TBTF for 4/27/98: Language is a virus
T a s t y B i t s f r o m t h e T e c h n o l o g y F r o n t
Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994
Your Host: Keith Dawson
This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/04-27-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
Netscape invokes the Mozillans in a patent fight
ISPs are immune from content suits
Ganging up on Microsoft, part deux
The smoking gun of "lawful access"
Is Pretty Good good enough?
The TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame
How to write for an intranet
Language is a virus
..Netscape invokes the Mozillans in a patent fight
Calls on the armies of the Net to help find prior art
Last fall Wang sued Netscape for infringing a 1985 patent  that
it claims covers the Save As command and the idea of bookmarks in a
browser . Now that Netscape enjoys the loyalty of tens of thous-
ands of developers, it is asking this community for help in finding
prior art to bust the patent. Netscape puts it request in provoca-
tive terms on the top page of mozilla.org , suggesting a con-
nection between the lawsuit and Wang's recently expanded alliance
with Microsoft. Neither news stories  nor discussion in the de-
veloper community  have turned up any indication that Microsoft
actually has anything to do with this lawsuit.
In the early 1990s Wang was in Chapter 11 and seemed to be system-
atically mining its patent portfolio for revenue. The company sued
a number of chip makers who it said infringed its patents on the
SIMM technology widely used in memory modules . In 1993 Wang
filed against Kodak for infringing imaging software patents. On the
same day Wang sued Microsoft over OLE technology used in imaging
products from a Microsoft partner, Watermark, which was also named
in the suit. Today's close Microsoft/Wang cooperation stems from
discussions arising out of that lawsuit.
..ISPs are immune from content suits
Another court ruling affirms their "common carrier" status
A federal judge has ruled  that Internet service providers can't
be sued in civil courts for the editorial content they carry. U.S.
District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman's ruling was based on wording
included in the Communications Decency Act that specifically ex-
empts ISPs from liability for content. The ruling came in the libel
suit filed by White House advisor Sidney Blumenthal against the
Internet journalist Matt Drudge for a story in his Drudge Report.
AOL was named in the suit because it carries that report; but of
course Drudge's Web site can be accessed from any ISP. By going
after AOL Blumenthal was invoking the Willy Sutton principle .
..Ganging up on Microsoft, part deux
In a tough week Redmond does OK in court
There hasn't been such a convergence of firepower on Microsoft since
late last year . Then, the Jusice Department filed a contempt of
court motion when Microsoft reacted to Judge Thomas Penfield Jack-
son's antitrust order with a policy of "compliance with a raised
middle finger," in the ringing phrase of the SJ Mercury News.
Feed magazine, smarting from the LA Times's scoop on Microsoft's
stealth PR campaign , claimed it had obtained copies of some of
the concocted letters prominent people were supposed to write to
their local editors. Read them here , but please don't take the
On 4/21 Microsoft met the DoJ in court before a 3-judge panel 
and argued its appeal of the December 11 ruling and of Jackson's
appointment of a special master in the case. The company had pulled
its now predictable last-minute marketplace concession by announcing
its firm intention to ship a Windows 98 version without Active Chan-
nel Bar  (as mentioned aside in TBTF for 3/9/98 ). Observers
agreed  that the judges handled the DoJ lawyers far more roughly
The anti-Microsoft lobby fronted by Bob Dole, mentioned in TBTF for
12/27/97 , has come out shooting. It's called ProComp  and in
the effort Dole is joined by Robert Bork, one of the men who didn't
make it to the Supreme Court bench in the time of Richard Nixon.
Just don't call them Bole and Dork.
On 4/20 consumer activist Ralph Nader and his colleague Jamie Love
took a broad look  at Microsoft's business practices and global
strategy in the Cato Institute's Policy Forum on Antitrust and Mi-
crosoft. They reminded us of the days when competition was hot in
the DOS market, when Microsoft was rumored to manipulate features
of the OS to the detriment of its competitors:
> Microsoft has done this for a long time, going back to the
> days when programmers coined the phrase, "DOS isn't done until
> Lotus won't run."
