Vista Revisited

I have a confession: I use Microsoft products. There. It’s out. Considering the tone and content of this site, I think I would do well to explain myself: Our company provides web development services – plenty of FLOSS applications in this respect, from development tools and web servers to complete API’s. We also provide consulting and network administration services and it is, like it, or not, a Windows dominated world. I need to be able to provide support that requires very little “research” when a customer calls because Outlook won’t send mail anymore. I need to be able to tell them to go to the File menu and make sure that the “Work Offline” option is not ticked. I also need to be able to walk them through various other troubleshooting steps, even when I’m mobile and I do not have a computer in front of me. You get this knowledge only by using the software on a daily basis. We have several customers with Windows Small Business Server 2003 deployed as well. How does one get solid experience in system administration of this type without hands-on use? I steer my customers toward FLOSS solutions as often as possible – mainly servers and web based technologies. We haven’t seen much in the way of desktop migration, but then again, we don’t deploy a lot of desktops. Continue reading

Ready for a new K: an inside look at KDE 4.0

KDE 4.2

KDE 4.2

If you ask a Linux (or BSD, or *nix) user what their favorite window manager is, there is a strong chance that they will tell you that they use KDE. The good people at KDE are set to release their next major version – KDE 4.0 – currently slated to drop on October 23, 2007. Until then, for those of us who are a bit more daring, KDE 4.0 Beta 1 is available now.

I spoke with Wade Olson, the North American contact for the KDE project about what we can expect. Wade has been in the software industry for 14 years as a programmer in C, COBOL, SAS, shell scripting, Java, and PERL. He’s done contract work with some heavy hitters in banking, media, and health. In addition to his work with the KDE Team, Wade is currently an I.T. Manager for a team that develops high-volume Java portlet web-based applications in Java, Spring, Hibernate and WebFlow, as well as JSR-168. Wade is also a proponent of cross-platform (web-based) applications, open protocols, and open document formats. Continue reading

Selling Free Software

Freedom isn't Free.Even amongst IT folks and the technically savvy Linux crowd there is some confusion as to the meaning of free software. By now, most of us are familiar with the terms “free as in beer” and “free as in free speech”, but what does the “free” in Free Software really mean? How do developers make a living if their software is free? The following publication, from the Free Software Foundation does well to clear up some of this perceived ambiguity. The interest is in freedom for the user of the software. As developers and consultants, we too are free to charge what ever price we wish for GNU, GNU/Linux, and other similarly licensed software. This is what the FSF has to say about it: Continue reading

Lenovo and Novell to Offer Linux on ThinkPad Notebooks

Lenovo and Novell announced an agreement today that will pre-load Suse (Novell) Linux on new notebook systems beginning at the end of this year. My source at Lenovo tells me that this applies to notebooks in the T Series, which haven’t been announced yet. “The T Series is our most popular class of notebooks that are geared to typical business users.” the source said. So why is this news now? Dell and Lenovo announced pre-loaded Linux a year ago to no great fanfare outside of the Linux community. The market is different now; mounting user dis-satisfaction over Microsoft products, and the cool reception of Windows Vista both contribute to vendors desire to offer more to consumers. These latest Linux offerings are aimed specifically at enterprise too – previous efforts were geared toward the home market. Interestingly, Linux users account for nearly 4% of operating system market share – the same percentage of marketshare that belongs to Apple – not bad for a product with no corporate marketing money behind it. The notebooks from Lenovo will hit the streets in the last quarter 2007. The full press release follows:

Lenovo and Novell to Offer Linux Preload on ThinkPad Notebooks
Agreement to Accelerate Desktop Linux in the Enterprise

LINUXWORLD, SAN FRANCISCO – Aug. 6, 2007 – Lenovo and Novell today announced an agreement to provide preloaded Linux* on Lenovo ThinkPad notebook PCs and to provide support from Lenovo for the operating system. The companies will offer SUSE® Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 from Novell® to commercial customers on Lenovo notebooks including those in the popular ThinkPad T Series, a class of notebooks aimed at typical business users, beginning in the fourth quarter of 2007. The ThinkPad notebooks with the Linux-preload will also be available for purchase by individual customers.
Continue reading

The Golden Age of Free/Open Source Software

GoldenThe Free Software (GNU) movement and the Open Source(OSI) development model have slowly been gaining momentum over the past decade. Formerly the realm of Uber Geeks, UNIX and it’s various derivatives (Linux, BSD’s, etc.) are finally being seen by the consumer market as an alternative to the best known proprietary products. One of the biggest barriers that I’ve seen though is the cost model associated with the GNU or OSI environments. This is obviously not to say that GNU or OSI is more expensive than proprietary products, but in the United States, at least, it’s ingrained in our culture that you get what you pay for. Comparing the price of a GNU/Linux distribution v. Microsoft Windows is a good example. Thanks to good timing, shrewd (cut-throat) business practices, and the multi-million dollar marketing blitz, Windows has become the dominant operating system in the market.

