The Squirrels Are Watching

Proposal: Version Control – The Operating System

Posted in Code and Tech by andrewfong on December 22, 2009

There are two classes I wish I took back in college: Dinosaurs & Their Relatives and Operating Systems. The latter especially bugs me, because every time I see something about a browser-based operating system, I want to scream, “No, no, I don’t want that!” and then curl up in a corner for three months making something I do want.

I don’t have the know-how to do the latter, but I do have a blog, so I can do some virtual screaming.

My beef with a browser-based OS is simple: I LIKE DOWNLOADING THINGS. My WiFi connection throws a hissy fit every 10 minutes (can’t tell whether I should blame Netgear, Comcast, or tiny gremlins). Or sometimes I’m on the road or on a plane or in some place where I want to do something on a netbook and I don’t have net access. I bet I’m not alone. I’ve heard this plenty of times: “I want a netbook. All I do is browse the net anyway. Oh, and I want Microsoft Word. And I need to be able to sync my MP3 player with it. And I want to watch some movies I’ve ripped. And I want to play World of Warcraft. And if it’d scratch my back, that’d be nice too.”

As in, people basically want a tiny full-featured laptop for $300. Sure, you can do all the above stuff with your fancy Gears / HTML5 / Extensions / etc., but you’re spending so much time reinventing the wheel. Hey look everyone, I can drag and drop in my browser! Whee! I’ve only been able to do that in my operating system since at least Windows 3.1!

This isn’t exactly a new experience for the industry either. When the iPhone launched, Apple was all, “You don’t need apps! You have web apps!” Then they launched the App Store and pretended they never said that.

So what’s the best way to merge the “cloud” with a netbook’s operating system? IMHO, the solution has been around for a while. And no, it’s not the iPhone, it’s version control.

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Copyright Assert Truthy

Posted in Code and Tech, Fact and Law by andrewfong on December 19, 2009

I was poking around in the newly open-sourced Etherpad code, and came across this tidbit.

/**
 * Copyright 2009 Google Inc.
 *
 * Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
 * you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
 * You may obtain a copy of the License at
 *
 *      http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0
 *
 * Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
 * distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS-IS" BASIS,
 * WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied.
 * See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
 * limitations under the License.
 */

function assertTruthy(x) {
  if (!x) {
    throw new Error("assertTruthy failure: "+x);
  }
}

That’s trunk/etherpad/src/etherpad/testing/testutils.js by the way. So anyhow, as much as I appreciate that is licensed under the Apache License, is “assertTruthy” really creative enough to be worthy of a copyright?

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Proposal: A Public Domain Fund

Posted in Fact and Law by andrewfong on December 17, 2009

Quick idea

Google and various other Silicon Valley entities should create a Public Domain fund. Basic idea is that you submit some creative work (a song, image, etc.) and through the magic of up-down voting, the top X entries win some Y dollars. Only catch is that if you take money from the fund, your work must now be in the public domain.

Rationale

A large number of people and groups depend on there being a robust public domain (or at least things easily redistributable via Creative Commons) — from lip dubs to remixes to fan fiction to mere inspiration, a substantial amount of creative expression takes the form of a derivative work. Whenever I feel the need to Photoshop (or GIMP) something together, I often spend a lot of time on Google Image Search or Flickr looking for source material. I imagine I’m not alone. Much of the derivative work out there gets by on fair use, but there’s definitely a good chunk of it doesn’t (or hovers in some gray area).

Furthermore, obtaining licensing and permissions from the original right holders is a tremendous hassle. There’re legal documents to be signed, dollars to be transferred, and hours to be wasted while you wait for someone to respond to your e-mail. Furthermore, the market value for a lot of these mash-ups is uncertain and probably not worth any licensing fee. More often than not, I’d bet that the creators of derivative works do one of two things: (1) give up on the current project or (2) use the source material without permission.

These derivative work creators would benefit from a large body of public domain works available for use. Now I’m not saying there isn’t already stuff out there. I certainly am usually able to find what I need given enough time, but it’d definitely make things a lot easier if public domain / less restrictive licensing were the norm. A Public Domain Fund would provide an economic incentive for creators to use less restrictive licensing.

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