Complexity, Why Steve Jobs Got More Coverage Than Dennis Ritchie... And What That Says About The Patent System

from the layers-upon-layers dept

ComputerAddict points us to an interesting discussion of complexity of computer systems today, written by Jean-Baptiste Queru. The key point is that, at the user level, the various technologies we use today seem incredibly simple, but the amount of things happening under the hood is awe-inspiring. He starts out by digging into what actually happens when you visit Google's home page:
You just went to the Google home page.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit of about how browsers work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play HTTP, HTML, CSS, ECMAscript, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just connected your computer to www.google.com.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit about how networks work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play DNS, TCP, UDP, IP, Wifi, Ethernet, DOCSIS, OC, SONET, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.
And, of course, that's not everything. From there, he describes what's happening in the operating system and the hardware as well, to demonstrate the complexity involved in the different levels of the technology stack. The key point is that there's an amazing number of things happening behind the scenes, just to do something simple like visit Google's website. And that's pretty awesome:
Once you start to understand how our modern devices work and how they're created, it's impossible to not be dizzy about the depth of everything that's involved, and to not be in awe about the fact that they work at all, when Murphy's law says that they simply shouldn't possibly work.
But, of course, most people only see the UI at the top of the stack. And that, Queru notes, is why Steve Jobs' untimely death got so much more attention that Dennis Ritchie's death the following week:
That is why the mainstream press and the general population has talked so much about Steve Jobs' death and comparatively so little about Dennis Ritchie's: Steve's influence was at a layer that most people could see, while Dennis' was much deeper. On the one hand, I can imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Jobs did and the people he inspired: probably a bit less shiny, a bit more beige, a bit more square. Deep inside, though, our devices would still work the same way and do the same things. On the other hand, I literally can't imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Ritchie did and the people he inspired. By the mid 80s, Ritchie's influence had taken over, and even back then very little remained of the pre-Ritchie world.
The fact is, both are important, but in different ways. We would live in an extremely different world without either of them. And, I actually have to disagree slightly about the idea that "deep inside" the devices would work the same way (if there were no Jobs). Perhaps at a superficial level, but I think it's worth noting that what Jobs made standard at the UI level certainly had some trickle-down effects in terms of what was happening underneath and what sort of technology developments were prioritized.

At the end of his post, Queru then points out how this multilevel complexity shows part of the problem of the patent system:
Finally, last but not least, that is why our patent system is broken: technology has done such an amazing job at hiding its complexity that the people regulating and running the patent system are barely even aware of the complexity of what they're regulating and running. That's the ultimate bikeshedding: just like the proverbial discussions in the town hall about a nuclear power plant end up being about the paint color for the plant's bike shed, the patent discussions about modern computing systems end up being about screen sizes and icon ordering, because in both cases those are the only aspect that the people involved in the discussion are capable of discussing, even though they are irrelevant to the actual function of the overall system being discussed.
I'm going to guess -- having had a few of these discussions -- that the patent system supporters in our comments (including patent lawyers and USPTO employees) are going to deny this. I think this is just a part of it. The patent system is definitely designed to look only at the twigs (not even branches or trees) instead of the forest. And that's why it almost always misses what's "obvious" to those skilled in the art, allowing the granting of patents on basic things that hinder innovation.

But the real issue is related, but deeper. When you look at the technology stack and the inherent complexity, the reason why it works is because you have all these different complex pieces working together with different experts focused on specialized pieces within the stack. That's what allows for massive complexity to occur. But the patent system isn't designed to handle such a system. It's designed to handle integrated systems where top-to-bottom is patented by a single party (or maybe a few parties). The idea that a huge number of players might come together and work together to, in a somewhat ad hoc fashion, build a much, much more complex system, and not seek to profit directly from the overall system but from the pieces and expertise, is antithetical to the entire structure and premise of the patent system.


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  1.  
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    Jeff (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 9:08am

    RIP

    RIP dmr

    Steve may have built the flash and glass, but you built the steel that holds our world together. To put it in a different metaphor - Steve might have been our Capt. Kirk, but you were our chief engineer Scott.

    Safe journey my friend... you'll not be forgotten. The tools you've given us will be with us for generations.

     

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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Once you start to understand how our modern devices work and how they're created, it's impossible to not be dizzy about the depth of everything that's involved, and to not be in awe about the fact that they work at all

    ^This. A thousand times this.

    Back when I worked tech support, one thing I'd say to users to calm them down when they started to complain was this:

    You have a computer. Inside that computer are a dozen different parts, all made by different companies. But wait, each of those parts is actually made out of dozens or even hundreds of different components, also made by dozens of different companies. You put all that together, and you still have nothing useful. You then need to add an operating system made of millions of lines of code. Oh, and hundreds of drivers made by hardware companies. Even after that, you still can't do anything useful. For that you need applications and programs, and guess what, most of those are written by a new set of thousands of different companies.

