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Week of 1 August 2005

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Monday, 1 August 2005
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10:08 - The other shoe finally dropped Friday, when Novell went for SCO's throat.

Novell, like IBM, Red Hat, AutoZone, Daimler-Chrysler, and many other companies, is fed up with SCO's lies and barratries. The velvet gloves are off, and the steel fist is all SCO can expect to see from now on. No gentlemanly lawyering here. Novell in effect asked the judge to put SCO out of business by freezing its assets, and Novell makes very credible arguments for that demand.

SCO may now finally realize that Novell and IBM won't be satisfied until nothing is left of SCO but a greasy spot on the ground, with Novell and IBM picking its bones. It may go beyond that, actually. So far, Novell, IBM, and the others have concentrated on civil actions, only mentioning the Lanham Act and criminal violations in passing. But it wouldn't surprise me if Darl McBride and other SCO executives eventually find themselves convicted of criminal charges and serving serious jail time.

Discovery in this case should be interesting. We may finally get to see the contract terms and other details of the licenses for which Microsoft and Sun paid SCO millions of dollars. Will there be any smoking guns there, do you think?

To me, the most interesting new piece of information in this filing is Novell's assertion that SCO repeatedly asked Novell to participate in SCO's attempt to extract license fees from Linux users, and that Novell refused. For that refusal, as well as for its unflagging support of Linux and OSS, Novell deserves our thanks and support.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has posted an even-handed preview of Microsoft Vista. Frankly, I think he was too kind. Vista is likely to be much worse than he paints it.

16:15 - I joined Netflix this morning, but I have to say I'm not delighted so far. When I browsed their selection before joining, I found that they had James Burke's Connections 2 and Connections 3 listed. After signing up, I tried to add those to my queue, but Netflix informed me they were "unavailable, status unknown". Each is a five-disc set. Have they really lost track of all ten discs? Do they have only one copy?

And I thought Netflix was famous for fast turnaround. As I was signing up, they promised to ship my first three discs immediately. When I checked later, that promise had changed to "Tuesday". Let's hope the USPS gets them here in one day. Otherwise, it will have taken from Monday until Thursday for me to receive my first discs.

I was also disappointed to see that Netflix is apparently closed on weekends. Sundays, I could understand. But the USPS works Saturdays, so I'd have expected Netflix to as well. In fact, I'd expect them to operate seven days a week, if not 24X7.

Oh, well. A lot of people whose opinions I respect have sung the praises of Netflix, so I'll give them more of a chance before I'm too hard on them. But I really wish they'd not list titles that they can't ship. I was really looking forward to seeing those two Burke series.


Tuesday, 2 August 2005
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08:35 - I spent some time last night reading the various "Netflix sucks" web sites, and I think I have a handle on things now. The problem is that Netflix does not treat all members equally. If you keep the rental DVDs for a week or so, you get fast service when you do return them. On the other hand, if you turn DVDs around quickly, returning them within a day or three after you receive them, Netflix treats you as a second-class citizen.

Light users find that they can return a DVD one day, have it received the following day with the new DVD shipped that same day and in their hands only two days after returning the first DVD. Heavy users find that when they return a DVD, Netflix may not acknowledge receiving it for several days and may take extra days before they ship out the replacement. So, while light users get two-day turnaround, heavy users may have turnaround times of a week or more.

Understandably, that upsets a lot of people, many of whom toss around words like "false advertising", "bait-and-switch", and even "fraud". And they have a point. Of course, Netflix isn't in business to lose money, and heavy users cost them money. At one point, Netflix apparently stated that they had to realize $2 per DVD to be profitable. On their $18/month 3-out-at-a-time "unlimited" plan, that means that users of that most popular of their plans could average no more than 9 DVDs per month, which is pretty far from "unlimited". I understand that Netflix has more recently set the bar at $3 per DVD, which translates to only 6 DVDs/month on the "unlimited" plan. Not many people would characterize that number as "unlimited'. I know I don't.

