Letter to: Creative Industry

This is the letter I sent to the petition organiser to try and get apple’s final cut reinstated.

Dear Andrew Landini,

I read with great interest the petition of a great many creative people who have built their work around the Final Cut product line. Of course, I feel your pain and wish to offer my sympathies.

But I also wish to share with you what I have learned about software and the importance of ownership and control. It is true that there are a great number of good, solid software packages being made by companies like Adobe and Apple which artists and businesses regularly use to get their work done in the best way possible.

The problem with these packages is that they take away effective ownership and with that any sense of control over the direction of the development of the tools in use. These programs are known as proprietary software[1], because they use trade secretes to hide their source code, strong copyright to sell products in a box and even go so far as to implement anti-features[2] to ensure stratification of their market money earning potential.

This isn’t necessarily at issue, but it does put users (and more importantly businesses) at a huge disadvantage. Instead of investing into an ecosystem that requires it take control away from your business, I would like to propose supporting Free and Open Source[3] business models for the furthering of creative tools.

This new way of creating software doesn’t require programmers keep secretes from their users. Development is done in the open, multiple different parties generally pay into development of the same features and we end up with free software that every participant gets full rights to use, modify, and basically do with as they wish for their own business needs.

Tools such as Gimp, Inkscape and Blender are not always first with features or even the best technical tool at the moment. But what they offer is something far more important, they give every user Freedom, Ownership and Control to take the software and fully define how they want to see the software developed further. They require no loyalty to any one set of developers, there is no one company you must go to for support. Despite marginal investment from the creative industry, these tools are already quite powerful.

With most artists and creative businesses understanding and supporting Free and Open Source as a good business strategy, I think we can prevent, in the future, ever having to write an petition begging a mischievous company from putting small creative businesses out of work because they decided to develop for the lowest common denominator.

Best Regards, Martin Owens (Artist, Programmer, Teacher)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprietary_software
[2] http://wiki.mako.cc/Antifeatures
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software


We’ve been at Anime Boston today (reports will come in the following days) but it’s being held across the road from the Boston Apple Store. There was a queue outside of the Apple store for their new product… the iPad.

After the show I figured I’d go in and try it out. Obviously I’m biased and would never actually buy one. But it’s worth keeping tabs on what kind of gilded cages the fruit company is selling this time.

I’m not fond of Apple, their products are mediocre, their use of FOSS is one sided, their lock in is extreme and in my opinion should be made illegal and their censoring of the critical reporting of news about their products of company. It’s a bastion of arrogance and the kind of Machiavellian “we know what’s best for you” attitude that I utterly despise.

So it was quite hard keeping an honest judgement of their new product. It’s nice I guess, the hardware is certainly nice enough, very thin very light. Their software reminded me of Ubuntu (or is it Ubuntu that reminds me of Apple products these days), but has glaring flaws which go beyond simply not being FOSS.

The zoom makes everything pixelated, not even the icons are vector based so they look awful. This I guess is to get iphone sized apps to work at all on the bigger screen, but seriously it’s time to move to SVG for your icons and to re-render text to suite the size. Or at least at a little bit of anti-aliasing to your scale up.

The apps were limited, even the demos with a ton of stuff installed. It all seemed very mediocre. There was stuff for reading, stuff for watching, stuff for listening. Nothing for making of course, the new generation should be contented with simply consuming “what is best for them to see”TM and not bother with making things. Ironic considering that Apple’s main line of computer is misconceived as an artists/designers platform by many ignorant people.

Apparently the CPU in these Pad devices is proprietary, not an intel, not an Arm, some custom Apple thing. So it’s unlikely to ever run any Linux variant. Which is a deep backtrack for freedom of hardware platforms.

So how does this change what we do in Ubuntu? Well I don’t think it changes what we do very much. We may need to have some new UI considerations if we want Ubuntu pre-installed on tablets of competing manufacturers. But that’s Canonical’s job and the community isn’t really involved in that process since there are very few solid products the community can get hold of to try and experiment with new ideas and advice for new users.

I’m sure we’ll have something to offer eventually though, but I think the FOSS community is going to be playing catchup so long as the IBM-a-like hardware manufacturers are behind the curve in delivering workable alternatives to the iPad that are popular with FOSS users.

What are your thoughts?

Treat Microsoft Different

I was reading The Register as I do from time to time and was struck by the nature of comments concerning the European commissions battle to redress some balance to Microsoft’s illegal monopoly abuse with regards to internet browsers.

to give you some background: The EU convicted Microsoft of abusing it’s Operating Systems monopoly in order to gain a web browser monopoly.