    It is truly amazing that it works at all. So how does it?

    the reason why it works is because you have all these different complex pieces working together with different experts focused on specialized pieces within the stack.

    Exactly. You have to trust other players to do their part, so you can do yours. And then to put it all together, you need standards. Things like to OSI layers. Hardware standards like PCI, IDE, VGA. Networking standards like DNS. Operating system APIs.

    Imagine if 40 years ago, someone had patented the concept of OSI layers. Or object-oriented programming. Or any one of hundreds of ideas that are the foundations of nearly all technology we take for granted today. We'd be living in a very different world, and it would be much, much worse.

    And that's why all the IP lawyers who are about to argue that patents are somehow necessary are completely and utterly wrong. Patents prevent standards. Patents prevent you from trusting that someone else on their level of the stack is trying to work with you to do something good.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 9:41am

    Re:

    It still scares me when one of our clients says "what's DNS?" I'm forced to answer "It's the service that takes the user friendly addresses and turns them into IP addresses" and pray to god they don't ask why that needs done.

     

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    Josh (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:01am

    Not that I disagree with anything said here, I just thought it was a little amusing how the article's title played out.

    "Complexity, Why Steve Jobs Got More Coverage Than Dennis Ritchie..." (Wait, on TechDirt??) "And What That Says About The Patent System" (ah, there it is)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:04am

    "When you look at the technology stack and the inherent complexity, the reason why it works is because you have all these different complex pieces working together with different experts focused on specialized pieces within the stack."

    What you seem to fail to understand is that it didn't happen all in one blob. Nobody pooped out the whole internet to Google in one shot. It's been an ongoing process.

    It's similar to the automobile. We didn't wake up one morning to find that little elves has created highways and variable valve timing quad cam sports cars. We got there piecemeal, with each piece put on top of each other. Often those pieces were patent (remember the modern wind shield wiper? It's history made for a good movie). Through the process some was patent, some was open, and all of it piled one piece on top of another.

    As for the title of the piece, the answer is pretty simple: We rarely if ever idolize the plumbers, the electricians, or the stone masons who work to create a modern skyscrapers. We celebrate the designer who came up with the building's look, or the person who it is named after. Ritchie was a great plumber, he in fact defined and set the standards for "plumbing" in the field. Jobs was a master of aiming the plumbers to create useful products, not just pipes. We tend to celebrate the man who's name is on the products, not the people who actually built them to his design.

     

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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:06am

    I think the only way to understand your computer is to write an OS for it from the ground up.

    I did that, once. And like all great learning experiences, I now know horrifyingly less than when I started.


    (And even if you do this, btw, you'll still be relying on a lot of hardware abstraction layers. Ex: Virtual memory spaces aren't even handled at the level of the OS, they're handled at the RAM & HDD level. You no longer have to reference the specific memory space, or tell the head to read, write, move, or change cylinders, you just reference what space from 0-2^64 you'd like to read from/write to)

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:10am

    Re: Shorter!

    Are you saying 'Open Source" has been fulfilling the promises of the Patent System regarding advancement of technology? All while the Patent System has been busily attempting to organize itself into another mafia organization taking people's money via shakedowns and fraud? Are you comparing "Open Source" to Good Guy Greg??

     

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    John Doe, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:10am

    I have been saying this about smartphones

    The fact that a smartphone can even exist with the patent system we have is a miracle. Well, except for Samsung who is being kept out of markets by Apple.

    There is no way a brand new company could start making smartphones. They would never be able to pay their way through the patent thicket. And that is a shame because a new company might just have a breakthrough idea.

    If you look at it today, most companies seem to beg for forgiveness (ie - settle lawsuits) rather than ask for permission (upfront licensing) because it is probably cheaper. Not every patent holder will sue and not every patent holder that does sue will win. So it is best to just take your chances.

     

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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:14am

    Not this

    Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

    NOT. We engineers objectify the different systems and modularize them for easy interaction and replacement. We can also understand (and even improve!) the individual systems without getting dizzy. This is why the majority of software engineers oppose software patents. If it was really that hard, we might think that monopolies on things like "one click" were warranted. They aren't.

    I do agree that to your average user, this seems very complex. It's like trying to teach creative writing to a member of an isolated tribe who has never seen writing. Very few common points of reference.

    So now all the USPTO needs to do is replace the isolated tribe members with Engineers...

     

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  10.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:20am

    Re:

    For cars & plumbing, we have nowhere near the level of complexity, and all the complexity is viewable from the consumer side.

