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Stop the Presses, LJ Index and more.
TUCOWS DOWNLOADS

After a slight slip due to a strong Red Hat surge in April, Mandrake bounced back to increase its lead in Linux distribution downloads from Tucows in May. Measured through May 25, Mandrake was first with 40%, followed by Red Hat with 23%. That's a gain of 4% for Mandrake and a drop of 7% for Red Hat. Next was Corel, which dropped 2 to 10%. SuSE gained 2 and reached 5%. Slackware had 3%, FreeBSD had 2 and so did Phat, which continued its drop from a high of 13% in February. The rest were at 1% or less.

Now for an interesting statistical effect. Astute readers will remember that last month, Red Hat took the lead, with 33% to Mandrake's 31%. Like this month's May figures, April was then tabulated through only the first 25 days. What a difference just five days makes. In this month's report, we look at all 30 days of April, and the difference pushes Red Hat down 3% and Mandrake up 5%. This leaves Red Hat in second place and Mandrake in first: exactly the positions they've maintained since February. Tune in next month to see if those last five days make any difference in the final May numbers.

Smile, you're on a 1-pixel camera!

Web pages use a publishing metaphor. They are pages, after all. We write, open, read and bookmark them. That's one reason we assume that when a page downloads from a server, it's a one-way deal. The HTML describes the page, lays out the print, loads the graphics onto the page and into the cache.

There is at least the presumption of privacy. After all, reading is a personal (even an intimate) act. At times when interaction is required, such as filling out a form, there's a “submit” button that sends information back to the other end of the line. We're still in control.

And okay, we know about cookies and what they do. If we're especially vigilant, we either refuse to accept them, or we go through the whole pile and weed out the suspicious ones.

But watch out. Big Brander is watching you. And not just with cookies.

It turns out that some companies are spying on you and your web travels by using invisible 1x1-pixel transparent GIFs. These are in-line images downloaded from elsewhere, so the server-browser dialog can initiate covert reconnaissance on you and your subsequent surfage. You see no ad, and suspect nothing. The cookie alert doesn't go off. But the bug—as in bugging device—has been planted.

Who's doing the planting? Usually, a company that wants to learn something about you. Most of the time it's an advertising service that wants to “target” you with banners, e-mail spam or whatever. But they can serve all kinds of purposes, known and unknown. Don Marti found one on a Fed Ex page. (Presumably, they want to track customers the way customers want to track a package.) Richard Smith, the leading source of information on Web Bugs, found two on Quicken's home page, both providing “hit” information to advertising companies.

According to Smith's Web Bug FAQ www.tiac.net/users/smiths/privacy/wbfaq.htm, here is the information a Web Bug sends back to its server:

  • the IP address of the computer that fetched the Web Bug

  • the URL of the page the Web Bug is located on

  • the URL of the Web Bug image

  • the time the Web Bug was viewed

  • the type of browser that fetched the Web Bug image

  • a previously set cookie value

Of course, any graphic can serve the same purpose. That's why the only way you can see a Web Bug is to view a page's HTML source. But Smith also provides another way to at least discover what sites are playing slight-of-pixel games: The Web Bug Search Page, www.tiac.net/users/smiths/privacy/wbfind.htm. It shows where each of ten bugging companies are sneaking in their little spies. Makes for interesting (and creepy) reading.

On the matter of security, Don Marti gets the last word: “When a site tries to violate users' common-sense expectation of privacy, it should be the system administrator's responsibility to protect the user unless the user requests otherwise. Web ad banners are a security hole.”

—Doc Searls

Uncollapsing Open Source Distinctions: a Conversation with Craig Burton

When he was at Novell in the 1980s, Craig Burton changed the concept of networking by making Netware hardware-independent. Later, at The Burton Group, he drove a new understanding of networks—as services (file, print, directory, security, management) rather than “pipes & protocols”.

Lately, he has been turning his attentions to open source. He consults for a number of open-source companies, plus companies looking for open-source strategies. As always, his thinking is highly unique, independent and not part of anybody's orthodoxy. We caught up with him for a brief interview after he moderated a panel in April at Linux Journal's “Linux For Suits” event at Internet World. The interview moved forward by e-mail in May and June.

Doc: From what I gather, you like open source, but not the way we talk about it.

Craig: I recognize open source as a fact of business life that we need to get our heads around, but we won't make much progress until we start pulling apart a lot of distinctions that are currently collapsed. Until we do, “open source” will just be a buzz phrase instead of a fully rational strategy.

Doc: You mean for vendors?

Craig: I mean for every company that wants to operate in the world we're all trying to build here. If you want to survive in the long run, you need an open-source strategy. But you won't be able to implement one if you collapse a bunch of highly discrete distinctions.