Also on 4/20, the demo gods were not smiling on Bill Gates at Com-
dex as Windows 98 blue-screened while he was demonstrating its ease
of use in the keynote address . Hate it when that happens. Here's
a QuickTime movie  (1.6 MB). I've keyframed it for the bandwidth-
challenged  (60K).
An overlooked lawsuit dating from those long-ago days of DOS com-
petition is re-emerging as the one to watch. Caldera, who nowadays
sells a commercial Linux product, also owns the rights to DR-DOS.
Caldera sued Microsoft over its tactics leading up to the total
dominance of DOS and its sublimation into the new operating system,
Windows 95. This summary from NC World magazine  nicely wraps
up the case so far. Thanks to Jimmy Liberato <email@example.com.-
mil> for pointing out this lawsuit.
> Caldera Inc... has been engaged in a long-running court battle
> with Microsoft over anti-competitive practices in the DOS mar-
> ket. Caldera was recently allowed by the court to amend its
> complaint to include the allegedly illegal bundling of DOS
> with Windows 95 in order to eliminate DOS competition. The
> outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications,
> even into the world of network-centric computing.
..The smoking gun of "lawful access"
When can government agents dispense with the nicety of a search
Since the days of the Clipper Chip John Gilmore has been wondering
why agents of the US government were always so careful to use the
phrase "lawful access" when talking about recovering users' secret
keys. Did they mean a warrant issued by a judge? Then why didn't
they ever say that? Now Gilmore believes he has found his long-
sought loophole in Executive Order 12333 , signed by Ronald
Reagan in 1981. This so-called "keystone document" redefined the
US intelligence community. The salient portion for Gilmore's analy-
> 2.5 Attorney General Approval. The Attorney General hereby
> is delegated the power to approve the use for intelligence
> purposes, within the United States or against a United States
> person abroad, of any technique for which a warrant would be
> required if undertaken for law enforcement purposes, provided
> that such techniques shall not be undertaken unless the At-
> torney General has determined in each case that there is
> probable cause to believe that the technique is directed
> against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.
If the Attorney General affirms a belief that you are a foreign
agent, then you have no right under the US Constitution to security
in your person, house, papers, and effects. Remember that the FBI
justified its years-long surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
predating this Executive Order, on the grounds of suspicion that
he was acting for a foreign government.
..Is Pretty Good good enough?
As PGP has moved from freeware to buttoned-down corporate, some
cypherpunks are re-examining its trustworthiness
Phil Zimmermann's freeware program Pretty Good Privacy was the Pro-
methean gift of strong cryptography early in this decade . Its
source code was published from the first so that those knowledgeable
in such matters could assure themselves that the crypto was strong
and the code contained no back doors to compromise security. Some-
one, not Zimmermann, posted PGP to the Net in 1991. In 1993 the
Justice Department commenced an investigation into whether Zimmer-
mann had broken any US laws in this affair -- though no one doubted
his claim that he was not the one who posted PGP. After the DoJ
dropped its case in 1996 Zimmermann formed PGP, Inc.; the company
continued to publish full source code and to distribute a free
version of PGP. It was when PGP, Inc. was acquired by McAfee Asso-
ciates last December  that dyed-in-the-wool cypherpunks began
questioning whether PGP deserved their continuing trust. When the
newly merged company, called Network Associates, acquired Trusted
Information Systems in February  the doubts multiplied.
Now Tom Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org> has put together an exhaustive
analysis and resource list  on PGP, Inc. and its roots in Zim-
mermann's freeware program. It aims to answer the question "Can we
trust PGP, Inc.?" -- or at least to provide research sources so that
you can answer this question for yourself. Along the way you get a
pretty good tutorial in the technology of public-key encryption, why
factoring is hard, what key recovery means to personal privacy,
background on the Key Recovery Alliance, insight from SEC filings
on who controls PGP's new corporate master, etc. The site also
addresses matters of more practical import to everyday users, such
as: Which version of PGP should you use? What compatibility issues
exist with older versions of the software? Why should you use en-
cryption even if it's not perfect? The perspective is that of the
hardcore, skeptical cypherpunk and the research is thorough and
My own view? I still trust PGP and use its commercial version 5.5.1.