    I can go downstairs and look at my pipes. I can open the hood of a car and look at the engine.

    You can't do that with a computer.

    A car also has only a few primary ways of doing things. You have a combustion engine, a hybrid, an electric, a fuel cell . . . I can list all the possibilities here, very quickly.

    I cannot possibly list all the ways to accomplish what a computer does. The list is literally infinite. If we put usability limitations on the possible methods, we still come up with a number like 2^64 for how we could arrange our elements, and that still multiplies by our possible choices of elements to include . . . and how to encode our elements, whether we encode the whole thing before we send it, what encoding scheme to use, do we hash the elements? Do we provide a checksum? Do we . . .?

    If I had to make an analogy to cars that was accurate, well, that can't be done, but the right direction would be something like this:

    Imagine you have a car, with a car engine. Now we make something out of those cars. Maybe a bigger car that uses a car for each of it's four "wheels". First, we need to build the 'car' to put on top of those four cars. Then, we need a whole bunch of tubes and wires to synchronize those four engines, and team the outputs and inputs from each of them to the central engine in the bigger 'car'. Not only is the 'car' a complete system on it's own, to communicate and control the cars below, that's an entire system on its own.
    But we're not done. No, that's just the computer hardware + a hardware abstraction layer.

    Now we need an OS. And to communicate between the OS and the computer, we need drivers.

    In other words, we need a yet bigger car that uses four of our cars that have cars for wheels. And another system to tie this car to the four cars with cars for wheels.

    But we're not done there. We don't have a way for the user to drive the car yet! Well, if he's a technician he can, but it's not user-friendly.

    So, using the tools embedded in the OS, we make a nice little program which connects to a steering wheel, brake, and gas, and the program relays the information it gets from those to the OS, which interprets the information and sends commands to the HAL, which interprets that information
    and send commands to the hardware.


    But wait! We're not done yet! We haven't networked yet! We need an entirely new system just to relay information from one of these user interfaces on cars on cars on cars!

    Like . . . a giant car connecting all the UI's on cars on cars on cars. And then to use that giant car, we need another UI.


    I'm truly sorry for the horrible, horrible analogy, but really it was you who made it. Hopefully you've seen the error of your ways in making this analogy.

    (You'll notice I haven't addressed the patent question)

     

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  11.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re:

    Also, I drastically simplified how a computer works.
    Just in case you weren't sure.

    Each part of a desktop computer, with few exceptions) is far more complex than the modern car engine, minus the computer it uses to control its parts, and that's just talking about the hardware.

     

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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:25am

    Re: Not this

    So . . . you modularize your thinking so you don't have to think about it too much? :p

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:37am

    The real cause for the difference in reactions to Dennis Ritchie's death and Steve Jobs's death is that Dennis Ritchie stopped doing things groundbreaking enough to be discussed among developers 30 years before he died.

     

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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:46am

    Re:

    Dude, you need to back up and understand electronics and microprocessors first. But something tells me you got an MIS degree, and decided to hack a little. Are there a lot of systems? Yup. Do they do radically different things? Nope. RAM isn't part of the OS level? Hmmm...

     

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    Paul (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:48am

    Maybe we need to factor in this complexity when judging the value of a patent

    Say Apple is suing Samsung over 4 or 5 patents on tablets (I know, that's far fetched, but just for the sake of argument).

    How do we value these four patents? I believe we need to factor in the complexity of the technology in a way Judges and lay persons can understand.

    Now suppose about the same number of patents cover tablet computers as smart phones which, according to a number of sources, is about 250,000 patents.

    Obviously some patents would be worth more and some less, but no matter how you slice it from an IP point of view, all of these patents have some value. And from a common sense point of view, the sum of the value of all of these patents should approximate the profit on the product.

    As a rule of thumb then, each patent value should average 1/250,000 of the royalties due on the device, in terms of royalties owed to the IP owner. So say 30 percent of the profit goes to the guy that makes and sells the device, and fully 60 percent goes to the IP owners. Say further the profit on the device is $100. That means, on average, a patent *should* be worth about 60/250,000, or .024 of a penny. Should a patent be *really* important, then I guess it might be worth 100 times as much as another patent, i.e. 2.4 cents.

    Can we really reasonably judge the value of one patent over another when they are all equally necessary to produce the product at hand? But wait, a design patent is actually *less* necessary than one on some fundamental technology like wireless communications. (The last you have to have, but a design might be avoided). So from an objective point of view, the design patent can't really be worth more than a technological patent.

    If we built up an approach to judge the values of patents in this fashion, I think we pretty much solve the patent thicket problem. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on a patent that can net you .0024 cents on a device?