What upsets a lot of people, including me, I think, is not that Netflix needs to make a profit, but that to do so they're misleading people with promises of "unlimited." If they don't really mean "unlimited", they have no business advertising it. Apparently, NetFlix uses a variety of methods to discourage heavy users, including making sure they don't receive popular DVDs without a very long wait, not shipping those DVD's that heavy users have listed as priorities for them (regardless of how popular the DVD is or isn't), not acknowledging receipt of returned DVDs for a day (or two or three) after they're actually received back (and even, sometimes, allegedly re-shipped out to other members), delaying shipment of requested DVDs for days, shipping DVDs from a very distant warehouse instead of a nearby one, and so on. There are even reports that heavy users are much more likely to receive scratched or even broken DVDs, and at least one report that Netflix has shipped some members movies on writable DVDs. Is that even legal?

Why not just stop calling the service "unlimited", since it clearly is not, and start advertising it with an honest description of what people can expect? Apparently, Netflix continues to claim "unlimited' because that draws in new users, like me. But it's unethical, in my opinion, for a company to advertise terms and then discriminate against users who take those advertised terms at face value.

Imagine a restaurant that advertised all-you-can-eat meals for $17.99/month, with a two-week free trial. That sounds like a deal, so you sign up for the free trial. For the first two weeks, everything is just as you expect. You come into the restaurant, sit down, and order your meal. It arrives in a few minutes, and you eat it. If you're particularly hungry, you order seconds, which show up quickly. The $17.99/month deal looks pretty good to you, so you decide to continue after your free trial expires. Over the two-week trial, you've become familiar with your fellow diners. Many, like you, come to the restaurant for every meal, while others show up only occasionally.

When your free trial expires, you decide to sign up for the paid service. The next day, you come in, sit down, and order, but this time your meal takes two hours to arrive. After you finish eating, you ask for seconds, but this time it's four hours before the waiter returns with your food. In the interim, you see lots of new faces arriving, being seated, having their dinners, ordering and receiving second servings, and departing. Many of the people you saw only occasionally during your free trial are also being served quickly, but those who, like you, had been eating every meal there during the free trial are also having to wait hours for their food to arrive. Why, you wonder, are those other people being served quickly when you and the other regulars have to wait hours to be served? Silly you. It's because they're either light users or on their free trial periods, while you and the other regulars who took the restaurant at its word when it said "all you can eat" are second-class members.

Who do you blame? The restaurant, which was foolish enough to advertise terms it couldn't live with in an attempt to draw new diners, or the heavy users of the service, who merely took the restaurant at its word? I blame the restaurant, which has no business advertising a service that it has no intention of delivering. There's a word for that.

So, given that Netflix can't survive by offering a truly "unlimited" plan, at least at the prices they charge, what are the alternatives? Well, one good one might be honesty in advertising. Instead of advertising an "unlimited" plan that they have no intention of honoring, perhaps they could offer plans with realistic limits--X DVDs/month for $Y/month. Or even a flat per DVD incremental rate--$2/DVD, for example, for each DVD over the allotted monthly number. But don't promise more than you intend to deliver, and then weasel your way out of meeting your commitments. That's simply unacceptable.


Wednesday, 3 August 2005
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09:25 - Oh, goody. If you want to run Microsoft Vista, it turns out that you'll probably not only have to replace all your computers, but replace all your displays as well. At least if you want to view copy-protected digital files with any reasonable degree of clarity. Forget using your analog CRT monitors, or even that new digital flat-panel display you just bought. Something like 99.999% of all the digital flat-panel displays currently in use aren't compatible with Vista's DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) requirements.

You'll still be able to use your "obsolete" display, but copy-protected video and image files will look like crap, and intentionally so. None of this will affect commercial copyright infringers, of course, because at some point the video has to be decrypted before it's delivered to the display. That means it'll be about two days before someone hacks the copy-protected hardware to capture a full-resolution digital video stream, rendering all that copy protection useless for preventing commercial infringement. But the rest of us will still be stuck with crap images. Thanks, Microsoft. As always, you've screwed your customers.

I signed up Monday for the Netflix 3-at-a-time program, and I was surprised to see that they're shipping me three discs under their free trial. I expected them to ship only one disc at a time during the free trial. The three discs are supposed to show up today. We'll see what happens.

I'll be doing heads-down writing and shooting images the rest of this week and all of next, so there won't be much posted here.


Thursday, 4 August 2005
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10:15 - The first three discs showed up from Netflix yesterday. I was flabbergasted at the packaging: a simple paper envelope with no stiffener and the disc in a Tyvec sleeve. It's a wonder there aren't more complaints about cracked and broken discs. I expected one of those stiff cardboard disc mailers, but I assume Netflix has done its homework and this method is the most cost-effective for them. Still, it seems as though they'd lose a lot of discs to damage this way.

