Suddenly, everyone is in the serendipity business.  Facebook Places promises “serendipitous meet ups between users”.  StumbledUpon reckons it will bring “serendipitous discovery” to iPhone users, and no less an authority on happy coincidences than Google’s CEO is talking about calculating and producing serendipity electronically.   Well, after the last few weeks, my faith in the future of the Internet is genuinely shaken.  Like many people, I am still trying to understand what the very real prospect of the end of net neutrality might mean.

I am from Liverpool, and therefore immediately associated with either football or the Beatles.  I take great pleasure in both.  The Liverpool of the late 1950s that gave birth to the Beatles was a famously fertile ground for music, and especially rock’n’roll (known as “Merseybeat”).  There are a few possible explanations for this, but the most plausible is that the ships arriving from the US (Liverpool was the main transatlantic seaport) brought with them the rock’n’roll and blues records that were in the charts in the States.

It’s worth reflecting that these would have been “grey” imports, exchanged outside of commercial framework the copyright holders would have imagined for themselves, and facilitated by a global communications infrastructure that was barely aware of transporting them. This is how the teenaged Lennon and McCartney discovered their destinies.

The Internet offers possibilities for similar cultural and intellectual cross-pollination, only on a scale previously unimagined.  But wouldn’t an Internet operated for the highest bidder be an Internet that exists almost entirely for the transmission of more and more intimate advertising?  You don’t have to subscribe to the worldview of Ms Naomi Klein to consider this bleak.  I’d recommend reading (for those who have not), The Affluent Society, -also a product of the late 50s- when considering just how felicitous these circumstances might be.

That’s why I believe in the importance of neutrality.  I don’t think that neutrality need be cast as a left-versus-right, regulate-or-deregulate discussion and I am saddened when I read it characterised as such.  I firmly agree with the Mozilla manifesto. The Internet is integral to modern life; the Internet is a global public resource.  Its capacity to facilitate disruption has been a phenomenal engine of economic and (in some or other sense) cultural growth, granting us that great curse of “exciting times”.  There would be nothing serendipitous about an early demise to this.

Englightenment in Dixons

I once read that Bill Gates considered his greatest achievement to be the separation of hardware and software. He must have said it pre-2002 or so, as Google evidently has no record of it, so you’ll have to take my word for it (or ask him yourself).  Then a couple of weeks ago, in the run up to Google’s the-end-of-the-Internet announcement, Eric Schmidt snapped at reporters who suggested that the success of Android made the ChromeOS strategy questionable.  Mr Schmidt offered that ChromeOS is for a different category of devices.

This is why I was impressed by Android and baffled by ChromeOS.  Android seems to me to be a huge step forwards for a sector that was fraught with fragmentation.  ChromeOS, meanwhile, appears to be a backwards step – sure, it will be cheap (at least unless hardware OEMs succumb to patent claims on some of the underlying technology, which makes the Oracle-Google spat over Java all the more interesting), but still, as far as I can tell, a netbook running ChromeOS is a netbook that does less than the same device with Ubuntu, or, let’s say it – good old Windows XP.

And then, I saw this sign in Dixons in Birmingham Airport.  They had a rack of the-computer-formerly-known-as-netbooks, only now, they’re apparently, “Web Browsers”.

Dixons, Birmingham Airport

Woah.  This is probably about the first thing that makes me think Google’s efforts to blur the OS / browser distinction might bear fruit.  If the whole category of device is classified as a web browser, users might not feel that an OS that is only a web browser isn’t such a lemon after all.

Worth noting that this was Dixons: DSG International, one of the biggest players in retail electronics in Europe (El Giganten, PC World, Dixons, Currys).  Wonder if this name will catch on?  And if so…what will us browser makes call our software?

Zonker on OpenSolaris, again

“It seems to me that it’d be a better world for software freedom and free *nix in general if the Solaris die-hards sucked it up and helped work on Linux”

-and with words like that, who wouldn’t want to join the Linux community? Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier is still bashing the OpenSolaris project. I truly believe that some competition between open source operating systems is a good thing, and I am amazed that this is a controversial opinion with some.

Big Blue standardises (in all senses) on Firefox

Saying it out loud: IBM is moving to Firefox as its default browser | Blog | Bob Sutor
“While other browsers have come and gone, Firefox is now the gold standard for what an open, secure, and standards-compliant browser should be. We’ll continue to see this or that browser be faster or introduce new features, but then another will come along and be better still, including Firefox.”