Dec 23, 2012

When $12b = $1.5b

Read some amazing news recently at Forbes - Google's purchase of Motorola cost much less then assumed because

1. Acquired cash about $3b , strangely not many think of netting it off as it should be done...
2. Tax breaks which could amount to $5-6b over a few years
3. Sold off the set top business for about $2b

Net net, they almost got the patents free or got rest of M free if they paid for patents...

Reason I mention this is because some anti Google shills have been spreading FUD about how the acquisition has been a disaster without understanding the nuances

Dec 20, 2012

More bad news for Apple!! Pinch to zoom invalid

It seems in more ways than one Apple has to look back to find better days.

Now a most critical patent, a key part of the $1b verdict is deemed invalid. This is a big big blow. Let us see what the judge does, since by now all the non-design patents of that trial are under cloud. And she herself expressed doubts on the design ones. The biased mockingbird jury did not even consider validity or prior art, in its botched up job executed in great haste.

But the American legal system is not just one courthouse, so it may yet redeem itself

Don't be surprised if the entire case is reduced to nothing, even before appeals.

Samsung can take care of itself, it has money. But these lawsuits make it harder for 800 pound tech gorillas to blackmail and destroy smaller rivals using sleaze ball  lawyers and a dysfunctional patent system. That's the big reason we should all celebrate Samsung's victories. Or Google's for that matter.

Dec 18, 2012

A rotten verdict for Apple!

Perhaps reeling under the flood of negative coverage following the jury verdict, even assailed as a Kangaroo court by some observers, Judge Koh delivered a blow to Apple - denying injunction on the matter. Which means Samsung merely pays the $1b, which was described by Apple's own lawyers as a mere slap on the wrist!

Mind you, two of the patents used for the kangaroo verdict were thrown out on subsequent proceedings in USPTO. There were numerous other errors in the verdict by the jury which I had described earlier as "Mockingbird jury". All of which means the verdict itself will be trimmed, most likely, by Judge Koh herself, if not on the feather used to tap Samsung on the wrist is likely to become even softer and gentler.

Apple's strategy of using California courts (its track record elsewhere is pathetic) to destroy Samsung is now in tatters..

The case will go to the appeals court, no doubt. But the court where it likely ends up next is the one that threw out the Galaxy Nexus injunction (which perhaps influenced Judge Koh in delivering this verdict), so if you are a Apple fan, don't hold your breath!!

In the meantime, Apple stock is falling. Because, its own Mini, sold cheap to compete with Android tablets, is eating into full price IPAD sales. This is what I predicted earlier

Competition is great isn't it? Apple is not going to go back to the happy days of fleecing whatever it wants from its buyers any more..

Nov 13, 2012

Taken 2 - A review

I am not much of a regular movie goer, but happened to watch Taken (the first one). Sort of liked it particularly because Liam Neeson acted so well. So when the sequel came out, it was more or less an obligation to watch it.

Fans of Hollywood are used to heroes (typically American, with an odd briton thrown in, wait for the Skyfall review!), saving the entire world with their valour. So it is a bit of change to watch a hero that has more modest ambitions - that of saving his own family. Not that he short changes your expectations in any way. If Sly Stallone manages to reduce the Vietnamese population to a great extent, Neeson practically makes Albanians extinct. Sparing a few that are probably saved for the next sequel.

The film starts with a Islamic burial ceremony in remote Albania, a precursor to a lot of violence and deaths that follow. The chief villain, father of the baddie killed by Neeson in Episode 1, is now out for revenge. The fact that his son kidnapped young women, drugged and forced them into prostitution seems to be lost on him. At one point, he even says that doesn't matter. Perhaps the message here is a bit political - the justification of terror and violence using grievances often false in the first place.

The scene of most action is the Turkish capital of Istanbul. In fact the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar featured in this film are also used for a thrilling motorcycle chase in Skyfall. Wonder if the producers managed to get some sort of volume discount from the Turkish government or perhaps a fee for promoting tourism.

Neeson, as usual, features in every scene and shows what a fine actor he is. Just the right mix of anger, worry and affection for his family that he manages to consistently portray throughout the film. His ex-wife, who will probably end up as his wife again by the time Taken 3 is out, is also played by a very good actor, Jamke Hansen. Talking of connections to James Bond, she was villainess in one of the Bond movies.

Thanks to these two actors, with decent backup by others, we can forgive the somewhat silly and unbelievable sequences. Like the smoke signal one. Having secured a gun through this miracle, and making his priorities clear, Neeson leaves his bleeding wife behind in the villains' den, going after his daughter who is threatened by a lone gunner. When he comes back, he finds her gone, and follows her captors to a Turkish Hamam (bathing house) where the movie ends in predictable fashion. Villain dead, but not before clarifying that he has yet another son who will take over his duties in the next sequel. One wonders what other kidnapping the director will dream up for that one, since the entire family has been through it now. Perhaps there is a grandfather kept in reserve.

One particularly hilarious (no, the director did not have comedy in mind) scene has Neeson calling his friend in USA to stop the American embassy guards from firing on his vehicle. That is after he crashed through the gates and barriers, killing a few more in the process and lands right in front of the main lobby. Oh by the way, the car was driven by his daughter who failed the driving test back home.

The inevitable question that is on everyone's mind when it comes to sequels - Is this better than Taken 1? Probably not. Why? Because the actions sequences in the first one was a lot more exciting and less filmy.

But I did enjoy watching it so it is worth the $10 I spent on it..

Nov 12, 2012

A thermonuclear settlement?

Thermo nuclear wars have never been fought in the real world, at least not yet, thanks! But one can guess that if such a war starts, meek settlement is not one of the options on the table..

