Monthly archives: March 2005

Microsoft Monopoly fact, fiction, and Open Source opportunity 1

A monopoly essentially means that there is no other choice available. For example where there is only one supplier of coal. With computer software there are many choices available. The main types are Bespoke, Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS), and Open Source. Microsoft are, with very minor exceptions, one of several COTS suppliers.

Therefore how is it that many claims are made that Microsoft have a monopolistic hold on the software market? It is true that sales of Microsoft products account for a large share of the software market in the UK . However because there are other choices available this might suggest that this situation has developed through customer choice rather than supplier design.

What is surprising about this so called monopolistic situation is that in both the Public and Private sectors there are complaints about it, but many of those complaining continue to buy Microsoft products and have had a tendency to ignore other choices. Arguments about Total Cost of Ownership and lack of non-Microsoft skills are frequently quoted to justify this practice.

Compounding the skills argument is the claim that the Education sector must provide the skills the market demands. Thus if many employers mainly buy Microsoft products then they will correspondingly mainly want IT and other staff trained in those products. As a result it is common for employers to insist that IT staff should have Microsoft qualifications and that other staff should be trained in the use of Microsoft products. Indeed there has been a lot of media discussion on the importance of the State Education sector supplying IT training linked to the attainment of software vendor qualifications. Also UK universities are often criticised that the training given to IT undergraduates is too broad and should be more industry focused.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in the case of software the above arguments can be used in favour of Open Source by bringing them out in the Open. It therefore follows that one of the main aims of the Open Source Specialist Group (OSSG) is simply to promote an alternative choice. Ironically informing UK organizations of this choice also has a benefit for Microsoft in that its existence offers proof that they do not have a monopoly.

Mark Elkins

Voice control 3

A good number of people who were at the meeting yesterday (14th March 2005 for those reading this sometime after posting) will no doubt have discussed this in the break. It got me thinking a bit since the IBM ViaVoice has been discontinued on the Linux platform and I couldn’t think of any current projects in the field. I had a vague feeling in the back of my mind that I had read something related to one of the desktops, probably Gnome as that’s the one I’ve had most interest in (although I use XFCE myself), but this could easily have been a discussion that there should be something!

Anyway, I couldn’t imagine that there was nothing at all on the subject, even if there was nothing useable, so I’ve delved into Google and my bookmarks and come up with a few useful links – and since I said I’d post anything I found on the site, here’s a new forum as well

OK, starting with the more generic stuff:

First up there’s an old artilce in the Linux Gazette, although this doesn’t get into anything technical and is far to high level to be of any real use:

There’s also an article in Linux Journal on using ViaVoice with XVoice. I’ve not read it yet, but since ViaVoice is no longer available it seems of little use:

There’s some discussion on integrating ViaVoice with KDE as well, but I’ve not found more than some basic discussion of whether it is a good idea so far. I’ve also come across comments on GVoice for Gnome, but nothing particularly useful on it yet, and I think it is basically dictation based.

There’s a links page with various speech related sites, some of which no longer exist, here: (not all voice recognition though, much is synthesis).

Getting into the more specific implementation based sites I have have the already mentioned XVoice:

this looks to me more dictation based unfortunately and also relies on ViaVoice.

The Open-Source Speech Recognition Initiative site looks pretty dead, but the list appears to still be active and may be worth a look:

The FreeSpeech project has renamed itself to Open Mind Speech and looks promising, but is still in the fairly early stages of development:

There’s a site on Automated Speech Recognition that looks to be research based with some code available, although I’ve not quite managed to get my head around exactly what is going on there yet!:

CVoiceControl appears to have taken over from KVoiceControl and then stalled and is looking for someone to take over the project:

There’s a couple of sites on CMU Sphinx which looks interesting, but I’m not sure whether it is able to work with desktop/application control or not – it probably depends how much development work you’re willing/able to put in There’s two links:

Most promising of the lot looks to be PerlBox which acts as a front end to the above CMU Sphinx system (amongst others) and from a reference article looks to be able to control the desktop to some extent with PerlBox Voice. It is customisable, but looks to be mainly application launching based, so what is involved to get more application control I’m not sure. It also looks to be of most use if you are using KDE.

