AOL Wants Your Business (Literally)

I have never been a big fan of America On Line, but part of that comes from the ability to understand and navigate the Internet without having the clunky AOL interface to deliver content for me. From time to time, I use their Instant Messenger product to communicate in real time with friends and family, and I like it better than most of the alternatives.
Now, however, that may have to change. AOL has started heavily promoting AIM as a business tool for improving office communications as well as a replacement for professional e-mail communications. Users can upgrade to a client that supports voice conferencing and web meetings. Kevin McCullough points out a new clause in AIM’s user agreement that will make its users think twice before implementing AIM for either purpose:

“You waive any right to privacy. You waive the right to inspect or approve uses of content or to be compensated for any such uses.”
“In addition, by posting content on an AIM product, you grant AOL, its parent affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt, and promote this content in any medium.”

In other words, if you discuss any aspect of your business that you need to keep to yourself — say, human-resources issues or product development details — AOL reserves the right to post it to the Internet. Let’s use a different example. If a radio show uses AIM to discuss its guest list or content with its studio staff, any remarks made by the staff about the guests or the callers could very well end up in the hands of competing radio hosts or political opponents. Voice conferences between journalists in the field and their editors back home could wind up as MP3 files on AOL’s site.
Talk about Big Brother! And you all worried about Bill Gates!
AOL will probably argue that they need this flexibility to undermine the ability of terrorists and child pornographers to utilize this technology for their own ends. If so, then AOL should limit itself and its language to illegal actions committed with their servers and technologies, and not the confiscation of all communication as fair game for their promotions department. These new terms of service should encourage everyone to dump AIM and AOL until AOL comes to its senses.
UPDATE: AOL claims it won’t hijack user-to-user messaging in AIM, but it hasn’t changed its rather broad TOS language to reflect that.

Sun Offers Free Operating System

Sun Microsystems announced today that its long-awaited new version of its Solaris operating system would be priced to compete strongly against Microsoft Windows. In fact, in contrast to the expensive XP, Sun plans to offer its operating system for free:

After investing roughly $500 million and spending years of development time on its next-generation operating system, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday will announce an aggressive price for the software – free. …
“Hewlett Packard sells a printer at a low price and makes a lot of money on printer cartridges. Gillette gives you the razor and makes a lot of money on the blades,” said Scott McNealy, Sun’s chief executive. “There are different ways to drive market penetration.”
Solaris 10 will be unveiled Monday at an event in San Jose, though it won’t be formally released until the end of January. It will work on more than 270 computer platforms running on chips from Sun, Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
The price of earlier versions of Solaris typically ran between hundreds and thousands of dollars – depending on the system that was being run by the software, said Tom Goguen, Sun’s vice president of operating platforms.
Sun also has promised make the underlying code of Solaris available under an open-source license, though the details have not been released. With access to the code, Solaris users will be able to take advantage of its features when developing their own software and systems.

If successful, the struggling Sun might just eclipse Microsoft on its core product and vault back into the top tier of tech firms. It would hoist Microsoft on its own petard, as Bill Gates swamped the competition for Internet supremacy by offering its browser for free. Microsoft buried Netscape with this marketing ploy, and only recently has Mozilla begun to grab a toehold on operating systems. (I use the new Firefox 1.0, and prior to that have used Mozilla for almost a year.)
I’ve never seen Solaris before, so I have no idea how compatible it is with existing software such as Firefox/Mozilla, the Microsft Office suite, and so on. If Solaris X is completely compatible with Windows software — which seems unlikely — Microsoft has a huge problem on its hands.

Ask A Question, Get An Answer

Jon Henke at QandO sends me this humorous heads-up this morning. What happens when you google “liberal media“? Well, at least today, you get a question and an answer:

What Liberal Media? –Eric Alterman
Continue… “‘What Liberal Media’ is bold, counterintuitive and cathartic.” –The New York Times Book Review. … What Liberal Media? … – 23k – Cached – Similar pages
Oh, That Liberal Media
Oh, That Liberal Media! … Allawi at least demonstrates much more intelligence than the empty suit Brokaw has become, parroting this liberal-media urban legend. … – 90k – Cached – Similar pages

The second entry is a blog to which I occasionally contribute. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should do so often, as it contains media critiques from Xrlq (who first noted this Google result), Patterico, Shark, and many other excellent bloggers. Be sure to blogroll it!