So Apple settles with HTC. What gives? Some are trying to spin this as yet another Apple 'victory' and a defeat for HTC and by definition, Google.

Facts speak otherwise.

  • HTC CFO was defiant even a few weeks earlier, after the Samsung verdict. Which means the settlement has come on terms it can live with, simply a sort of avoid-nuisance payment. 
  • The press release talks of negligible financial impact. Obviously it must be a trivial per-device $, not some huge one time bill which HTC will have to report to shareholders.
  • Given the insensitivity, greed, arrogance and "take no prisoners, everyone walks the plank" approach shown by Apple consistently throughout its history, it is obvious, it was not exactly winning this case anyway or it would not have settled. Far from that, it can be safely guessed that some HTC patents are worth a lot more than assumed.
  • It is ridiculous to assume that Apple is helping HTC defeat Samsung. There are better ways to go about that and it does not help anyway. Not many are going to line up in queue for the next HTC device, like they do for Galaxy Note 2, just because Apple settles with it.
  • It is also silly to assume that Google is not behind this. They work closely with HTC for years now, and Google has been reportedly advising HTC on this matter
  • It is also silly to compare this with Nokia - Apple settlement - Apple paid $$$ there. Or with Microsoft - Barnes+Noble settlement as some anti-google shills are trying to spin. Again, Microsoft paid big money there and perhaps took some small amount (again, per-device) back as 'license'. Give me $600m, I will sign a sweeter patent licensing deal with Microsoft as announcement-ware.
It can also be argued that this only strengthens Google and the Android community, including Samsung. Because it weakens the thermonuclear blackmail case. You don't have Don Corleone issuing threats and then announcing such settlements. Unless he is not a Don in the first place..

Updated on 20 Nov:

Our suspicions have turned out correct - HTC CEO has clarified that $6-8 is ridiculous and outrageous. Which means Apple is getting FAR LESS. Which practically means it is getting nothing.

Oct 31, 2012

Upgrading Linux (Ubuntu) is so hard

Many of us will be upgrading our desktop and laptop computers to Windows 8, the latest and greatest avatar of  Microsoft's cash cow. While Windows 7 users may see a fairly smooth process, notwithstanding some negative reviews, it will be much more difficult for XP and Vista users. M$ says you have to reinstall applications in such cases. Now that is a 2 or 3 day project depending on how many apps you have and if you find the CDs, keys and do endless service pack updates for some of them. Assuming of course, that they work with Windows 8

Now just how hard is it to upgrade Ubuntu Linux from, say, version 10.04 to a newer one (11.10)?

Well I had this VMWare virtual machine that was built with 10 and wanted to move to 11.

What did I do? Two things:

  1. Open the terminal 
  2. Type 'do_version_upgrade' and press ENTER

That's all folks!

In about 30 min or so, thanks to the reasonably fast net connection, it was all DONE, signed, sealed and delivered, with just one restart at the end of the entire process.

All applications were not just left unharmed, they too were upgraded!

Oct 23, 2012

This is big - Rubber band patent trashed

You can Google for details....USPTO has trashed the so-called rubber band patent, which was stretched by Apple to go after anything and everything that involves a touch interface..

Of course, there will be appeals which will go on forever but the significance of this decision is not to be reduced in any manner..

What this means is one of the key pillars of the $1b verdict, (full of totalling errors and obvious bias on the part of the jury foreman who was himself accused of lying to get the job), is in ruins and the verdict itself, or Apple's chance of collecting that money or enforcing any injunction, is in qyestion.

It may yet be possible that US 'justice' system redeems itself and gets a chance to wipe out the shame of being labelled  'Kangaroo court' by columnists.

Oct 12, 2012

Nexus ban issue - Appeals court sets the bar quite high

The recent judgement by the US Appeals court, lifting the interim ban on Nexus has some very interesting guidelines and judicial pronouncements. These could affect not just the present case, and the general Apple-Samsung dispute but several such infringement cases.

After all, when you are talking about two mega tech gorillas that rake in billions of dollars in QUARTERLY profits, it is not a fine of $1B, high as it is, that is going to break their is the injunction, interim or otherwise, that affects sales, market share and of course, profits.

And in a market where product life cycles are measured in weeks, if not days, an interim injunction can be as good as a death penalty, regardless of the outcome of the litigation itself, which may take years.

Hence the need for a very high bar, that can only be crossed with great difficulty, in rarest of rare cases.

So what's the criteria? There is a four-way test ( I am not quoting the judges verbatim, to keep things simple)

1. The infringement claim itself should likely succeed
2. Irreparable harm, 

and as if these two alone are not enough,

3. Balance of equities tips in favor of accuser
4. Public interest

The last test may be more than enough to derail any ban or injunction in some cases.

Furthermore, in cases like the Nexus one, where the entire product is not infringing, but only a minority (in this case, just one) of features infringe, the accusing party as to show that the irreparable harm cited above is due to the alleged infringement. You can call it the NEXUS factor! And it is not a pun!!

In other words, just saying I lost sales is not enough..did you lose it because of that infringement? What if customers would have anyway bought the phone, without the feature?

The nexus has to be sufficiently strong. How do you prove that? By showing that it drives consumer demand, for instance. The link has to be substantial. As the judge puts it, you cannot tick that item off by showing some insubstantial connection between harm and the infringement.

Apple failed in the nexus factor and the judges also questioned the very first item - likelihood of success. I will ignore that aspect as it goes into semantics of claim construction and the significance of words like 'each' and 'plurality of modules' etc. Enough to say it does not look good for Apple. Obviously that is mainly concerning this particular case unlike the other parts of judgement which are quite far reaching in their impact.

Remember this appeal is only about the injunction, not the infringement lawsuit itself.

[In brief] Nexus ban lifted!

