Patent Wars!

I am back. After almost four months. And lots has happened in the meanwhile. Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare, India in England, Wimbledon, and much more. On a personal front, I have changed jobs and cities, and am back to Gurgaon.

Amongst all the other noise, one of the most fascinating, and disgusting, events has been the patent wars. From Lodsys to Nortel to Novell and now Motorola Mobility. If the 80s was marked by the Cola Wars, the current decade will be marked by fierce patent wars. The Google-Motorola deal has been analyzed to death over the past couple of days by people way more knowledgeable than I am. The value of key patents, the impact of the deal on Android handset manufacturers (Samsung and HTC), the regulatory approval, the breakup fees, will it actually be a deterrent, and much more.

Some have even gone on to analyze winners and losers. That is where I have a problem. This was a simple analysis.

Winners: Motorola/Jha/Ichan.

Losers: Everybody else.

Warning: If you don’t want some boring speculation on tech, please stop reading now!

Here’s why. People now think that making money of patents is easier than slugging it out and making products. Case-in-point: HP. The once poster child of Silicon Valley wound up its touchpad business and thinks it can make more (and easier) money just licensing patents! This is such bullshit man!! And Kodak. And Nokia. And many more to come. What people don’t realize is that eventually everyone is going to stop making things. Then you will be left with trolls and no one to sue.

Over the past couple of months, Google, MS, and Apple have spent close to $20 bn in byuing patents to gaurd themselves against each other, and I don’t think that the spending binge has come to an end. Let’s analyze each company in detail.

Microsoft:

The company has nothing to show for, in any domain other than OS, Office, and Gaming. Its web presence is almost negligible, however much Bing-ho they are about it. And its mobile OS and deal with Nokia, a footnote in the mobile chapter. It also has one of the largest patent arsenal amongst the key players. It knows it can’t deter trolls using the patents – it doesn’t work. Also, its existing patent portfolio should have helped protect itself (and key sources of revenue – OS and Office) from other companies. Also, not too many company can sue MS for large amounts in these two areas.

However, the Nortel patents was almost a pocket change for a company the size of MS. What it does destroy is the notion that MS would only use its portfolio defensively. Its a clear signal of MS’ growing ambition of generating revenue from IP – which it already does from Android manufacturers. Maybe MS can spin off an entity to do this for it. Maybe it can be named, I don’t know – IV?? Since then, MS has expressed a passive monetary interest in the Mosaid-Nokia deal, another IV in making.

Its a shame to watch a company as big as MS doing this. Money that could have been better spent on development. On XBox. On Office. On Windows. Wasted. And a bad signal being sent to developers. The company doesn’t have better development projects to spend the money on. #FAIL

Apple:

The company that single-handedly changed the smartphone scenario. The company that changed our expectations from our phones. The company that has almost $80 bn in cash.

Did Apple panic at the pace of growth of the Android OS? They shouldn’t have. Apple should have learnt from MS and Intel (and Google in search recently) that monopolies are not good for business. A good competitor not only keeps the regulator away, but also keeps the company on its toe on the tech front. Example, the malaise that set in MS OS development when it had no competition. The rebirth of the Mac OS changed that.

The logic of trolls doesn’t stand here either. So the only reason for Apple to buy patents was to sue the ass off Google Android. Not a smart strategy. What it has done now is pushed Google in to a corner, and forced it to do something stupid. A pissed off, and technically and financially well-off, competitor is not what you want.

Additionally, time, money, and focus that would be spent on developing new products will now be wasted on litigation. Not prudent according to me. The problem is Apple doesn’t have much else up its sleve other than iPhones, iPads, iTunes. If Google goes for a “scorched earth” strategy, a ruling against Apple’s handheld devices business would impact its main revenue source, and it would still have nothing to hurt Google’s search business – so far as I know.

Google:

Stupid. Plain stupid. Brave, yet stupid.

You just spent $12 bn (and another billion on IBM patents) on protection you could have had (or made more expensive to Applesoft) for say $5 bn. We all agree with your commitment to Android, but this is just insane. We know mobile web is the future and that your ad revenue will be based on your ability to play in that field, but why not team up with HTC, Samsung, and other partners to do the same. That would have given them more confidence in your support for Android. Buying a handset all on your own will just scare the shit out of them. Or you could keep the patents and sell off the rest of the company to your allies – call Ichan.

Will you go offensive – defies your “do no evil” motto, or just use it as a defense – in which case its a helluva price to pay.

Asides:

In this age of legal outsourcing, do you know what a billion dollars would have gotten you? At the very least 10,000 man years of patent searching time from some of the best talent looking to invalidate a lot of the rubbish that has been patented in the name of software patents. And believe me that is at least enough to invalidate close to 50,000 patents, if not more.

And I wish Google had the balls to do something like Fark did.

Interesting infographics on patent wars: One, Two.

Rescuing my Laptop!

From my days at BITS, when did a fresh install of the OS almost every month, to the post BITS era, where a fresh install was almost unheard of, it has been some transition. From someone who would install Linux (pre-Ubuntu days) and then hunt for drivers, to someone who would not trust himself with a Windows install.

