Warp 35

Soapbox of a GNU/Linux lovin' guy.
FOSS just works.

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Location: Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

I'm a Dutch guy born in 1974. Growing up I went from a dreamer to halfway mature. In 2002 I met my life partner and I'm living happily with hime ever since. I'm seconded at Stork Technical services since 2001. Right now I'm pretty happy with where I'm at.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Linux marketing idea.

I've struggled with the idea of marketing Linux. Up till now I've felt there was always something off about the various efforts to bring Linux to the masses. The problem most of the time was the scope of the message. Some efforts try to encompass all of Linux and end up incomprehensible, like the IBM ad with the little blond boy or the "We are Linux" campaign from the Linux foundation. Others, like the Tux500 project, take a small logo like Tux and try to convey all of Linux with an image tied only to the kernel component of the Linux ecosphere.

I'm not against marketing Linux. Far from it. It's just that Linux is an abstract concept and you can't easily "sell" abstract concepts. If you advertise Linux, then people will want to get a box just saying "Linux" on the cover. The problem with that is that such boxes don't exist. We have Fedora, we have Ubuntu, we have Mandriva, we have OpenSUSE, etc. Those are all Linux, but not one of them is THE Linux.

The other alternative is to market all the distributions as separate OSes (which they are), but then we lose the benefit of scale. Linux is a broad all encompassing concept and once you "get it", you only have to know that a certain OS is "Linux". If we lose the all encompassing part, it becomes over three hundred tiny and isolated efforts to push niche OSes.

There is a huge disconnect between the abstract and the concrete. The key to success is to bridge that gap. Till today I couldn't see a way to overcome the disconnect. All of Linux is too big and only a portion of it (Distro's) is way too small. How can you convey the all important abstract values about Linux, without losing the link with the concrete embodiments we call Distro's?

I've had a light bulb moment. What links all the Distro's to one another, despite being separate efforts? It's their common lineage and their common characteristics. There is another concept among humans which is abstract, with concrete embodiments all connected to each other by the abstract umbrella. It is also a concept that is widely understood by mankind. It's the concept of family.

Family is an abstract concept that catches the intangibles of relations and common characteristics and ties them inseparably to a group of unique individuals in a way that is widely understood. We can use that understanding to simplify the marketing of Linux by tying the abstract concept of Linux to the concept of family. When we link the encompassing Linux with family, we automatically trigger the ingrained understanding of people that we are talking about a group of individual members who share lineage, history and characteristics.

As a plus, it sounds good. The Linux family. Family conveys core values of connection, bonding, belonging, sharing, having common history and traits, all the while leaving room to be unique and have different views and values. I'd say it's a perfect fit for Linux to get the message across. All distro's share a common lineage and have a common body of idea's, but they also have their own unique set of features and viewpoints.

By using "The Linux family" we can simultaneously focus attention on the broad aspects of Linux and also point to the individual characteristics of a distro, e.g. "The Linux family. Bringing powerful computing to you." and "Ubuntu. A Linux family member. User friendly, modern, powerful, safe." (Feel free to replace Ubuntu with your favorite distro :D )

IMNSHO, it's an angle worth pursuing.

© Ronald Trip 2009. Verbatim copying and distribution of this article are permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Windows Nightmare

I've been reminded recently where my resentment for MS products comes from. MS the company is just a minor part of it. A good colleague asked me if I could setup his PC with Windows Vista Ultimate. Being a generally good natured guy I said yes. So I got the box with Vista and his machine to take home over the weekend. Vista cured me of any doubts I had about the "hassle factor" in GNU/Linux. GNU/Linux doesn't have any in comparison.

First off, the setup procedure of Vista is vastly improved over the one in Windows XP. The downside of it is that it takes forever to complete. In comparison XP is snappy. Part of it was the machine itself. This machine wasn't a Vista certified, formula one supercomputer. It only had 512 MB of RAM memory, a Celeron 2,4 GHz processor, a 160 GB PATA hard disk and a fairly good graphics card (Nvidia 7600 GS). The install completed somewhere past the end of time and I could go on with installing the necessary drivers and updates.

