Readers’ letters

Off licence?

I would like to correct a huge flaw in your Linux article (‘Linux Inc’, Information Age, January 2004).

You state that no one owns Linux. This is totally untrue; copyright exists for every line. In some cases it is signed over to a third party or foundation, but often it remains with the developer.

The GPL [General Public License under which Linux is distributed] gives you rights above and beyond the restrictions of copyright. There is no change in ownership. This is the fact that makes SCO’s attack on the GPL a nonsense. They ship SAMBA and other GPL code as a core part of their OS. If the GPL is invalid then they do not own [that code] and cannot distribute it without getting the copyright owner’s permission. They have also distributed the disputed code (if it exists) under the GPL (as part of their own Linux distribution). As a result they have granted licence to everything they distributed.

This puts them in a Catch 22. To continue distributing their current products with GPL code they need the GPL. As they have GPL’d their intellectual property they need to void the GPL. It is almost funny to watch. This muddle is partly caused by the fact that most so-called software licences are in fact contracts and fall under contract law, whereas the GPL is a true licence and works under copyright law. This does not stop a number of “experts” trying to apply contract law to it.

Simply put, the GPL states the following: This code is mine; you can use it if you do the following; if you do not want to do the following, don’t use it.

Ownership is key – look at the code, see the copyright statements. Voiding the GPL will just make the code subject to the strict copyright.

There is also a strong suspicion in the community that a lot of the code SCO is [claiming is copied is actually] Berkeley Systems Design code that they took (removed copyright licences), thought was theirs, tried to sue BSD over, were told to re-insert copyright licences, did not (because SCO code is closed no-one has been able to check). Now because of the passage of time SCO has once again become confused about what is BSD code and what is theirs.

Linux does include BSD code; so does SCO Unix. SCO does not own BSD code but of the few examples that they have given to the public of ‘copied code’ most has been BSD code or standard material such as error code definitions.

Robert Mortimer
IT engineer
Blue Chip Technology

Think thin

I was very interested in your article ‘The lean machine’, on thin client computing on Information Age‘s web site,

We have been running a Citrix-based thin client system here at Maidenhill School since 1997 and it has now matured to become a very available system ( with 99%+) which far exceeds the availability in other local schools with PC-based systems (55%-85% availability). As I am sure you are aware school environments are very hostile for PCs and we needed something much more reliable, where the desktop never changes from lesson to lesson and where all facilities are available at the start of every lesson without fail, especially when users are non-specialist teachers.

We have a Unix server at the heart which controls the systems and allows us to use Linux and Java-based thin clients (120) for the majority of applications, with the Citrix ICA client running a Windows desktop on all to deliver most of our applications using 4 application servers and one print server.

We have clients from a wide range of manufacturers on the system and some are up to 10 years old and still run well – from Mac OS X machines and to old Acorn RiscOS ARM based machines – all running the same desktop.

We watch as schools with full PCs struggle – and fail – to keep their systems going and wonder why the national agency, Becta, does not promote thin client machines for school environments. Local business people who visit marvel at the simplicity of it all from the users’ point of view and can see improvements in efficiency would be possible at their work place through restricting what users can do with their machines – assuming they can persuade users that work is more important than surfing the net!!!

George Harris
Head of ICT
Maidenhill School

Escrow dividend

I would like to respond to the letter on escrow agreements in the January issue of Information Age which asked for examples from end users who have benefited from this type of insurance. With the number of software suppliers going into liquidation at an all time high (1,800 in the last 18 months), more and more organisations are calling on their escrow agreements to rescue business critical applications.

One such client, Canary Wharf Group, recently claimed release of two applications from escrow due to one of their software suppliers going into liquidation. Canary Wharf has invested a substantial amount of money and investment into developing bespoke IT systems to assist the organisation’s construction and development plans. The systems provide the backbone to the Group’s development plans by handling the extensive paperwork process that is involved with any building project from initial designs and planning permission, right through to site instructions. Without these applications being in escrow the cost, both in terms of lost time and development activity, would have had a major financial impact on their business.

Escrow provided Canary Wharf Group with the legal right and technical means to continue to maintain their software applications. [While] keeping a backup of executable copy of the software is important, in the event that the application needs maintaining to keep it in line with a company’s needs or the changing systems environment, only access to the source code will give the protection required.

Jon Leigh
Operations director
Escrow Solutions division
NCC Group

Useless source

Bob Wilen, in his letter on escrow in January’s Information Age, asked for real examples from those who had actually benefited from such agreements. I suspect the post will be very thin on that topic. My experience over twenty years seems to be exactly the same as Bob’s, and indeed in the only instances where my team was forced to use such agreements they had no effect whatsoever on the substantial costs that ensued from the failure of source code suppliers.

Since my career was in one of the major clearing banks it is useful to illustrate the problem with a saying from that industry. The adage is that if you need security in order to justify lending to someone then you shouldn’t be lending money to them anyway. The same is true for escrow – far better to buy the code up-front, lease a sealed copy on your site or that of a trusted third party, or even (as we did one one occasion) buy up the source code supplier.

On a totally different tack, I liked the article on ‘Linux Inc’ in the same issue – but where can I get the penguin tie from?

Bill Featherstone

Editor’s reply: Information Age’s production editor Ivan Lee was the creative force behind the ‘Tux the penguin’ necktie illustration that featured on our January cover. But you can get something close from the ‘Linux Stuff’ section of

As you like it

It is great to see that CIOs of Europe are exploring new and innovative ways of paying for software products, as discussed in your article ‘Pay as you go’ (Information Age, January 2004). But I feel myself asking, why has it taken so long?

