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Fox and the Weasel

Capitalizing on the growing popularity of Mozilla’s Firefox, many Linux distributors now package the open source Web browser with their Linux code. According to Mozilla’s licensing policies, distributors may package the Firefox code with the Firefox name and logo, provided that Mozilla approves any changes made to the code. Mozilla wants to protect its trademark and prevent the confusion that might ensue if there were many separate forks of Firefox that all used the Firefox name and logo.

Debian, a Linux distribution closely aligned with the free software movement, is butting heads with Mozilla over these requirements. The folks at Debian want to package a version of Firefox, but they object to using the logo because it’s trademarked and therefore conflicts with Debian’s free-use ethos. They also object to Mozilla’s code approval process, which could disqualify Debian’s browser from any association with the Firefox brand.

So what’s a self-respecting free software advocate to do? One solution would be for Debian to adopt the GNU fork of Firefox, which, in obvious tribute to its parent, is cutely named IceWeasel. Another option would be for Debian to apply the IceWeasel name and logo, which are not trademarked, to its own Firefox code.


Down on the Wireless Farm

As Queue reported in its September 2006 issue, compliance is a growing challenge for enterprises that’s creating business opportunities for those savvy enough to sort it out. Lest we get too bogged down in SOX and HIPAA and Basel II, however, we must remember that compliance with government mandates is a challenge for all industries. For example, farmers across the globe must comply with government reporting requirements to verify the safety of the food they produce. European Union farmers must keep detailed records about their cattle—everything from where they’re grazing to their health problems.

Farmers are turning to technology to help them comply. Companies such as Ireland’s FarmWizard are seizing the opportunity to provide solutions. FarmWizard allows cattle farmers to manage important farming data right from the cow pasture. Farmers can input, view, and manage information using wireless devices equipped with a Web browser. FarmWizard’s wirelessly accessed hosted service shows that this new breed of “Agri-IT” applications closely aligns with computing trends seen in other sectors.


Second-Life Commerce Meets First-Life IRS

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to draw boundaries between the imaginary and the real. Immersive online simulations such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have evolved virtual exchange systems that closely resemble real-world commerce. Players looking for an edge in these games can head to eBay, where valuable items can be bought and sold with real currency, with the actual exchange of goods occurring in the online gaming world.

Congress has noticed all this commerce and is evaluating its policies for governing these virtual-to-real-world transactions. After all, any transaction occurring in a real marketplace using real money reasonably could be subject to taxation, regardless of whether the goods exchanged are tangible or imaginary. But things become complex when you consider the potential real-world value of virtual goods traded in cyberspace. If one person sells a deed to some Second-Life property on eBay, while someone else, acting as an avatar online, completes the same transaction using Second Life’s internal Linden dollars, is the first transaction taxable and the second one not taxable?

The problem for the IRS is that while these games are quite sophisticated, their economic systems lack the structures and institutions, such as a stock market, that real-world tax law relies on. If the lack of these features is what’s keeping taxes out of virtual worlds, it seems unlikely game developers will add them anytime soon.

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Originally published in Queue vol. 4, no. 10
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