    Seriously, we DO need something like this. Without some limit on how many hands can dip into the till, it becomes increasingly hard to innovate a highly technological product.

    Strong IP folks are fond of saying that everyone deserves and equal share of the profits built on their work. All I am saying is "Great! And here is how we can compute your share".

     

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    Paul (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:53am

    Re: Not this

    Most of the Engineers I know are dizzy all the time. And IR1

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 10:59am

    Re: Re:

    All that and you missed the point. I wasn't trying to suggest that a car is as complex as a computer network, only that, just like a computer network, so many things have to happen to make it work.

    The point also being that we don't tend to celebrate the guy who made the power steering, we celebrate the designer of the car, it's looks, whatever. We don't celebrate the guy who figured out how to create an evaporative recovery dual line gas distribution system, or the guy who invented the wheel bearing. We celebrate the latest McLaren F1 or Fisker electric.

    Almost every "technology" that we use today is in fact a collection of technologies, or a stepping stone grouping of ideas to get to the final product. That final product didn't come on day 1, and many of those products use patent ideas as part of the stepping stone process.

    That you think I was trying to make some sort of comparison of complexity here is to entirely miss the point.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re:

    "We celebrate the designer who came up with the building's look, or the person who it is named after. Ritchie was a great plumber, he in fact defined and set the standards for "plumbing" in the field. Jobs was a master of aiming the plumbers to create useful products, not just pipes. We tend to celebrate the man who's name is on the products, not the people who actually built them to his design."

    Except that isn't fully accurate. Your house comparison compares the designer to the workmen and you then claim Dennis Ritchie was a workman but he wasn't.

    Dennis Ritchie in your example, was the founder of modern plumbing; He was the master architect that laid down instructions and ground rules not just to the current workers but to workers for generations after him.

    We revere people who revolutionize the field of a subject; Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs both contributed much to the field but without Dennis Ritchie, Steve jobs would not have been able to direct his workmen.

     

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  19.  
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    Guy Thomas (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:05am

    Re:

    Last night I learned that one of the major players in the shipping container world (Seaspan?) gave up a patent they had in order to enable a worldwide standard for container corners. By doing so they enabled a universal standard for how containers were picked up by cranes. That enabled a revolution in worldwide shipping. The patent would have got in the way of that progress. So there are precedents for how patents can hinder progress.

     

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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re:

    Heck, I don't even have a degree yet. When I tried to write the OS, I wasn't even in uni yet.

    Of course, I also knew it was a problem way above my head when I started.

    "RAM isn't part of the OS level? Hmmm..."
    Parts of RAM which used to be in the OS no longer are, yes.
    When I started the project, I was using a very old computer, and I had to control a lot of RAM procedures. I vaguely recall allocating sectors and building pointers and something like that. By the time I had given up completely, we had a new computer, and although you still wanted to allocate memory, you did this for internal bookkeeping rather than the fact that it was required by the way the RAM worked.

    Of course, I could've been confused from the start and still completely wrong ;p

     

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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Not this

    Are you serious? WTF does "Think about it too much" mean? Shall we look at the above "Car" analogy, and see that in an internal combustion engine, we are dealing with:
    1: A fuel system, with a specially-formulated chemical cocktail which stays inert in the tank, but explodes when mixed properly with air and pressurized(diesel) or pressurized and ignited(gasoline)
    2: A carburator, which mixes the fuel with the proper amount of air to support combustion, depending on ambient temperature and current engine RPM's or throttle setting
    3: The engine block, consisting of pistons which are blown out when the fuel/air mixture is properly pressurized and/or ignited, intake valves which allow the fuel/air mixture into the piston cylinder, outlet valves which allow the spent fuel out of of the piston cylinder, rings which seal the piston in the cylinder...

    This is just a small section of a simplified engine, which you modularized above to "engine". Hybrid gets much more complex, as does fuel injection, rotary engines, etc. Plus the fact that you claim that there are "infinite ways" tells me you are talking out of your rectum. You can't open your computer case and trace your circutry with a probe? I really just think you are just ignorant of the basics. Do some microprocessor Instructables. Learn to crawl before trying to run.

     

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    Guy Thomas (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re:

    "Sea-Land" not "Seaspan".

     

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  23.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: Re:

    No, your comparison was incorrect due to the complexity differences.

    How can I put it? Let me compare to the architect. The architect builds something beautiful. It is that beauty which we celebrate. His work is possible because of the engineers who figured out concrete and rafters and all sorts of stuff, and probably a few engineers who directly figured out how to build what he imagined. The engineers made it possible, but the architect created something beautiful.