Driven by the need to be able to fix and control costs, as well as the desire for fast resolution of IT problems and the ability to adopt new technologies quickly, the SME [small and medium-sized enterprise] market in the UK has already started taking advantage of pay-as-you-go IT.

By making technology affordable and easy to buy, the remote delivery of software as a service is proving the value of IT to businesses and is subsequently paying dividends to suppliers.

The current buzz surrounding and its success is simply down to it being able to offer a low cost way of handling customer relationship management with no up-front fee and predictable monthly costs.

There are, of course, many options available for how to finance IT, so it is important to note that you don’t have to choose the ASP [application service provider] route to take advantage of pay-as-you-go IT.

In the past technology users have not always got what they paid for. Now they will pay for what they get. Just as in the world of fashion, where brown can become the ‘new black’, in IT maybe the pay-as-you-go alternative will become the new ‘must-have’ for 2004. And it’s great to see the SMEs leading the way.

Colin Boag
Managing director
JBS Computer Systems

Unique perspective

I had to write to dispute your use of the term ‘unique’ in your January edition. In the company analysis section you quote Orchestria and claim their technology is unique in that it is able to monitor instant messages as well as incoming email.

I suppose you could be right if they are saying that they ONLY monitor instant messages and incoming email. If they had said the product could monitor instant messages (from all platforms), incoming/outgoing and internal email (from all email systems) and finally Bloomberg mail too, then they might have been able to claim to be unique. But then again probably not, because Assentor, the market leader in messaging compliance and the dominant solution in for [companies governed by US Securities and Exchange Commission rules] already does this and more.

By your definition maybe Assentor is even more unique!

Gareth A. Evans
iLumin Software Services Inc.

Quality time

If organisations are to maximise their investment in call centres they must invest in quality management. To maintain those quality standards and achieve sustained quality improvements they need to listen to the business, the customer and the staff. All too frequently problems are just blamed on the call centre agents.

An integrated continual quality improvement programme is underpinned by information from all three areas used to diagnose, and remedy, the real business problems – not just the symptoms. This continuous process delivers a clear framework for business improvement that has quality at its core.

Most companies have a traditionally reactive approach to quality in the call centre. A problem arises and they solve it, more often than not directing 100% of attention on the call centre agents. A short-term resolution is achieved and quality returns to the back burner. Until the next time!

But quality is not a one-off project; it affects everything. Rather than focusing solely on the agent role, to see real value and real results, organisations need to implement an integrated continual quality improvement approach that embraces the customer, the agent and the business. By feeding information from the business – customer relationship management and employee relationship management into one central point – an organisation can begin to understand and unravel business issues and their implications for customer service and staff retention.

By continually refining the business through this cyclical process, organisations move away from a reactive, one-off response to problems to continual quality improvements. And so quality moves to the core of the business. A clear framework for business improvement is supported by this diagnostic tool that can rapidly highlight emerging problems and monitor strategies implemented to address such problems.

Customer complaints, agent turnover and escalating costs will remain a fact of business. But rather than automatically blaming the beleaguered call centre agent, using this approach, organisations can rapidly diagnose the real problem and address its cause, not just the symptom – and so deliver long term benefit, and the level of service to all who are on the receiving end.

Roisin Tims
Marketing manager

Slow down

The professional services industry has traditionally fostered a culture of working long hours and driving staff hard, with projects often being completed at the convenience of the customer and to tight deadlines. But times are changing. The working time directive from the European Commission (EU) limits an individual to working 48 hours a week. So far, the directive has not had a major impact on professional services firms in the UK, but it takes just one employee to support the directive to upset the whole apple cart.

Professional services organisations now have to face up to the biggest test of their existence to date continuing to deliver above their clients’ expectations in order to ensure that their service offering remains indispensable, without simply turning a blind eye to EU legislation and over-working staff to the point of irreversible burn-out.

In order to keep employees just as satisfied as their clients, service organisations have to automate core business processes to improve project management, administration and scheduling of resources. It’s not about working longer or harder, it’s about working smarter, which means matching the right skills to the right projects and utilising the deployment of staff across the company something that many companies are unable to achieve because they are over-reliant on manual processes.

It is only by having accurate data about people skills, attributes and availability in one snapshot that service organisations are able to take swift action to address inefficiencies in workloads, boosting not only productivity of projects and profit margins, but critically improving staff morale, and therefore staff retention.

Those firms that pursue this strategy will win that elusive competitive edge currently being fought over by the entire global professional services industry.

Len Palmer
Managing Director

Time shift

As workloads get heavier and stress levels get higher, professionals should be looking after their regime at work just as much as their regime on their personal life.

Mobile workers can benefit the most from re-arranging the fundamentals of their working day. Working on the road, plane, train etc and roaming between countries is fraught with inefficiency. It is as much a candidate for slimming down and simplifying as any other part of your life. Bulky laptops (or worse, reams of papers) are not the way ahead as a forward-thinking professional worker.

Thanks to cellular technology such as GPRS, there is no excuse for professionals not to be connected to their offices — and their information — without carrying around bulky equipment and office documents. Taking advantage of these technologies can help reduce work stresses, making you more efficient and improving your quality of leisure time.

But perhaps the most important thing for all mobile professionals, whether they are working for a large company or going it alone, is the difference that working with small, lighter devices will make to your work/life balance. Suddenly, the frustrating daytime that you lose throughout the day becomes yours again. If you spend 10% of your eight-hour day waiting for people, then using your PDA to answer your email would save you over three-quarters of an hour at the end of every day – that’s four hours every week.

Matt Fitzgerald
Satsuma Solutions

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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