Sunday, March 13, 2016

Windows 10 the last desktop version of Windows? The future is unevenly distributed...

I was pointed to a Linux-centric article that included the following section which surprised the person who pointed it out:
Windows 10 will be the last desktop version of the operating system that once gave Microsoft dominance in the PC software market. After that, Windows will be offered on a subscription basis and run from the cloud, but this will not be a Microsoft-exclusive cloud. Internally, Windows will be virtualized within software containers running on Ubuntu.
I'd like to parse this quote a bit, and offer some of my own interpretation.

Last Desktop version

The inevitable disappearance of the desktop operating system has been discussed for decades.  It is really a poor fit for the modern era.  Unlike their more thin mobile counterparts, desktop operating systems really only work well if you have a systems administrator on-hand to handle issues ranging from malware to multi-application compatibility.  System administrators, on the other hand, really want to centrally manage these services so they don't have to spend large parts of their budgets going to each individual desktop to maintain them.  While there is software that attempts to help with this, none of those options can ever compare to running those applications in a server room (local to the office, or in some other server room in "the cloud"). In the server room it is also easier to manage hardware resources, virtualize applications into their own containers to avoid multi-application compatibility issues, and manage software testing and upgrades in a way that is transparent (and thus not disruptive) to users.

Far worse than the problems within medium and large businesses is people running desktop operating systems in small offices or homes that don't have a system administrator.  This why such a high percentage of desktop operating systems are infected by one thing or another -- or just generally not working as well as the hardware and software could work.  This has a high cost to society as a whole, given the harm from spam and malware distribution from this army of infected desktop operating is only surpassed by the fact that these remotely controlled clusters can be bought to be utilized for anything including cyber warfare/terrorism.

I've been looking forward to the death of the desktop operating system for decades, and that is both as a person who works in offices where people expect the IT staff to inappropriately spend a chunk of their budget on desktop support, or as someone constantly asked by less technical family members or friends for help.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I purchased my wife, mother and my father-in-law each a Chromebook, and as quickly as I could upload all their old documents to a Google drive or put on a USB drive -- and gleefully tossed their old desktops in the trash.

I hope I also will see the eradication of desktop computers in my workplace as well, but that isn't something I have much influence on (even as "Lead Systems Engineer").

What I see in the future isn't less computers, but a recognition that we should be using the right computer and right operating system to fit the job.  The historical "one size fits all" approach that we saw in the desktop era always meant that the operating system used did the job at hand poorly compared to alternatives.

While it is possible that there may be a kernel that will dominate because it receives the most contributions and the most vetting (IE: The Linux kernel), I would consider it yet another market failure if the software stack on top of that remained as similar as we saw in the desktop era.

In my home I run CentOS and Ubuntu on the server, Ubuntu on my development workstation, and we have a variety of mobile devices running Android and ChromeOS.  We have entertainment devices running a variety of OS's (Android on Chromecast, Linux kernel+Boxee software on Boxee box, and a Samsung Smart TV).  While they may all have a linux kernel under the hood, the rest of the operating system built on top is not the same.   I would consider it a backward movement on the part of Google if they merged ChromeOS and Android into the same OS as these two classes of devices serve different purposes and the operating system should be more focused on each purpose.  And I have no interest in running Ubuntu or CentOS on my tablet or phone.

When Google announced ChromeOS they had Citrix there, with the suggestion being in those early days that desktop apps should be virtualized into the server infrastructure, with mobile/portable/disposable devices providing the user interface.

What this will mean is that applications previously run on desktops like office suites and image editing (Photoshop) will be run on servers (in office or in the "cloud") where the computing and system administrators are, and the mobile OS is the user interface only. The desktop application divisions of Adobe and Microsoft have already been moving this direction. The free trials from Google apps may last longer (including still being available free for Gmail users), but they are by no means the only alternative available.

This is also an obvious and long discussed solution to much of the software copyright infringement problem. If you don't distribute software to end users to run in their computers then you don't need to worry about them infringing copyright.   This not only suggests proprietary vendors moving more to the cloud, but that the devices that end users have in their hands will eventually be FLOSS-only.

Subscription?

This is also an inevitable modernization of how proprietary software development will be paid for.  It has never made sense to think of software as a product, as it is more of an ongoing conversation.  While you can buy snapshots of the conversation with a fixed fee, that isn't a useful thing to do when you need to at least keep up with the security patches part of the conversation even if you don't care about new features.

