Friday, October 19, 2012

Perils of free software

My son, David, is a Stallmanite. This means that he has a religious attachment to free software. 

He recommended "Libre Office" to me for use on my new deskbook, since I did not want to pay for Microsoft Office. I used this software to work on my third novel last summer.

Now I'm back using Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 and trying to process the .rtf files generated by Libre Office.

I had previously noted last sumer that Libre Office deleted a lot of punctuation from the .rtif files coming from WORD, which was a huge problem. Now I am noticing that it inserted Chinese characters going back to WORD.  It particularly seemed to create a sequence that results in WORD for mac 2011 interpreting directional apostrophes and quotation marks as part of the succeeding character.

My son's passion for free software is undiminished and he believes I should abandon .rtf files in favor of open document files. He cites

I have corresponded with Libre Office. They apparently lack Microsoft Word for mac 2011 and therefore cannot reproduce the problem.

On the one hand, I suspect that David is right that Microsoft is doing things to make its file formats indecipherable so that competitors cannot make software that reads them. On the other hand, I value compatibility more than idealism on this issue and feel annoyed with David for inducing me to take on this obscure office suite.

Addendum 11/3/12

My son persists in touting the benefits of free software and cites this:

Addendum 11/26/12

Someone claims that Libre Office 3.6.3 has corrected this problem.  I don't know.

Addendum 12/20/12

I had an old computer around running Windows that had died of a virus.  I had already paid twice to revive it, $200 a pop; and did not want to pay again.  We decided to install Ubuntu on it.  Then we wanted to add a wireless card, so we could interface with our wireless router.  We bought a netis WF-2117.  It doesn't work.  I contacted them.  They say they only support Windows.  Frustrating.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A copy of my comment from Judge Posner's recent blog

Here in the USA, we live in an environment where traditionally there have been patents and copyrights.  This legal tradition has encouraged a culture where innovation is valued, because innovators have reaped the rewards of innovation.  In cultures where innovation was not rewarded, innovation was not valued in the same way.  As a result of the culture established here, due to strong intellectual property protection, the USA has traditionally had the best science and engineering in the world.

Software people cite the early progress in the software industry, when patent protection was either not available or not sought, as evidence that patent protection is not necessary.  This is a fallacy.

First, those software people worked in this culture that had engrained encouragement for innovation that came from our history of intellectual property protection.

Second, there was quite early on a strong move for at least copyright protection to help out those innovators.  Early copyright cases quickly started talking about protecting "structure, sequence, and organization," to try to extend protection as broadly as possible.  This was a bit of a stretch in the law, but it showed a recognition of the importance of rewarding those who created economic benefit to the country.

Problems with software patents have continued because at first the United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to hire patent examiners with a computer science background, so poor art searches were performed.

More problems have been created because the original Supreme Court  case on this topic, Gottshalk v Benson, has severe logical flaws and a nonsensical result.  I encourage people to read my brief in the Bilski case for more discussion of that.  My brief is up on my blog.

The nonsensical opinion in that first case has resulted in extensive legal uncertainty and much litigation, leaving the entire field of patent protection for software unsettled for almost half a decade.

Have nots always want to take from haves.  People who don't have money want to take money from people who do.  People who don't have houses want to take housing from people who do.  People who do not have intellectual property want to take it from those who do.   I find this ethos repugnant.

Patents need to be whole heartedly endorsed by statute and the entire line of cases stemming from Gottshalk v Benson needs to be overturned.  

Moreover, the idea that mathematics is not an invention also needs to be overturned.