Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 20:36:42 -0400
From: Bob Rankin <bobrankin@ULSTER.NET>
Subject: TOURBUS - 07 Sep 99 - GIF Tax?

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===================================== UNISYS WANTS YOUR MONEY - PART DEUX =====================================

If you've been on the Bus for a while, you'll remember my article "Bad Patents" (30 Aug 98) which described how technology companies are being awarded some pretty silly patents. In that story, I touched on the 1994 situation where UNISYS tried to extract a licensing fee from developers wanting to use the ubiquitous GIF graphics file format.

A bit of background... Almost all images on web pages are in either JPEG or GIF format. And UNISYS owns the patent on the compression algorithm used by software packages that create GIF images. Five years ago when they saw the proliferation of GIFs on the burgeoning Web, the bean counters at UNISYS figured there was a big ol' pile of money to made by putting the squeeze on software developers who wanted to write programs that create or manipulate GIF images.

To put it mildly, UNISYS was harshly criticized from all corners, and was forced to back down. They must have *just* finished wiping the egg off their corporate face, because they're at it again...

One GIF - That'll be $5000, Please ----------------------------------

But this time, they're going after webmasters. As incredible as it sounds, UNISYS is demanding payment of $5000 if you use even one GIF image on your website that was created by an "unlicensed" program.

Did somebody say McStupid?

UNISYS has all but guaranteed itself a prominent place in the hall of fame of most-hated corporations. Hundreds of thousands of people will remember the nuisance UNISYS caused by forcing them to replace all their GIF images, and these same tech-savvy people will surely remember not to buy UNISYS products.

And you SHOULD replace your GIFs - because nobody in their right mind would pay for the privilege of using outdated, patented technology when there are free alternatives that are even better. Unless you know for sure that all your GIFs were created by a UNISYS-licensed program, you should convert your images to JPEG format, or use the up and coming...

PNG! ----

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, and is a new image format that uses a powerful and free compression technique. Both Netscape and Explorer support the PNG format (pronounced "ping") in V4 and higher releases.

And here's a nifty site that'll tell you everything you need to know about PNG files, including how to create and use them, and how to convert other files to PNG format.

<A href=""> </A>

Unfortunately, PNG files cannot replace animated GIFs, but there is a MNG format that supports animation. Hopefully the MNG format will be supported soon in Netscape and Explorer.

What Should I Do? -----------------

If you don't have a web page and you never will, none of this applies to you. You can view patent-infringing GIF files all day long with your web browser of choice, and nobody will care.

It's not likely that a UNISYS lawyer will come knocking if you're running a small site or personal web page. So the first option is to do nothing. If they DO contact you, that would be a perfect time to tell them that you've just decided to "upgrade" your site to the PNG format, and you'll be chucking all those obsolete GIFs anyway.

It makes sense to start converting all your GIFs to PNG format, since PNG files are smaller and will make your site load faster. But if you can't live without GIFs, and you don't want to pay the $5000 GIF Tax, you can get a graphics program that is officially licensed and then re-save all your "illegal" GIFs.

If your graphics software is made by Microsoft, Corel, Symantec, JASC, Adobe, Claris, or a handful of other companies, you can PROBABLY make legal GIFs. To see the official UNISYS press release, and a list of companies that are licensed to use the UNISYS patent, go to:

<A href=""> </A>

What about flaming UNISYS? My suggestion - don't bother. They are their own punishment. This GIF licensing decision will cost them millions in the long run. I like the advice of the folks who run the "Burn All GIFs" site:

> Switch to a non-patented graphics format, burn your GIFs to call > attention to the fact that you're doing so, and avoid patent > minefields in the future.

To learn more about this issue, and exactly what the "Burn All GIFs" people are up to, you can visit:

<A href=""> </A>

Visit the TOURBUS Website! ---------------------------

Don't forget we have over FOUR YEARS of archived TOURBUS issues available at the TOURBUS website. You'll also find the archives of "Tourbus en Espanol" dating back to March 1997, Free Greeting Cards, the Patrick's Face Poll, and Warp The Busdrivers. What could be more fun? :-)

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That's all for now - see you next time! --Bob Rankin

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TOURBUS - 07 Sep 99 - GIF Tax, viruses, hoaxes, urban legends, search engines, cookies, cool sites
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