hackers could do to it at the time.

True hackers

People who were hackers in the truest sense realised that you didn’t have to pay for software to run on servers. If you knew where to go and had the right technical chops, you could have robust server software. You could end up paying good money to Microsoft and still need to use three times the amount of servers for a given load because Windows didn’t handle multiple threads as well. It couldn’t do as much ‘work’ as free software. You would get even more benefit if you were skilled enough to see how you could tweak it to meet your needs. Online communities also meant that you would find fellow travellers interested in similar tweaks and would collaborate with you.

A classic example of this would be Hotmail. Hotmail was founded on NetBSD servers and it took years for Microsoft to migrate away from it due to performance and scaling issues with Microsoft’s own software.

Yahoo! which used and contributed to various OSS projects including:

  • Debian Linux and later moved to an adapted version of Red Hat Linux
  • FreeBSD
  • PHP

A peer of Yahoo!’s founders David Filo and Jerry Yang, decided to make hacking together servers and web services easier for businesses and technologists. The founder was called Larry Augustin and the company he founded was VA Linux. VA Linux built workstations and servers for websites. VA Linux is now most famous for the largest opening day price increase on the NASDAQ; but they made seem really great computers.

For smaller businesses, a small start-up called Cobalt Networks came up with a relatively friendly server that could sit in the corner of an office called the Qube. This was popular in a number design offices as a file server and also ran numerous websites. As well as the cute form-factor, it made OSS more approachable for a lot of businesses and changed expectations about IT complexity.

Cobalt Qube 2
Cobalt Qube

I was working on a mix of telecoms, enterprise and consumer technology clients. One of my clients . By the time I was working with VA Linux in April 2000, open source software (OSS) was a hot ticket. And both Cobalt Networks and VA Linux were at the forefront.

At this time OSS, in particular the Linux operating system was endorsed by IBM with a $1 billion investment in the community. This helped adoption by other large business technology companies including Oracle, SAP and Sun Microsystems.

IBM and Linux

Suddenly it was OSS everywhere. My client Palm was trying to move its photo-smartphone operating system to Linux underpinnings.

Where was Microsoft in all this?

Its hard to explain to someone under 30 how dominant Microsoft was a business at the time. They were steadily working towards a goal outlined by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in the mid-1970s

A computer on every desk, and in every home, running Microsoft software.

Paul Allen and Bill Gates, 1974 – 1975

Bill Gates wasn’t a cuddly billionaire who wanted to give the world toilets, but a dodgy looking technocrat who made Mark Zuckerberg seem human.

Microsoft had won the PC industry and was looking to extend itself into every aspect of business and home life. Microsoft injected investment into Apple at a time when the company was days away from bankruptcy. This made sense for a number of reasons:

  • The Apple Microsoft Office business was worth more than the investment into Apple
  • The deal allowed Microsoft to settle a number of patent disputes
  • It was a cheap distribution deal for the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser

The disappearance of Apple would have had serious issues in terms of antitrust regulation in the US into Microsoft’s core Windows business.

They’ve done a great job. They’re a company that’s done a great job. If you go back to 1997, when Steve came back, when they were almost bankrupt, we made an investment in Apple as part of settling a lawsuit. We, Microsoft made an investment. In a way, you could say it might have been the craziest thing we ever did. But, you know, they’ve taken the foundation of great innovation, some cash, and they’ve turned it into the most valuable company in the world.

Former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer on the Apple investment

Back then Bill Gates was the Mark Zuckerberg or the Sergei Brin of his day and even he almost missed the importance of the world wide web and the internet. Gates was paranoid about the next thing coming along and sweeping all his success away.

The internet represented one such threat.

Gates is as fearful as he is feared, and these days he worries most about the Internet, Usenetand the World Wide Web, which threaten his software monopoly by shifting the nexus of control from stand-alone computers to the network that connects them. The Internet, by design, has no central operating system that Microsoft or anybody else can patent and license. And its libertarian culture is devoted to open—that is to say, nonproprietary—standards, none of which were set by Microsoft. Gates moved quickly this year to embrace the Net, although it sometimes seemed he was trying to wrap Microsoft’s long arms around it.

Headliners: Bill Gates. – Time magazine. December 25, 1995

OSS represented a second such threat. Microsoft’s sales of enterprise software for businesses and other organisations was a high margin business. OSS was a threat to that business. Back in 2001, I started working with colleagues at an agency who were asked to deposition OSS products and the the underlying legal agreement (the GPL).