It took only ten minutes for UAC to drive me up the wall. For my own sanity I disabled it. Installing still took the better part of the end of time, so I did a little search on the net. Turns out, we don't own our own files. Nope, they belong to a thing called Trusted Installer. Don't know why we aren't allowed to be owner, but that "security measure" just had to go too. After becoming owner it was bearable, for non-MS programs that is. Windows update still took forever and Office 2007 made me believe there was no tomorrow.

After the stuff was installed, I discovered that the drive order in the machine was wrong. Since I did put Vista on the right disk, I just shuffled the order around in the BIOS and lo and behold, Vista was finicky enough to refuse to boot, despite being on the bootable hard disk. I swapped the order around again in the BIOS, but Vista told me to take a hike. I tried a repair with the Install disk, which did a lot of stuff but wasn't able to restore the bootloader. I had to bite the bullet and go with a complete reinstall. That seems to be the solution with all NT versions. At least Win9x gave access to the plumbing, so you could hack around problems.

So we did all the stuff again and finally after 8 hours, the system was setup with Vista, a virus scanner and Office 2007. I could have done it in 5 to 6 hours, I reckon, if I had checked the hardware more thoroughly at the start. The system, after disabling the new protection measures, behaves surprisingly well, given that the computer it runs on is an XP era machine. A pity that MS fits the old adage "Those who don't understand UNIX, are doomed to reimplement it, poorly." All the jazz around UAC and ownership of files is a pig on Vista's lipstick.

Vista is an updated version of Windows XP it seems, with shiny new screens, but severely crippled by "security measures" and maybe DRM, although I didn't mess around enough with it to be hindered by restrictions management. The disk footprint is huge. Same goes for Office 2007. Lots and lots of space taken for a comparable experience of XP. At least when you know how to disable the nagware that is UAC and take ownership of your files back from Vista.

MS has lost it. Even if they can trim Windows 7 back, it will still be an unwieldy, finicky and fragile system. Windows NT software is a prison, designed around the idea that most people only use the system as a limited function appliance. You can feel it in the way the user interface forces you to do tasks a certain way. How UAC just nags you till you are ready to explode. People who don't hate UAC just don't alter their systems to suit their needs. All the stupid dialog boxes popping up, asking if this or that software needs to be installed. Yes, I just told you to do that, give me a password prompt and be done with it. No, endless lines of text and you get dialog fatigued very soon. People who don't hate the way Vista communicates, just bought the damn thing pre-installed and use it AS IS.

MS jockeys can say all they want, but GNU/Linux these days is infinitely more user friendly. GNU/Linux doesn't step on your toes if you need elevated privileges. GNU/Linux has a vast software pool, easily accessible through package managers. GNU/Linux doesn't need a Top 500 computer to run smoothly. Hardware can be hit and miss if you buy it unprepared, but a little research before you buy just makes it truly plug and play. GNU/Linux doesn't have the major Adobe products or the various media codecs out of the box, nor does it have the major brand name financial home applications, but what it does have, just works with you and not AGAINST you.

MS will have to work some serious magic, before I will ever consider them a technically viable alternative to GNU/Linux. Before anyone says that 90% of people can't be wrong, I want to counter that with the preferred choice of food from flies. There are vast numbers of flies and they can't be wrong about eating it.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Is converting a good idea?

I have seen a sudden resurgence in articles dealing with the subject of "converting" non-GNU/Linux users. While the general idea is laudable, I wonder if the end result is anything but benign. Of course getting everybody liberated and free to shape their computing environment seems like the best thing to do. Who doesn't want to be free? The problem is that most people don't want to have a free computing environment, they rather have no computing environment at all. A computer to them is a necessary evil. They have to deal with it to get the stuff done they ultimately desire. Most people don't want to use a computer to process their information, but there are no other more cost and time effective alternatives available.

Converting these people won't help them and it won't help you or me. Realistically, "converts" will be coming from the Windows world. When you coax these people in to switching, you pull them from a world, where everybody from the Major to the town idiot uses Windows. Where drivers are written for Windows, where books are written for Windows. You drop them in a niche world, where everything is a few steps behind Windows, where hardware is not made for GNU/Linux, where there are no local users around, where knowledge has to be gained by learning yourself. In other words you dump them in an alien world, where people who merely tolerate computers are truly lost.

