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Recession and antitrust, again

Readers write in about the Microsoft antitrust case and the quality of MP3 files. Feedback hed: Recession and antitrust, again dek: and the CD vs. MP3 debate rages on.

Microsoft antitrust case

To even suggest, as you did in your recent article, that there is a relationship between the antitrust suit brought against Microsoft and the current economic downturn must be viewed as pure rubbish. If marketing or technological innovation depend on violation of antitrust laws, our economy and our country will be in deep trouble.

You are correct in saying, “Anyone with a great idea and a bit of capital should be able to go to market without being devoured.” But that “anyone” has to obey the law and not engage in monopolistic and predatory marketing tactics as clearly spelled out in Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s ruling regarding Microsoft. If it makes some folks unhappy, so be it. That is the price we pay for living in a law-abiding, civilized society.

I see no reason why a ruling against Microsoft from either the appellate or supreme court should inhibit further technological innovation; the converse, I believe would probably be more true. -Dick Halpern [email protected]

Dear Dick, Thank you for your feedback. However, I believe that you didn’t read my article carefully enough, because I agree with you.

Microsoft broke the law. Microsoft should pay. My argument is, all the stories that came out about its predatory practices have put a damper on innovation. Hopefully the courts will rule in favor of the DOJ quickly, and innovation can be jump-started soon.

Oh, one more thing about the relationship between antitrust and innovation: Every day that goes by while Microsoft stalls, it’s allowed to snuff out another competing software product. Take GoBack, which is a very useful utility. Microsoft reverse-engineered it and bundled it with Windows Me. Also, it made GoBack incompatible with Me. This effectively killed a good product and forced consumers to live with an inferior version of the product in Me. This is exactly what it tried to do to Netscape, and it succeeded only because the antitrust trial has been so protracted. In theory, if you uphold Jackson’s ruling, Microsoft can’t do that kind of stuff and innovation can get going again. -James Mathewson, editorial director

While I found your Microsoft editorial to be insightful and interesting, you missed a point that to me is a major disincentive to produce software. I represent the niche market for software–custom jobs and vertical applications. Having been in this business for some 17 years now, I am supporting a lot of legacy code.

The thing that keeps my small business from moving forward as aggressively as it did earlier is the constantly shifting platform that Microsoft provides. Every couple of years there’s a new OS that we have to adapt to, and the complexity (and thus cost) of supporting old or new code on a platform with inadequate regard for upward compatibility is staggering when the costs cannot be dispersed across a large client base. -Bill Brueck [email protected]

MP3 quality

Even at the high-quality setting, MP3s sound worse than CDs. They are acceptable for casual use, but as permanent archives of music, they stink. The editor incorrectly states that lossless compression is rare. Getting lossless compression of some data, however, is difficult when allowing for an algorithm that can generate a compression rate fast enough to be usable. You can see this by copying a file from a CD and using an application like Stuffit (or WinZip for those stuck in the clone age). Lossless compression can generate a file smaller than the original, but at the cost of expensive processing time. The MP3 standard relies on throwing out some data in order to make the raw data file smaller. MP3 is a lossy format.

Sound-file data size has two components: sample rate and sample size. File size equals sample rate (number of samples per second) times sample size (bits per sample, or number of discrete volume levels) times track length. Since the track length is invariable, the only way to reduce file size is to either lower the sample rate or the sample size. Lowering the sample rate introduces noise so quickly that it’s practically useless as a means of data reduction. Sample size, however, can be reduced while still obtaining reasonable results. This is what MP3s do.

When you decrease the sample size you lose information. Just because I can make a small file into a big one does not mean that I have recreated the data that was missing. -U-Chun Choi e-mail withheld upon request

To start a discussion or ask a question, e-mail [email protected] Letters may be edited for style, length, or content. No anonymous letters will be published.

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