Archive | Software

The Russian Software Pirates

Every day here and in dozens of other Russian cities, pirate dealers sell copies of the world’s most popular software titles at $5 per CD-ROM.

Despite fears about the economy, small and medium-sized businesses are flourishing in this elegant northwestern Russian city – and pirated software is installed on almost all of their computers.

Nearly all high-end computer games, Encyclopaedia Britannicas and other educational and reference CDs are distributed through illegal sources.Bootlegged software use is certainly not limited to Russia. Industry analysts say that 27 percent of the software running on American computers is pirated.

And the Business Software Alliance, which monitors business software piracy, says 43 percent of PC business applications installed in Western Europe are illegal copies.

In Russia, however, the piracy rates are a stunning 91 percent for business applications and 93 percent for entertainment software, according to Eric Schwartz, counsel to the International Intellectual Property Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that lobbies internationally on behalf of the copyright industry.

Schwartz said that piracy in Russia costs American entertainment software manufacturers $223 million a year and business software makers almost $300 million. The Business Software Alliance estimates worldwide revenue losses to the software industry from piracy at $11.4 billion.

Under the 1992 agreement with the United States that guaranteed Most Favored Nation trading status, Russia is required to effectively enforce anti-piracy laws, but actual enforcement is virtually nonexistent.

Meeting the Dealers
The dealers, who operate in stalls and kiosks around major transportation hubs or in full-scale markets usually 15 minutes from the city center, offer an enormous range of titles, usually bundled in a form their manufacturers would never dream of.

“That’s Windows 98, Front Page 98, Outlook 98, MS Office 97 SR1 and, uh, yeah, Adobe 5.0,” said Pyotr R., a student at St. Petersburg Technical University, of a single CD-ROM. “On the disk there are files, like ‘crack’or ‘serial’ or something, and that’s where you’ll find the CD keys,” he said, referring to the codes that unlock CD-ROMs and allow users to install the programs.

Pyotr (who spoke, as did all others interviewed for this article, on condition of anonymity) sold that disk, plus a second one containing Lotus Organizer 97, several anti-virus programs and some DOS utilities, for 60 rubles or about $10.

Another dealer was offering Windows NT 4.0 for $5, and Back Office for $10. According to Microsoft, the recommended retail prices for these products are $1,609 and $5,599.

Many Russians, who during the days of the Soviet Union bought most necessities through black market sources, think nothing of buying their software this way. They even defend the markets as providing a commodity that had been long-denied them.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, inexpensive computers began to flood into the country from Taiwan, Germany and the United States, increasing the importance of these illegal software markets. Spending at least $800 on a computer was an enormous investment for Russians, even relatively well-paid St Petersburgians who earn an average salary of around $350 a month. Those who did buy one were in no position to consider purchasing software legitimately, even if it were readily available, which it often wasn’t.

These days, though, legitimate outlets for hardware and software are popping up everywhere in Russia; computer magazines offer licensed versions of everything available in the United States and Western Europe, and software makers advertise in the city’s well-established English-language media.

The markets continue to thrive with an alarming degree of perceived legitimacy. Outside the Sennaya Square metro station in St. Petersburg, a police officer approached a pirate dealer (who offered, among other things, Adobe Font Folio and QuarkXPress) and angrily chastised him for not prominently displaying his license to operate the stall. When the dealer complied, the policeman moved on.

Customers feel secure that the pirated copies will work and that belief appears well-founded. Bootlegged titles come with a written guarantee – good for 15 days from the date of purchase – that they’re virus-free and fully functional.

And files on the CDs themselves boast of high-quality, code-cracking techniques: “When so many groups bring you non-working fakes, X-FORCE always gets you the Best of the Best. ACCEPT NO IMITATION!” boasts one.

“There’s a lot of viruses around in Russia,” said Dima V., a system administrator who runs several small company networks in St. Petersburg using bootlegged copies of Windows NT 4.0, “but most of the disks you buy in the markets are clean. The guys are there every day and if they give you a virus you’ll come back – it’s just easier to sell you the real thing.”

Foreigners get in on the action
Russians are not by any means the only people installing the pirated programs. While employees of multinational companies or representatives of American companies would never dream of risking their job by violating copyright laws, self-employed Westerners, or ones who have established small Russian companies have no qualms about doing so.

They also pose a question software manufacturers find difficult to answer: Who would buy a network operating system package for $5,000 when it’s available for $5?