In the early days of computing the hardware advanced quickly as well, and thus people were buying a new computer every few years and thus was paying for new software as well.  Now that computers have reached beyond what the average user needs on their desk/lap there isn't a constant hardware upgrade stream to pay for the massive amount of work that goes into upgrading the software.  In fact, people are wanting to simplify the hardware that they carry with them and want to go mobile where the computing power (as well as battery power consumption) is decreasing rather than increasing.

Subscriptions are the obvious way to go, and this will be of great benefit to both vendors and consumers.

And if you don't want to pay a subscription fee, there will always be legally free FLOSS alternatives. Given software development and system administration time is also expensive this will have to be financed somehow (by someone) even if you never have to pay a software licensing fee again. 

Not be a Microsoft-exclusive cloud

This is also inevitable, and we shouldn't be making a big political deal out of it.  As Microsoft moves away from trying to squeeze percentages out of hardware purchases to being a services company their focus will transition to choosing the right tool for the job.  This will also be a transition away from some of their odd historical political rhetoric in opposition to FLOSS and Linux. Sometimes the right tool will be software from companies and/or open source communities they thought of as competitors in their previous market.

Microsoft's Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) is but one example of this. This isn't a server, desktop, or mobile operating system, but a specialized operating system for network switches built on the Linux kernel.  Using the Linux kernel just makes sense as they can leverage existing community software work, as well as contribute their own code to a community that will then help massively deploy ACS compatible devices.   It is a win-win for everyone involved.

Virtualized within software containers running on Ubuntu

This is the only part of the quote that I'm not convinced was articulated clearly.  Why bother with Ubuntu?   Ubuntu offers a good application server environment, and it works great for workstations, but why bother with the overhead of Ubuntu for a virtualization environment?   This may not be what is being presented in the article.  There may be some value in using the Debian packaging system and build environments, and then spin a virtualization focused distribution.  It might even make sense to build this as a fork of a tiny subset of packages from Ubuntu.  I just don't see using Ubuntu itself as being likely for a company that has the resources to do this right on their own.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Educational fair dealings battles: Educational Institutions

I discussed Collective Societies in the context of this issue in a previous article.  While I started with them, I don't fault them for the battles we keep seeing.  Those representing collectives are just trying to keep these entities alive in a changing marketplace where their value is diminishing.   While this transition is good for authors and users alike, and is one that we should be encouraging, it will eventually lead to some redundant collective societies closing.

The problem is that educational institutions have been propping up the legacy publishing methods that these collective societies are dependant on.  These publicly funded institutions have been throwing away taxpayer money at lawsuits and royalty fees which leave the sector (and often the country) rather than modernizing.

Educational Institutions

When you get past the superficial "authors vs teachers" rhetoric, you find a very different scenario. The most expensive collections of works fall into the category of non-fiction textbooks, journals, and other academic writings.  The primary authors as well as the primary users of the works are staff and students at educational institutions.  Students are mandated to publish works as part of their learning, and staff are told to publish or perish with career advancement often tied to published works. Textbooks, even for K12, are authored by educators, and reviewed by educators -- with some reviewers merely paid with pizza by publishers.

All of this work by staff and students then leaves the institution and is redistributed back to the educational sector by third party publishers who extract massive royalty fees along the way.  It is fees flowing to academic publishers that dominate collectives like Access Copyright, as well as dominating the fees that academic institutions have to pay to publishers in direct licensing fees.

An alternative funding model that has been growing is Open Access(OA) where royalties are no longer charged. This enables the educational sector to directly pay staff for their authorship, hire editors and other staff they may not have, with the results then available freely to the rest of the sector.   There are a growing number of OA journals worldwide, and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries provides information on ongoing development in Canada.

While the movement to OA is a win-win for the educational community which is the sector for both the majority of the authors and users, there has still been barriers to adoption.

One of the greatest barriers is a perception that historical reputation of some of the previously established journals and textbook publishers is somehow more important than dealing with the financial, political and legal problems created by propping up an outdated academic publishing model.  This problem is made worse by the fact that the departments promoting the established publishers have separate budgets than the libraries who are expected to pay for the expensive journals, or students who have to pay outrageous and unnecessary textbook fees.

We need a bundle of policy solutions to encourage the transition.

Taxpayers interests must be protected

In the "authors vs teachers" rhetoric an important fact is forgotten, which is that taxpayers are ultimately paying and their interests should be respected.

I have long believed that the results of publicly funded work should be publicly licensed.  For educational institutions I would tie part of their budgets to fund OA publishing.  OA publications are not only available royalty-free within the education sector, but outside as well allowing the fruits of the work partly funded by taxpayers to be available to taxpayers (and the public in general).

During a transition period this funding could be divided by academic department, such that additional funding would be made available to departments that shifted to OA early.  The funding would come from a expenditure-neutral shift in funding to the institution, so that in effect budgets would be reduced for those departments that had not yet moved to OA publishing and increased for those who had.