The prophets of gloom and doom for Android can start preparing their hideouts...can there be a clearer message?

We hold that the district court abused its discretion in enjoining the sales of the Galaxy Nexus

And with more mud now being thrown against the jury foreman who, according to Samsung, concealed vital information in the jury selection process and the fact that vital evidence was not allowed to be presented in the trial itself, it is anybody's guess if that verdict will stand at all.

Look like Groklaw and others are fully justified in calling the Apple-Samsung trial as a 'farce'. 

Perhaps litigants, particularly those from overseas should now demand that all trials against American companies be held outside the USA if not, at least away from the home states of the American entity involved..

Sep 6, 2012

The new Lumia 920 - great design but is it enough?

I am yet to see the phone other than in pictures in videos. But that is enough to appreciate the sort of talent Nokia has for design. Cutting edge technology plus the European design flair.

The spoiler, of course, is the fact that Nokia doesn't want to announce when it will go on sale. Unless they have a shocking surprise in store, that would be well after the new Iphone is out with larger screen and millions of pre-orders, making the Lumia announcement as exciting and fresh as candidate John McCain's concession speech.

And let us also not forget, anyone that spent money on the 900 and see it wasted as Microsoft and Nokia together abandon their existing users chasing new ones, is NOT going to spend money again and buy another Nokia. So they likely have to look for Iphone/Android camp defectors. Perhaps they have a chance if the new Iphone launch is goofed up big time by Apple. Either in terms of features or execution (delayed supplies,  initial teething defects etc). Even then Nokia may be too late to capture Apple loyals

Let us not forget that HTC will announce a new flagship on Sept. 19th and Motorola has been busy too. Samsung too is not going to keep quiet. So it would be a safe bet to say if someone defects from Android camp, that would not be for lack of choice.

But Nokia has a few things going for it this time around

  • The new windows OS is similar across phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops. So for the first time, Microsoft's enormous market share in non-phone arena can help Nokia.
  • Nokia has managed to attract unprecedented buzz, something to do with its nearly-dead hospice status and of course, to its beautiful new designs.
  • There are still a lot of users out there with fond memories of great Nokia phones
  • There are lots of new buyers out there that are buying their first smartphone and feel Microsoft is the way to go.
  • Other vendors don't seem to take Windows phone seriously enough, despite Android's legal woes. That means if someone wants to buy Windows, he is likely going to buy Nokia. I am saying this despite that fact that Samsung sold more Windows phones than Nokia in the US!

To summarise, a great product spoiled by bad execution and timing.

Aug 28, 2012

Samsung verdict - Why it is no big deal

The web is full of alarmist and doomsday predictions about the impact of the verdict. Yes, it is a setback, no doubt. But this is not end of the world for Samsung. And we are not talking about '$1 billion? It is 2% of their monthly sales' sort of financial justifications here...

Let us look at them..

The American market is big, but no longer that big

There was a time when Americans checking tyre pressure could save more gas than is consumed in all of China. Not any more.

And it is getting less relevant almost on a daily basis...China is already the biggest smartphone market and brands like Meizu and Lenovo, who dont sell much, if any, in the US are raking in big dollars selling feature laden smart phones that rival the Iphone ...for a substantial discount. Guess what operating system they run on? Android. To a lesser extent, South East Asia, India and other large markets are also huge markets for smart phones and growing at rates a mature market like USA can never match.

The lawsuit only affects phones already obsolete or nearly so

Bit like Toyota forced to stop selling the 2009 Camry.

Samsung's own flag ship S3 as well as newer versions are not affected. At least not by this lawsuit. And Samsung may have been stupid in the past, but they surely would have learnt a lesson, however wrong the lesson is from a moral or legal standpoint.

So all this talk of huge gains for Nokia and Microsoft are complete nonsense. No one is going to visit a phone shop, find no Samsung models and hence end up buying Nokia.

Google is least bothered - just read their press release.

They just survived a far bigger danger - Oracle trying to attack the very core of Android. Compared to that the Samsung case is (even those that go into phone features and not design) about peripheral features that not many will miss even if completely taken out and not just replaced with non-offending versions. Who cares if the icons bounce or they don't?

Android is bigger than smart phones and it is growing..

Remember the old Sun slogan? Java Everywhere..that went nowhere. Well, Google has done it. With Android. There are big global players releasing all sorts of stuff running Android - from motor vehicle dashboards to refrigerators and cameras to even small satellites!

And none of that is going to run Windows or IOS ever! And these companies are not stupid, they have lawyers too and know how to do due diligence.

Time is on Android's side

Remember everyone used to say that 'Apple computers are so easy, my grandmother can use it. Not like Windows'. Well, with all that M$ beat up Apple in the marketplace and drove their stock down to $9. Jobs got fired. And Windows did catch up on features and ease of use and became pervasive.

Same thing may yet happen again. Android is fast closing the gap and is even leapfrogging. There is hardly any popular application left that runs only on IOS. More importantly, Google has no existing fat holy cows to protect. Apple and Microsoft do. For every cheap tablet sold, Microsoft loses a higher value Windows (plus Office which is even more profitable) sales opportunity. With every cheaper 7" tablet sold, Apple loses killer margins on its larger IPAD. But it may be forced to do the same, simply to protect market share and mind share. 

Perhaps that common fear and loathing explains the unusual Apple - Microsoft deal to share IP even though Jobs had said his IP is for Apple to exploit, not to lease out to others.

To be continued..

Samsung verdict - Justice or a Mockingbird killed?

That the US patent system is broken and badly needs a fix hardly needs repetition. Dubious patents seem to be the rule not exception. You don't even have to be a respected judge and scholar like Justice Posner to know it. When two clever Indians wanted to "patent" the medical properties of turmeric, known to grandmothers in India for thousands of years, they went to the most advanced country in the world to do so. It took years of costly battles to get that overturned. But don't be surprised if some manages to patent yet another well known grandma's recipe, perhaps the humble neem or Indian gooseberry.

