part three of the ever-exciting adventure

Archive for Tech

Net Neutrality

I was horrified enough at Ed Vaisey’s terrible sentiments he expressed over Net Neutrality last week, to write to my MP on the issue. Hopefully Angie will be more responsive to letters from constituents than my last MP was. Still waiting for a reply on that one…

The letter’s based on Open Rights Group’s template, but I added my own Tory-friendly additions in bold. Sending a generic letter is better than none at all, but given you’re writing to an individual it’s clearly better to tailor the argument for them.

I’d strongly encourage you to do the same if you care about universal access to information.

Dear Ms Bray,

I am writing to ask you to sign the Net Neutrality EDM 1036 first signed by Tom Watson MP, Julian Huppert MP and Peter Bottomley MP.


Today the Coalition Government has taken a huge step towards increasing the transparency of Government by announcing the release of all central government spending data over £25,000 for the first time. You may have seen that the Prime Minister has stressed his support for this drive via a video posted this morning on the Number 10 web site.

This is a significant move which will help reduce the waste inherited from Labour and help drive the growth of an information industry which Francis Maude estimates could contribute up to £6bn to the UK economy. The work which his department has done over the last six months is making the UK a world leader in this field.

Last week however, Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, stated that the UK will allow Internet Service Providers to decide which websites and services can reach their customers at what speed.

This threatens the idea of free access to information to all. If traffic from established media operators is prioritised above others then this threatens the ability of independent organisations to help government find where inefficiencies exist in the system, using open data. It promotes centralism over localism and diversity in our information instructure and is a backwards step in Britain’s development.

The change – often called removing “net neutrality” or introducing ”network discrimination” has already led to complaints from companies including the BBC and Skype, an Internet telephone company, that their content may be slowed down by Internet Services Providers. ISPs, including BT, Sky and Virgin, provide TV and phone services which would give them a reason slowing down certain Internet services provided by competitors.

The danger is that, while some “traffic management” to prevent congestion may be reasonable, allowing ISPs to do what they want, with no checks other “transparency” to customers, will lead to significant market abuse and loss of innovation on the Internet. New services may not start up if they cannot be guaranteed fair access to UK Internet customers.

There are ways this problem could be prevented. One would be an industry agreement by major ISPs not to discriminate against competitors, such as has been put in place in Norway. Another would be to require “minimum service guarantees” including an Open Internet.

Please sign the EDM, and raise this issue with Ed Vaizey, as the Minister responsible.

Will Abson

A Limited Revolution

I’ve spent the last couple of days catching up on recent news, including some of the iPad stuff from the other week.

A few blog posts have pointed out that the people talking about it are probably not the target market for the device, and in any case they’re likely to already own a half-decent laptop/desktop and probably an iPhone too.

But the separation is not just about geeks versus non-geeks, it’s about creators and consumers.

Consumers in the classic sense will love the iPad. It’s designed for browsing the web, reading e-books, listening to music and watching movies. Though iTunes, Apple already makes plenty of dollars from these people and will likely be even more successful with a larger device. A bigger screen means more pixels, and HD means more money.

But for those of us who like to think of ourselves as creators the iPad, with it’s locked-down OS and lack of third party app store support, is not such a good thing. Nor is it helpful if we want to provide the next generation with the tools they need to think creatively and independently, and to encourage them to hack at and mash-up software, services and content.

The iPad may well transform home computing, but that will be as far as the revolution goes. We need more open platforms that we can build on if we’re going to carry on innovating, not another device to lock us further into Apple’s walled garden, and their vision of how computing should be.

The open road

Well done to John and John on the amazing article in the Guardian’s Technology section today. We made it onto page three!

Sadly the online version lacks the pretty pictures in the paper copy on my desk, but it’s a well-written piece, even if it does paint rather a depressing picture of Governmental take-up of open source in the UK.

GNOME 2.20

This is a great example of why I love free software – with the latest version of GNOME out the door, Evolution now helpfully warns you if you try to send an e-mail containing the word “attached” or similar but neglect to actually attach a file to the message.

Is that not the kind of simple, yet brilliant feature that when you hear about it makes you wonder why nobody’s thought of it before? Amazing.

The same old tricks

I read this evening that Apple have once again resorted to blocking third party software from accessing the song databases build into every iPod.

Last time it was over Real cracking their DRM and I didn’t care so much given that I can’t use most of their proprietary-ware anyway, but now Apple have completely broken the main Linux-based library used by the fabulous Rhythmbox and Banshee, amongst others.

What I find most sad is the fact that the changes they’ve made – involving some kind of checksumming built into the latest iPod firmware – serve no useful purpose whatsoever other than to limit the ways in which consumers can use their own players.

That Apple would spend engineering dollars in order to make iPods less useful – arguably completely useless to anyone using Linux – is appalling. But not surprising to anyone who’s followed their moves in recent years.

I was seriously considering buying an iPod up until yesterday. I’m certainly not any more.