In a later part of the transition period this funding would then be assumed to be institution-wide, where part of the funding to the institution as a whole would be tied to a requirement that all departments had moved to OA publishing.  This would put additional pressure on laggard departments.

Overall the goal of the policy must be to mandate OA publishing for publicly funded institutions, so the end goal of the policy would be that no public funding would be available to institutions who were unwilling to transition from legacy royalty-based publishing models to OA publishing.

Fairness in Fair Dealings

It has never seemed fair to me that we should be treating educational institutions as if they were charities, and that somehow they should have royalty-free access to the works of the world and yet be able to charge (or allow third party publishers to charge) royalties for the outputs of the institutions.

I believe that one of the primary fairness criteria for educational fair dealings should be the licensing methods used for the outputs of the academic work.  If the results will be OA or released to the public domain, this would be weighed strongly towards fairness on the input.

I would further propose that after a transition period similar to the  funding proposal above that the specific educational institution (sections 29.4-30.04) should only be available to institutions whose outputs have been primarily made available through public licensing.

Policy proposal for the remaining works

While nearly all the works used in an educational setting fall under direct licensing (royalty or publicly licensed) or fair dealings, there are still some works used which should be compensated but where direct licensing isn't available or isn't practical.  With educational sector created works handled through OA, there is also far more money available to compensate non-academic authors who have always been on the losing end of these debates.

Decades of taxpayer money wasted in the so-called "educational fair use" debate and never ending  lawsuits suggests that none of publishers, collectives, or educational institutions can be entrusted to provide fair compensation to those non-academic authors.

I believe an appropriate model to use is the Public Lending Right program that provides funding to authors for the use of their works in public libraries.  This is a program outside of copyright that is focused on authors rather than copyright holders.  The program to fund authors for uses of their works in publicly funded educational institutions should be funded from an expenditure shift from educational institutions.   Unlike what happens with collectives, the proceeds for this program should be accountably targeted to authors, with funding not accessible to intermediaries or their feuding lawyers.   This would provide far better funding to authors than the small amounts paid through collective societies, and be far more accountable to taxpayers who have ultimately been funding this nonsense debate.

Educational fair dealings battles: Collective Societies

Anyone who follows copyright in the news will have heard the epic battles around educational fair use.

To hear it from the perspective of those who represent collective societies it is a battle between starving artists on one hand and thieving big business educational institutions on the other.

To hear it from the perspective of educational institutions it is charities providing a public service trying to reduce costs to students and taxpayers any legitimate way they can.

The problem is that both of these perspectives are wrong.

This article is in two parts, with the second part addressing educational institutions.

Collective Societies

Collective societies don't "represent" creators, starving or otherwise.  They provide a specific business model service available to copyright holders, and compete in a marketplace that includes a wide variety of other business models available to copyright holders.

Collectives don't "represent" creators in the sense that an elected politician or union representative might claim to represent constituencies, any more than ScotiaBank can claim to "represent" me simply because I happen to be a customer of some of their financial services.

If a large number of home owners who had mortgages with Scotiabank decided to switch to BMO, Scotiabank would never be allowed to claim that there was a crisis in the mortgage business or home ownership, and lobby the government to try to force home owners to take out mortgages from Scotiabank.

This is essentially the argument that certain collective societies have been making for many years in Canada. Copyright holders and educational institutions have been migrating to directly licensing works through a wide variety of online services where there is a direct flow of money from the institutions to the copyright holders.

This is the reality of the marketplace today: the overwhelming majority of works used within an educational setting are directly licensed.  What remains to be sorted between collective licensing and fair dealings is decreasing in size all the time, and it is this modernization that bogus "studies" by PricewaterhouseCoopers failed to take into consideration.  The fact that revenues flowing through collectives has decreased is not an indication of a failure, but an indication of a successful ongoing transition to more direct licensing models.

Collective societies should have always been understood as a licensing model of last resort.  Authors licensing directly is ideal, and if that isn't possible then through a publisher or some other intermediary. Collectives are only needed when normal direct licensing options are somehow failing, and creating indirect licensing is the only remaining option.  Rather than copyright holders licensing directly they become members of collectives and receive payments based on very rough statistics about possible uses of their works.

With modern digital delivery mechanisms the costs of creating accurate statistics and offering transactional licensing has dramatically decreased, which means that the pre-digital collective management option will have diminishing value in the marketplace to either authors or users.