    Steve Jobs didn't make something beautiful or complex. He put the finishing touches on something that was already beautiful & complex. He made computers more accessible. If we want to compare to cars, he designed the leather seats. The engineers behind the scenes here are the ones responsible for the beauty, complexity, and utility.

    In that analogy, dmr is the architect, and Steve Jobs is the interior designer. And I think that without the complexity of the computer, you would see that much more easily.

     

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    MikeC (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re:

    I just tell them to think of card Catalonia and the dewey decimal system... it does ring with some of the older folks.

     

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    MikeC (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:32am

    Unix & C were a hoax anyway

    http://www.math.psu.edu/tseng/unix-hoax.txt

    Richie himself help bring to the light -- back to pascal everyone.

     

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  26.  
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    MikeC (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:34am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Wish we could edit these posts -- Card Catalog .. not sure where Catalonia came from!!

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re:

    "Your house comparison compares the designer to the workmen and you then claim Dennis Ritchie was a workman but he wasn't. "

    No, I wasn't suggesting that. Ritchie is, for want of a better description, the "master plumber". He has detailed out and built the basis for all of this great stuff.

    But, alas, he didn't build the great stuff. Unix by itself in unapproachable by most. Until someone like Jobs comes along and leads a force of people to take that amazing plumbing and make it part of a great house, it is nothing but pipes on the ground to most of us.

    We celebrate Jobs because he lead us to have great houses. We don't tend to celebrate those who made the breakthrus that made the house possible.

    It doesn't diminish the work that Ritchie did, or try to place him on a scale next to Jobs. It is more a question of what we are the public see at the end of the pipe. We celebrate what we can see, not what makes what we see possible.

    "We revere people who revolutionize the field of a subject; Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs both contributed much to the field but without Dennis Ritchie, Steve jobs would not have been able to direct his workmen."

    You have in this sentence explained why the patent system works and needs to continue to exist. There are many who's life work depends on the work of others. Why should those "others" not get credit?

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:43am

    Re: Unix & C were a hoax anyway

    That's an OLD April fools joke. I'm posting this in case you are serious, but I marked you funny in case you were joking.

     

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  29.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:45am

    Re:

    Input > Magic Box > Output

    What else is there to understand about a computer?

     

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  30.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Not this

    Agh, goddamnit. Long post got deleted by obscure accidental, now disabled, hotkey combination.

    I'm not going to type it up again.

    Basically: If you're comparing the computer hardware, minus all the HALs, OSs, programs, etc., to a cars hardware, I'd have to say I agree that the complexity is roughly the same neighbourhood.

    If, however, you go further and say that including the OS and programs are on the same level, well . ..

    In car, ordering matters. We can't put the carburetor at the end of the engine. I'mma simplify, but if a car engine has 500 parts, and we have ten choices for each part, we have 10^500 combinations. Around what, 10^10 of them are working combos? I'm willing to bet that's an over-estimate of all the different possible types of cars.

    In a computer, the programming is an abstract interpretation of bits. Each and every single possible interpretation of data is valid. What the data can represent is, itself, infinite.
    If we deal with 500 bits, we have 2^500 possibilities on what values the data has, and order still matters amoung those 500 bits, (and pretending that we have a specific type of data to convey so that that's irrelevant), we end up with 500!*2^500, which works out to I think 10^1250? (Head math)

    And these days, we deal with streams of billions of bits. Right on our desktop computers. Big companies deal with streams of trillions of bits.


    Which is why we adopt standards. But everyone argues over standards, to the point where we have dozens of standards for the same goddamn thing, and . . . well, if you don't compartmentalize, you just can't get work done. Btw, our standards, HALs, and OS's don't fall within the "working" part of the combination. They aren't mathematically proven.
    Which is a fancy way of saying that they have bugs, and given their complexity, always will. Keep in mind that these are 'perfect' systems, (being abstract) with no real world problems that would result in problems in a car; like wear & tear, or rust. The computer does. The abstract programs working on them do not.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, you're a troll and/or looking to turn this into a patent debate. In that case this will be my last reply.

    We revere Einstein, what tangible products did he bring us? it was his theories that everyone knows him for.

    We revere Gallileo and Kepler, yet they brought us little that was tangible, they are best known for theories.

    Throughout history we have held people in esteem that gave us new ways of thinking or doing things, even if they didn't make something that helped the common man at the time yet when it comes to computers we are blinded by form and only hold that to esteem without regards to the function.

    "You have in this sentence explained why the patent system works and needs to continue to exist. There are many who's life work depends on the work of others. Why should those "others" not get credit?"