If you are an eternal optimist you can see this as another case of bureaucratic bungling or if you are conspiracy theorist you can think of this as a clever plan to help American companies. Conspiracy theorists would no doubt see the Apple vs Samsung verdict as evidence confirming their worst suspicions.

Delivering a slam-bang-thankyou-mam verdict in three days flat on a complex case where just reading the instructions and filling out the verdict form diligently should have taken that long, if not longer, the jury has raised serious doubts about its job. It is little wonder that ridiculous totalling and other errors were made. The jurors even confessed they had made up their mind on Day one itself, even before Samsung said anything, and had not bothered to read the instructions. A weird side effect of the jury's botched job is that Apple lost that one aspect of the case where its pre-trial chances were strongest, based on injunctions granted - the one against Galaxy Tab. If Judge Koh reverses that ruling she must pretty much acknowledge that this jury has been incompetent or in a tearing hurry to get it over with and go home, having made up its mind even before evidence was presented. If she doesn't  it would then put a question mark over her the wisdom of her own enthusiastic eagerness to ban the tab even before the trial was held because it was 'substantially similar'.

As if all these are not enough, the jury foreman also bragged that they 'punished' Samsung, which is completely nonsensical and against common sense as well as what they jury were told - to compensate Apple for lost profits (if any) and not 'punish'.

In so many ways, this jury is not that different from the 'mockingbird' jury.

No wonder words like unfair, biased and all sorts of other allegations are being thrown around.

Perhaps Samsung's attorney was predicting the future when he blurted out the honest but injudicious truth - 'why even have a trial' when he was barred from presenting prior art evidence because it was 'late'.

But it is never too late. There will be appeals where it is not a jury but judges that will hear the case. Hopefully the American legal and justice system will come out smelling a little bit better at the end of the process. Or will it still be held hostage by nonsensical patents and $1,200 an hour lawyers and $100 Billion companies and their paid shills that abuse it for their commercial benefits?

Time will tell..

Aug 17, 2012

Samsung vs Apple vs Samsung - What next?

 If my own servant could not believe my innocence, how could I hope to make it good before twelve foolish tradesmen in a jury-box? - Quote from the "Sign of Four" a Sherlock Holmes tale by Arthur Conan Doyle

Geeks and non-geeks alike showed a lot of interest in this particular lawsuit.  It has been fun watching all the legal fireworks. Just as it happened with the Oracle vs Google trial, we are at a critical phase.

What will happen?

Predicting outcome in such cases, involving jury trial, even with complete knowledge of facts and law is a dangerous game. Anything can happen. We can only weigh the various possible outcomes, given what we have seen reported in the media, and put some rough guestimates to them.

1. CEOs will meet, talk and settle

While chances are low, this can still happen. Apple may decide it is not going to get much by way of leverage , at best a few millions, which is pocket change anyway. Samsung may realise too that fighting lawsuits in an alien country where they have to fly in Korean speaking staff who need translators and so forth is not really easy.

If they do settle, it will be to preserve their overall relationship which is worth a lot more than what this trial is about. While both can find other partners, costs go up when you rule out one big player and mark him as an enemy.

Probability - less than 2 in 10.

2. Apple wins, big, gets the entire $2.5b it wanted

Apple getting a large financial settlement and/or an injunction against CURRENT and POPULAR models, not ones that are anyway dead or outdated is surely one possible outcome. But the most recent and popular models are not even part of this lawsuit. And in any case, Samsung will learn and has probably already learnt the lesson and remove offending features, like others did.

That only leaves money on the table - chances of Apple getting the $2.5b it asked for are about as much as Oracle getting the $6b it wanted against Google - zilch. Because it is inevitable that Apple's team would have painted the numbers and the judge will trim it down. Even that reduced number will be apportioned towards offending aspects. A few hundred millions, enough to embarrass but not kill Samsung, is probably what you can expect.

And we are not even talking about appeals here.

Probability - less than 2 in 10

3. Samsung wins, big, along the lines of Google in the Oracle trial, pays nothing

Samsung has thrown a few spanner in the works - prior arts claims, which appear extremely credible, tablet designs that pre-date IPAD launch, dramatic testimony by the Korean designer who missed feeding her baby because she was too busy designing phones..any female juror balancing her career with domestic life will surely nod her head in understanding.

When the whole thing is listed down and debits and credits are tallied and reconciled by jurors, who are by no means patent experts or tech gurus, I suspect there will be one or two jurors who will either rebel or force moderation of any verdict.

Remember, it has to be unanimous - or nothing.

Probability - 5 out of 10

4. Apple wins, but not a huge victory. Life goes on.

Apple has a few smoking guns - the superficial similarity of the phones with Apple's models (assuming prior art defence collapses), emails from Google and so forth. I seriously don't think so called smoking guns about Samsung's internal comparisons will matter because firms do that all the time. That is brainstorming, benchmarking and rallying the troops.

Samsung's defence has been fairly strong too. See (3) above. They are known in the states as a strong tech company that designs great products - LCD TVs, monitors and so forth. No reasonable judge will treat Samsung the way a Chinese copycat will be treated. Although that is the impression Apple seeks to leave in the marketplace.

So it is entirely possible that jury will grant a theoretical victory to Apple but in the damages phase, when all things are considered, the judge will give Apple much less than what it wanted. And we all know how greedy Apple has been.

And in any appeal, Samsung will most likely get to present the F700 model it was not allowed to present in this trial because it was too late. That will surely boost its case. It looks a lot like IPHONE before IPHONE was launched.