Collective management of copyright is nothing like collective bargaining

One of the more warped suggestions you will hear is that collective management is comparable to collective bargaining, and that collectives are simply representing their members like a union does in negotiating with the employers for better fees.   This claim is nonsense for many reasons.

The closest thing that authors have to an employer is the publishers, not the customers of the publishers. Workers at a Ford plant don't picket in front of the homes of car owners as a mechanism to get better wages, they picket in front of their place of employment trying to convince the employer to give them better wages.  While authors require this type of representation as the deals offered by many publishers are unfair to authors, collective societies aren't helpful in that scenario.

In the case of collectives like Access Copyright, the publishers (employers) already dominate the money flowing through them and as much as some collective devotees try to claim otherwise also control the organizations politically.   Normally a union isn't made up of a mixture of employees and employers, where the employers control the agenda -- so suggesting that a collective is like a union makes no sense.

As collectives exist in a competitive marketplace, and authors and users are switching to better licensing models, you will see collectives fighting against these competitive pressures.  An analogy might be having the employees and management of Ford picketing outside Chrysler headquarters complaining to Chrysler employees that Ford isn't getting paid because people are switching to purchasing Chrysler vehicles rather than Ford.  It is an odd mentality, and it violates much of what a union normally stands for as you have workers from one employer picketing against the workers from another employer, in solidarity with their management rather than their fellow workers.

Some oppose any form of fairness in copyright law

Of that diminishing proportion of works which are not available for direct licensing, we are left with sorting between those uses which should be considered fair dealing and uses where a royalty would be paid through a collective society.

As with the other aspects of this debate, the "sky is falling" rhetoric is false as the vast majority of uses we are discussing are legitimately fair dealings that would be recognized as fair by anyone who remotely believes that copyright law should have the concept of fairness within it.  The loudest people you will hear complaining about legitimate uses of fair dealings, even with the fairly conservative policies most educational institutions are using, are people opposed to their being any limits or exceptions to copyright at all.  These extremists should be recognized as outsiders from the core of the policy debate.   As discussed in earlier articles, they certainly don't represent the interests of authors who depend on these limitations and exceptions to create our own works which build on the past.

The blanket licensing problem

After we consider direct licensing and necessary limits and exceptions to copyright, there still remains an extremely small number of uses or works that are still worthy of consideration.

What educational institutions have been asking for is a mechanism to provide transactional licensing for those instances where a work that is used in an educational setting is not already available through direct licensing, and where the copyright holder is in the repertoire of a collective society.  As the marketplace advances these instances are becoming less common, but this service would still provide value to copyright holders and their potential customers.

Unfortunately some collective societies have been fighting against this eventuality for decades.  They want to offer blanket licensing (an expensive per-student price, regardless of what copyrighted works are ever used), and refuse to offer transactional licensing except to those institutions that already have a blanket licensing.

Like the frustration consumers have with other unfair bundles like much hated cable packages leading people to "cut the cord", this failure caused by collective societies are inducing more and more institutions to cease any type of licensing with the collectives.

I see this scenario as similar to what I have already written about the Orphan works and Netflix region restriction problems.  The general policy proposal was this:

Fair dealing for non-commercial uses of works not otherwise offered for license under reasonable terms is not an infringement of copyright.
The onus should be on the copyright holder to provide appropriate licensing options to educational institutions if they wish to get paid royalties.  If they refuse to offer direct licenses through the variety of existing mechanisms, and are only members of a collective society that is refusing transactional licenses, then they shouldn't expect much sympathy for their complaint that they aren't receiving royalties.  (Note: I offer a funding program suggestion in the second part)

Members of collective societies should be demanding that collectives provide transactional licenses, otherwise the copyright holders should form a competing collective to replace the failing one.  This has been discussed in the past, such as by a splinter group contemplating creating a Creators' Access Copyright as they recognized that Access Copyright primarily represented the (often competing) interests of (largely foreign) publishers.  While that group was drinking the same cool-aid that Access Copyright devotees are in opposing fairness in copyright law, they at least recognized one of the largest problems with Access Copyright: there are obvious conflicts of interests between authors and older business model dependent publishers.

Competing interests of authors and collectives

The politics of this situation is made more confusing because there are individuals that represent the interests of collective societies against competitors who allege to represent the interests of artists. You will see press releases coming from professional writers associations and unions echoing the false claims of collective societies.   I have never believed that these individuals represent the interests of artists but the increasingly conflicting interests of collective societies.

One of the best things that fellow members of the creators rights movement can do is distance themselves as much as possible from collective societies, their lawsuits, and their counter-productive political campaigns. If you are a member of a union or professional association whose leadership is parroting the rhetoric of a collective it is time to get together with other members and depose those with this conflict of interest.