The week in technology: The empire strikes back

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Microsoft announced its Google-killing strategy: Windows Live and Office Live. The key part of the new strategy is free, advertising-supported online applications.

Jaws dropped over at Slashdot, where readers were quick to note that support for Firefox - a steadily growing to competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer - was said to be “coming soon” to the new Microsoft implementation.

For months now the world’s biggest software company has been feeling pressure as a result of Google’s ever-growing might. The launch of the Google Desktop 2.0 beta, which replaced some functions of the Windows operating system, further raised the prospect of Microsoft being left behind with the advancement of the new ‘Web 2.0’, led by Google and boosted by the likes of Flickr.com, deli.cio.us, blogging, social networking and the Firefox web browser, which appears to be steadily stealing marketshare from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Further raising the stakes was Google’s recent announcement of a strategic link-up with Sun Microsystems to promote Openoffice.org, an open source alternative to Microsoft Office.

Taking print to the web

The race to web-ify the text of every book on the planet accelerated as Google pushed ahead with its controversial Google Print Library, elements of which are the subject of two big law suits from publishers in the US. Google was not-quite-trumped by Microsoft’s announcement the following day that it had signed an agreement with the British Library allowing the software company to reproduce its non-copyright books on the web. About half of the British Library’s 150m items are estimated to be out of copyright, but Microsoft’s initial plan is to scan in about 100,000 books.

Just a few hours later Amazon announced a plan to sell individual pages from books on its website.

From opposite sides of US politics, authors and former politicians Pat Schroeder and Bob Barr joined forced to rail against Google Print Library’s plans to scan and publish online the entire libraries of several universities, including “snippets” from copyrighted works.

“Authors may be the first targets in Google’s drive to make the intellectual property of others a cost-free inventory for delivery of its ad content, but we will hardly be the last,” the pair argued in The Washington Times, adding that everyone from media companies to architects could see their rights to ownership of their work eroded.

Happy birthday, worldwide web

The worldwide web officially turns 15 on November 13, with the anniversary of the first hypertext document created by HTTP pioneer Tim Berners-Lee.

Fond reminiscences of the early days, such as the Mosaic browser or the HTML primer, were surprisingly thin on the ground but the next week or so is bound to see much musing about the significance of the web. The FT’s own contribution, by James Boyle and picked up by many bloggers,

argued that the evolution of the web was thanks to a “a remarkable historical conjunction of technologies” that could never be recreated today, as lawmakers, policymakers and copyright holders would all be ready to strangle it. “What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network.”

Techdirt which also linked to Boyle’s piece, added that attempts to re-create a ‘controlled’ web - mobile phone content offerings, or interactive TV - have usually flopped, unless “the barriers came down, and people could do whatever they want” with the medium.

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