Computer Industry

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Computer Industry

Post  MiStA Fouzi on Sun Mar 16, 2008 6:36 pm

Computer Industry


This article deals with computer software. That may sound a bit abstract to some of our readers, but it is a subject that is relevant to everybody who uses a computer.You should care about the way the computer industry functions today and the way it imposes severe restrictions on us since you may one day no longer be allowed to listen to your MP3's or read your Microsoft Word documents. You may think you will be able to continue these simple tasks forever because you believe you actually own and control most of what is stored on your computer. However, according to big business that is not the case.
Not only do you not
own that copy of Microsoft Word, that video game, or even that MP3 player, but like most people using commercial software (be it pirated or paid for in a shop), you also don't own any other way of accessing your information. To this you can reply: "But I will always have my computer because it is mine, and nobody can stop me listening to my music collection!" Maybe so, but not necessarily. To understand that, however, we must first delve into the murky world of software licences.
A "software licence" is a form of contract and has become the most common form of software distribution today. When installing a new programme on your computer you may recall having to click "I Agree", or "OK", or something to that effect. That was you signing a contract that you probably never read in the first place. For the moment we are going to take a rather simplistic approach and divide all software licences (contracts) into two, distinct categories. We will call them "Closed" and "Open". Let's start with "Closed" licences, as they are currently the most common type.
Closed licences are usually fairly restrictive with regard to what you are (and are not) allowed to do with the software in question. When you buy a copy of, for example, Windows XP or Windows Vista, you are typically only allowed to use one licence per computer, you are not permitted to pass copies on to any friends, you are most certainly not allowed to resell it, and you are in no way permitted to make changes to the software.
A licence to run
Let's take a moment to examine our MP3 player a little closer. Actually, we don't own the programme that plays our Britney Spears album, even though we paid good money for both the programme and the album in question (whether Britney Spears is worth much money is another question altogether of course). But what about our little iPod itself? Surely you can own one of those? Again, the answer is both yes and no. Although you may have bought the actual physical little box, you have only licensed a copy of the programme running on the device. All we have paid for is permission to use the programme.
The important thing to note here is that most closed software licences don't actually sell you anything you can keep; they merely give you permission to run the software under a very specific set of circumstances. A computer programmer can write a little computer game and decide to license it for sale with, for example, the clause "this game may only be used when wearing a dark red jumper and yellow trousers". Legally speaking, those without dark red jumpers and yellow trousers are not permitted to run the programme, even after they have paid money to the programmer. Here is where the distinction between licensing (renting) and purchasing (buying) software becomes important. When people say "I am going to buy a copy of Photoshop," they actually mean "I am going to buy a licence to run a copy of Photoshop, and hope that I meet all the criteria stipulated in the licence contract." This form of agreement is called an end user licence agreement or EULA.
Purchasing implies ownership, and we all know that although you can do whatever you want with a car you own, you should not try to add new wheels or a spoiler to a rental car. We have come to an agreement with the rental company that we hand over some money in exchange for which we are allowed to use the car. However, if we abuse the car then the owner has every right to stop us from using it. It is the same principle in the computer world.
At this point one can object: "So what? I run Microsoft Word. It does what I want. Why should I care? They cannot come into my house and take it away from me." That brings us to the next part: control. To illustrate this point, we need to go back to our example of the MP3 files. An MP3 file is in essence a compressed version of a song as you find it on an audio CD. The way those MP3's you are playing seem to magically compress all that music into a small file was originally developed and published by a German research organisation called the Fraunhofer Institute. It is their so-called intellectual property. But even though they are giving you instructions on how to use their method for storing music, that does not mean you can do whatever you want with it. For example, any product that makes money out of MP3's must pay a
royalty to the Fraunhofer Institute. This German organisation invented and patented the MP3 compression algorithm and now they are making about 100,000,000 in licence revenue per year.
That is all well and good, and not a real problem, you may say. After all, you are not the one paying these royalties to them and you are happy to just use your media player on your computer, which usually includes the licence to play MP3 files. The problem is that it is perfectly within their legal right to actually stop you from using it. That means that even though we know how MP3's work, the people that own the intellectual property rights to MP3's always control who may use them. So, perhaps one day they will decide that they don't want anybody using them, and that everyone should move on to MP4. And then MP5. In this way the Fraunhofer Institute always retains control.
Of course you can say: "Well, when that happens I will just switch to a different product. They know I would switch, so they would never do such a thing." The problem is that software companies use a more subtle tactic to both keep their user base and still force them to upgrade (and thus make more profit). For example, if you write a text in Microsoft Word and save it, Word will save it as a "Microsoft Word Document." Here is where the problems start. Nobody in the world really knows how to open a Word document, except Microsoft. There is nothing illegal about that; it is their own standard they use to open and save their documents. The issue is now that anyone who wants to be absolutely sure that they are correctly opening a Word document is required to use (and pay for) a copy of Word, sold only by Microsoft. Sure, some people have done an excellent job of guessing how they work (OpenOffice.org, for example) but they are never 100% sure. We are now required to pay someone money to be able to communicate with each other, or listen to our music.

In the case of Microsoft Word, the situation is even worse. Microsoft has the nasty habit of changing their own file formats every few years. If you have recently bought a copy of Microsoft Office 2007 and you save your document in the latest .docx format, then your friend who you are sending your document to will not be able to open your file at all if he is still running an older version of Microsoft Word. So even if you decide to be a good citizen and pay for a licence of Microsoft Word, there is no guarantee that you will always be able to exchange documents with friends or colleagues as different versions of the same programme can be mutually incompatible. The only solution, apart from manually selecting a better documented file format like RTF, is to keep upgrading (and paying for) your software, but even then you never have an absolute guarantee that your documents will appear exactly the same on your friend's screen as on yours.
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MiStA Fouzi

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Re: Computer Industry

Post  Teacher_Hanane on Sun Mar 30, 2008 5:07 pm

Thnx for the precious information king
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Re: Computer Industry

Post  soukaina-oubella on Tue Apr 01, 2008 4:35 am

santa thank u lot of mostahpa for this information ....... santa
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Re: Computer Industry

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