Archive for October, 2006

Microsoft chickening out of a challenge?

October 24, 2006

For as long as I can remember, Microsoft has been the paragon of the super-competitive software company. For as long as I can remember, Microsoft was the epitome of the company that would pull out all stops to meet a challenger on said challenger’s own territory and face it down. For as long as I can remember, Microsoft has never chickened out of a challenge.

It now appears that Microsoft is doing precisely that. The software developers are finding the non-Microsoft offerings, in particular, the Free/Libre and Open Source offerings such as Linux, attractive.

I had thought that Microsoft would do something, and lo and behold, they did something – as little as they could get away with. They released the Visual [Programming Language] Express series, to draw the attention of the hobbyist developer; they even released the set under a relatively free and open license. This is truly a wonderful thing – previously, the only way you could get a Microsoft software development product free of charge, without incurring obligation, was to do something morally indefensible and download warez.

The major problem with that is, Linux is, and has been for quite some time now, the premier software hobbyist development platform. And none of the Visual [PL] Express series runs on Linux.

I realized this after downloading and installing OpenWatcom, the open-sourced Watcom C/C++ and Fortran compiler suite. For what it’s worth, I now had software that could compile something written for everything from [MS|PC|DR|Free|Rx|etc]-DOS through the OS/2 16 and 32 bit and the Netware NLM to the Win16 and Win32 APIs. With gcc, I can compile for a vast set of 32 bit and 64 bit computers and APIs. About the only thing missing is something to compile stuff written for 8 bit environments – but there are compilers for that as well, that I haven’t got on to yet.

Microsoft’s Visual [PL] Express series are splendidly optimized for the latter stage of the Win32 API. But if that is not where the action is, they are missing the boat – just as they almost missed the Internet.

So here’s the challenge, and I’m wondering if Microsoft is capable even if willing, of taking it up – to release the Visual [PL] Express series source code under the Microsoft Community License, with some hints as to how it can be ported to Linux and FreeBSD. And use it as a loss-leader.

Failing that, I expect software developers’ focus to continue to move to tools like Eclipse … and Microsoft to continue failing – subtly, but still failing.

Patently absurd – conjugating Microsoft

October 1, 2006

Well, I suppose it had to happen – Microsoft Corp., wrote a program, and decided its chief feature – indexing verbs by infinitives – was worthy of a patent.

To quote from the application, the abstract to be precise:

Method and system for selecting and conjugating a verb

A verb conjugating system allows a user to input a form of a verb and display the verb forms. The verb conjugating system allows the user to input the infinitive form or non-infinitive forms of a verb. When a user inputs a non-infinitive form of a verb, the verb conjugating system identifies a corresponding base form of the verb. The verb conjugating system then uses the base form to retrieve and display the verb forms for the verb. The verb conjugating system may highlight the non-infinitive form of the verb within the displayed verb forms to assist the user in locating the verb form of interest.

There are books on the open market that do as much. I could mention a few, if the general public is really that interested:
The Penguin Russian Course, compiled by J.L.I. Fennell, Penguin Books, 1961

NOTE: Henceforth verbs will be given in the vocabularies in the infinitive. pg 16

But what is worse, is that the technique used for this purpose, happens to be commonly known and understood amongst heavy users of spreadsheets, Excel users not excluded. Can anyone say @VLOOKUP or @HLOOKUP?

Let’s see, in my copy of Joe Spreadsheet, by Goldstein Software, Inc, Dryden Press, 1988, ISBN 0-03-020837-8, I find this definition of HLOOKUP, pg 188:

@HLOOKUP() works by first comparing the values in the first row of range with x. This first row is the pointer row. Once @HLOOKUP() finds a value in the pointer row which is greater than x, it backs left ine column, the goes vertically down the table to row in that column. @HLOOKUP() then returns the value in that cell.

If that’s not enough, I could quote much the same thing from my copy of The Twin: Educational Version, Prentice-Hall, 1987, ISBN 0-13-935388-7.

Ditto for Cascading Style Sheets. Or …

Do I really need to go on?

Microsoft has had the chutzpah – translated ‘stupidity’ in this case – to attempt to patent something that is so widely used and understood in both language learning and ordinary business computer usage, that one is left agasp. Microsoft appears to be volunteering for the Gratuitous Stupidity award.

Let’s not withhold something so well-deserved!