“Nobody,” said Todd M., an American business owner in St. Petersburg, whose 24-PC network runs a host of Microsoft applications that were all bootlegged.

“There’s just no financial incentive for me to pay the kind of prices that legitimate software costs,” he said. “I mean, it would be nice to get customer service right from the source, but we have really excellent computer technicians and programmers in Russia and they can fix all the little problems that we have.”

Customer support and upgrades are just what the manufacturers point to as advantages of licensed software, even in markets like Russia.

“There are enormous incentives,” said Microsoft’s Mark Thomas, “to buying legitimate software, and they start with excellent customer support and service and upgrades. We spend $3 billion a year on research and development and the money that we make goes right back into making products better and better products. The pirates don’t make any investment in the industry.”

And local industry, Thomas pointed out, suffers disproportionately in the face of piracy.

“A huge amount of our resources are put into making sure local industry builds on our platform,” he said. “When a local company creates packages for, say, accounting firms, and somebody can come along and buy it for $5, these local companies can lose their shirts.”

Piracy getting worse
Despite heavy lobbying by industry representatives and government agencies, piracy has worsened. As CD copying technology becomes cheaper, large factories in Russia and other countries, including Bulgaria, churn out copies of software copied by increasingly sophisticated groups in countries around the world, especially in Asia.

Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote off Malaysia as a market effectively destroyed by pirates, who sold 98 out of every 100 copies of its flagship Encyclopaedia three-CD set for a fraction of its recommended retail price of $125. The same disks, which have not officially even been offered for sale in Russia, are readily available in the St. Petersburg markets for $10.

“For Encyclopaedia Britannica, the cost of piracy is millions a year,” said James Strachan, EB’s international product manager. “One hundred percent of the value of our product is an investment in the authority and depth of our content,” he said. “Piracy causes us extreme concern and we do everything we can to root it out and prosecute.”

Todd M., the businessman with the 24-PC network, offers little hope that the situation will soon change in favor of manufacturers.

“With all the problems I have running my business here in Russia, from armed tax police to Byzantine procedures and customs duties, software piracy just doesn’t register with me,” he said.

“It’s the one thing about doing business here that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Cheesy Feet & Ducks Redux

This is the result of feeding an interview into Dragon Naturally Speaking. Not a word or punctuation mark has been omitted or changed – this is the software in all its glory. The input was a good recording from a Sony ICD-SX750.

I’m still working on how it got “Saddam Hussein”.

So that it will work for just 5 pounds him and I have a small company now… I am starting to think that I am not a moment to him and on Rosenhaus and ask you a few questions are standardized so immersed in really stupid of him will not ask you if you have investigation is ongoing and occasional nasty stuff without going out of their way through it on up until the time that he got the shots were interviewed about 2008 that are possible for them have personal and you typically arrive on the scene with his or her homicidal value on called you arrive after the season closed out with and you can ride generally speaking long long time slot on its own would be dealt with promptly salt or if it’s during the shift will probably do okay at first difficult to be okay you didn’t than just the data to arrive on the scene and no I usually also the guys to do so as to have no car computers I have no car or a computer consultant of soul I don’t get it was like I was but a totally plausible to promote something ownership will call okay so far using it to direct your search for physical evidence or to somehow he even if in your mind or order me respect you a graphic WCCO okay if it’s difficult to Pacific side columns are doing something along the lines of what we’ll try and you will have wanted to go so long as R. what exactly will you stop like to use disputed to the showcase on the direct your search for people in the witnesses are… that’s a no no some threat to serve as the operating room when you let one person calls and as you’ll see shops along policy work for you kind of gauge who’s paying attention more believable claim that he was Saddam Hussein a sort of understanding the process by which interacts across as looking at a crime scene has changed the shots I have see change its enhanced and it’s given us while we…

For more transcription fun, see this article I wrote in 1997

There’s Money In The Middle

In 1997, when WAP was unveiled to the world, the proposed information flow chain neatly stated that content would be provided in wireless markup language (WML), converted to binary WML, sloshed through a WAP Gateway, blown out on cellular networks like GSM, and finally sucked into and displayed on mobile telephone handsets.

Customers who were even able to get the first WAP phones (many models were late in rollout) complained bitterly of slow speeds, caused not just by the service but also by the devices themselves. The over-hyping of WAP, especially in Q1 2000 and Q2 2000, and subsequent disappointing offerings nearly put the nail in WAP’s coffin, from a marketing standpoint.