Probability - 6 out of 10

Let us wait for the result...

Aug 5, 2012

Samsung vs Apple: America on trial?

When it comes to being 'investor friendly', 'transparent', 'fair to foreign investors' etc., it would seem that it is only the non-western nations that have to bend over backwards and do things that please the 'foreign investor' even as western nations, United States in particular, erect barrier after barrier that protects their businesses and companies and tilt scales in their favour without having to explain. On the contrary others are supposed 'understand and respect' their legal systems.

The lawyer infested, highly litigious American legal system, has already attracted a lot of negative press, even within USA. In the context of the high-tech business, patent trolls, abusive industry titans and their destructive lawsuits have attracted a lot of negative publicity and several legislators and very respected judges have taken up the case for patent reform before too much damage is done.

While Apple may not be a troll with no other business as with many other full-time trolls, many see the present dispute with Samsung as a simple case of Apple bullying Samsung by throwing money around, trying to patent anything that is 'rectangular and has glass screen'.

The American justice system is no doubt capable of delivering justice, at least in a vast majority of cases subject only to the usual human failings, and is perhaps one of the best that is out there despite all ills caused by sleaze-bag lawyers and greedy trolls. But, just as people were watching carefully lawsuits against Korean majors in Korea itself, when they are pitted against MNCs, no doubt many people are watching this particular case to see if the system can not only be fair, but also seen to be fair.

If you recall, when Samsung was fighting lawsuits in Korea itself, the usual nonsense about bias, 'investor confidence in legal system' and innuendo of that sort were thrown about by many 'independent' analysts.

Strangely the coverage in US media has been largely anti-Samsung, a lot of it propaganda fed by vested interests. If you just read western media, you may be forgiven for thinking that Samsung does nothing but copy, has no original technology and Apple is as pure as fresh snow. Anyone that has watched the tech space will know that is nonsense.

Disturbing signs are also emerging on other aspects of the case

  • While Apple is allowed to go town and shout aloud about copying, piracy and all sorts of unproven allegations, issue press releases and spread FUD by the minute, allegations that any juror can lay his hands on with a lot more ease, when Samsung presents evidence, that too stuff already in the public domain, it is seen as trying to influence jury!
  • Some reports already talk about 'home advantage' for Apple because the jury are largely from Apple's base where it obviously is a large employer and means a lot to local economy. 

The American justice system is also on trial, will it deliver? Will it be seen as doing so? Or is it not a level playing field?

Time will tell.

Jul 19, 2012

An obsession with forms in triplicate, endorsed by 'gazetted officers'

Even as others move on to the 20th, and 21st centuries, Indian bureaucracy (aka 'babudom' in Indian English) remains obsessed with paper forms, filled out in triplicate or quadruplicate if not quntuplicate, endorsed by 'gazetted officers' which also includes managers working for 'Public sector' banks.

Recently I had to get my 'digital signature' renewed - and my identify 'proof' which is my driving license, has to be photocopied and the copy endorsed by a gazetted officer or bank manager. Needless to say, I had to spend some time finding one. Living in a city it is easier, that too if you are privileged to walk into any bank and ask for one because you are a customer of standing or a potential one. If you are not, and you are one of the proverbial 'unwashed Indian mass' then good luck!

By the way, I went to a 'Public sector' bank to find a manager, because by the standards of government sloth, it is easier to find and beg a bank manager for signature than find a true blue 'babu' in a government office - that will be a half day project, even in the city, unless you happen to be son or nephew of one. Or have servants and minions to despatch on such important matters. Thankfully the manager was a nice man. Perhaps he has been chastened by recent influx of private and foreign banks that has turned unnecessary waste of time tasks such as smiling, serving customer and entertaining visitors a necessary evil.

Incidentally such endorsements and signatures are required for lots and lots of things, not just digital certificates.

Talking of digital signatures, for the recent renewal of signature, I changed vendors because the earlier one, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, (An institution that will probably defend babus and babudom to death because they create enormous revenues through such signatures, endorsements and paperwork requirements) is yet to discover that credit card, net banking and other forms of electronic payments exist. To them it is 'demand draft drawn on a nationalised bank, payable at Delhi'. Yet another uniquely Indian bureaucratic document that requires you to waste half a day queueing up for and getting one, guess where, at a 'Public sector' bank!!

Indians must be one of the very few unfortunate citizens that have to fill out a long form with all the details that are already available in the passport, such as date of birth, address, passport number etc. both while exiting and re-entering India. There is yet another form within a form, that has exact same info, to be handed out to yet another branch of babudom standing guard at our airports - the Customs. Whether or not you have anything to declare other than your tiredness and irritation after a long flight.

Many countries are doing away with such nonsensical forms even for aliens, let alone citizens.

Recently I went to Malaysia and was pleasantly surprised when the Immigration officer said I don't have to fill out any form! Both at entry and at exit, even though I carry an Indian passport.

After all, a swipe of the passport at the machine reader will let the officer see and store everything anyway, without even the form, but then lots of useless public sector or government jobs get created and sustained, keeping lots of parasites busy if forms have to be read, checked, handled, counted, transported, audited, filed away and so on...

And if they are in triplicate, then three times as many are kept busy!! Even better!!!!

It also allows our 'babus' to harass anyone that filled out one field wrong and harangue him. If you are a poor farmer or a labourer, you have even 'better' chances of getting the rough end of the stick. Our babus get pervert and sadistic pleasure out of seeing the discomfort and inconvenience of those they are supposed to serve.

If you ask any question, you will get the omnibus excuse of  'security'. And you are supposed to shut up and not ask how filling out forms can stop terrorist attacks or improve security.

Jul 18, 2012

An update on Nokia - they should consider Android

Back in November, I was not sanguine about the prospects of Nokia+M$ combo. This is what I said..

