Flat Fee Future for Digital Music

The Register writes about a book by Professor William “Terry” Fisher – “Promises to Keep.”

The backbone of Promises To Keep is a detailed discussion of the many ways a digital pool, or flat fee system, may take shape; it is also a lucid introduction to copyright in general and the specific, Byzantine peculiarities of the US compensation system.

His third scenario offers the most tantalizing future: one where music and movies can be freely exchanged in the knowledge that the rights holders get paid. Such scenarios are discussed under several names: “digital pool”, “flat fee” or Fisher’s blanket acronym, ACS (alternative compensation system). All involve extending the compulsory license model that currently applies to public performance and radio to digital media. We benefit by being allowed to exchange cultural goods – there would be no more ‘piracy’. Such a model offers a cheaper, more profitable route for rights holders too. As he explains,

“Let skeptical musicians and filmmakers continue to restrict access to their creations – and let them continue to call upon the aid of the legal system to protect those measures from hackers. If the new regime is as efficient as we have argued, the skeptics will soon discover that it is simpler, cheaper, and more profitable to register their recordings with the Copyright Office and rely upon distribution of royalties from the government for their source of income.”

Firefox Advantages

Walter Mossberg writes about what he likes about the Firefox browser:

My favorite aspect of Firefox is tabbed browsing, a Web-surfing revolution that is shared by all the major new browsers but is absent from IE. With tabbed browsing, you can open many Web pages at once in the same browser window. Each is accessed by a tab.

The benefits of tabbed browsing hit home when you create folders of related bookmarks. For instance, on my computer I have a folder of a dozen technology-news bookmarks and another 20 or so bookmarks pointing to political Web sites. A third folder contains 15 or so bookmarks for sites devoted to the World Champion Boston Red Sox. With one click, I can open the entire contents of these folders in tabs, in the same single window, allowing me to survey entire fields of interest.

And Firefox can recognize and use Web sites that employ a new technology called “RSS” to create and update summaries of their contents. When Firefox encounters an RSS site, it displays a special icon that allows you to create a “live” bookmark to the site. These bookmarks then display updated headlines of stories on the sites.

Firefox also includes a permanent, handy search box that can be used to type in searches on Google, Yahoo, Amazon or other search sites without installing a special toolbar.

And it has a cool feature called “Extensions.” These are small add-on modules, easy to download and install, that give the browser new features. Among the extensions I use are one that automatically fills out forms and another that tests the speed of my Web connection. You can also download “themes,” which change the browser’s looks.

Cellphones as Credit Cards

The New York Times writes:

By embedding in the cellphone a computer chip or other type of memory device, a phone can double as a credit card. The chip performs the same function as the magnetic strip on the back of a credit card, storing account information and other data necessary to make a purchase.

In Asia, phone makers are already selling phones that users can swipe against credit or debit card readers, in much the same way they would swipe plastic MasterCard or Visa cards. Trials are now under way to bring the technology to America, industry executives said.

Ron Brown, executive director of the Infrared Data Association, a trade group representing companies pushing the technology for cellphone credit cards, said that the new handsets could become “a major form of payment, because cellphones are the most ubiquitous device in the world.” He added, though, that “cash will never go away.”

Advocates say that consumers will readily embrace the technology as a way to pay for even small purchases, because it is less bother than taking a credit card out of a purse or parting with cash.

Univa

InfoWorld writes about the launch of a new company by the creators of the Globus open source grid software: “The aim of the Globus Toolkit technology is to allow users to securely share computational power, databases and tools online across networks worldwide while maintaining local control.”

Search Wars

Microsoft Monitor (Joe Wilcox) writes:

The real threat [to Microsoft] remains the Web and how a vendor like Google has found a new way to exploit the Internet’s utility beyond Windows. Additionally, consumer interest in digital content and non-PC devices and the possibility another platform might rise to dominance has to scare the hell out of some Microsoft executives. Microsoft knows, because the company has been there. IBM’s mainframe monopoly didn’t dissipate because of the PC; it’s relevance diminished as the new platform soared to dominance.

Search is one of several mechanisms (fast data connectivity is another) that could catalyst alternative platforms. Search would give tremendous utility to portable devices connected to the Internet or home or corporate networks. With so much computing focus on information and so much information stored somewhere else (meaning not locally), ubiquitous search could unify the utility of many disparate types of devices. For example, in the advancing communications era, a smartphone could offer Internet search, e-mail, instant messaging and even digital content capabilities like taking pictures without the need for a Windows PC.

So like Microsoft integrated the browser into Windows to fight off the threat posed by the Web, so the company is looking to tie the utility of search to its operating system. Because any technology utility where no Windows is required threatens Microsoft’s core franchise. And I’m betting some very smart people recognize that search is one of several utilities that could catalyst smaller devices into serious alternative platforms.

Greg Linden adds: “The threat is much larger than just Google. It’s about the future of Windows as the dominant computing platform…Microsoft has been fighting this battle for many years. They worried about the rising power of handheld devices like Palm Pilots and cell phones, so they launched Windows CE. They worried about the additional functionality being built into game consoles, so they launched XBox. They worried about the rise of entertainment devices like TiVo and Replay, so they launched Windows Media Center. They worried about the threat from web-based applications, so they launched IE and MSN.”

TECH TALK: The Best of 2004: Search Wars

I have picked what I think were the best blog posts and articles of 2004. With each, I have added a small commentary as to why I liked it.

1. Rich Skrenta on Google (April)

This was perhaps the first post that made be think differently of Google. Until then, Google was a great search engine. This essay put Googles platform into a wider context and made it clear that we were seeing was the shift in the computing platform from the desktop to the Internet.
Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It’s running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It’s looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application.

While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.

This computer is running the world’s top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world’s biggest computer and most advanced operating system?

2. Charles Ferguson on the coming Google-Microsoft Wars in Technology Review (December)

This article makes clear the enormous stakes in the search battle. The game has shifted over the year search is no longer just a task we perform many times a day, but the functionality of search is becoming embedded into the core activities. As such, search is the next platform.

Until now, competition in the search industry has been limited to the Web and has been conducted algorithm by algorithm, feature by feature, and site by site. This competition has resulted in a Google and Yahoo duopoly. If nothing were to change, the growth of Microsofts search business would only create a broader oligopoly, similar, perhaps, to those in other media markets. But the search industry will soon serve more than just a Web-based consumer market. It will also include an industrial market for enterprise software products and services, a mass market for personal productivity and communications software, and software and services for a sea of new consumer devices. Search tools will comb through not only Microsoft Office and PDF documents, but also e-mail, instant messages, music, and images; with the spread of voice recognition, Internet telephony, and broadband, it will also be possible to index and search telephone conversations, voice mail, and video files. All these new search products and services will have to work with each other and with many other systems. This, in turn, will require standards.

In short, the search industry is ready for an architecture war.

Tomorrow: KISS and Massputers

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