Doc: Such as?

Craig: Accessibility and ownership. These are very different sets of distinctions, and they are entirely collapsed when most of us talk about them. The opposite of open is closed, not proprietary. The opposite of proprietary is public domain, not open.

Accessibility is an extremely important issue, and it is not just about source code. There are questions of source, binaries, licensing and derivative works. There are questions of protocols and APIs. There are questions of cost. It is important to make distinctions among the variables here. As an industry, we have collapsed the issues of accessibility and ownership.

Here is a matrix that separates those issues but keeps them in the same discussion by positioning them orthogonally. The accessibility axis runs from Closed to Open, while the ownership axis runs from Proprietary to Public Domain.

Figure 1. Burtonian Matrix

This is the matrix we need to understand, given any technology. Microsoft has reluctantly participated in the open-source corner of that matrix, and over time has moved a lot of technology into the open/public domain quadrant. And a lot of stuff they haven't. But the only significant difference between the Open Source community's products and Microsoft's is the amount of core technology that is made available in the open source half of that matrix.

Doc: So you don't believe that because most of Microsoft's familiar software is closed source, that it sucks?

Craig: First, some of it sucks and some of it doesn't. In spite of the open source movement, customers are buying it and using it. Further, there are other companies that have leveraged the Microsoft model to make money. On the other hand, there is the constant threat to customers that Microsoft will try to lock them in, and there is the constant threat to Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that Microsoft will encroach on their businesses. Despite these threats, however, the industry continues to grow and thrive. As a model for making money—for lots of companies—we have seen nothing comparable yet from the Open Source world.

Doc: But we have seen a number of money-making models outlined by Eric Raymond, first in “The Magic Cauldron” and then in the book version of The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Craig: Yet by Eric Raymond's own description (in “Homesteading the Noosphere”), an anti-commercial bias is part of the “hacker ideology” out of which the Open Source movement has grown. That's one reason that the distinction he makes between a cathedral and a bazaar is more accurately one between a cathedral and a cult. A bazaar is, if nothing else, a marketplace. And marketplaces are by definition hospitable to business. So the culture of Open Source has a strong steak of inhospitality to business. A lot of this comes from the original Free Software movement and persists as a legacy in the GPL license, which is in many ways the least open and business-friendly of all the open-source licenses certified by Eric's organization, the Open Source Initiative. The main reason I point this out is that this anti-commercial bias accounts for the collapsing of distinctions here, because this bias introduces a third axis—a moral one that runs from bad to good. You can see it running from the lower left to the upper right. Proprietary and Closed are Bad. Open and Public Domain are Good. This is fine if all you want to do is hack code. But if you want to do business, you've got to face rational choices that are all over this matrix, whether you're a supplier or a customer.

Doc: Did I hear you say that the GPL is really a moral statement?

Craig: Moral and political. To me, the GPL is as much a political statement as a licensing agreement. There's a bunch of stuff in there that's superfluous to licensing concerns. This mixing political with licensing views is what causes businesses to be suspicious of open source.

Doc: But historically, the Open Source movement has tried to move away from the Free Software movement's anti-commercial rhetoric and policies.

Craig: Absolutely. The Open Source movement has a tall order, in attempting to commercialize the Free Software movement. We owe a lot to Eric Raymond for attempting to make free software palatable to business—and succeeding. Now it's clear that Open Source is a movement that will eventually include everybody. But that doesn't mean all the code in the world will be open source. Or public domain.

Doc: The important thing, then, is that both suppliers and customers need to factor open source into their strategies.

Craig: Exactly. Every business needs an open-source strategy. But the choices should not—and will not—be made on moral grounds. There are many combinations of choices that are all over this map. And you see them when you look at some of the relatively proprietary and/or closed products, or product components, being sold by card-carrying members of the Open Source community.

Doc: Such as all three desktop office suites for Linux. Applix, Sun and Corel all make closed-source suites.

Craig: Exactly. And they're all clones of Microsoft Office to a significant degree. But let's stay with the core issue here. Software varies greatly in accessibility, and open source isn't the only variable. In many cases, you can get at the APIs but not the source code. That makes the software somewhat more open than if the APIs and the source were closed. Beyond the API, there is the case—as in the UDA for Microsoft—where customers and competitors can add value to the Microsoft model without having source.

Doc: Do you think Microsoft has any understanding of this matrix, or uses it strategically?

Craig: In fact, Microsoft has moved quite a few things to the upper-right quadrant of the matrix. The Universal Data Access model provides a framework for accessibility to core Windows constructs. UDA is not open-source-based, but it provides programmatic interoperability with the Windows architecture. While I think Microsoft could do a lot more—including providing an open-source-based strategy to make Windows accessible—it has made large strides to open up Windows, and we shouldn't ignore that fact for the simple reason that developers and customers have taken advantage of it. Many, many companies have figured out how to make money off of Microsoft's accessibility model.