I have a call scheduled today with one of my contacts at Intel to discuss sample products for the new books. I'd like to build a Pentium D system and another Pentium M system. We'll see what processor and motherboard samples they have available to send me. As far as I know, Intel doesn't make a desktop board for the Pentium M, although third-party manufacturers do. I may get one of those in here, or I may ask ASUS to send me one of their nifty little adapters that allows a Socket 479 Pentium M to be installed in a Socket 478 motherboard.

14:40 - I was just using a system that I hadn't tweaked yet. While visiting a web page, I noticed those obnoxious double-underlined green Intellitxt tags, and it occurred to me that some of my readers may not realize how easy it is to block them. If you're running the Mozilla or Firefox browser (as you should be) and the AdBlock extension (as you should be), simply press Ctrl-Shft-P to bring up the AdBlock Preferences dialog. In the text entry box at the bottom, enter "*intellitxt*" (without the quotes), and press Enter. The obnoxious double-underlined green tags will disappear.


Friday, 5 August 2005
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08:50 - Some people over on the messageboard are saying that I'm being unfair to Microsoft.

One said that I'd made those statements based on one unconfirmed report, until another reader pointed out that Microsoft itself confirmed those statements in documents it had posted on its own web site. So the emphasis shifted, with claims that I was "shooting the messenger", blaming Microsoft for doing things that it was required by law to do. That's wrong, too. No law requires Microsoft to build DRM into its operating systems, nor to support the DRM schemes implemented by the RIAA and MPAA. Microsoft is doing that voluntarily, in the hope that it can stand in the middle, taking a cut of each transaction. Microsoft is as evil as the RIAA and MPAA, and no amount of rationalization by Microsoft fanboys is going to change that.

In this article, Charlie Demerjian points out that your new hardware is already broken. But is it? It's broken only in the sense that it's not compliant with Shorthorn DRM. But that matters only if you buy into the Shorthorn/RIAA/MPAA scam, so the real answer is to Just Say No. Just Say No to Shorthorn, Just Say No to the RIAA, and Just Say No to the MPAA. Don't buy Shorthorn, stop buying crippled audio and video discs from RIAA and MPAA companies, and, whatever you do, don't buy any new DRM-enabled hardware to play new-generation DRM-crippled discs. Let their copy-protected crap wither on the vine.

It's time to decide whether you're a sheep or a wolf. If you're a sheep, fine, just keep going where Microsoft and the RIAA and the MPAA want you to go. But if you're a wolf, as I am, it's time to opt out and go your own way.

Start making plans to migrate to Linux. Download and install Xandros Open Circulation Edition, install it on a spare system or in dual-boot mode on your primary system, and start playing with it. If you like it, buy a copy. And even if Linux isn't yet right for you, start shifting toward FOSS applications. Replace IE with Firefox or Mozilla Suite. Download and install OpenOffice.org and start using it instead of MS Office. Grab some important tools like DVDShrink and Exact Audio Copy, while you can still get them.

Stop buying audio CDs and DVDs and otherwise feeding the Microsoft/RIAA/MPAA machine. To some extent, that's unavoidable because they've wormed their way so deeply into the fabric of modern life. I hate it that my cable-modem bill comes from Time-Warner, but there's not a lot of choice about that. But we did at least minimize the amount we pay TW by cutting our cable TV service to the $6.66/month basic rate. One of the reasons I hesitated about joining Netflix was that I don't like to feed the MPAA even indirectly, but I concluded that the MPAA will derive minimal revenue from me that way, so it's an acceptable compromise.

Our legislators have become paid lackeys of the RIAA and MPAA, so I see no reasons other than the practical ones for paying any attention whatsoever to the copyright laws that that RIAA and MPAA have bought and paid for. Ethically and morally, there's simply no reason to respect the DMCA and other RIAA and MPAA copyright laws.

If you want a copy of an audio CD or DVD, don't buy one. Borrow a copy from a friend or your public library, which you pay for with your taxes, and rip a copy. If you already have a collection of audio CDs and DVDs, lend them out to friends, or rip copies and give them to them. Hell, form a trading circle for all I care. But, whatever you do, stop feeding Microsoft, the RIAA, and the MPAA.


Saturday, 6 August 2005
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Sunday, 7 August 2005
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