IM owned by AOL?

The sky-is-falling headline from MSNBC reads “AOL patents instant messaging”. But from the way that Gregory Aharonian of Internet Patent News describes the patent, it may be even worse than that.

The claim is it’s a system where you have a network; you have a way to monitor who’s on the network; and if you want to talk to them you hook them up. If you’re doing something like that, you’re potentially infringing.

That means that the patent (granted to AOL subsidiary ICQ earlier this year) could affect not only instant messaging applications, but also peer-to-peer systems and foundation technologies like Apple’s open-sourced Rendezvous (a.k.a. the “ZeroConf” IETF standard), which is being adopted by many hardware and software companies to auto-discover not only devices but also people. From Apple’s Rendezvous page:

The new iChat instant messaging app can use Rendezvous to discover and directly connect with other iChat users on the network, adding colleagues and friends to the list when they enter the network and removing them when they leave, all automatically.

Can AOL own plug-and-play for people? I doubt it, as there’s lots of prior art — in high-school I used to play on a mainframe that let you see who was on the network and chat with them, and I recall similar features in BBSs — and big guns who aren’t just going to roll over if AOL Time Warner starts throwing their weight around. | AOL patent (full text) | MSNBC: AOL patents instant messaging | News.com: Patent creates IM wrinkle | Out-Law.com: AOL has patent for instant messaging | TERM-talk: Instant messaging circa 1973

Matsushita, Sony developing Linux platform for consumer devices

In a huge blow to the potential success of Windows XP Media Center Edition, Matsushita and Sony have announced an unprecedented collaboration that will result in an open-source (GPL’d) version of Linux especially for consumer digital media devices.

A Matsushita representative told the Financial Times, “We are not forming an alliance to compete against Microsoft”. Maybe not specifically, but Matsushita and Sony are in talks to set up an industry forum with the heaviest of hitters in the consumer electronics industry, including Hitachi, IBM, NEC, Philips, Samsung and Sharp. | Associated Press | Dow Jones | Financial Times | News.com | PC World | Sony (press release)

Creative Commons debuts new copyright tool

When all you’ve got is copyright, everything looks like a copyright violation. For example, according to copyright law, I have to be asked for permission everytime anybody wants to use something from this site. Unfortunately, copyright can only express ALL RIGHTS RESERVED — I can’t use copyright to express which rights I want to reserve and, maybe more importanly, which I don’t.

As of this week, the new and non-profit Creative Commons has an interesting solution. The Licensing Project provides a copyright-complementary tool to build and attach human-readable, lawyer-readable and machine-readable descriptions of the rights reserved and not reserved for a work. Watch the “Get Creative” presentation, and use it for your own works if you think it’s a good idea. | Creative Commons | The Licensing Project | “Get Creative” presentation | L.A. Times: Group is launching new types of licenses (free registration required) | Dan Gillmor: Copyright verdict, new technology are reasons to hope

DMCA vs. ElcomSoft: Not guilty

ElcomSoft employee Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested in July 2001 for simply talking about his company’s software, which could be used to remove the copy protection from Adobe eBooks. Today, a thankfully-sane jury found ElcomSoft not guilty. Here’s the one of more interesting parts of the News.com article (emphasis mine):

After much wrangling among attorneys over the definition of the word “willful”, the judge told jurors that in order to find the company guilty, they must agree that company representatives knew their actions were illegal and intended to violate the law. Merely offering a product that could violate copyrights was not enough to warrant a conviction, the jury instructions said.

Hopefully this provide a small amount of momentum against the draconian aspects of the DMCA. Shame on Adobe for forcing customers to have to crack their digital media just so they can make a backup or take it on a plane with them. News.com story | News.com: DMCA critics say reform still needed | Boing Boing | Dan Gillmor: Copyright verdict, new technology are reasons to hope

Microsoft targets Macworld with digital hub announcements

Apple’s digital hub strategy is centered on their iApps: iChat, iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes and iSync. iSync is in beta, and will presumably be released (along with the usual product refreshes and hopefully an “oh, and one more thing” goody) on the first day of Macworld — January 7.

Today, Microsoft is announcing Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition. It will include consumer-friendly software for playing and editing movies, photos and music. In other words, Microsoft is now officially elbowing in on Apple’s PC-as-digital-hub strategy.

Plus! DME is XP-only, will cost $20, and includes the final release of Windows Movie Maker 2, a photo slide show maker called Photo Story, and 50 other features (some interesting, some odd). Plus! DME and Windows Media 9 will both be released on the same day — January 7.