Doc: But can Microsoft have a truly strategic open-source strategy if it is hostile to open-source software and the Open Source movement?

Craig: No, it can't. Microsoft's combativeness, its hostility to everything it perceives as a threat, works against it here. But the same thing goes for the combative folks in the Open Source community. Both sides fail to understand the reasons for the other's successes. We have to get past that, and a good way to start is by getting clear about what some of these distinctions really mean. Without that clarity, we see gray as black or white.

Doc: How, for example?

Craig: Many Linux distributions are chock full of stuff that's both closed and proprietary. We just excuse it because it's bundled with something that is called “open”. We see gray as white. Good guys wear white hats and sell white code. But that's not always the case.

Doc: Give me an example of closed source code that passes for open.

Craig: Security components that use PKI—Public Key Infrastructure. We're talking about copyrighted, patented stuff. Proprietary and closed as can be.

Doc: You mean RSA?

Craig: Right. The distributions can't open source the RSA code. And it's all over the place.

Doc: Let's go to the big picture here. I watched you change the whole networking conversation back in the '80s, from one about wires and protocols to one about services. Are we at a similar cusp at this point in time?

Craig: Yes. For some reason, there's this idea that the Net is a finished thing. In fact, it's only beginning. One of its virtues is that it's still wide open. And it would help if more of us understood that openness—the ability of infrastructural software to interoperate without interference from anybody's agenda—is what enables growth. Over time, as Microsoft is discovering, the challenge is moving infrastructural code to the upper-right corner of this matrix. There is a big movement right now to copyright and patent everything you can name, but in the long run, that's wasted effort. It's more rocks in the stream of progress. History will flow around these obstacles. The real question companies need to ask is not “how do we patent and copyright and protect our stuff” but “how do we make money and do business while we gradually move toward that upper-right quadrant?” To do that, you need to see the Net as something that still desperately needs a lot of infrastructure.

Doc: Such as?

Craig: Directory and security services, which go hand in hand, are still very primitive. The Linux community is still using Sun's yellow pages (now called NIS) for directory services. Within Linux itself, it's old UNIX legacy stuff that hasn't changed in many years. Before we can have real privacy, and real secure communication, and real useful directory services—which we'll need to keep track of a world of abundant, changing and distributed objects—we're going to have to evolve past that legacy.

Doc: Novell wants us to use NDS. Microsoft wants us to use Active Directory.

Craig: And neither will be adopted by the Linux community, which is necessary for this whole thing to move forward. They're both proprietary and in the way. Rocks in the stream.

Doc: How do you conceive the Net? What's its conceptual architecture?

Craig: I see the Net as a world we might see as a bubble. A sphere. It's growing larger and larger, and yet inside, every point in that sphere is visible to every other one. That's the architecture of a sphere. Nothing stands between any two points. That's its virtue: it's empty in the middle. The distance between any two points is functionally zero, and not just because they can see each other, but because nothing interferes with operation between any two points. There's a word I like for what's going on here: terraform. It's the verb for creating a world. That's what we're making here: a new world. Now the question is, what are we going to do to cause planetary existence? How can we terraform this new world in a way that works for the world and not just ourselves? Remember, this thing is in outer space. It's not connected to anything else. If you want to live here, you have to bring your own sustaining structures, foods and the rest of it.

Doc: Is this something like what Larry Lessig calls “end to end” architecture?

Craig: I haven't read much of Lessig's work yet, but I believe we're consistent here. But since we're talking about authors, I also like Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian's Information Rules, which makes pragmatic distinctions between the economy of building things and the economy of building information. The old economy was driven by economies of scale, including time, resources and materials. The Open Source community claims this is outdated, and they're right. But now what? These guys say that the economics of information invite respect for network effects, which can be increased by leveraging the value of intellectual property, rather than by protecting that property. A key to understanding the economies of networks is seeing that networks are comprised of relationships. That favors companies that build and maintain relationships through one of your favorite subjects: conversations.

Doc: Who are going to be the leaders in your view of the Web?

Craig: I have six theses—as opposed to ninety-five—that I use as the basis for determining the leadership of the next-generation web companies:

  • No single vendor can own the web infrastructure. Therefore, inclusion is imperative.

  • Distinguish accessibility from ownership.

  • Standards are independent from these distinctions.

  • The market drives accessibility requirements, not by credo, license agreements or moral positions.

  • An open-source-based model requires all core technology to become more accessible over time.

  • Those who—pragmatically and not moralistically—know when to put what in the upper half of the matrix will define leadership of the next generation of the web. --Doc Searls

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