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Injunction sought to stop "manufacture, use, and sale" of MSIE, Win95, and Win98
On 2 February, a small company you have probably never heard of (unless you've read TBTF since 1995 ), sued Microsoft in federal court for patent infringement. Eolas  wants an injunction stopping Microsoft from manufacturing or selling Internet Explorer, Windows 95, and Windows 98. (Windows NT was not mentioned, perhaps because Microsoft does not claim the IE browser as an integral part of it.) TBTF covered Eolas in August 1995  when the company completed negotiations with the University of California for the commercial rights to the then-pending patent. Here is a copy of the Eolas press release  from that time.
Patent number 5,838,906  had been filed in October 1994 and issued on 17 November last year. It makes broad claims that cover Web technologies from ActiveX to Java applets to browser plug-ins. The patent cites 32 items of non-patent prior art quite a few for a software patent, and a crude indication that it may not be a trivial patent to bust including references to OLE, OpenDoc, the Cello and Mosaic browsers, and a 1992 Tim Berners-Lee paper on the WWW.
The best coverage of this story was in the Industry Standard , which bothered to get comments from the Eolas lawyers and from Microsoft; everyone else just ran with the press release . The Standard notes that the suit probably won't even be heard for two years, given the congestion in the Chicago court.
Robert Cringely took the Eolas patent story in a novel speculative direction early last December . He suggested that Microsoft could do an exclusive deal with Eolas for rights under the patent, and then use the company as a stalking-horse to take out Netscape, Sun, and the Department of Justice. Could have happened that way. Eolas's founder and lead inventor Michael Doyle would not comment on the company's reasons for going after only Microsoft. Cringely says that Microsoft can't claim ignorance of Doyle's work:
8-nation strike credited with forcing France Telecom's hand
Beginning late last year, Internet users in countries with regulated telephony infrastructures have been striking for lower access charges. In the latest such boycott on 31 January, users in eight European countries (Swizerland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, France, Belgium, and Poland) stayed off the Net . Traffic reportedly dropped as much as 80% for that day in Spain and Portugal . The strike is credited with convincing France Telecom to promise a flat-rate fee for local calls to Internet-access numbers, subject to regulatory approval .
Calls for a Brazilian strike on 13 January were covered here  but received little attention in other Net media. Andre Uratsuka Manoel <andre at insite dot com dot br> reports that on that day some 3% of users boycotted the Net, but that the long-lasting effects of the strike may come from ISPs who used its publicity to run promotions and to lobby the phone companies for lower connection fees.
The German national telephone company Deutsche Telekom announced plans to cut charges after a December strike . Earlier, Spanish carrier Telefonica had promised to cut prices after 40 percent of users stayed offline in the first strike last fall.
The Telekom still owns the last mile to almost 100% of the German households. Other phone companies can rent those lines from the Telekom for big money. So there's virtually no competition for Telekom in the local call area.
The only real price-cut we might see from the Telekom in the near future is lowering the costs to access their own "T-Online" (a combination of online service and ISP, #1 in Germany), giving T-Online a great advantage over competitors from AOL (#2 in Germany) to your local ISP.
Gartner Group, Scientific American, and Technology Review take Open Source seriously
The Gartner Group advises  IT professionals in mid-sized enterprises how to go about adopting and evaluating Linux in their organizations. The advise strikes me as sensible and conservative Gartner says that only adventurous early adopters should be relying on Linux at this point. Linux community commentary on Slashdot  is mixed; some firebrands think Gartner just doesn't get it, while cooler heads appreciate the implied mainstream endorsement for the Open Source OS.
Meanwhile, this month's Scientific American brings still broader recognition to the Open Source movement in its Cyber View column . Paul Wallich covers ground familiar to readers of TBTF and concludes with a novel speculation:
Last November the judge in the Sun-Microsoft lawsuit over the terms of the Java license granted Sun a preliminary injunction  that requires Microsoft to provide Sun's Java Native Interface to the Visual J++ development tool. Late last month Microsoft issued a patch complying with the order . The company revved its Service Pack 4 for Windows NT some are calling it SP4a now to include a new Java Virtual Machine and to make Internet Explorer compatible with the JNI.
But while complying with the court order, Microsoft is exploring alternatives that include abandoning Java altogether. The company has briefed outside developers on a language code-named Cool , whose goals sound remarkably like those of Java, except for the cross-platform bits. And Microsoft is said to be planning to orphan its Visual J++ product after its current release .
Microsoft says  it is exploring such an idea but that no coders are working on the Cool language.
Earlier this month, Microsoft asked the trial judge for permission to create a Java alternative that would not be bound by Sun compatibility tests. Judge Ronald Whyte termed the idea "very interesting." He has yet to rule on it.