Florida To Tax Home Networks

Wired carries a report this morning from Michelle Delio that the state of Florida, in order to recover lost revenues from businesses that use their own networking architecture rather than the local phone companies (and the tax they carry), enacted a law taxing the do-it-yourselfers. Now the state is considering applying that law to homeowners who string wires between their PCs:

Florida state officials are considering taxing home networks that have more than one computer, under a modified 1985 state law that was intended to tax the few businesses that used internal communication networks instead of the local telephone company.
Officials from Florida’s Department of Revenue held a meeting on Tuesday to see whether the law would apply to wired households, and exactly who would be taxed. About 200 people attended, including community and business representatives. …
The law is so broad that it would apply to networked computers, wireless services, two-way radios and even fax machines — or “substitute communications systems,” as the state calls them. The tax would be applicable (PDF) to the costs of operating such a substitute communications system, not to the purchase of the system’s components.

Well, thank the Lord I don’t live in Florida — I have both a hardwired and wireless network inside my house. I can’t think of a dumber application for tax revenue than computer networking. First off, the components tend to be a little pricey, which creates sales-tax revenues. People use these networks to shop on line and create their own revenue, which brings in taxes on both. Most of the people I know create these networks to take advantage of their broadband internet connections — most of which have their own state and federal tax anyway.
However, as Delio notes, all considerations of logic and proportion go out the window when the state looks at the potential $1 billion in revenue an expansion of the network tax would bring. It’s another example of the junkie nature of government at all levels; like any other addict, all they care about is their next fix.

Brits Demand Internet Ban For Pedophiles

The London Guardian reports today on a demand from British telecommunications giant BT for law enforcement to notify ISPs of convictions for sex offenders so that they can be denied internet services:

The courts should bar everyone convicted of sexual offences against children which involve the internet from using the technology, said Nick Truman, head of security at the online arm of British Telecom, BT Openworld.
Mr Truman, a member of the Home Office internet taskforce for child protection, also called on the police to inform ISPs of convictions so that the offender’s internet account could be cancelled. …
The police do have powers to pass on information about registered sex offenders to third parties, such as the head teacher of a local school, but this does not cover commercial organisations such as ISPs.

It sounds like a great idea, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to try, but I rather doubt it would be effective. First of all, such a ban would prove difficult to ensure, as Internet services can be accessed via all sorts of different technologies, some of which don’t require much in the way of identification. Second, such notifications will surely result in a number of identification mistakes. What happens when you cut off service to someone whose name happens to match another on the banned list? How does that person manage to get his access restored? Besides, using commercial services to enforce such a ban sounds iffy at best, especially when all incentives for the business point to delivering service, not denying it.
Even beyond the identification issues, which don’t carry as much emotional weight in Britain as it does in the US, why use precious law-enforcement resources on maintaining a no-access-allowed list for thousands of access points? The Home Office understands that investigators should be tracking actual crimes in progress rather than spending its time pushing paper to all of the possible access points. Focusing on access rather than actual oversight of released offenders — or better yet, keeping them incarcerated — seems to me to provide a false sense of security.

Wireless City, USA

Every Captain has a home port, and this Captain’s hometown has decided to be the first wireless city in the nation:

CERRITOS, Calif. – Browsing the Web from this Southern California city may soon become an outdoor sport.
The first phase of a project to establish citywide wireless Internet access is slated to begin next month. Ultimately, anyone with a laptop or wireless device will be able to surf the Web from virtually anywhere in the city’s 8.6-square-mile area.

When my family moved to Cerritos in 1970, it was a small town on the fringe of LA that consisted in large part of dairies … with lots of cows … that you could smell from everywhere, it seemed. During the real-estate boom in the 70s, the dairies all sold out for development and Cerritos is now a thriving, upscale neighborhood where I couldn’t afford to live if I cloned myself three times over. Across from my old high school (go Dons!), where a pasture used to be is now a megaplex of retail shopping, theater, and hotels.
Cerritos has long pursued a policy of early adoption of technology. The library, also across from my old high school, was one of the first nationwide to use RFID to manage its inventory and automate the check-out process. Well before any other community, Cerritos installed fiber-optic cable for an experimental cable TV/telephone system from GTE, which was supposed to deliver movies on demand and digital telephony. In fact, this system may have been the reason Cerritos was not able to adopt any other high-speed Internet access technology:

The 51,000 residents of Cerritos, located 26 miles southeast of Los Angeles, have not had DSL broadband access to the Internet because the city is too far from the telephone company’s central office. Cable Internet access has not been an option, either, Hylton said.