For over 20 years, consumers have been drawn to, what they believed, was the only game in town. It’s human nature to have the belief that what we do or use is superior to that of others who do not do the same. So it has been with computers and operating systems. Even back in 1989 when a 486 with 1 Mb of RAM and a 40 Mb hard drive cost over $1500.00 (USD), there was much clamoring of superiority between the Apple and PC users. Anyone in our industry knows that Apple/Mac has been the de facto standard in the graphics and publishing industry while PC’s have held the domain of business, large and small – both are a case of the right tool for the right job. As the tech savvy younger generations come of age, so does the awareness of a world outside of Microsoft.

While the lineage of Microsoft code dates to the early 80′s the lineage of modern GNU and OSI operating systems can be traced to the 60′s. It’s taken 20 years for consumers to begin to realize that money thrown at advertising and public relations isn’t what makes a product better than any other. If I had $10,000.00 a month to pay for a premier advert on Techcrunch, (no disrespect intended Mr. Arrington), I’d get a boatload of traffic and the clickthroughs that go with it. To sustain user loyalty though, I need to have good content, otherwise, I’ll just have to keep throwing money at it to generate more traffic. Now, I’d like to think that the content on this site is at least, respectable, but if it were garbage, enough money for marketing would keep it afloat for quite awhile. When there is no mainstream competition from which to draw comparisons, there is no way to distinguish between what is good and what is garbage.

Microsoft has held a captive audience for years – but now the tide is beginning to turn as more and more people see that the traditional proprietary software model is not the only way to do things, and consequently, that proprietary software is not the only option. Apple has done a great “job(s) of showing consumers that there are alternatives to these “tried and true” products. Their model, while not Free Software and Open Source, is a modeled on mix of GNU, Open Source, and proprietary. In the interest of not propagating mis-information, the following has be removed from this post: any GNU/Linux user would immediately recognize xfce as the window manager that the more recent releases of the Mac OS were modeled after. It’s all been done out in the open though so there is no complaining that the gui was stolen.xfce, I am told, has in fact been, to some extent, modeled on OS X. Thank’s to Vincent at xubuntublog.wordpress.com for setting the record straight. Dell, the worlds second largest seller of PC’s, is offering several GNU/Linux options for both business and personal computers, with plans to expand this line of systems. GNU/Linux and Open Source are beginning to see some mainstream exposure. Wal-Mart also sells GNU/Linux PC’s in some markets. I don’t expect Microsoft to fold in the coming years but I do see a significant decline in their dominance of the software market – much like IBM’s decline in the PC market after decades of being number one.

Google’s recent proposal(pdf) to the FCC that the 700MHz band be open to the choices of consumers and not service providers will finally put these service providers at the mercy of the customer instead of it being the other way around. The Free Software movement and the Open Source development model are poised to transform the PC market in the same way. Get ready for a new day, Redmond!

For more information, see:

The GNU Project
The Free Software Foundation
The Linux Foundation
GNU/Linux
The Open Source Initiative
Google: Our commitment to open broadband platforms

The Google Manifesto and Consumer Choice

In 1996, Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU/GPL, defined “The Four Freedoms” by which “free” software must conform too:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

This concept of freedom has since been slowly revolutionizing the software industry. Version 3 of the GPL was released on June 29th of this year (2007), causing quite a disturbance in Redmond. The fuss Microsoft has been raising over the GPL3 is a testament to the power of this freedom. It’s all about keeping control and having the biggest market share. Section 10 of the GPL3 in particular is what is causing the problem:

10. Automatic Licensing of Downstream Recipients.

Each time you convey a covered work, the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensors, to run, modify and propagate that work, subject to this License. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties with this License.

An “entity transaction” is a transaction transferring control of an organization, or substantially all assets of one, or subdividing an organization, or merging organizations. If propagation of a covered work results from an entity transaction, each party to that transaction who receives a copy of the work also receives whatever licenses to the work the party’s predecessor in interest had or could give under the previous paragraph, plus a right to possession of the Corresponding Source of the work from the predecessor in interest, if the predecessor has it or can get it with reasonable efforts.

You may not impose any further restrictions on the exercise of the rights granted or affirmed under this License. For example, you may not impose a license fee, royalty, or other charge for exercise of rights granted under this License, and you may not initiate litigation (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that any patent claim is infringed by making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the Program or any portion of it.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the GPL3, have a look at it through the link above. It’s remarkably brief and is written in plain English – not in the typical EULA jargon that we have all come to know and love.

On July 20, 2007 Google issued a statement on their blog indicating a …”commitment to open broadband platforms”. In a nutshell, Google wants the FCC to mandate an open and non-proprietary system on the 700MHz band that will soon be auctioned. As an incentive, Google has promised to participate in the auction with $4.6 billion (USD) to spend if the FCC agrees to the terms of this initiative. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin agrees that this concept will spur competition and innovation like we see on the internet. Like other big companies who stand to loose billions of dollars in potential income though, AT&T is slamming Google in the press. Google makes four assertions in this initiative that have far reaching consequences and will certainly give a lot of momentum to the Open Source movement.

  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: third parties (like Internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.

In essence, Google would like to see old rules that favor proprietary formats driven by profit be changed to benefit a consumer driven technology boom that will get the US up to par with the rest of the developed world in terms of broadband and mobile communication technologies. The type of competition that Google is seeking to stimulate from FCC mandates serves the greater good through innovation and not the kind of competition that pads the pockets of corporations who drive the market with only their interests in mind. It’s exciting to see the beginning of The Golden Age of Open Source.