Attention Mr. Boies
Lloyd Wood writes with an arresting passage he turned up deep within a patent  issued to Microsoft:
Be Inc. debunks Microsoft claims
The two sides in the Microsoft trial, limited to twelve witnesses each, are finding creative ways to present additional lines of argument within this limit. They may cite some company's practices as bolstering their side of the case, based on product documentation, company Web sites, or press reports. Microsoft has held up the example of Be, Inc., which it says chose to integrate its Web browser with BeOS, as validating Microsoft's own decision to tie Internet Explorer closely to Windows. Be, however, is one little company that won't sit still for this practice. Be's president Jean-Louis Gassee has written an open letter  disavowing Microsoft's claims.
How Microsoft leverages education grants
Reader Carl Gunther <cgunther at ix dot netcom dot com> forwards the lead article from the 1 February newsletter for Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, CA, near Los Angeles. It announces the school's receipt of a $250K Working Connections Grant from Microsoft. In the program funded by this grant, faculty members achieve Microsoft certification and help students to do the same. (The article also mentions Novell certification among the program's goals, but it does not appear that Microsoft's money funds any faculty credentialing in competing technologies.) The article goes on to describe the $500K California state grant that tops a $12M fund drive by the community college. Microsoft has apparently managed by its small grant to channel the direction of this much larger pool of state and private funds. Whoever is running Microsoft's college grants program won big at Cerritos Community College.
Researchers at Sandia Labs have devised a photonic crystal operating at 1.5 microns, the preferred wavelength for light traveling down optical fibers . A photonic crystal is to light what a semiconductor is to electrons: a building block for an optical transistor. Such a device could switch a light beam trillions of times per second or could act as a low-power nanolaser.
Cracking RSA easier than factoring?
Science News for 6 February (only the references are online ) spotlights research by a Stanford mathematician and a Microsoft employee indicating that breaking the RSA algorithm may not be as hard as factoring. The mathematician, Dan Boneh, recently published a survey of 20 years of attacks on RSA , concluding that when properly implemented the cryptosystem is secure. In the featured research (abstract at , gzip'ed PostScript at ), Boneh and R. Venkatesan suggest an explanation for the lack of progress in proving that breaking RSA is equivalent to factoring: at least for low-exponent RSA, factoring is harder. But the researchers note that an effective attack on RSA is most likely still computationally infeasible. Thanks to Lewis A. Shadoff, PhD <lshadoff at brazosport dot cc dot tx dot us> for pointing me toward this story hours before my own subscription copy of Science News arrived.
Space mirror breaks
TBTF for 1999-08-24  derided this surpassingly hare-brained idea the Russians had: orbiting a huge mirror and using it to light up square miles of Siberia (or anywhere else where it is night). The mission was scheduled to launch last November and finally got off the ground in January . But the mirror didn't unfurl ; seems it got entangled with the supply ship's antenna. Nocturnal creatures everywhere are sighing in relief.
When I posted the above story as a Tasty Bit of the Day, Steve Baker <ice at mama dot indstate dot edu> wrote in to note that such a mirror could be used for
With extremely stiff upper lips
TBTF for 1999-01-26  reported that a widely circulated story out of the Pacific Rim was a joke the head of China's Y2K effort did not order airline executives onto commercial flights on 2000-01-01. The next issue followed up with a surmise  that this story has already achieved urban-legend status after a reader's husband reported hearing it applied to British Airways. TBTF Irregular-in-Training Judith Haran forwards this story  in the Sunday Times for 1999-01-31. If the story is to be believed, the British are more Confucian than the Chinese.
But Mike Shiels, who works for British Air, sent the following seemingly official statement taken from BA's private intranet site.
Our programme for the period has yet to be finalised and it is still too early, 11 months out, to say who will be where and when and who will be on duty.
Rest assured British Airways will fly at the beginning of January 2000 and beyond, where there is consumer demand and, as ever, where it is safe.
Don't you just hate it when your camera explodes?
Kodak is recalling  a line of AC adapters that they supplied as an optional accessory to their DC25, DC40, DC50, and DC120 digital cameras. If these AC adapters, manufactured by ELPAC Electronics, Inc., are not fully plugged into the digital camera when recharging the batteries, they can cause the batteries to overheat, leak acid, or even explode. The model numbers of the recalled adapters are 2534, 2457, MI2008, and M42008.
Shovelling against the tide of global light pollution
Chet Raymo writes an evocative column  on the loss to the world caused by light pollution. The excess light spilling into space from our technological society not only hobbles professional astronomers, Raymo argues, but also impoverishes all of the human race. It does not have to be so. IDA, the International Dark-Sky Association , promotes the use of energy-efficient, non-polluting outdoor lighting and works for the passage of laws mandating the use of such fixtures. (An example is this law  being considered in Wyoming.) This IDA page  links numerous sobering satellite photos of the nighttime earth. (I wish they would tell us how big each picture is, though.) Here are the US  (31K) and Europe  (21K).
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send the the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is Copyright 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com>. Commercial use pro- hibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post, and link as you see fit. _______________________________________________ Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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