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In a Down Economy, Is the IT Industry Eating Its Own Young?

Might we soon have to pay a royalty to put a country code in an HTML document or piece of Java code?

Three recent developments - one well known, one gaining mindshare, and one that's just breaking this weekend - underline how the the industry is cannibalizing its own intellectual infrastructure to try and make a buck in a soft economy.

The first one is well known: the attempts by SCO to grab a piece of the Linux pot.

Because it has been covered at such length, I won't say much about it here, except that it seems clear to me and many others that SCO cares much more about cashing in a few dollars than the long term health of Linux as a technology. In fact, it could be argued that SCO would be quite happy if it leveraged a billion dollars out of their maneuvers, even if it left Linux a broken and unused operating system.

The second development is Verisign's piratical move to redirect all mistyped domain names to an advertising and search page that they run. Never mind that this broke several important requirements of the DNS specification. Never mind that it caused a number of spam-filtering technologies to break because they depended on detecting bogus DNS entries. This is Verisign we're talking about, the paragons of ethical integrity that sent bogus renewal notices to everyone in the known universe a few months ago, regardless of whether they were registered with Verisign. This move so enraged the community that both ICANN (who, by the way, has oversight on Verisign's contracts to manage the .net and .com TLDs) and the IAB immediately responded with cease and desist requests.

Lastly, ISO itself is talking about making ISO country and language codes (like en-US), used on every browser in the world, a royalty-generating item.

Yep, that's right, you could have to pay a royalty to put a country code in an HTML document or piece of Java code. Again, never mind that these codes (which only number a couple of hundred a piece) have been publicly available all over the Web and in reference books for years. Suddenly, the onerous job of maintaining them - which you have to believe that one temp with an Excel spreadsheet could do - requires them to charge a royalty fee.

What do all these have in common? They're attempts to turn a quick profit at the expense of the overall health of the IT community and economy.

And, in the last two cases, they come from institutions entrusted with public resources.

I've heard it said that the true test of a man is how he behaves when the chips are down. Looking at the standard set by SCO, Verisign, and ISO, the computer industry doesn't measure up very well. When things were doing well in the industry, companies competed to see who could come up with the best businesses and cool techologies. Now that things are tougher, they're showing all the morals of a flesh-eating bacteria.

More Stories By James Turner

James Turner is president of Black Bear Software. James was formerly senior editor of Linux.SYS-CON.com and has also written for Wired, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. He is currently working on his third book on open source development.

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Most Recent Comments
Curtis Wood 09/22/03 02:57:54 PM EDT

It's not just the IT industry - RIAA & DirectTV for starters...

Keith Frost 09/21/03 07:57:57 PM EDT

yep, he nailed it.

AshishK 09/21/03 04:48:10 AM EDT

Noel Bergman is reminding folks on the javasummit mailing list that "the Internet Architecture Board concluded as far back as January that Verisign's actions violate RFC
2308, and concluded that 'To restore the data integrity and predictability of the DNS infrastructure, the IAB believes it would be best to return the .com and .net TLD servers to the behavior specified by the DNS protocols.'"

Bergman continues: "I note that Verisign is the largest Certification Authority, providing root certification for
most of the world's SSL Web sites. Based upon their recent actions, it
seems that Verisign has given us ample demonstration that the Internet's
infrastructure cannot be trusted in their hands, and perhaps we need to
start re-thinking how much we trust them as a CA. I don't know about you,
but asking people with a demonstrable lack of ethics, and a dubious grasp of
the impact of their changes on Internet technologies, to hold onto master
keys is not my idea of guaranteeing integrity."
(http://www.iab.org/Documents/icann-vgrs-response.html)

softwareJoe 09/21/03 04:40:33 AM EDT

"ICANN has been monitoring community reaction, including analysis of the
technical effects of the wildcard, and is carefully reviewing the terms of
the .com and .net Registry Agreements."
(http://www.icann.org/announcements/advisory-19sep03.htm)

JonB 09/21/03 12:54:58 AM EDT

It is unfair in the extreme to compare these companies to a simple bacteria. Bacteria are single-celled organisms with a single goal of ensuring self-survival. They have no sense of other and they have no capability for understanding the concepts of right and wrong. It is unfair to the bacteria.

However, your point is well taken. It is easy to be generous, magnanimous and noble when things are going well. The true test is how one acts in adversity.

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