2008: A Year of Tipping Points?

By Ian Darwin on 2008-02-15 16:10 in Category: s/w industry politics

I meant to write this for New Year's but got distracted. Perhaps it's a case of "better late than never". I predicted that 2008 will be a year of several "tipping points".

First the Good News: I had planned to say that 2008 would be the year that Blu-ray definitively toppled HD-DVD in the realm of next-generation DVD players. And it sure looks like I was right on that one. Last year, North-America-wide DVD rental chain Blockbuster Video made the jump. In January of this year, Warner Brothers made the switch. Then in ten days in February, Netflix, Best Buy and Wal-Mart crossed over. So, despite some expensive research firms claims that the format wars will drag on into 2009, I hereby pronounce that it's all over for HD-DVD. Sorry if you bought an HD player and disks before the battle was over, but it's good news for everybody else - now that the format wars are over (even Toshiba seems almost ready to admit defeat, and has apparently decided to quit, according to unnamed sources) - consumers will be willing to buy in, and we can start getting "smart" DVDs into widespread circulation. Oh, and if you happen to be a Java developer or a content developer, check out hdcookbook, a freely-available collection of resources for making Blu-ray DVDs. As far as hardware to make your own, there is Sony's BWU-2005 (retails at $599.99 on SonyStyle; somewhat laughably, there are currently a few listed above retail on eBay).

Of course all is not brightness and cheer at the Blu-ray camp. There have been significant problems of compatibility and functionality in some early players, as well as the expected usual patent-based gold-diggers. And Netflix has something else up their sleeve. Worse, Blu-ray's official web site's press page hasn't been updated since October 2005 - seems somebody there gave up too early :-).

The Bad News: I thought that 2008 might be the year that the United Stats officially became a Police State. it looks like I was right here too. The US Senate passed a bill, wanted by their his-own-word-is-law abiding president, to grant immunity to large telecom companies that illegally gave private customer data including real-time access to all US internet traffic) to the government, simply because the government asked them to. "What? That was illegal? No problem, we'll just pass a law making it legal retroactively." Just as they have wanted for years to be able to make other actions illegal retroactively. The Rule of Law doesn't just mean having laws, it means respecting them, and being able to know objectively what is legal and what is not. Bush's minions want to eliminate your ability to know whether something you're about to do is legal or not. Welcome to the nightmare world of subjective law.

Now fortunately this bill didn't get signed into law, but only because some Democrats in the House of Representatives had enough guts... well, not to vote it down, but to vote to adjourn for the Presidents' Day week-long holiday, knowing that the bill will expire during this time. We've not seen the last of this bill. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and George Bush is addicted to it, and will stop at nothing to get it. He will probably remain president until the end of his term, unless he can engineer a state of emergency for November. And that gives him half a dozen months to ram this bill through. Overall the political scene looks rather bleak for 2008. And the US may yet tip over into police state territory. You might want to get a copy of this guide to citizen democracy while you can still download it.

In an ironic counterpoint, a Liberian pop dive has a new song out telling George Bush "thank you for the rule of law".  The article notes that Africans hold Bush in much higher regard than do Americans; we all know which group gets a closer and better look at him.

The Uncertain News: Hopefully this will not also be a tipping point year for global climate change. Despite last year's heat (or maybe because of it?), this has been a record year for snowfall in eastern Canada. One of the cities in the Atlantic region, having boosted their snow-removal budget last year, had already used it all up by Valentines' Day this year. Perhaps there's still hope for the climate - but don't stop goin' green just yet!

So: watch for turmoil and tip-topping this year. Enjoy it, there'll be another year here soon enough.
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