I know we can be very persuasive when we talk about freedom, community, low cost, high stability, acceptable security, no upgrade cycles. Trouble with that list is that it only comes to fruition when you generally muck about with computers. If your predisposition is to use a computer as an unenjoyable means to your ends, GNU/Linux won't yield any of the promised items. Using GNU/Linux in that situation will drop you in a barren world where anything you do is more complicated, time consuming and a more lonely endeavour than ever before. Your neighbor won't be able to help you. No shop has qualified staff to fix stuff for you. No crappy $5 software from the supermarket will run on your machine. The only help you have is that geeky "friend" who dumped the wasteland of GNU/Linux on you.

It will be a burden on the geeky friend as well. We always claim that Windows doesn't have a community, but that is the biggest lie in the world. Windows has the biggest community of all OSes. Everybody condemned to do computing through it, has a friend in a fellow Windows user and they all help each other to get by. When we yank them out of this real life community, we create a huge problem. These people can't handle Internet communities, this is an alien concept. The typical Windows user asks his questions to the nearest living soul, not some l33tk1d on a forum. The reality most of the time translates to the geek becoming the "help community" all on his own. This might function if the geek has angelic patience, but people can handle just so much and a non-geek is pretty draining. Non-geeks don't explore on their own, they wait until they get the solution dictated to them.

It is not that a typical Windows user is retarded, it is just that his mind works different from the ones in geeks. Different people, different skills. The problem is a lack of empathy on our behalf. We can't for a moment visualize a world where computers are alien, hostile things. Computers serve us, because we have a gut feeling about the way they function and we can beat them into submission. Non-geeks are at the mercy of those misbehaving pieces of electronic junk. Windows as the most common way of computing has the upper hand for the non-geek. They can always depend on other victims to help them. Truth be told, GNU/Linux is not better in that respect than Windows. If you can't figure out how to tame Windows, you won't be able to tame GNU/Linux. So getting the Windows user out of the realm of Windows is unduly punishing them for using something that halfway works for them.

GNU/Linux needs to depend on the curious computer users. The ones who can explore on their own. People who can ask questions on forums. The geeky people. At least we need to stop alienating entrenched Windows users. Just long enough for commercial parties to start supporting GNU/Linux as a mainstream system. We geeks can't "rescue" the 95% computer users on Windows. They outnumber us in support questions. They are ill equipped to handle computing tasks. Windows at least has the support structure in place to get them through their computing days. We only put them in agony on GNU/Linux if we can't be there 100% of the time for them to solve the trivial stuff. It might mean tolerating Windows a few decades longer, but it will mean a lot less drain on us and more time for GNU/Linux to become more refined.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Being the computer guy sucks.

I've been mucking about with Linux on the Desktop since 1998. I'm a full time user since 2000. I know my way around the Linux Desktop. There also lies the problem. I'm quite knowledgeable about an Operating System which is sparsely used in my geographic area. Up North in The Netherlands FOSS isn't that prevalent yet. All long time Linux users know the strengths of the Linux OS, we also know that that "other OS" has some very annoying weaknesses. When I see people struggle with the OS from Redmond and I see they are fed up with it, I can be too eager to suggest Linux.

Some have taken the suggestion to heart and did make the plunge. That in itself is not the problem. It is a good thing if people exercise their freedom of choice. The problem is the attitude towards the hands on nature of Linux. Linux doesn't shield you from the inner workings. The OS rightly assumes you are knowledgeable or able to get knowledgeable. Some people can handle that and they adapt. Others keep assuming that an OS will babysit you through your computing session and lock you out of dangerous or low level stuff.

It is the latter category of people who are giving me grief. Most of them can use a search engine to find any information they need, but for the life of them they seem absolutely unable to apply their searching skills to their technical problems. So most of the time it comes down to me to help them with trivial stuff. Well, help is an understatement. I have to do the work for them, because "it is all so difficult". The darker part of me wants to attribute that to disrespect and laziness, but my lighter side refuses to believe that.

Switching Operating Systems is a time intensive task. You have to reinvest considerable effort in a new platform. Old assumptions don't work anymore and new features need exploring. In today’s busy existence it is a daunting task. I can imagine it is very tempting to offload the tricky stuff on me. I have been through all the motions already. For me it is trivial to do them. All very true, but there is one huge, flawed underlying assumption. It assumes that I have nothing better to do with my life than to fix trivial computer problems.

