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posted by ajf on 2007-12-12 at 10:01 pm

There's hardly a shortage of things about this industry that shit me up the wall, but the most offensive is the misuse of the word "technology", often in the revolting form of "technologies".

People used to use the word technology to mean things like the wheel. The wheel — now that's technology. But, you know what? Your dinky little web application development environment is not "a technology".

It seems that people who blather about software development needed a word for "shit we're talking about at the moment" — well, we already had "buzzwords" but I guess that might be a little disparaging — and couldn't do any better than hijacking a word that actually meant something significant.

I'm particularly annoyed by this at the moment because of this announcement regarding another, far more harmful blight on the industry — patents.

Pete LePage (which is a pretty cool name for a web browser company employee, incidentally) announced the arrival of a preview release of Internet Explorer with the "click to activate" annoyance removed (my emphasis):

If you don't recall, in April 2006, we made a change to how Internet Explorer handled embedded controls used on some webpages. Some sites required users to "click to activate" before they could interact with the control. Microsoft has now licensed the technologies from Eolas Technologies inc, removing the "click to activate" requirement in Internet Explorer.

Licensed the fucking what? I may groan when somebody calls J2EE or Ruby on Rails or wankfest-of-the-moment "DSLs" technology — but the Eolas patent is in a league of its own here.

The language surrounding intellectual property — licensed the technologies here — suggests that Eolas created something, and that Microsoft is paying them to use it. But that's not what happened.

Have you ever heard the saying "You can't prove a negative"? Eolas managed to invent a negative. Like it says in the quote, in Internet Explorer until last year, when a web page required a plugin, that plugin would "Just Work" (as the saying goes). There were always two kinds of content — the kind you can display in the web browser, and the kind the web browser can't handle. Plugins were a way to tell the browser how to handle more types of content the same way they already handled images. And it was good. There was never a time when plugins existed but didn't Just Work.

But somehow Eolas managed to persuade the US government — the Patent Office, which exists to recognise new inventions, that is, things that are novel and not obvious — they had invented not Not Just Working, and convinced a court that Internet Explorer wasn't Just Working so much as not Not Just Working — and therefore violating their patent. So Microsoft had to invent a very non-obvious complication in their browser, to the detriment of all their customers, to avoid being seen to be exploiting this ridiculous anti-dis-invention. The remedy was more worthy of a patent than the one they violated, for fuck's sake!

The jury that decided Microsoft had violated the patent wanted to award Eolas over half a billion dollars. Presumably Microsoft ended up paying a lot less than that in the undisclosed settlement that followed a couple of years later.

Patent 5,838,906 was "invented" by Michael D Doyle, David C Martin, and Cheong S Ang. It's a shame the terms of the settlement don't include the opportunity for all Microsoft's customers to repeatedly click to activate these "inventors'" faces with their fists, like they deserve.

Related topics: Quote of the day Rants Politics Microsoft Windows

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