What can Nokia Windows phone do that HTC or other makes can't? Your guess is as good as mine. And what can Nokia do to enhance the pathetic mind share and market share that Windows 7 has managed to command, despite endorsement from LG, HTC and others? God knows.

Here is the link..

Now sales figures confirm the suspicion - Overall Windows phone share is pathetic at about 1% and interestingly, Nokia is not even the leading seller of Windows phone, Samsung is!! Despite all the hype about the Lumia 900.

BTW, my other prediction about Motorola did not unfortunately pan out the way I hoped ..because of ridiculous over pricing by Motorola.

Where is the fragmentation?

Remember all the controversy about Android 'fragmentation' because not all are running the same version of Android? How we were told that such things are not possible with Microsoft Windows Phone because updates apply to all phones?

Now comes the shocker - the new Windows Phone 8 will NOT support old devices, including the so-called flagship Lumia 900. Anyone buying that has guaranteed obsolescence.

And this is a nice gift to Nokia from Microsoft for having agreed to a one-sided monopoly where Nokia gives up on all its other OSs and does only Windows Phone, and Microsoft continues to work with all and sundry.

What can Nokia do?

The answer is simple - even though competition is tough, and the market has moved on, it has to join the Android bandwagon. Samsung, LG, HTC and all other johny-come-latey's to the party will then feel the heat - because a company that has been making great phones for as long as anyone cares to remember will show them there is still life left in Nokia. May be teach them a few design lessons along the way.

After all, it is not as if too many vendors cannot produce phones on the same OS and fail to differentiate...that's not how the PC market works, does it? Tons of companies produce the same Intel+Windows Ultrabooks, laptops and desktops and manage to survive, beat competition and carve out niches.

With Nokia in the same boat, the emphasis will shift to design and features - not whether it is Jelly bean or some other bean inside.

Is this the Plan B that Nokia's Chairman recently spoke about? Hope so..

Jul 15, 2012

The solar paradox

Last year (2011), the world saw installation of solar power reach 27.4 gigawatts or 27 megawatts. A typical modern nuclear reactor is in the range of 1 to 1.3 gigawatts so the world added about 25 nuclear reactors size power capacity.

It is even more strange that Europe, associated more with cool temperate climate, accounts for almost 40% of the installations - primarily Germany, not even southern Europe which is warmer and hence logically more suitable!

That simply shows there is a long way to go and the potential is HUGE!!!.

This year (2012), Japan will literally see a explosion of solar installation, primarily driven by a very attractive subsidy plan that gives generous feed-in-tariffs. China too will add huge capacity.

It is time India gets into this game big time..after all the most logical place in the world for solar to catch on is right here!

The best part of this is, unlike other countries where the solar panels replace electricity produced mostly through relatively clean means - hydro, nuclear or efficient coal based plants, in India, solar, at least in initial years, will replace hugely expensive and noisy, polluting diesel - and reduce reliance on imported oil. Because people use diesel generators to beat power cuts and energy shortages that are chronic and widespread. Many reports claim that solar is ALREADY cheaper for such usage, even factoring in capital costs....

And one wonders if decision makers are even thinking holistically - for example, if you factor in transmission cost, losses and the huge costs involved in running wires to remote villages, locally produced solar and other forms of renewable energy may be cheaper even today! A simple Rupees per watt calculation may not throw up such linkages.

Of course, solar cannot make the grid irrelevant, even for remote villages. But then if you consider the fact that these remote villages are having neither grids nor power, it is not a bad deal to go first with solar.

Jul 8, 2012

Ban on Nexus - big deal!

No one seems to have noticed the most important aspect of the so-called ban on Nexus sales, in the US.

  • Firstly, let us be clear - this ban only affects US, which though an important market, is nowhere as important as it used to be years ago.  
  • Secondly, Google has already gotten around the problem by producing a temporary 'fix' while still fighting the case in court through multiple strategies - invalidating the original patent, claiming non-infringement and mitigating impact if these strategies fail.

But the most important aspect is that the ban is a consequence of alleged violation of the 'Siri' voice search patent - mind you this was not even a feature of iPhone until recently, and hence is nowhere connected to the   ridiculous statement that the entire Android product is a 'rip-off'. That is what Jobs said of Microsoft Windows too, and we know where they stand in terms of market share..

The rest of the so-called patents which US seems to grant to any Tom Dick and Harry that has money to pay to lawyers without doing any homework, are in serious trouble in more sober, less litigation prone locations like U.K. And they did not meet the test of importance that merits a ban.

Thankfully, even in lawyer infested USA where sleaze-bag ambulance chasers and the likes of John Edwards abound, there is growing disgust and disquiet about dubious patents and their abuse by trolls and money-bags to harass competitors and reduce customers' choice.

One hopes to see increasingly louder calls for patent law reform take some concrete legislative shape.

Even now, judges can teach companies like Apple that use litigation aggressively and much too often a hard lesson - if they are ever caught on the wrong foot on patents or copyrights, fine them so high, their entire cash reserve gets wiped out.

One last bit of delicious news before we leave the topic..

A Chinese company is suing APPLE for violating their own patents - guess what? They are targeting the Siri voice search.. You can read all about it here..and in other websites - just GOOGLE!!!

Who knows, they may well succeed!!

We all know even the name IPAD was a "shameless rip-off", a term Apple loves to use..and which it was forced to pay $60m to license. Enough said about paid and unpaid shills and patent experts trying to project Apple as the sole innovator in the whole world and the rest as copy cats.

At the very least, this should provide 'prior art' for Google to take down yet another 'patent'. And provide enough fun to keep us entertained for a while...

