The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for March 2006

Web 2.0 application races

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Applications you can use through the browser, hosted applications, have been popping up faster than moles on a freshly mowed lawn recently. It's such a fast moving area in Internet technology that it's got it's own moniker, Web 2.0. Aside from the hype and the odd names there are some genuinely useful applications. But finding the good ones can be a nightmare. A good place to start is Philip Bradley's page that lists Web 2.0 applications by how they are used: found on Karen Blakeman's blog.

The TechCrunch site is the best way to track the Web 2.0 space, through there's a host of alternative Web 2.0 blogs. But before you decide that you're going to use Writely over Jotspot check out Alex Bosworth's Web 2.0 application races to see which is the most popular.

What do you think, is Web 2.0 a new frontier or just hype? And are you using any of these applications?

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Written by Steve George

March 27, 2006 at 00:28

Apple iTunes DRM must interoperate say French

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The French parliament is proposing a new law to free consumers from DRM lock-in. Essentially, a media system that operated a format lock-in would have to provide information so that other technical systems could interoperate. There’s more coverage on the BBC and Business Week.

It’s widely seen as an attack on Apple’s iTunes/iPod system as it represents 70% of the digital music market. The impact of the law would be that Apple would have to provide interoperability information to other music player manufacturers such as Sony. Consumers would be able to play content they had bought through the iTunes store on any player. At the moment iTunes music will only play on an iPod due to encryption.

The FT is scathing of this idea, probably because it would have a significant impact on Apple’s share value. The main report, France seeks to fragment Apple’s core, by Waters, Allison and Braithwaire suggests that:

“According to the industry’s received wisdom, these closed systems are characteristic of new technology markets in their infancy”

Odd received wisdom, because as far as I know there’s no proof that closed/proprietary systems open up due to market maturity. And DRM is just the latest extension to the proprietary system tool-box.

Two obvious examples, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word aren’t infant technologies but their both proprietary and difficult to interoperate, damaging consumers. The rise of interoperable systems has mostly been caused because a technology is a challenger (ethernet versus token ring), or was part of public development (TCP/IP and UNIX). Can anyone think of a technology that has opened up due to market maturity? And does anyone think this will change, particularly considering that reverse engineering is increasingly difficult?

In a point in the main comment piece the FT states “Politicians have no business legislating for interoperability”. On the basis that the market should prevail and that it’s for monopoly authorities to protect consumers. It seems bizarre that consumers should have to accept being locked out from playing content that they’ve legally bought. Proprietary DRM systems secrets are a red-herring, if it’s that important to the content industry they should come up with an open standard.

Actually, consumer protection should go further. Forget Apple and iTunes for a moment. Much of our lives and communications are going online and it’s only going to increase. If we can’t guarantee interoperability between formats then we face the prospect of losing whole chunks of our records and history. For a sane digital age, users must have the ability to interoperate between formats. It’s a basic requirement that is for the good of all.

The Internet proves the long-term benefits of open systems, protocols and formats for all. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the creativity possible with an ecology of open systems. Companies such as Apple will still be able to win through superior products.

What do you think, should formats be open? Has the French legislature gone mad or is this ground breaking law? And, would the proposed law damage Apple?

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Written by Steve George

March 22, 2006 at 16:27

Remaking TV with Democracy

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Video podcasts (aka vodcast, aka video blog) are the latest outgrowth of the podcast concept: the difference is the content is video rather than audio. Democracy Player (formerly DTV) is a new program that lets you watch video, subscribe to shows so you get the latest ones automatically and it provides a channel guide. Just like Sky+ or Tivo you can watch TV shows when it suits your schedule. The client is available on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows and it’s pretty slick looking:

Democracy Player Channel Guide

Democracy Player’s been created by a not-for-profit organisation called the Participatory Culture Foundation who want to open up media production and collaboration. Consequently, the client is Open Source and uses free software such as BitTorrent, Python and Mozilla.

You can think of this as a poor mans IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) because content producers don’t have to set-up streaming infrastructure. But, video is a bandwidth monster – the TWiT’s (The Week in Tech) video I downloaded was over 459 MB. So if your show is popular you’re going to chew through your web sites bandwidth allowance very quickly. Democracy Player solves this problem by including Bit Torrent, so at some points when you are using the program you are also a (peer-to-peer) server for other users to download video from. There’s nothing obvious on the site that says when this happens but there is some bandwidth limiting capability in the Preferences.

I’ve been using it for a few days on the Mac and while there are bugs it’s very impressive and definitely worth giving a whirl. There’s also some general buzz in the blogosphere: For background The Ponderings of Woodrow posts about the IPTV competitors, Digital Dojo posts about his experiences, and macobserver has some coverage. Democracy Player isn’t the only option, there is also Fireant and ITunes, here’s a post on using iTunes.

Do video blogs sounds like the future of TV? Will you be part of the creative revolution? Post your thoughts.

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Written by Steve George

March 21, 2006 at 01:06