Bytesback

Now that's a defence!

The Microsoft anti-trust proceedings, which are fast becoming one of the tech industry's longest-running soap operas, have moved into a new phase as class actions are brought by consumers against the company. The consumers claim that, because Microsoft is a monopoly, it must have overcharged them for their Microsoft products. They want to be compensated for the difference between what they paid for Windows, Office and other MS staples, and the "fair" price they would have paid in a more competitive marketplace.

If you reckon that's going to be the mother of all legal minefields, you're not alone. But Microsoft has lent a helping hand. In its defence, the company says that by abusing its monopoly power, it helped consumers. It offers as an example the case of Netscape, which was forced to stop charging for its Netscape Navigator browser (former retail $US50) when Microsoft started giving away Internet Explorer for free. Thus, Microsoft saved Netscape's customers $US50 each.

Of course, Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar entity that could afford this kind of generosity. Netscape was a relatively new start-up with few sources of revenue. Giving its core product away gratis caused the company to go into a tailspin, and it now exists only as a division of America Online. By definition under American anti-trust laws, destroying your competitors harms your customers.

Perhaps MS should get new lawyers?

Hacking, the warrior way

Bill Gates, in Sydney in September (speaking at a something-or-other so he could write off his Olympic trip as a business expense), claimed that English would remain the primary language of the Internet for the foreseeable future. We Backbyters, however, feel there may be a serious challenge to this claim in the offing - and it's not from Homo sapiens.

A growing presence in the human technology realm appears to be the Klingon race, originally believed (at least by us) to be a fictional creation in a cheesy TV show. But now, the Klingons have their own programming language (var'aq), a description of which can be found at www.geocities.com/connorbd/varaq/varaqspec.html.

Not only do the Klingons have a hacker culture, but apparently they purchase DVDs, as evidenced by the Klingon subtitles available on a title called "Earthlight". It seems they're coming.

The ultimate sell-out

What would you do if we offered you cash incentives to name your brand new baby "Backbyter" in our honour? You'd spit at us, and rightly so. Some parents aren't as conscientious as you, though. Word reached us recently of a couple in Kansas (alarm bells ringing) who named their child IUMA, in response to a challenge from the Internet Underground Music Archive (www.iuma.com) to devise clever ways to promote the site. For their efforts, they won $US5000 (roughly three million Australian dollars).

Apparently the father of the unfortunate infant (Iuma Dylan-Lucas Thornhill, just so you know) is in a band (called Opus) and promotes his work through IUMA (the site, not the kid). He reckons "he'll have such a cool story when he grows up". We reckon the kid will want to find a deed-poll office as soon as possible. He is at least a little bit lucky - IUMA is pronounceable. What if the challenge had gone out from MSNBC?

IUMA is looking for nine more tragically-monikered kids before the contest closes on 1 November. Get in quick!

(For the record, Bytesback is not offering any such incentive.)Sue this!

Remember McLibel, the infamous case in which McDonald's sued two British activists because they distributed anti-McDonald's propaganda leaflets? The defendants weren't the authors of the leaflets, they were just handing them out. Macca's sued them, hoping they'd run away and agree to stop being mean. Instead, they went to court and caused the world famous magical clown more than a little embarrassment.

Great story, but it came at enormous cost to the activists involved. Now, thanks to the wonders of robotics, this may never have to happen again. The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) claims to have developed a robot called "Little Brother", aka "Pamphleteer", designed to distribute subversive literature and incite insurrection. The advantage of "Pamphleteer" is that it is, of course, immune from prosecution and civil litigation. Robots are not currently recognised as potential litigants in any of the world's major courts. Also, unlike many activists (typically long-haired, unshaven, not particularly clean and dismissed as "ratbags"), the Pamphleteer is cute as the dickens. You can't sue something this cuddly.

Responding to a downturn in the market for "tools of repression", the IAA has identified the "market of cultural insurrection" as a potential source of stable growth. Who knows? Someday we may all have subversive robots in our homes.

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