In Support of Net Neutrality

Here's what I posted on the FCC's Net Neutrality debate site. Please feel free to comment!

Net neutrality is a nuanced subject. I completely support the concept of leaving the Internet open and fair. Perhaps one of the best aspects of the Internet is that the barrier to someone creating a new website or company is very small. Anyone with a connection should have the ability to create something that anyone else can view. We should strive to preserve this aspect of the Internet, as it is fundamental and largely what has made the Internet what it is today.

However, my faith in the US legislative bodies to produce laws that would maintain this without negatively affecting the situation is pretty small. That we have Congressmen and Senators that are not capable of reasoning about the Internet and its operation in terms beyond big trucks and tubes is most worrying.

Still, opposing a law against net neutrality simply because it might limit "innovation", as the ISPs would have you believe, is not good enough. I can't think of many large innovations brought on by the ISPs in the last 5 years, unless you consider bandwidth caps and protocol blocking innovations. My Comcast cable connection is only marginally faster than when it was first activated, many years ago.

Another large factor is that ISPs are, by and large, local monopolies. I believe that Internet access is becoming increasingly fundamental, approaching the level of utilities such as electric and water. To say that the "market" will be able to decide what is right in terms of Internet access is ignorant. Many people have only one choice for broadband Internet access. For this reason, it is important for there to be some form of oversight to determine when there have been abuses and what can be done to correct the situation.

To summarize, here is my list of concepts that I consider to be fundamental to the Internet.

1) Fair. Traffic traveling over the Internet should be treated in a uniform matter regardless of source, destination, or protocol. Users must be able to freely access the content and applications of their choice, without interference or manipulation from the ISP.

2) Open. The cost and process needed to acquire and Internet connection should be as low and and easy as possible for both individuals and organizations.

3) Prevalent. Internet access should be available to every citizen from multiple sources. This means that local monopolies should not exist. Multiple ISPs should provide access in the same locations, so consumers have true choice, forcing providers to actually innovate instead of simply raising their fees from year to year.

If legislation is necessary to maintain these ideals, so be it. If legislation is not necessary, then all the better. However, we must not stand by idle to watch our freedoms taken away by a handful of greedy corporations. To support Net Neutrality is to support open and fair access for everyone.

MinWin: Software Engineering 101

Ars Technica has a pretty interesting article about the MinWin project at Microsoft. MinWin is a software engineering project to refactor the Windows kernel into something more manageable.

But there’s always been a dirty little secret hiding underneath that iconic field of green grass. From an engineering and security standpoint, the foundation of Windows 2000 and Windows XP is absolutely horrible.

The fact that Microsoft was put into such a situation is, at the same time, surprising and understandable.  I understand how such a large software project can get out of hand quickly. When you develop software and focus on features and release dates over design and maintainability, you end up with the situation that Windows is in. Such things have been studied by software engineers for almost as long as people have been writing software.

What surprised me is that these problems did not bite them earlier and also that no one stopped to do this sort of organization work earlier. In today's market full of cell phones and other low powered portable devices, it would be huge win for Microsoft if they could reuse an existing, stable operating system kernel instead of maintaining several kernel families for different markets / use cases. I'm surprised that no one saw the benefit of such flexibility in the Windows product until now.

While reading this, I contrasted the situation of Windows to that of Linux. I find Linux (the kernel, not necessarily all the crap that runs on top of it) to be a very well engineered system. A testament to this is the extremely varied systems that Linux is able to run on (iPods, phones, PDAs, laptops, desktops, supercomputers, you name it). I'm sure this capability has been a big factor for the many companies that have built products on top of Linux. Windows probably wasn't even a consideration, since it is such an unadaptable, closed system.

The lesson-learned here: design and engineering are important and if you don't figure these things out at the start or early on, you'll spend a lot of time playing catch-up. It's really hard to change the design of a system while you add new features and capabilities. I wonder if Microsoft could have saved time and money by simply starting over, with a fresh design and system. Will Microsoft ever give up the Win32 API?

Sony Reader - Library Link

Today Sony released details regarding their upcoming digital reader products.


One of the big features hardware-wise is a wireless 3G connection, much like Amazon's Kindle. On the software side, Sony announced that the reader will be able to be synchronized with a user's local library (if they support such a thing). The combination of these two features has me pretty excited.

From ArsTechnica,
According to Sony's Haber, the new version of its online book store will allow users to enter their ZIP code, and determine whether the local library offers electronic versions of its books. These books can be downloaded, at which point they'll have a 21-day expiration date—no late fees, as Haber was happy to point out. The New York Public Library's representative announced that his organization would be taking part in the service. That's a rather significant announcement, given that he said that the NYPL's website was the second-most visited online library, behind only the Library of Congress.

I think this might have a big impact for students or anyone else who wants/needs access to many books. Imagine going to college and pairing your reader with your school's library. Suddenly, buying textbooks becomes a thing of the past. Need to look something up, but don't have the book? No problem: search the library's catalog and pull in the book over the 3G connection.

This scenario might be wishful thinking for a little longer, but I think Sony's announcement today goes a long way toward making it reality.