    You don't need patents to get credit. For that matter, you don't need copyright or any other intellectual property. We hold Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds in high regard for their work yet they specifically created stuff for others to use; They shun the patent system and only use copyright to the extent required in our current climate to make sure that another company doesn't sue them frivolously or try to lock up that which is not theirs.

     

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  32.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not this

    Sorry, order doesn't matter amoung those bits, but it still needs to be consistent.

    Which is to say, I can't output {datatype,data}, and read {data,datatype} (or vie versa), but I can in/out {datatype,data} or {data,datatype}.

     

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  33.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:12pm

    Just another plagarist.

    A shell is just application software.

    Many people can, and have created any number of more user friendly applications to separate the scarier part of the operating system from the end user.

    Jobs is by no way unique in this. He stole from the same originals.

    It's just that he used to be more upfront about this. Although Apple has always been litigious in a way that helped hold back progress in the entire industry.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:13pm

    Devil's in the details...

    Steve Jobs never did any groundbreaking work in this regard.

    Woz and other similar guys did.

     

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  35.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Because of Mike42 below, I'mma correct myself. Each part of a desktop computers hardware, if we include the HALs outside the OS that govern it, is more complex than a car.

    Just because a computer is complex doesn't mean I should understate the complexity of a car ;p

     

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  36.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not this

    AND I left out an important part.

    All this means the upper limit on the complexity of a computer comes down to the programmers and engineers who created each and every single piece of it.

    Which is millions and millions of people worldwide. Who have millions and millions of different viewpoints and different ways to get things done.

    If you think developing for 3 OS's (windows, Mac, *Unix) is hard, imagine how hard it would be if we never developed standards lower down, and had to also develop for 9 different types of computers with 13 different types of hardware abstraction layers, with 3 different types of processors?

    (Actually, you ARE, but there are automated tools that take care of all that for you, thanks to a very finite number of standards)

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:21pm

    Did the article mention SDCH? I wonder how many Chrome users out there have no idea they're using a brand new HTTP compression scheme when they Google something...

     

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  38.  
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    Samuel, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:48pm

    And, I actually have to disagree slightly about the idea that "deep inside" the devices would work the same way (if there were no Jobs).

    You ARE aware that OS X is built directly on BSD, right? That's Ritchie's territory, not Jobs'. Sure, Apple has made its contributions, but it certainly has not made any revolutionary changes to it deep-down. It's still BSD, and functions as such "deep inside".

     

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  39.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I agree with you 99%, except I would argue that Steve Jobs didn't put the finishing touches on anything. He hired people who did it, insulted them, fired them, and then showed the press a big dog-and-pony show about how great it was. If his presence added anything to Apple, it was that he would kill any project that he wasn't living up to his extreme expectations.

    I've been disgusted by Mr. Jobs for decades. I always hoped he'd see the error of his ways. Now he never will.

    He was nowhere near what the press has built him up to be. He really was less of a man than most, and Ritchie is certainly more deserving of praise.

     

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  40.  
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    The eejit (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Re:

    The risk of it stabbing you in the face with a faulty RAM stick?

     

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  41.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Mike; Do we still disagree on the car/computer thing or has what I posted/corrected myself come close to what you're thinking?

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Shorter!

    There is good open source and their is bad open source, just as there are good proprietary software and there bad proprietary software packages.

    Open source <> Good
    Proprietary <> Bad

    Oh, and OpenSource is not better than proprietary.

    Open Standards == Good

    Open standards are a good thing but that is completely different from open source.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re:

    You CAN open a computer and look at the inner workings, what you are describing as complex and abstract is "computing: the act of using a computer". Your analogy should have been to compare the computing experience to the driving experience which are both complex and difficult to fully understand.

    Surfing the internet on a computer is like driving in a car on the highway. DRM designed the rules of the road for the information super highway. Now who can tell me who designed the actual rules of the road for physical highways.

     

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  44.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "You CAN open a computer and look at the inner workings"

    You mean I can open it up and see the OS and the HALs and the microscopic circuitry, (some of which is on the scale of atoms now), and the flow of electricity, and the programs & the drivers . . . (etc)?

    Most of that only exists in an abstract state, as a state of the hardware. It is unseeable. Now, I can point you to the sourcecode for my OS, but I'm not able to point you to the source for the HALs, except the one in the OS.
    I suppose I could get the machine code for everything, but show me the human who could take less than lifetime to understand every bit of the computer through its machine code.

    Meanwhile, saying DRM designed 'the rules of the road' for the internet is completely false. DRM wasn't even invented when the precursors to the internet were around.