Coincidence? Nope. Amazingly, Apple has backed Microsoft into full-reactive mode, inciting them to put all of their digital media ammo against the first day of Macworld and Steve Jobs’ keynote. This is fascinating, and the mainstream press completely missed the Macworld connection. | InfoWorld story | News.com story | Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition tour

RealNetworks drops authoring support for Mac OS X

Most people don’t realize that a significant consequence of the Helix DNA platform is that RealNetworks has curtailed authoring support for non-Windows platforms. Most significantly, RealNetworks will no longer be providing authoring solutions for Mac OS X, the world’s second-most-popular OS.

Instead, RealNetworks intends to release a RealSystem 9 SDK for Mac OS X through the Helix community process before Q2’03. (It’s “Helix community” rather than “open-source community” because the most important bits of Helix remain closed-source.) This means that Mac OS X applications that use this SDK should be available in late 2003 or early 2004. Of course, that will be right around the time that new versions of the QuickTime, RealSystem and Windows Media are introduced, making RealNetworks’ half-hearted attempts at Mac OS X support almost pointless.

RealNetworks has also completely shut down its authoring efforts on Solaris, and strongly cut their support for Linux (where they’ve at least done a command-line encoder).

Can RealNetworks afford to drop support for popular platforms where Windows Media doesn’t dominate? No, but RealNetworks apparently no longer has the resources to fight the war on more than one front, and so they find themselves in a full retreat to Windows. Now that should be safe place for the final battle for the desktop…

[This story was modified on 12/19 to reflect that RealNetworks will be contributing to the Helix community Mac OS X SDK effort, which is not how I understood their it even after attempting to confirm their intent. My apologies for misinterpreting RealNetworks’ statements. — CW]

Final release of RealOne Player for Mac OS X now available

The “gold” (looks more like plastic, actually) release of RealOne Player for Mac OS X is now available.

First, “order” the free player by avoiding all of the obvious buttons and clicking the small link in the upper-right corner of the page. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to either (1) register, (2) give them your registered email address and password, or (3) re-register because you rarely visit the site and have no idea which combination of email addresses and passwords you might’ve used. The first time you launch RealOne Player it will ask you if it can be the default player for various file types and protocols, and I recommend unchecking those. | RealOne Player for Mac OS X

Google Google Google

If Yahoo! is the internet’s table of contents, then Google is its index. But as in meatspace, I find myself reaching for the index whenever I need to find something. Here are the three most interesting Googlethings I’ve seen lately.

Google Zeitgeist 2002 is a fascinating look at the World According To Google — for example, the top declining query (“Nostradamus”) and the top gaining query (“Spider-Man”) suggests that we collectively experienced a little too much reality in 2001. I predict that within the next three years, Google’s Zeitgeist reports will become one of society’s most important cultural barometers. Furthermore, I predict that they will be the basis of an annual television special within five.

The World According to Google is a great article about Google by Steven Levy. One of the things he discusses is “Google dating”, which is certainly something I did (and had done to me) even in Google’s early days.

Google-Eyed is Walt Mossberg’s review of all the great things you can do with Google these days. He discusses Google’s excellent image search, but also be sure to check out the new products search (which was introduced after Walt’s article, and is now in beta). | Google Zeitgeist 2002 | The World According to Google | Google-Eyed (ways to enhance your search experience)

Posted in Web

Digital sound synthesis 53 years ago

This was a surprise to me — a researcher with too much time on his hands coaxed an early computer called the CSIRAC to do sound synthesis more than half a century ago. Ars Technica talks about the CSIRAC, how it came to be the first computer to synthesize sound (I wouldn’t call it “multimedia”, but whatever), and has some interesting links for those interested in the history of computers. | Ars Technica article

"One drive to burn them all…"

Jon Fott of The San Jose Mercury News wrote about his experiences with a new Titanium PowerBook with a built-in DVD burner.

It felt like a whole new species of computer.

For me, the iBook (the Passat to the TiBook’s H2) is the better portable computer overall. But the TiBook is certainly lust-worthy — so much so that it completely blinded Porsche Design, which simply copied the TiBook design for Best Buy (although ultimately they failed to match the TiBook “feel”).

The bigger news is that DVD burners are becoming options for laptops. They’re currently pretty slow, but think back to the first time you actually created a CD. It was almost unbelievable, wasn’t it? For some reason, it’s even more amazing being able to do it from your laptop.

Handing out the first DVD you’ve made yourself is a rush, like printing out a document for the first time. Sure, DVD burners have been around a while. But there’s something more empowering about creating a DVD movie and delivering it when you’re on the run.

You heard it here first — 2003 is The Year of the DVD Burner. Prices are sub-$500 and plummeting, and super-combo drives (which can write DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, CD-R and CD-RW discs) mean that you won’t be burned (ouch!) by buying a drive that doesn’t support the “winning” format. | The Mercury News story