I was asked by my colleagues to write a briefing document of what OSS actually meant. It didn’t g0 down that well as it outlined the challenge of assailing an idea and a committed community. That didn’t stop our client Microsoft trying, mostly at the C-suite and policy level.

The problem was that it didn’t offer a better alternative. And so we come forward 20 years: Microsoft: We Were on ‘The Wrong Side of History’ With Open Source – ExtremeTech which captures the highlights of Microsoft president Brad Smith talking at MIT a week ago.

More information

Yahoo: The Linux Company | ZDNet

A Brief History of Search Advertising | Searchengineland

MS Hotmail servers begin switch from FreeBSD to Win2k | The Register and Microsoft Hotmail still runs on U**x | The Register – this give you an idea of how critical and high-performing NetBSD is as an operating system.

Barbarians led by Bill Gates by Jennifer Edstrom

Report Flays Open-Source Licenses | Wired

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Adult entertainment transforms during pandemic – Axios – accelerated move towards interactive and custom adult entertainment production. But US legal issues are getting in the way – Is OnlyFans Deleting Sex Workers’ Accounts? – Rolling Stone 

Publishers and journalists on TikTok – Google Sheets – in case your dystopian life needs more dystopia

Decoding Xi Jinping’s Speech at the World Health Assembly – The DiplomatThe main target of Xi Jinping’s speech is the “global South” and, more specifically, the African continent. The terrain lost in Western democracies amid the pandemic will be hard to win back. However, in terms of global influence, the role of the global South and Africa is vital for China. There also, the image of China has been severely damaged. For the first time, African ambassadors to the PRC had to write a joint letter to protest how African residents were being treated in the PRC

Investigating China: COVID-19 and the CCP – The Diplomatcapitalizing on the growing crisis in the United States and Europe, the official media in China has been trumpeting China’s purported success in controlling the disease. China has also sent medical missions to countries such as Italy. Sending medical missions abroad had been a strategy the PRC used during the Cold War to promote a new international order: a “people’s revolutionary movement” against colonialism, imperialism, and hegemonism

The Chinese luxury market after COVID-19 | Daxue Consulting – interesting how the retailing experience is being adversely affected by COVID precautions

Mixed reactions to current brand comms | YouGovWith the large number of brands clearly defaulting to the ‘all in this together’ message, it’s worth asking: ‘How well does this actually align with their brand values and how they are responding to the current crisis?’ Our research shows that 43% of Brits agree that brands/companies’ current messages and advertising are inauthentic. This figure increases to 52% of males (vs 35% of females). Furthermore, half of respondents (50%) disagree that brands/companies are putting their employees and their customers first and before the company and its profits.

The Crypto Price-Innovation Cycle – Andreessen Horowitz – crypto winters tend to indicate that like AI approaches before it, its not ready for adoption as a technology / use case. Success hasn’t really been in banking or logistics, where’s the adult entertainment play (which drove a lot of other technologies from 16mm cinema film to VHS and web video)

Norske offiserer og soldater avslørt av mobilen – Norge – Norwegian military personnel location data found to be for sale

Why Luxury Brands Are Raising Prices in a Pandemic | BoF Professional, This Week in Fashion | BoFTop-tier brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton are hiking prices in what looks like a bid to pad margins, cushion the impact of lower sales volumes and capitalise on the China rebound.

Electric Vehicles Continue The Same Wasteful Mistakes That Limit Longevity | Hackaday – interesting meditation on software, hardware, design, complexity and quality. Or why a Tesla isn’t as great as Elon makes out

Thailand’s travel industry readies for relaunch | Financial Times – really interesting design hacks being deployed by the Thai tourism industry. It would be great if this positively moves the needle on Thailand’s reputation as a destination for miserly backpackers and adult entertainment

Millennials stand out for their technology use | Pew Research Center – Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life

China’s ‘OK Boomer’: Generations Clash Over the Nation’s Future – The New York TimesChina’s boomers, who were born in the 1960s and 1970s, are as lucky as the American baby boomers born after World War II. China was opening up after nearly 30 years of political turmoil and economic mismanagement under Mao Zedong. Jobs were plentiful. Housing was cheap. And while the party kept an iron grip on political power, society began to open up to new ideas. Before they were blocked beginning about a decade ago, we could use Google and Wikipedia and read The New York Times’s website. The future seemed bright. China is a very different country now, especially for Chinese people born after 1990, or China’s Generation Z. Its economy in recent months shrank for the first time since the Mao era as the country grappled with the coronavirus. One estimate put the unemployment rate at 20 percent. At the same time, housing in major cities is as out of reach for members of Generation Z as it is for their contemporaries in New York and San Francisco.

