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Microsoft routes around its own COICA damage

o Mark Gibbs
06.12.2010 kl 06:25 | Network World (US)

Open Kinect accepted by MS and we get a better 'Net


Well, who would have guessed? A big "thank you" to Microsoft is in order. Just one week after I chose Microsoft as the recipient of this year's Gibbs Golden Turkey Award for being all heavy-handed and &^%$ish about hackers creating open source drivers for Microsoft's Kinect controller, the company goes and reverses its position.

After the hack Microsoft said it was going to "work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant," which sounded pretty threatening. But when CNN interviewed two Microsofties after the incident and asked, "So no one is going to get in trouble?" The reply was, "Nope. Absolutely not."

The phrase "no one is going to get in trouble" embodies the rather strange idea on CNN's side that somebody could have got into trouble. What's more ridiculous is that the Microsoft people didn't say that the idea of somebody getting into trouble over writing drivers for the Kinect was nonsensical (which it is); they simply said trouble wasn't going to happen, which sounds pretty arrogant.

Anyway, according to the article, the Microsoft representatives said that "Microsoft was 'inspired' by how fans and hobbyists were adapting its camera." Does that imply that Microsoft couldn't have predicted that people would be excited by their product? When did Microsoft become so modest? Wasn't the famous "Monkey boy" chant ("Developers, developers, developers") all about Microsoft's commitment to third parties supporting and enhancing their products?

Curiously, what Microsoft is doing in this case is very Internet-like: The company is routing around the damage – of course it's their own damage, but the principle still applies.

The idea of routing around damage relates to a quote from John Gilmore, a famous computer scientist and a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Gilmore said, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it", and the same can be said for any kind of damage to the online world: The 'Net is a living thing which means it is adept at self-preservation and recovery from injury. This is something that politicians and anyone who would attempt to remove first amendment rights would do well to remember.

Here's a case in point: The passing, in unseemly and ill-considered haste, of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that allows the effective shutting down of Web sites alleged to be involved in music and or video piracy. As I have discussed in other columns, the way the Justice Department plans to do this is by requiring ISPs to stop resolving domain names to IP addresses.

The most disturbing thing about COICA is that it essentially short-circuits due process and thereby becomes a powerful vehicle for censorship. And what did Gilmore specifically reference? Yep, censorship.

We've seen the impact that the Internet has had in China and the Far East where restrictive and despotic regimes have tried to rein in the influence of the 'Net in the public sphere … and it hasn't worked; the 'Net just recovers and carries on.

The passing of COICA has many people worried about what it might mean in practice and already solutions to minimizing the bill's consequences are being talked about.

One of the coolest responses comes from Peter Sunde, a co-founder of the infamous Pirate Bay. Sunde has started a project to create a decentralized DNS system based on peer-to-peer (P2P) technology! Potentially everyone could own the DNS system.

But what is so interesting is that the "environmental" pressure of idiotic bills like COICA and the over-reaching activity of the RIAA and MPAA are pushing the Internet's evolution; these misguided efforts will, in the long run, make the Internet stronger and more robust.

So, even though Thanksgiving has passed maybe we should give thanks that Microsoft has seen sense and that we're being forced to improve the 'Net.

Gibbs is once again, thankful in Ventura, Calif. Your alternative choice for the Gibbs Golden Turkey to

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Keywords: Software  
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