But I'm watching, following the only piece of advice Ronald Reagan
ever uttered with which I unconditionally agree: Trust, but verify.
..The TBTF Exclusionary Sites Hall of Shame
Bestowing raspberries on sites that can't be bothered, since 1997
So many exclusionary sites, so little time. Readers have been busily
sending in nominations for the Hall of Shame  to shine a spot-
light of (we hope) unwelcome publicity on the lazy or mean-spirited
Web site owners who refuse to welcome all of their visitors equally.
New additions are:
- A Linux fan site that slams the door rudely on visitors using
- A site that on its front page admits to its laziness in not
bothering even to try to accommodate Netscape browsers
- A Canadian MSN site that provides a reduced GIF image of the
full site to visitors who come using Netscape, that they may
pine for the rich multimedia experience they are missing, and
perhaps relent their non-Microsoft ways
..How to write for an intranet
The Web is not like paper. Explore the ramifications here
Dan Bricklin <email@example.com> has thought a lot in recent years
about authoring for hypertext environments. His company  makes
tools to ease this very task , . Now Bricklin has put up a new
site, Good Documents , for discussion on how to write business
documents for intranets and the Internet. I don't know of another
site with such a sharp focus on presenting information written by an
individual to convey ideas and knowledge to others, and not on the
mechanics, formatting, or tools of Web construction. Do pay a visit,
and contribute to the discussion, if you care about writing for this
..Language is a virus
And I've got it bad
When the only tool you have is a hammer everything starts to look
like a nail. The whimsical Foundation for the Mis-Application of
Computer Languages , creation of Claudio Colvelli <clc@assurdo.-
com> , celebrates the use of hammers to pound in earthworms. A
perfect example is a Unix text editor Colvelli implemented using
nothing but /bin/sh and /bin/dd . He's also built a Turing ma-
chine from the same unlikely timber . The site for these unnat-
ural acts sports a domain name from the island of Saint Helena:
I picked up the Colvelli reference from Need to Know. Anyone who
followed each link in a single issue of NTK would surely go mad.
In closing, a few examples from my extensive historical collection
of email signatures (no .sig? go .fig) clustered around languages
and text editors.
> The last good thing written in C was Franz Schubert's Ninth
> Why do I like Perl? Because "in accordance with Unix tra-
> dition Perl gives you enough rope to hang yourself with."
> Why do I dislike Java? Because "the class ROPE that should
> contain the method HANG to do the hanging with doesn't exist
> because there is too much 'security' built into the language."
> Disclaimer -- These opiini^H^H damn! ^H^H ^Q ^[ .... :w :q
> :wq :wq! ^d ^X ^? exit X Q ^C ^? :quitbye CtrlAltDel ~~q
> :~q logout save/quit :!QUIT ^[zz ^[ZZZZZZ ^vi man vi ^@
> ^L ^[c ^# ^E ^X ^I ^T ? help helpquit ^D ^d !! man help ^C
> ^c :e! help exit ?Quit ?q CtrlShftDel "Hey, what does Stop L1A
N o t e s
> This week's TBTF title comes from William S. Burroughs , who died
last August at 83  after a life of prodigal excess. Laurie And-
erson took inspiration from Burroughs for the song "Language is a
Virus from Outer Space" . When I saw her perform in 1984 she had
Buroughs on the stage, narrating "Sharkey's Day" in his inimitable
flat midwestern smoker's lash of a voice.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
TBTF home and archive at http://www.tbtf.com/ . To subscribe send
the message "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org. TBTF is
Copyright 1994-1998 by Keith Dawson, <email@example.com>. Com-
mercial use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward,
post, and link as you see fit.
Keith Dawson firstname.lastname@example.org
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: PGP for Personal Privacy 5.5
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----