More significant than the slowness, however, is the fact that with the wireless Internet there are heaps of different devices to format for, and WAP-oriented content providers have the not insignificant task of managing two content formats, one in HTML and one in WML.

Problems aside, WAP probably isn’t going anywhere, at least for the next few years, simply because of device penetration: millions of WAP handsets are already in the hands of users, and new GPRS (general packet radio system) or 3G-enabled terminals will need time to run their product lifecycle from early adopter high-fallutin’ business people, through to the kids in the discos to, well, my mother.

New solutions So as mobile data delivery moves from phone handsets to “terminals”, competing browser protocols and devices will come and go in the coming years. Getting content to all the different devices is still the challenge and there are lots of ways to do it.

Take a straight “delivery system” such as AvantGo, which is purely infrastructure: companies use it to extend their content or applications to a mobile device, by compressing image size and format and optimizing layout for the device requesting the information. It also manages offline versus online content, letting devices with always-on connections browse at will but caching entire sites locally for people with dial-up connections.

That’s a straight compression solution and many in the industry say that “trans-coding” (conversion) of one form or another will be the way to go in the future. Because legacy content isn’t just HTML (it’s often in the form of Word, Quark XPress, flatfiles and PDFs) software that trancodes or converts from old formats to new ones is hot these days, with dozens of startups saying they can do it better than anyone else. Those companies will undoubtedly get shaken out, and some clear winners will emerge in the next year or so. More interesting than them, however, is the coding method and the process used.

As we have seen, the darling of the “do-it-all-code” pack has been XML (extensible markup language). While HTML, the markup language of the Internet, allows control over the appearance of content, such as for bold (the command for a bold typeface), XML allows markup that describes the content itself, such as Le Grove.

The beauty of XML, and XLST, the stylesheets that control how XML can be presented on a page, is that they create a single source of uniformly-formatted data from existing content, which can in turn be squeezed out into whatever flavor you want – HTML, WML, nML and so on.

A new data chain So the new chain of data goes from legacy content to content conversion; to the generic, XML-ized content; to a content gateway, which takes the XML and converts it to both device and code-specific content based on the type of device requesting the data; to the protocol gateway, which negotiates multitudinous device protocols such as WAP, and iMode; to the network and finally to the wireless devices.

You could see how this type of thing would be of compelling interest to Roger Barnes, a consultant for the Rough Guides series of travel guidebooks, which sits on a heap of content in QuarkXPress.

Barnes was approached by AuthorOnce, a company that claimed that they could “actually do it now: take our content, put it through a GUI, and put it out to any platform we wanted,” says Barnes. As we went to press, Barnes had seen and been impressed with a small demo, the success of which had led him to schedule a meeting in New York with the AuthorOnce team and Rough Guides’ senior management.

AuthorOnce is one of several companies offering what may be looked upon as complete middleware solutions – from one end of the chain to the other, and then back again. The company, which has received friends and family backing to the tune of $750,000 and is currently fishing for a first round of funding, claims that what sets it apart from companies like AvantGo and Everypath, is its method of getting data from the legacy system into XML in the first place.

“We’ve got travel books, but we’ve also got guides to music,” says Barnes, “Converting text to XML is one thing, but we’ve got pictures, maps, headlines. The company’s “rule engine” system learns about the way we publish our books every time we work on one. So preparing the new Rough Guide to New York, it knows what we did last time.”

That’s a different added value from offerings from other companies, like AvantGo and Everypath, that simply take content, pull it up into XML, and send it out to a Web or WAP interface. Those companies say that their products are perhaps the most effective way of getting legacy information out to a world of different device formats.

AuthorOnce might disagree, saying that the hardest part of the chain isn’t delivery to the devices, it’s XML-ing it in the first place, and doing it in a way that allows you to control the flow of data and create rules for future conversions of like-formatted but different texts.

Taking one end of the chain
“Well, if you’re in the business of from n to XML, of course you want to view this as the problem,” said Rikard Kjellberg, CEO of Ellipsus Systems, a company in Stockholm that provides the Protocol and Content Gateways. “There are lots of excellent tools that offer the mechanics of going from the database to XML – I’d bet even Oracle would have tools for that.”