Jun 23, 2012

Yet another thermo-nuclear dud warhead

Judge Posner has nuked yet another Apple lawsuit against Motorola, in effect, Google. Though on "surface" (pun not intended) it may appear he has dismissed both lawsuits the parties had against each other, it should be obvious to anyone that Motorola's was a defensive one and Apple lost much more in this round.

So the so-called thermonuclear war that the late Jobs promised and Tim Cook's regime is waging with all the might its $80 billion war chest provides is a dud as I mentioned months ago. Even in the US where lawyers are legendarily expensive, that can sure buy a lot of lawyers, enough to irritate and tire out most judges including Justice Posner.

But it may turn out counter-productive at this rate..

Jun 1, 2012

API judgement - A brilliant no-brainer

Well, the verdict is in, and the US judge has ruled that APIs are not copyrightable, at least not in the context of this particular lawsuit.

To any programmer it may seem ridiculous that an API that merely defines an interface to a program (which offers real functionality and is stored elsewhere) should be copyrighted. After all, Kernigham and Ritchie would have made billions simply copyrighting 'Hello World!' or some such nonsensical fragment of code.

It took a judge who understands programming and can hardly be fooled with '200 pages of code' as some were trying to do to arrive at this brilliant decision, that is also a no-brainer in one way.

There are three main legal challenges Android is facing - from Apple, mostly on design issues, from Microsoft - mostly on patents and from Oracle on Java. Of the three it could be argued that the most serious ones were from Oracle. Microsoft is always happy to license - selling the rope that would that strangle Windows phone to death, as is already happening. It has managed to shake down a lot of vendors, but then many of those vendors would happily pay for anything to keep M$ happy particularly if it does not hurt their bottom line significantly anyway. Apple's patents are also facing significant challenges and many may not survive and the ones that do will be worked around with minimal disturbance. As HTC is doing and as Samsung has already done.

So it can be said with confidence that Android (and Chrome, which is similar) can now march confidently forward and claim more and more market as well as mind share.

That can only be good for end users and consumers.

May 24, 2012

Tax records from 1964!

By any standards, bureaucrats in any country are seen to be slow moving, rule-obsessed, removed from reality and impractical. This is so even in countries where they have a stellar reputation, simply because they are compared against their private sector counterparts who are even better. Same goes for politicians.

But India has been cursed with "babus" (bureaucrats) and "netas" (leaders) that set global records when comes to ridiculous and outrageous actions and statements. Sometimes it is just amusing - you laugh at them and move on. But there are times when it does serious damage to the country, its reputation and negates the hard work of millions of Indians who, directly and indirectly are building the country's image brick by brick. Just as China is developing a reputation for fakes that is going to take decades, if not centuries to shake off, India is developing a reputation for petrified officialdom that is an insult to the intelligence of its citizens and a serious threat to its growth and standing in the global arena.

India is now the laughing stock of the business world because of a nonsensical and utterly indefensible tax law that allows the taxman to re-open and question any tax matter going all the way back to 1964 ...yes you read it right - 1964.  There is yet another amendment that taxes royalties on software going back to if one is not enough. May be there was no software in 1961 or it may also have been dated earlier.

Why because one company, using some clever moves, managed to 'evade' tax. That is assuming the highest courts of the land were wrong in rejecting GOI's stand. On top of insulting the intelligence of Indians and destroying the country's reputation, these people are also telling the highest court that they don't matter, because if they pass judgement that is not in my favour, that can be retrospectively reversed, going back to 1964 ...when most Indians were not even born!

Now another set of babus and netas are going to accumulate frequent flyer miles and go on junkets explaining to global community worried over such disturbing moves and its impact. Are we a nation of laws or a extortionist society where the democratic process is abused to get away with such nonsensical moves? Do they even benefit the country? Even if India were to gain $5 billions, what is the cost in terms of lost investment, lost jobs and lost years? Even if you take a narrower view, do they even benefit the Income tax authority?

If anyone comes to the conclusion that his earnings, even after paying lawful tax, are not secure from such arbitrary extortionist moves in a so-called democratic country, you can excuse them for shipping them overseas or not even bringing them home at the first available opportunity. Any wonder Indian rupee is nearing the 60 per dollar mark? Who pays for that? The ordinary guy on the street who has to buy fuel for Rs.70 per litre. Not the babus whose salaries are indexed to inflation and protected against anything short of nuclear holocaust.

It is interesting to note that there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes a taxable profit in India regardless of whether it happens overseas or not. For example, if Mrs. Watanabe, a housewife in Kyoto buys Suzuki shares in the Tokyo stock exchange and profits $1,000 from it because the prices went up after they did well in India, does she have to pay Indian tax?  What if the same Mrs. Watanabe makes $10m and not $1,000? What if Suzuki's revenues are 10% from India, or 20% or 50% or 70%? Where does it start and stop?

Obviously you will have our babus ridiculing such questions. But then where does one draw the line and more importantly who draws it? It is a transparent process that is clear to all or is it yet another shady secret that changes according to the whims and fancies of the babu and how 'flexible' he is to the lure of the greenback?

Does India have the muscle to enforce such laws? Uncle Sam can squeeze the Swiss banks by their b..s to get a list of American taxpayers stashing money with them...can we do it? Are we even willing?

If such questions are not answered and a transparent process and law that does not change retrospectively at the drop of a hat created for everyone to understand and follow, it is perfectly legitimate for someone to come to a conclusion that it is simply yet another clever move by the ruling class to arm itself with nuclear warheads and use it for extorting bribes and donations.

No infringement on patents - Google wins!

The jury verdict is in and Oracle is left to pick up the pieces of what is left of the case - the so-called 'copyright' phase where there was a hung jury. There won't even be a damages phase of the trial! At least for now.