City-wide WiFi is just another way in which the Captain’s hometown keeps innovating, and I wish them the best of luck in its implementation.

Breaking the Microsoft Jones

Yesterday I decided to take a radical step: I downloaded Mozilla and installed its browser and e-mail client.
I’ve used Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook for years now, and I’ve been pretty happy with both overall. Lately, though, I’ve been frustrated with the security holes in Outlook and its mail interface, and pop-up ads in IE have been driving me nuts. I’d heard that Mozilla addressed both of these problems, so I’m giving it a try.
So far, I’m impressed. The mail client isn’t as feature rich as full-blown Outlook, but it matches up well with Outlook Express. I wish it managed signatures; right now you have an option to assign just one to an account, rather than being able to insert from a selection of signatures. It alerts you when new e-mail is on the server but it doesn’t automatically download it for you. That may be an option, but I haven’t played with it enough to know yet.
The browser isn’t too bad either, and has a couple of nice features. First and foremost, it allows you to block pop-up windows. No more lock-ups from badly programmed ads (take that, Orbitz! mwa-hahahahaha!). Instead of opening multiple sessions of the browser, you have the option of opening tabs in one session instead. This is nice when you want to go clean out of your browser when you alt-tab on your desktop. Java scripts seem to run a bit better, too.
On the other hand, the browser doesn’t always display sites as well as IE. For instance, your comrade and mine at the Politburo Diktat has done a great job designing his site as a two-column blog. For some reason, Mozilla displays the right column below the left column. I’m assuming that the problem is one of resizing columns that are hard-coded to a certain width. IE must be able to override the hard coding, where Mozilla doesn’t, or at least that’s my guess. Also, I still have the normal upgrade issues of remembering all my passwords that I’ve allowed IE to manage for me, but that’s hardly Mozilla’s fault.
If anyone has any insight into these issues — or any others I may come across — drop me a comment. I’ll report back as I find more out about Mozilla.

Breaker, breaker … any takers?

USC’s Online Journalism Review has an interview with NY Times technology reporter John Markoff, written by Adam Clayton Powell. Markoff has been covering technology since the year after two guys named Steve came up with a computer named Apple, and he gives an interesting but somewhat bleak picture of the future:

I certainly can see that scenario, where all these new technologies may only be good enough to destroy all the old standards but not create something better to replace them with. I think that’s certainly one scenario. The other possibility right now — it sometimes seems we have a world full of bloggers and that blogging is the future of journalism, or at least that’s what the bloggers argue, and to my mind, it’s not clear yet whether blogging is anything more than CB radio.
And, you know, give it five or 10 years and see if any institutions emerge out of it. It’s possible that in the end there may be some small subset of people who find a livelihood out of it and that the rest of the people will find that, you know, keeping their diaries online is not the most useful thing to with their time.
When I tell that to people … they get very angry with me. … I also like to tell them, when they (ask) when I’m going to start a blog, and then, ‘Oh, I already have a blog, it’s, don’t you read it?’

Not sure what he means, not the most useful thing to do with my time … [sniff]. Markoff may be a bit pessimistic, but his vision of the possibilities is intriguing and certainly sounds believable. (via Romanesko)

Judge: Minnesota Internet phone company not bound by telecom regulations

This seems intriguing, although until the written decision is released, it will be difficult to determine how far-reaching the effects will be. If the states are not allowed to regulate voice-over-IP, start putting some money into these companies, and divest from any long-distance carriers you may have money in.

The utilities commission wants Vonage — which charges $34.99 a month for unlimited calling in the United States and Canada — to be certified as a local phone company. Among other things, Haar said, that would require it to file a complete listing of its various offerings to consumers, a description of its plans for offering emergency 911 service and a plan for participating in a state program than subsidizes phone service for poor people in Minnesota.
Vonage believes that the judge, Davis, agreed with its argument that the state lacked regulatory authority in this case because the Constitution prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce. Vonage, a privately held company based in Edison, N.J., said that it cannot tell where its calls originate from because the phone number may be linked to a portable computer.
“We can’t tell where you are making the call,” said Jeffrey Citron, Vonage’s chairman and chief executive. “Our business is interstate by its very nature.”