However, I still like trying new stuff, and I did end up installing a beta of the Windows 7 SP1. Big mistake! It changed my Windows copy to a RC and started giving me weird messages about only a few days remaining for me to upgrade. So when the SP1 was formally released, I tried to upgrade. But the stupid system wouldn’t let me. Big FAIL, Microsoft. Anyway, after some Googling around, I discovered that I had to reinstall the OS. And there begins the story.

ISB had provided us a licensed copy of Windows 7 Professional but as a nrg image. And almost all tools needed me to either have a DVD or a iso file.

Step 1: Install Daemon tools. It allows you to mount the image files (nrg, iso, etc). Also, it will allow you to convert them into ISO files :)

Step 2: Download and install Windows 7 USB/DVD tool. This will help you create a bootable USB drive from the ISO.

Step 3: If you need any special drivers, download them and keep them handy. Also, I downloaded the Windows 7 SP1 RC. Unfortunately, unlike nLite, the tool for slipstreaming Windows 7 just sucks! So you can’t build a custom install.

Step 4: Boot up from the USB and there you go!

Step 5: License key and activation. Now for some reason Windows 7 wouldn’t accept the key we got from ISB and kept calling it invalid. After some searching on the ISB alum mails (GMail search rocks! Thanks for using it for the alum mail ISB), I saw that it needed to be activated by phone. So I followed the instructions and for the first time ever I activated my copy of Windows over a phone. Also the first time I actually own a licensed copy of the OS :P

Step 6: Customize it. Now to get Windows 7 back to the state it was in with all the apps and settings I wanted. Step in Ninite. This super tool lets you install most free softwares in one click. Select online the apps you want and download the (really small) Ninite installer. Run it, leave you laptop connected to the internet for an hour or so (depending on your connection and the tools you want) and Ninite will install everything by itself. Bingo! Here is a list of all the apps I selected.

  1. Google Chrome – the best browser there is, period. Also, the sync function allowed me to get all the extensions, plugins, passwords from my office laptop in a jiffy! Such joy!!
  2. Firefox – the version 4 is out, and need it to download House :P
  3. Windows Live – just for fun.
  4. Google Talk
  5. Skype
  6. VLC
  7. Winamp
  8. MPlayer
  9. K-Lite Codecs
  10. Flash
  11. Picasa – the tonnes of snaps I have on my laptop. Wow!
  12. GIMP
  13. Foxit Reader
  14. CutePDF
  15. MS Security Essentials – the best antivirus there is today.
  16. uTorrent – obvious!
  17. Dropbox – another must have.
  18. CCleaner
  19. 7-Zip
  20. Notepad ++

Other than these I installed the SP1 for Windows 7, IE9, Office 2007, and all updates needed. Also installed (and used till way past midnight) was the hugely addictive Angry Birds.

A number of extensions for Chrome were also installed – GMail checker, URL Shortener, Cricinfo, Reader, Adblock, Google Translate, ToDo Camp, Tweetdeck, and some more.

All in all, a day well spent. My laptop now works faster, is cleaner, more updated, and less prone to crashing, though frankly speaking Windows 7 has crashed only a few times over the past year and it has surely become my favorite Windows OS of all times over taking Win XP.

Microsoft has thrown the gauntlet!

If you thought that the search engine wars were settled, with Yahoo! laying down arms, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rupert Murdoch reignited the battle saying that he could de-index the WSJ and other content providers from Google. Now Microsoft (MS) has gone a step ahead and offered New Corp money to provide exclusive content for Bing.

Will this lead to more such players providing exclusive content on certain search engines? Personally, I don’t think so. Google won’t take this lying down, and given that it retains a large share of web searches, more content providers would want to be listed on Google (for lower money) than Bing. Ultimately we might have two major search engines with one having more content than the other – which one would it be is anyone’s guess. MS has a lot of money to throw at the search business but Google is no slouch itself. If they end up paying a lot, they are only going to hurt themselves. Also, I am not sure if MS would fight as much for search, which is still a small part there entire biz, unlike Google.

While it is not inconceivable that the search engines might have to pay the content providers some money, I do not foresee it being a huge amount. Search still remains, along with social networking, the killer application of the internet.

Whatever may be the outcome, MS has thrown the gauntlet and I bet Google is just about to respond!!

Some people just don’t learn

After the Vista fiasco, I hoped Microsoft would learn. But guess what – they haven’t!!

The new Windows 7 is all set to be released in 6 different versions. Aren’t we all pissed with the nonsense?? Don’t you get it?? The Home Premium version, which would set you back by USD 260, does not offer Remote Desktop. Are you f$$$ing kidding me?? And don’t even get me started about the Starter version that will only allow three apps concurrently. So AntiVirus, Music Player, FireFox, and… wait. You have reached a limit and can’t run Word. Bummer.

Let me spell it out for you folks – let there be a single version. Now stop smoking that thing you borrowed from Phelps, and chant with me.

One Version to rule them all, One Version to find them,
One Version to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!!

Post of the day..

.. comes from the big bad Microsoft Corporation (that too from the IE folks!) It discusses the various suggestions for the name of IE8. I guess this stems from the gazillion different versions of the Vista.

IE Desktop Online Web Browser Live Professional Ultimate Edition for the Internet (the marketing team really pushed for this one ;-) )

Update: Asok, the lone Indian in Dilbert, has been killed off in the comic by Scott Adams. Fare ye well mate. RIP.