     

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  45.  
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    MikeC (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Re: Unix & C were a hoax anyway

    Apparently the grin didn't come through -- I take the world less seriously every day, if I couldn't laugh I might have to go physco on some folks.. :)

    Then the article isn't totally wrong - they have some real points. I have to admit as a person who has coded in numerous languages and have installed/supported several operating systems -- C & Unix are very powerful but overtly complex and not user friendly. I'll take pascal over C any day. "BTW" is does anyone still use Pascal??

    I used to code for Accuray(ABB) coating control systems on a Honywell Mini-Computer too. Big box storing code on 8" disks - loved being able to edit memory registers directly while it's running! The Teletype machine for input sucked though!

    Mike

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    It is in the same manner that looking at a road cannot allow you to see the soil compaction tools that were used or the study of hydraulics and how it was used to create the machines the built the road, or the high quality machining that went into the parts that made up those machines, or the massive foundries used to make the steel used in those parts, or the fine calculations required to get the right level of carbon in the steel, etc. I could go on without end, as it goes all the way back to a man chipping one rock from another.

    Trying to act like one is more complex than the other entirely misses the point that both are complex and made up of many parts many technologies, and many processes. Some of those are patent, some of them are not. It's the nature of the game.

    You have to look past the literal to see the reality.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You don't need patents to get credit"

    I didn't come here to debate the patent system (at least not in this thread), but if you must use such schlock, I have to answer it. Sorry!

    There is no absolute in anything. Once you stop using bizarre absolutes to try to pin other people into indefensible positions, you might get a better answer. Nobody is saying Patents are an absolute need, they just work that way. They to a great or lesser extent enforce what should otherwise be automatic. There is no absolute need. Get over it.

     

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  48.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Trying to act like one is more complex than the other entirely misses the point that both are complex and made up of many parts many technologies, and many processes."

    Eh, the point is that the computer is vastly more complicated and thus causes a lot of problems when people try to patent inventions in that area. I'm not saying patents, or software patents, are wrong or bad, (here, at least), I'm just backing up that the complexity of the issues in question is large enough to create problems when superficial end-user parts are patented.

    So, back to complexity: I haven't even begun to talk about how computers are created.
    Why have you begun to talk about how cars, sorry, roads, are created? I have no idea a road was an integral part of a car, (It's a completely separate system, which matters when we talk about complexity. Additive instead of multiplicative).

    A computer, with all it's hardware and software, is undoubtedly more complex than a car, & all the roads & road rules & traffic lights, and traffic systems.

     

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  49.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think I'm with you now. The complexity is all in how you look at it. Even plumbing seems simple at first glance. Now ask yourself how you get water to the top of a 50-story sky scraper?
    It's all about understanding the domain. Everything is more complex that you see at first glance. And then it isn't. :P

     

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  50.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Why did the PC beat the Mac, Amiga, and IBM PS2? All had better graphics, sound and performance.

    Well, because IBM didn't buy exclusive rights to DOS, Microsoft was able to license compatible flavors to other manufacturers. Compitition pushed prices down, and the wide user base encouraged software developers to use the platform. People "shared" software, and everyone knew someone who had a stash lying around. Yes, pirates helped grow the market of pc's without question.

    So, basically, the openness of the PC platform didn't just canibalize the personal computer market, it grew the market into sectors which had not been explored before. Heck, in 1988 I was installing a system which a tombstone company was using to cut stencils for inscriptions! 1988!

    If only more people understood the concept of open, the world would be a better place.

     

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  51.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not this

    Alright, one more concept to lay on you (and blow your mind!)
    Your computer? All it does is add. 1's and 0's. That's it. It looks like it's subtracting, multiplying, dividing, moving, etc. because it's doing several computations in one clock cycle. But at the lowest level, all it does is add.

    Hows that for simplicity/complexity/simplicity/complexity/simplicity?

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 4:27pm

    Re:

    Really Gopher was better and meaner it also was patented I don't think you know what Gopher was LoL

    On the other hand SMTP was free unincumbered by patents, IP was not patented and even lawyers know about it.

     

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  53.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 4:31pm

    Re:

    You are right I don't understand that fascination with people who did nothing for centuries now like Archimedes, Einstein, Leibniz, Newton and others.

    Did you know that most Nobel prizes are given for life achievements and not current research it is absurd.

     

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  54.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Maybe a good submission for Damn You Autocorrect?

    Was your post sent from your iThingy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    icon
    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 9:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not this

    That might've blown my mind a long time ago :p

    What really blows my mind is that this means that computers are capable of a fuller range of thought than we are.

    What really, really blows my mind is that literally anything can be a turing-complete computer, if you apply the right interpretation algorithm to it. Arrangement of frogs on lilypads? Students in a lecture hall? Rocks in a grid? An empty lecture hall? Yep.


    Man, no wonder we break down computers into such small, workable parts.