The proposed solution from Microsoft was originally to not include any browser at all, effectively hobble the operating system in the EU in order to blackmail the EUC into a simple fine. It’s called playing hard ball. Unfortunately for Microsoft the EUC have decided to play hard ball back to them, deciding that that option wasn’t good enough.

Enter idea number two. To present all users of windows (XP, Vista and 7) who have Internet Explorer as their default browser, with a ballot screen. Effectively asking every user what internet browser they would like. The EUC are considering this idea, although Opera objects on grounds of I can’t quite tell.

OK back to the comments from the article above. There are a number of commentators who are of the opinion that it’s Microsoft’s business as to what to include and what not to include in their operating system, and that if we do not apply the same restrictions to the FreeDesktops like Ubuntu and Apple’s Mac OSX then it wouldn’t be fair.

Since the EU isn’t calling for a ballot screen in Ubuntu, the EUC must be trying to do something improper. Since it’s obviously not very good for a Free Market to have a commission simply making stuff up as it goes along in order to disadvantage one competitor in a market place.

This is a quote from the noted Economist Adam Smith:

The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. – The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VII

The problem with Microsoft is that they are a monopoly. This is an economic term for a business who controls the market through being it’s only supplier. This means that the invisible hand of the free market is in chains, so long as there is only one to which all the control is focused.

What regulators attempt to do is redress some of the balances by supporting the competition (financial or regulatory) and/or creating anti competition laws which restrict some of the actions that a company can take in order to use their existing monopoly in order to gain a new one.

For instance, say there was only a single petrol/gas company who sold fuel. Now lets say that the company decided to get into the Hackney Carriage business (taxies). Because of their monopoly status, regulators would be (or should be) keeping a keen eye on what they do in order to break into this market and if they do something to restrict competition unfairly. If it’s seen that this fuel company is using it’s unfair advantage as a fuel supplier to create a taxi monopoly; the regulator has the power to step in and split the monopoly up into a separate taxi business and fuel business and making sure they stay separated in operation.

Let’s say a single company (Microsoft) manages to get a monopoly of the computer operating systems on desktop computers, through the bad handling of another monopoly owned by a different company (IBM). At first everything is going fantastic. Then they miss the boat on a new technology platform called “The Internet” and they’re finding that lots of people are using web browsers such as Mosaic/Netscape to get content via the world wide web on the internet.

Now suppose this company buys/borrows a browser for it’s self. They bundle this browser into their operating system for which they have a monopoly and they do not charge for it. Suddenly all the browser software makers have to compete with a product which is not only free (undercutting their business economics) but is also delivered to every single desktop user. Each of which is forced to buy IBM compatible desktop computers with a single operating system.

Through monopolisation they have rolled one monopoly (desktop computers) into another one (web browsers) and destroyed an entire market for software in the process.

Using their economic strength and their distribution monopoly Microsoft have killed off effective competition in a number of desktop fields: Web Browsers, Media Players, Word Processors, Spreadsheets, Networking Services and many more have all fallen to Microsoft and the companies that developed those ideas and software industries have been swept into the dusts of time.

Web Browsers was a particular worry, since as soon as Internet Explorer had destroyed the market for Netscape. The very standards of the World Wide Web as set up by the W3C began to erode. Everyone doing web development felt it, you developed for IE because it was what everyone had, no one cared that it didn’t follow the standards and it didn’t take long for a great number of websites to be completely incompatible with any other web browser.

So, what have I learned about monopolies? Well firstly they are economically damaging, they serve only to remove fair prices from the market and to stagnate the development of ideas. They are the very opposite of a free market economy and should not be allowed to occur, either through regulation or support for competition.

But what about now? Apple and Free Software is giving Microsoft a run for it’s money isn’t it? That’s fair competition, they can’t be a monopoly if there is competition right? Consider that I’m concerned with the IBM compatible desktop PC market.

Apple is a hardware and glorified life style product company, they don’t sell software to IBM compatible PC users. And if they did, Microsoft would just use it’s other newer monopoly in Office Productivity software to change their minds. Free Software on the desktop computer, it’s not a business, is very small and has no control over the supply. We in the community don’t tell OEMs what they will ship, we give OEMs choices and they choose to do the wrong thing for the market by shipping Microsoft Windows. Free Software is not a competitor because it’s an idea and a principle, not a business, and would be like Goliath vs the moon. Microsoft’s failed attempts to battle Free Software development actually look very similar to that image of a giant trying to battle the moon in my mind.

I believe that the EUC’s goal of regulating Microsoft is right and proper and that the commentators on those articles are simply misinformed about the nature of the beast. Economic freedom and fairness are all well and good so long as everyone is on an even playing field, but good government comes from knowing how to achieve that balance and not loose it to unfortunate history.

As a side note, I would love for the competition commission to award a great deal of money to Free Software development as a way of spuring on competition.