Thursday, January 01, 2004

favorite links  

posted by Michael Piwonka 10:36 AM
A note about the choice of links on this page...

Google is, of course, one of the most important sites on the Internet.

I'm a partner in SilverLeaf Consulting LLC, an IT consultancy. The site hasn't been updated in a while, but is still a nice representation of what the company can do.

Perhaps the most interesting link is to Groklaw. Groklaw is a relatively new weblog site that was created by Pamela Jones, a paralegal, to chronicle the various lawsuits between SCO and IBM (and an ever-increasing list of related companies).

The lawsuits basically stem from SCO's contention that every company using the open-source operating system Linux owes SCO licensing fees because Linux contains unauthorized portions (or, at a minimum, derivatives) of the UNIX operating system, which SCO claims to own. SCO sued IBM for US$3 billion, asserting that IBM contributed to Linux's "stealing" of UNIX intellectual property.

The lineage of UNIX is confusing at best, and SCO's claim of ownership is being challenged by Novell, which goes to the very root of SCO's legal claim.

While SCO's claims appear shaky (some have made convincing arguments that SCO is merely attempting to inflate their stock price and/or force IBM to purchase them to avoid costly litigation), the outcome of the lawsuits will have profound ramifications on the software industry. Practically every major software company has an interest in the outcome, from Microsoft, who has subsidized some of SCO's legal bills, to RedHat and other Linux distributors. More importantly, software consumers, corporate and individual alike, will see their software options decrease should SCO prevail, at least in the short-term.

Getting back to the subject of the Groklaw site, I believe that one of the more interesting side-effects of SCO's litigation is the creation of Groklaw. Groklaw was created as a repository of all things SCO litigation-related, and could represent the dawn of a new age in journalism, legal research and activism.

One of the interesting features of Groklaw is an immediate and thorough research of any PR release, legal document, news story, etc. regarding SCO's litigation. (Most of this resulting research has not been favorable to SCO since they have yet to provide any evidence of the fantastic claims they've made.) Groklaw has already been praised by various organizations for its work, including this Best News Site for 2003 award.

While the site was clearly set up to be anti-SCO, it actually represents a very unbiased forum for analyzing issues, probably because of the legal slant the site takes because of Ms. Jones. Effectively, all press positioning is "trumped" by analysis of the legal ramifications of each party's moves, which ultimately is all that is going to matter in the end. Groklaw has performed the in-depth analysis that America's deadline-driven, sensationalized journalism lacks.

(However, the theory that SCO only needs a temporary price spike for a pump and dump scheme means that the executives don't care about the truth ultimately coming out, just enough delay between their press releases (and associated stock spikes) and the inevitable refuting so they can exercise their stock options. If that theory is true, SCO management better watch over their shoulder for the SEC.)

Perhaps the most amazing part of the Groklaw story is that the judge in the case has reviewed Groklaw research to help her understand the case, and IBM references Groklaw in some of their legal filings. That's simply astounding for what started out as a simple blog.

Ironically, the concept behind Groklaw is analogous to the open-source software cause it's championing: Groklaw is "composed" of a loosely-organized, worldwide group of people volunteering to perform research/analysis. The result is hundreds (or thousands or more) of actual and pseudo journalists, lawyers, hackers, etc., making incremental contributions to what is growing into the authority on the subject. Similarly, the open-source software movement is creating the most reliable software in the world by the combined efforts of volunteers worldwide, all for free!

And just as the software gets its reliability by its very openness (it's continually under peer scrutiny, which provides Darwinian incremental improvements), Groklaw's analysis retains it's objectivity because it's always under review. The concept of continual peer review is not new, with the scientific community employing peer review for the last 500 years. In fact, it appears that as most disciplines mature, they eventually adopt this model (e.g., medical research).

What motivates these types of people? Simply put, a desire to contribute to something they believe in. (Could this an example of socialism triumphing over capitalism? Perhaps that'll be a subject for a future post...)

Personally, I see this as a defining moment in journalism, as well as legal research. Sites like Groklaw may sprout up all over the Internet to cover any topic of the day. Given Groklaw's growing importance in the case (and, increasingly, to the mainstream media), I can foresee a day when such sites no longer augment journalists and lawyers, but start to provide an alternative.

Isn't the Internet incredible?!


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