Merkel cites ‘hard evidence’ Russian hackers targeted her | AFP.com“I can honestly say that it pains me. Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia and on the other hand there is such hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this,” she told parliament. Calling such cyber attacks “more than uncomfortable,” Merkel raised the spectre of sanctions if such rogue activity did not stop. Germany’s intelligence service has repeatedly called out attempts by Russian hackers to spy on lawmakers or leading politicians.

Troy Hunt: The Unattributable “db8151dd” Data Breach – interesting, looking at the headers, it looks like a wider scrape from multiple sources. It connects multiple social platform profile IDs alongside real world address data. Possibly a large CRM breach???

Exclusive: As China Hoarded Medical Supplies, the CIA Believes It Tried to Stop the WHO from Sounding the Alarm on the Pandemic CIA believes China tried to prevent WHO from sounding the alarm on the coronavirus outbreak in January—a time when Beijing was stockpiling medical supplies from around the world. A CIA report, the contents of which were confirmed to Newsweek by two U.S. intelligence officials, said China threatened the WHO that the country would stop cooperating with the agency’s coronavirus investigation if the organization declared a global health emergency. It was the second such report from a Western intelligence service and is likely to further inflame tensions between the United States and China over a pandemic that has killed 280,000 people worldwide—more than a quarter of them American. – even if this isn’t true, its pushing China US relations into a dark place

How to arrange the perfect bookshelf – probably the most cynical depressing thing I’ve read in a while

Wendy Carlos on her production process that pioneered electronic music as we now know it.

Amazon releases Kendra to solve enterprise search with AI and machine learning | TechCrunch – interesting that Amazon is not offering Kendra in a box like Google did its enterprise search appliance. I suspect this about moving file servers on to the cloud rather than Amazon into the enterprise

The VR winter — Benedict Evans – we haven’t worked out what you would do with a great VR device beyond games (or some very niche industrial application), and it’s not clear that we will. We’ve had five years of experimental projects and all sorts of content has been tried, and nothing other than games has really worked. Hell, even adult entertainment has worked as a driver

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Huawei is gradually shifting chip production from TSMC to SMIC  – this is China decoupling from western supply chains. TSMC to SMIC also has the additional benefit of damaging Taiwan’s leverage on China. More on Huawei here.

Plastic surveillance: Payment cards and the history of transactional data, 1888 to present – Josh Lauer, 2020 – interesting but hardly surprising conclusions from data-mining

‘Furious and scared’: Long before COVID-19, these families knew Canada’s long-term-care system was broken | The Star – issues with Chinese government-owned companies and a complete lack of accountability

HNA in chaos as internal divisions erupt in public | Financial TimesOne investor who sought to buy a large real estate portfolio from HNA in late 2018 said that the deal fell through because it was no longer clear who was in control of the assets – this is interesting when you start about thinking allegations of all Chinese businesses (like Huawei) essentially being state-directed businesses. Especially when you consider it in the context

Inside Icebucket: the ‘largest’ CTV ad fraud scheme to date | Advertising | Campaign AsiaWhite Ops has uncovered what they report to be the largest-ever connected TV fraud operation in history, affecting more than 300 publishers and millions of dollars in ad spend.

Local TV Is Back (With an Assist From Coronavirus?) | The National Interest – yet broadcast TV isn’t in mix when experts talk about advertising at the present time

What really happens to the clothes you donate | Macleans – interesting complex supply chain for fibres and nothing. Also interesting how grading of garments stayed within the Asian diaspora formerly based in the British colonies of East Africa

Sorry Huawei, the P40 Pro without Google apps is just too broken to live with – probably one of the best rundowns on how the lack of access to Google mobile services is handicapping Huawei handsets

China’s top chipmaker says it can match Samsung on memory tech – Nikkei Asian Review – how much of it is stolen technology?

Contingency planning: where should brands be moving their ad spend? – GlobalWebIndex – an interesting read but needs the additional lens of channel effectiveness as well

Cam Girls, Coronavirus and Sex Online Now – The New York Times – it will be interesting to see if it continues on post crisis