February 18 is the date for the next judicial proceeding in the settlement over the Google Book Project, which is a massive undertaking to digitize millions of books and other written products The settlement is to a class action lawsuit lodged against Google by several parties, including the Authors Guild, alleging copyright infringement. A first cut at a settlement agreement did not satisfy everyone, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Google was asked to go back to the drawing board and submit a revised settlement.
In a statement released yesterday, the Department of Justice noted that despite “substantial progress” in the proposed settlement, they still have antitrust and copyright concerns. You can read the full statement of interest filed with the court, as well as the statement outlining their concerns with the original agreement. In addition, the DOJ maintains that the agreement still has a basic flaw, that
“it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation.”
The New York Times carries the announcement from Microsoft that it will now provide a free cloud computing service to researchers. This is essentially the same kind of service as that provided by Amazon, IBM and other companies – hosting research data. The wrinkle is the agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Unlike the Amazon service, the Microsoft cloud will be open to researchers identified by the NSF, and provide a series of applications geared toward the needs of those researchers.
It is not at all clear to me from the New York Times article, or the press releases of either Microsoft or the NSF if the service is truly free (that neither general NSF funds or grant monies will be used to pay for it) or not. I have no idea what volume of use is anticipated, so the costs may be negligible, or considered an effective expense in running a testbed for applications that may have commercial viability elsewhere. It could also be considered a plain old investment – with the running of this project developing useful general knowledge for Microsoft and/or plenty of goodwill with researchers that can benefit the company in other ways.
I’m all for this kind of research support, but the question of Microsoft’s motivation seems underreported to me. Why are they getting involved now, arguably the last major player in the cloud hosting space, and what’s in it for them?