Hopefully the above links will be a good starting point to further investigation. I’ve not delved far into any of them yet, but given time (more elusive than the Scarlet Pimpernel that commodity!) I may. I’ve just got to get sound working on my system first, I’m afraid I’ve never seen it as a high priority and I’m not a boxed Linux user, so its not thrown on by default – my systems are mainly CLI based only or a somewhat customised Debian desktop!

OSSG Launch Meeting

This is the launch meeting of the Open Source Specialist Group. The guest speaker is Sarah Ewen of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Sarah is the “Linux evangelist” of SCEE and will be talking about the Linux for PlayStation 2 project.

For more information, visit or see the full agenda or the press release

2005-03-14 from 16:00 to 19:00
BCS London HQ, Southampton St.
Patrick Tarpey
Contact Email

Open Source Activity – Business Model or Charity? 4

One of the great strengths of Open Source software is that thousands contribute to it. Many of those do so for free and therefore receive no wages for the time spent on their contribution. Others can use that contribution for free and make or save money from it.

So for example an Accountant could make use of an Open Source spreadsheet programme and pay nothing for doing so. Is this fair? The Accountant will have saved money by not using a proprietary programme, the Open Source programme maybe more productive than the commercial alternative, and the Accountant will expect to be paid for the work they have done using the programme.

In the UK and elsewhere the prevailing Economic ideology is that a workers remuneration is directly linked to the skills they have. So a general scarcity of particular skills will generally result in higher wages being paid to workers with those skills. This is clearly not what is guaranteed to happen with Open Source Activity.

There is a danger that the more time someone spends on Open Source Activity the more they will suffer financially. So for example they may not be able to afford to buy their own home or pay into a pension scheme.

Some critics of the Open Source Community claim that its ideology is “communist-like” perhaps because it does not fit in with the prevailing “free market” ideology. The converse side of such an argument is that there are and always have been gaps or faults with the “free market”. For example a drug company might not invest in research unless it can obtain a certain level of Return On Investment (ROI) that ultimately its shareholders will expect from it. Those shareholders might not be too happy if they receive no dividend payout on their shares, because they need it for example to pay for their pension or the pensions of others.

In the above example of the drug company, Open Source Activity might mean that a gap is plugged to produce much needed medicine for distribution in third world countries at a price affordable to those countries. That activity by thousands of Open Source contributors could mean that a new technology or process is discovered to make this possible. This might be impossible for the drug company because it simply cannot afford to employ that amount of people and stay in business. It may however, like the example of the Accountant above, be able to make free use and therefore profit from Open Source Activity.

Mark Elkins

IBM’s Richard Moore delivers great Linux talk! 1

On Tuesday, 8th March 2005, Richard Moore who is a member of IBM’s Advanced Linux Response Team gave a very informative and interesting talk on Linux to the BCS Hampshire Branch at Southampton Institute.

The talk discussed the issue of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and how Linux differs fundamentally from proprietary operating systems in general.

He explained why Linux source code is so good in comparison to other operating systems. One major reason for this is due to the many thousands of developers who are able and willing to contribute to the code because it is open source. Detailed information on the structure of the code that goes into the Linux kernel revealed that only a small portion is specific to any particular architecture be it mainframe, Intel, or whatever. Therefore most of it is platform independent.

A question from the audience revealed that IBM has recently released thousands of patents. As a result Richard Moore felt that recent debate in the media about patents restricting open source development were debatable.

Of other possible interest to OSSG is that a member of the Green Party in the audience informed the speaker that his party was the only one with a specific commitment to open source software in its manifesto.

Richard Moore told me after his speech that he would be willing to give a talk at an OSSG event. He gives talks on various different Linux topics in addition to this one entitled “The Business value of Linux – Oxymoron or Opportunity”. The slides for this will appear on the BCS Hampshire website fairly shortly.

Mark Elkins

Socitm Open Source Software Group

Kate Mountain has asked me to send you details about SOSS (Socitm Open Source Software) Group which has been running for the last 2 years. There are details on the website at
I am also attaching the minutes from the last meeting (for you as a Socitm Member).
I have also circulated SOSS members with details of your meeting.
If you need any more information then please get in touch.

Bob Griffith