Kjellberg’s Ellipsus concentrates on what happens after the content is in XML, and how to best transmit the data to the jungle of devices out there. Its Sargasso Mobile Internet Server gives an open software platform that lets legacy content connect, through any IP bearer (CSD, GPRS, etc) to client devices. It consists of a pull and a push proxy gateway, a directory interface, a manager interface, a security pack and a “gatekeeper” firewall, allowing access control for the Web as well as RMI, CORBA, SOAP and other objects.

That is the unique selling point; Ellipsus allows developers to introduce CORBA (and, for example, Enterprise Java Beans) all the way to the device, letting them make a more dynamic interface to legacy systems than would be available with traditional HTTP.

What it’s doing is creating a virtual thin client within the Ellipsus system, which end users access via nML from their phones. The phone doesn’t need to support CORBA, it just needs to communicate with Ellipsus, from where the object communicates with the legacy content or application. The menu the user sees on the phone doesn’t change, it’s just got a different back end: where a menu would have behind it a URL, like , the object-access menu has an address like .

Ignoring the problem
And then there are those who would ignore the problem completely, saying that they’re focusing on the problems created by having multiple systems in the first place. Companies such as mi4e, a Stockholm-based company that makes a plug-in for web servers that acts as a WAP protocol gateway on existing Microsoft IIS or Apache webservers.

There are also service developers, like France-based Selfswitch or Stockholm-based Expedio, which is producing unified messaging systems that let operators offer customers one central repository from which they can stay connected to voicemail, email, faxes, and a synchronized schedule; or Port42, which makes application portfolio packages that operators can buy in bulk, branding entire suites of applications to offer their customers instant application packages.

Similarly, there is Stockholm-based ZoomOn, which designs and implements vector-based graphics (VBG), and operates on the assumption that WAP – which does not support VBG – isn’t here to stay.

These companies are in effect saying that it’s too early to dedicate a company to bringing content to users via existing platforms or procedures, but that when the platform is agreed upon, they’ll be there selling the stuff that will make people want to burn up those airtime minutes.

In fact, unified messager Xpedio is going one step further, developing a platform for that time, about three years from now, when Britney Spears or whoever is then Britney Spears decides to become a “Virtual Operator.” Britney’s going to give away a SIM card with every CD that lets her teeny-bopping buyers get 10 minutes of phone time, 300 SMS messages and a Kiss Britney game.

“The platform they’re working on lets you, say, if you’re a U2 fan get a U2 subscription whether you’re in Ireland or Sweden,” said Port42’s CEO, Johan Rosenlind. “That’s a great idea but it’s still a couple of years away.”

Not so fast; they, and all other platform vendors will confront significant resistance in the form of iPlanet (the Sun/Netscape alliance), Oracle (Portal-to-go, ASWE9i), the Icelandic entry WAPalizer and Microsoft MIS. Basically, all these tools do much the same thing. How Xpedio will stand up in a fight against the portal-mongers is left to be seen.

Cheesy Feet & Ducks: IBM’s Voice Recognition Software

ducksThe idea of speaking into my computer and having it correctly type what I say has intrigued me since I saw the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, in which Gary Seven dictates to his IBM Selectric typewriter while plotting to sabotage a NASA launch.

The thought that I can now actually say – and have my computer type – the phrase, “The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm, Sunday from noon to 4 pm, closed major holidays,” makes me positively giddy – covering Disney World doesn’t look so daunting anymore.

It was with this light thought that I cheerfully set about installing IBM’s new SimplySpeaking Gold (remember: IBM made the Selectric! No one gets fired for buying IBM!), touted by Big Blue as the software that would change the world. My father was with me, and as I was describing what the software would do (‘yeah, that’s it… I can just talk into it and it will type what I say,’) he was shooting me looks of open dubiousness, if not mild derision.

“Youe’re skeptical,” I said.

“I’m not skeptical,” he said, “I know it won’t work.”

“Why,” I asked, supremely patient with my dottering dad, “would IBM offer a 30 day money back guarantee on it if it didn’t work?”

” I don’t know” said my father,” But it won’t work.”

Chuckling to myself (what does he know?) I set to installing SimplySpeaking Gold. Following the directions to the letter, I donned the little headset that came with the software. The training session lasted about half an hour, after which I started talking and it started typing.

