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Monthly Archives: December 2008

A small Indiana company has sued tech heavyweights Microsoft, Apple, and Google, claiming that it holds the patent on a common file preview feature used by browsers and operating systems to show users small snapshots of the files before they are opened.

Cygnus Systems sued the three companies on Wednesday saying that they infringed on its patent with products such as Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 8 and Google Chrome, which allow users to view preview images of documents on the computer. Mac OS X, the iPhone and Safari also infringe, the company said in court filings. Apple uses this technology in its Finder and Cover Flow Mac OS X features, the filings state.


Later in the article it mentions that Cygnus filed for the patent in 2001, and it was granted this past March. Seven years in computer time is a century, more than enough time for every known file manager, browser, and operating system to integrate these features in their entirety. It’s clear that the patent system is falling apart not only in the patents it grants but the time it takes to grant them. How can we make the patent system work better for the Internet?


In lieu of any serious reporting of any kind, I’ve decided to clarify the different uses of the name Chrome in the tech industry as of late. I’m sure if you read this you are aware of Google’s new Chrome browser, but little did you know that “chrome” is actually a general term, referring to the UI components of a web browser. For Mozilla and it’s Firefox browser it is something more specific: it refers to local XUL applications as chrome. Mozilla also uses “chrome” as a URL scheme for loading local XUL (ie, chrome) components.

Google most probably is just following the browser UI meaning. I bet some people at Mozilla were biting their tongue about the name of the new browser, in addition to the obvious fact that Chrome is fierce new competition.

I’ve just noticed a lot of confusion in the news media about the origins of the word. So now you know, Internet.

I’ve been quietly sharing a tool I’ve made to search isoHunt’s massive torrent index from the comfort of your desktop (without loading Firefox!). This is possible thanks to isoHunt’s new JSON web service which allows applications to integrate the search functionality directly, without scraping any HTML.

It supports all the features of the web service including sort by seeds, paging, links to the isohunt torrent page and direct torrent downloads.

I wrote it in C# using the excellent JSON.NET library by James Newton King. You will need the .NET Framework version 3.5 to run it (especially Vista users).

Honestly I’m doing this just for the hell of it. But if you find it useful, great! It’s released under the GPL version 3, so feel free to do anything you want within the constraints of that license.

This is the second release of this tool, but the first to be publically recorded in a blog. Grab the release from the downloads section of my website.

Before reading on I would advise putting on your troll armor, as well as your “smack the idiot” protection.

“…observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…”

It appears as if she thinks Linux is some sort of drug (“I […] tried Linux during college…”), and clearly she doesn’t understand copyright law (“At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal.”).

I think there are two misconceptions going on: 1. She thinks Linux is a proprietary product distributed similarly to Windows, and 2. She thinks the HeliOS people are providing free illegal copies of Linux to her students.

The question is, how do we efficiently spread the truth about Linux’s legality: it is OPEN SOURCE and thus complete and perfectly legal versions can be downloaded for no cost? It’s already hard enough fighting the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that Microsoft and others of the ignoramus spread related to Linux itself!

In any case it made me chuckle, so I share.

It was inevitable: only a matter of time before someone decided to pioneer the era of web music players. That someone is the Pioneers of the Inevitable, and that player is Songbird.

Songbird is a new music player application created around the same software platform that powers Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird. This gives Songbird a number of tricks for free: a powerful user-interface/web engine (Gecko), excellent cross-platform support (XULRunner), and an excellently flexible extension system (Mozilla Addons).

Underneath the hood it’s a solid audio player with the excellent open source GStreamer media system as it’s backend across all the platforms it supports. It provides extensions for playing Apple’s FairPlay and Microsoft’s WMA DRM as well as those for interacting with iPods and MTP devices (Zune and friends). The player is skinnable (Feathers in Songbird parlance), and third party extensions throw in support for retrieving album covers from the web, new ways to view content in your library, recommending new music based on the artist currently playing and much more.

But the most important part is Songbird’s integration with the web. The main player interface of Songbird displays normal music library/player controls, but the music library view is actually just a static browser tab. You can open new tabs and use Songbird as a normal browser. A number of integration features are provided including music blog support. When viewing a music blog (or any web page that links to media content), Songbird opens a pane at the bottom of the browser view showing each media item it has found, including music store links that it could find for the music. You can preview the items on the list, download the whole version (if provided by the blog), or purchase the music via Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, or Amie St.

Although few music blogs have added support for it yet, the browser even supports ecommerce integration, providing cart and checkout interfaces, and tallying the cost of the tracks you’ve selected for purchase before sending you to the checkout. The support is basic but functional and I suspect it will be receiving more attention in future development. Songbird comes pre-setup with a bookmark to the Hype Machine, a popular music blog aggregator which is a good demo for the new features.

The builtin mashTape extension provides an extensible way to mash web data related to the music you are playing. Out of the box it provides artist info from, news, photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Yahoo Music and others. Extensions can provide new data categories as well as data providers for other web services.

Songbird 1.0 was about the music. The software isn’t quite ready to handle your video collection. By default Songbird pretends like it can’t play video, instead opting to play the audio portion of the media. However the bulk of the support is there thanks to the GStreamer core, and in fact it is possible to coerce version 1.0 to play videos, but the user interface is not yet complete, so it isn’t particularly useful. To enable video in Songbird 1.0 open the URL “about:config” and change “songbird.mediacore.gstreamer.disablevideo” to false. This probably means that it won’t take many version numbers for video support to make it’s formal premiere.

As much as I’d love to see normal video file support, a lot of video watching on the web is done at Hulu and Youtube, so it’s not unreasonable to expect some extensions which allow linking Youtube videos into the library like any other media, and if I’m lucky, a similar extension for Hulu that supports it’s video queue/subscription feature :-D.

Songbird supports smart playlists in which you can set criteria about the songs you want on the list. This isn’t nearly as cool as Amarok 2’s new Bias-based dynamic playlists, although to be fair, you can use any playlist as a rule for a smart playlist.

The only real downside to Songbird is it’s startup time and general weight. Both of these are a direct result of choosing the Mozilla platform, but I think it was the right choice given the goal of creating the world’s first music player VS web mashup.