First we were told Oracle wants $6billion...then when that turned out to be 'bordering on the ridiculous', we were told it was not money that Oracle was seeking, it was injunction to 'protect Java'. Now that too is not likely.  If Java needs any protection, it is not from Google, it is from Apple and Microsoft.

It is not too late for Oracle to sit down with Google and figure out how the entire Android + Java ecosystem can find synergy and take on Apple as well Microsoft who would have been the real winners if Oracle won this case.

Oracle made attempts to reduce Microsoft's OS dominance by turning the database into a OS and a few other tricks - we know how far it got. Sun tried that too. With Android tablets, mobiles, and various other devices in the hands of millions of consumers as well as corporate users, there is a real chance of that vision turning into reality. That would benefit Oracle enormously.

Google would benefit too because its Google Docs, cloud based storage and various other initiatives would enter the corporate world, which Oracle understands better, and be a real alternative to Microsoft's dominant products and offerings. Imagine seamless integration of Google docs with Oracle ledgers and business software!

Let us hope sense prevails and lawyers don't.

May 8, 2012

Copyright case - Is Google the winner?

It would appear to be so - I am no legal expert but there is no hint of celebrations or 'I told you so' kind of posts from Herr Mueller who is widely perceived to be pro-Oracle. That tells its own story.

Having said that, the other news sources that are more balanced, such as The Verge and other mainstream media are more circumspect. Open-source enthusiast website Groklaw bravely declares that Google has won on practically everything that matters though that remains to be seen.

At the very least, one can say days of $6b damage claims are over. Can we also say restraining injunctions and a mandated license from Oracle at gunpoint are also gone? Perhaps so, as the partial verdict indicates. Although in the worst case, if Judge holds APIs copyrightable and dismiss fair use defence, there could still be trouble ahead for Google.

What remains? A few hundred thousands of dollars in damages, which is peanuts for both sides? That is IF, there is a big IF there, Judge rules that APIs can be copyrighted in the first place. If not, the so called damages for 'copying' 9 lines of code in a system that has millions of them, would not cover a day's worth of lawyer fee perhaps.

With most patent claims dead in water already, even before the trial started, and many others withdrawn forever, ( an attempt to reinstate them by some legal word play was shot down), this should not be a big headache for Google, going forward.

Apple's multitude of cases against various handset makers including Motorola, owned by Google, have produced negligible results so far and are likely to remain that way for much of this year and perhaps next.

That leaves only Microsoft.

Mar 6, 2012

Just settle, ORCL

The Oracle vs Google Java patent/copyright trials are approaching crucial deadlines and decision points. I would not want to repeat what I said earlier or what you could learn reading excellent websites such as Groklaw, but suffice to say Oracle's lawsuit is in big trouble because most, if not all, patents asserted are dead in the water or gasping for breath.

As to the copyright, there appears to be a very weak case based on assertions by experts. Google has been saying there are hardly a dozen files that are suspect and those too were never in any code that shipped!

What should Oracle do?

It is not as if Oracle acquired Sun to milk its patents from 'violators' like Google. It is not as if Oracle had a booming mobile Java business that Google screwed up. And it is not as if Java's adoption in the Enterprise is threatened by Android. While it is okay to spend a few million bucks on lawyers on the hope that you can strike a lottery, it is another thing to beat a dead horse and be the laughing stock of the community.

Just settle, Larry!

And focus on building a joint Android - Java unified force that can take on Microsoft, Apple and other challengers in mobile as well as in the Enterprise.

Feb 20, 2012

Australian visa - pleasant experience - contrast with Indian babus

A functioning bureaucracy has to balance many contradictory factors - there are rules to follow, there are issues of fair play which means you can't bend them to suit someone and so on..

At the same time, there has to be flexibility and discretion. That means officers are empowered and trusted and they act accordingly.

Almost anyone that has ever dealt with Indian bureaucracy, I am referring to those without 'connections' and deep pockets here,  will recount with horror the unpleasant and harrowing experience. Flexible only to those that can bring 'influence' to bear or throw money at them, Rigid, insulting, arrogant, uncompromising, ruthless and rule-bound to all others, Indian bureaucracy is one of the worst in the world, if not the worst.

Contrast that with the Australian visa service - tough but fair, thorough but flexible and smart.

I had to apply for one recently and my paper-work was incomplete. I would not talk about what the issue was as it may lead to abuse of the system by some. They had all rights to throw the application into the trash can and ask me to re-apply later.

Obviously, someone there is smart enough to guess that there is minimal risk of visa abuse or illegal overstay and was empowered enough to act on that basis.

Not only they processed it and waited for me to give the remaining documents, they even emailed me reminding me about it, and processed the application once I sent a soft copy over email without waiting for the document itself! In contrast to Indian babus who will typically ask for it in triplicate counter-signed by a notary public or a 'gazetted officer not below the rank of Junior Secretary' even to take a look at it.

So when I finally went with the printout, the stamping was done in less than 10 minutes.

When we have such babus and such officials, India too would have similar standards of living and economy. Until then we are destined to live in slums and curse our fate.

Jan 24, 2012

Update on Apple vs Android

Weeks ago I had posted that Apple's thermonuclear war on Android seems more like a dud Diwali firecracker - now Newsweek seems to think so, and others are saying the exact same thing, in exact same words. A nice coincidence, I am not going to do an "Apple" claiming they stole my post!

Oracle is so desperate to get on with the lawsuit they offered to forget about (at least for time being) patent violations by Android to speed up the copyright trial. Not that the patent claims were going anywhere, many ending up in the trash can upon examination. The copyright too may end up same place since it has been reported that hardly a few dozen lines of codes are same....

Google is not unstoppable - it is simply smart and it is going to take serious innovation and precise execution to slow it down, not such lawsuits.