Unfortunately, those two actions were entirely independent. It was as if had installed Tourette’sSyndrome for Windows95. I said,” Hey, look Dad, I’m talking and this thing is typing,” and it typed, “pay stark land vice talking in myths saying it is typing.” (“typing”, I noticed later, was one word it consistently spelled correctly, along with “SimplySpeaking Gold” ) I said, “This system sucks.” It typed, “cheesy feet and ducks.” Okay, it wasn’t really that bad – I am exaggerating a little (just a little) – but it was, in fact, terrible.

I returned it the following day. Later I spoke with a software salesman, who told me that almost everyone who bought the IBM software at his shop (one of New York’s largest) brought it back.

“That’s not to say it’s bad,” he was careful to say, “it’s just that a lot of people bring it back.”


This salesman went on to tell me that a lot of the people who were disappointed with IBM really liked Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but that that software was much more difficult to learn then IBM’s. Since I thought that learning IBM’s was simply a matter of training myself to speak in the manner of one of those VCR manuals that has been translated from the original Korean via Swahili, I was game for anything.

To be fair, IBM’s ViaVoice is said (well, said by IBM) to be better than SimplySpeaking. But in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Einstein reported something hauntingly similar to my experience:

” …when I said, ” This is my first dictation” ViaVoice wrote ” This is mild irritation.” I repeated the sentence and it came out, ” This is missus sophistication’.

Why, that is much better!

My next test was with Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking. With doubt in my heart, I installed the software and went through its training session. One thing that struck me immediately was that while I was reading through the training session’s text (it gives you a choice of three, I chose Dave Barry’s Adventures in Cyberspace) it was recognizing my voice right out of the box.

But I was truly astounded when, after finishing the session, I was able to write a long letter with very few mistakes: this thing actually works! Don’t believe it? Come over to my house and I’ll show you (two of my neighbours are going out to buy it after one demo).

For example, I’m writing the following five paragraphs by speaking into my computer. It’s an absolutely joyous thing: I’m sitting here with my feet on my desk speaking absolutely normally and watching it type everything I say.

And okay, there are some drawbacks (like the fact that it just wrote ” arson” instead of ” all are some’, and I had to go back and correct): I sit at my desk wearing this funky headset and looking for all the world like a Time-Life operator ready to take your phone call (E’Good morning, my name is Nick, are you calling about our Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue?’).

But the fact is, I can dictate into this thing at about 100 words per minute after three days of use – and the folks at Dragon say that this will only improve over time.

I have noticed that in the last few days of using this software intensely it has made the same mistakes on a couple of occasions. But it also learns incredibly quickly. I only had to train ” Minas Gerais” and ” São Paulo” once, and never even had to tell it to recognize Rio de Janeiro. Handy, when IE’m working on Brazil (it also recognized, after training, “rodoviária” and “real”, which are pronounced decidedly not as they’re written).

But you’ve got to have patience (it just wrote ” patients’), and realize that it will take about a solid week before you begin to get close to 96% recognition.

The mistakes NaturallySpeaking made while I recited the last five paragraphs were, “good morning, my name is neck”; “… with my field on my desk”; and the aforementioned, “arson” and “patients”. Still, thatE’s not so bad. Earlier OCR scanning devices made far more mistakes, and for most of the friends of mine who can’t type to save their lives, a couple of mistakes in each paragraph is a far happier situation than a blank page.

But Naturally Speaking – or its presence – did cause some problems on my machine. After running it and other programs simultaneously, my computer crashed – but it turned out to be a Microsoft problem, and I had to download a small patch to fix it. You’ll also need a relatively good machine: while Dragon says you need at least a Pentium 133 Mhz, 32MB of RAM and 65MB of hard drive space, I’d say that’s conservative.

Another good question is whether you can dictate into a tape recorder on the road – some smarter authors (and now I) use a tape recorder for mapping (” J&R Music World on the south side of Park row 200 metres south of John St” ) and it would be a hoot to have the machine transcribe it. Well, short of spending upwards of $250 on a mini disk recorder, you’re out of luck: traditional minicassette and other analog recorders just don’t have the quality to work with NaturallySpeaking.

NaturallySpeaking has several models to choose from, but the recognition engine is the same on all – bells and whistles change as you spend more money. But their basic Point & Speak (US$59 RRP in the US) model allows you to do everything I did here. The Personal edition and Preferred Editions (US$99 and US$149 to US$159) have greater customization abilities, and very expensive Deluxe editions are available as well. SimplySpeaking Gold sells for US$139 in the US.