     

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  56.  
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    freak (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 9:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Huh, that's unexpected.

    I thought I was being particularly unclear & unlucid today. *shrug*

     

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  57.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:03pm

    Re: There is no absolute in anything.

    Is that an absolute?

     

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  58.  
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    PaulT (profile), Oct 19th, 2011 @ 12:59am

    Obvious?

    I haven't had time to read the thread or do more than skim the article yet, so forgive me if I'm repeating anything here. However, to me, the reason is pretty damn obvious:

    Steve Jobs was a public figure and a celebrity. Ritchie was not.

    Ritchie worked away from the public eye and was completely unknown to the mainstream. While he directly influenced a lot of things that people use every day, his inventions were not in everybody's conciousness. Just as, say, the guy who invented the microwave or the guy who invented the joypad are unknowns even though their inventions have changed lives equally.

    Jobs, on the other hand, was the public face of a major corporation. His hand was in everything that Apple released, and most people were aware that when they hold their iPhone or MacBook, they hold something Jobs directly influenced. They almost certain first discovered these inventions when they were first grasped on stage in this black turtleneck-covered arms.

    It's nothing to do with patents. It's celebrity. That's the only reason Jobs got so much press, while Ritchie got so little - he wasn't a celebrity. Even if Ritchie did more to shape the world of today, our media aren't interested in people who aren't celebrities.

     

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  59.  
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    Peter Kinnon (profile), Oct 19th, 2011 @ 1:03pm

    There are no true inventors!

    Comments such as the following by Anonymous Coward are echoed by others throughout this thread
    "When you look at the technology stack and the inherent complexity, the reason why it works is because you have all these different complex pieces working together with different experts focused on specialized pieces within the stack.What you seem to fail to understand is that it didn't happen all in one blob. Nobody pooped out the whole internet to Google in one shot. It's been an ongoing process. It's similar to the automobile. We didn't wake up one morning to find that little elves has created highways and variable valve timing quad cam sports cars. We got there piecemeal, with each piece put on top of each other. Often those pieces were patent (remember the modern wind shield wiper? It's history made for a good movie). Through the process some was patent, some was open, and all of it piled one piece on top of another.""

    These observations are both very true and very important to our proper understanding of this World.
    What is almost always overlooked, however, because of our naturally anthropocentric standpoint is the logical consequence of such observations. Namely that, except in a very limited sense, we do not "create" or "design" things but rather that and technology EVOLVE within the medium of our collective imagination.
    As Carl Sagan put it "To make an apple pie you first have to create the universe"
    Without Ritchie we would still have a functional equivalent of Google, just as without Newton or Liebnitz we would still have the calculus of variations, or relativity without Einstein. I am not disparaging any of these individuals but it must be admitted they were mostly picking the low-hanging fruit.
    This is expanded upon very informally in the context of a broad evolutionary model (which extends well beyond the realm of biology) in: "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" (free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)

     

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  60.  
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    Peter Kinnon (profile), Oct 19th, 2011 @ 1:14pm

    No inventors - corrections to previous post

    Carl Sagan's remark should read:

    "To make an apple pie from scratch you first have to create the universe"

    Further down "... that science and technology EVOLVE ..."

    Sorry, more haste, less speed I guess :.(

     

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  61.  
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    JPerry (profile), Nov 6th, 2011 @ 12:37pm

    And, I actually have to disagree slightly about the idea that "deep inside" the devices would work the same way (if there were no Jobs).

    I have to disagree with your disagreement. I offer a simple example as proof. Originally, iPhone was made to work on AT&T's GSM / GPRS / UMTS system. Then, only later was it reworked to work on Verizon's CDMA system. iPhone was changed to work on a different network. The network, I can assure you was not changed to work with the iPhone. :)

    I'm going to guess -- having had a few of these discussions -- that the patent system supporters in our comments (including patent lawyers and USPTO employees) are going to deny this.

    They can deny it if they want, but's it's obvious to anyone who has a degree in Computer Science.


    The idea that a huge number of players might come together and work together to, in a somewhat ad hoc fashion, build a much, much more complex system, and not seek to profit directly from the overall system but from the pieces and expertise, is antithetical to the entire structure and premise of the patent system.

    Apparently, you have never heard of Linux, Copyleft, GPL and the Free Software Foundation. Well, you say, those aren't commercially viable entities. Really? Google Android is built on the Linux operating system and it's free. Did Jobs or Gates, ever, ever give anything of significant IP value away for free? No, Linus Torvalds did.

     

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  62.  
    identicon
    Jesse Perry, Nov 6th, 2011 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not this

    yeah, all Einstein did was add, huh?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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