Yes I am geeky and I like computers in general, but there is more to me than information technology alone. I'm discovering more and more enjoyable ways of spending my leisure time. My social inhibitions are becoming less of an obstacle at my age. I'm not as plagued by my disorder(s) in the autistic spectrum, as I was in earlier years. I do enjoy an evening just talking about life, the universe and everything. (What is the Ultimate question?) I like to be invited for just a cup of coffee and I won't be disappointed if there is no computer to be fixed. Most people might not realize it, but most of the time they are beyond number 4 already when they ask me for help with their computer problems.

What doesn't help either is that I firmly believe in learning how to fish. I can't handle people who ask me for just a fish meal very well. I keep giving them pointers to where they can find information on the net, where configuration in Linux is done, how to get the most out of the available software. Most of it seems to go right out the window. Pointers don't help. The "problem" people simply don't latch on to the pointers and explore on their own from there. If I want them to do what I suggest, I have to spell it out to the last dot. If I have to start dictating, I might as well do it myself. It'll be quicker and less frustrating.

Ultimately, I'd love for everybody to be able to do computing in full freedom. Freedom does come with obligations though. One of them is actively pursuing and defending freedom. Here some of my "switchers" falter. They don't seem to pursue true computing freedom, they are trying to get rid of computing frustrations and they latch on to the promise of problem free computing, represented by the stability and resistance to malware of Linux. Linux can keep that promise, but only if you take the time to learn how to work the system. If you don't, it is just a waste of time considering using Linux at all.

Back to me. Can't I just help all those people? Yes, I could, but I don't want to spend most of my time mucking about with computers anymore. I'm past thirty now. The once strong teenage fascination of mucking about with machinery under my control is swiftly waning. Life is demanding other stuff now. I have a boyfriend who doesn't want to feel bewidowed by a computer. I own a house that needs maintenance. I also have friends that want to see me for me and not just to fix their electronic piece of junk. It simply means that I won't come round on a whim and fix your stuff.

You've got a brain and two hands, you are perfectly capable of solving your problems yourself. God knows I'm giving pointers enough to help you out. I keep saying "Google is your friend." I really mean that. If you can't find it on Google, be sure I can't fix it either. I'm quite knowledgeable, but most of the stuff I know is readily available on the net. It is just you and your willingness to let go of the resistance to learn a new system. Learn it you must, no matter how much you try to fend it off. Do you really think I'll still be around holding your hand, when you are all in the home for the elderly people?

What about that sucking bit over being the computer guy? Well, being a computer guy is not so much the problem. It's the expectations people have about you. I have the feeling I'm never supposed to say no and I do get the feeling that I have to fix every little problem brought to my attention. Of course your problem is minor and doesn't take much time to fix, but you are not the only one. I don't want to spend my days waiting for the next one to show up and ask me to do their own computing chores for free. It is your computer. Get of your butt and learn a little about it. If not, I'll have to start charging for my time, because time is money and mine ain't free.

Does that mean I won't ever help out again? Nah. I'm still a geek at heart and if you ask nicely and show effort to do stuff yourself, I won't say no. Just plan it in a timely manner. Flash visits to fix trivial stuff won't be on the menu.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

GPLv3 - draft 2

Keeping the core values intact.

The FSF is now halfway through the process of updating the GPL. The current proposal (Draft 2) for the future GPL V3 has had its share of tweaking, as a result of the first public review round. So far it has had positive effects, such as the narrowing of too broad requirements in Draft 1. Draft 2,in my opinion, is becoming a well worded and balanced document.

You would think that everybody would be happy about the positive progress made with the new version of the GPL. This, unfortunately, is not the case. There is a lot of opposition against the new DRM-clause in the proposal. The clause states that you are not allowed to use any kind of DRM (think of it as an electronic padlock) to lock users out of their rights to exercise the four freedoms (use, study, modify and propagate) on software covered by the GPLv3. From an FSF freedom point of view, it is a mere addition to further protect the ideas already embedded in the GPLv2.

The prime ideological principal of the FSF is that developers and users have a right to the four freedoms. These four freedoms guarantee the enduring freedom to use a computer without being beholden to third party interests. Anything that crosses the ability to exercise the four freedoms, is a threat to GPL-ed software. The FSF is taking precautions with the GPLv3 to adress the issue that DRM hardware can defacto override the rights granted in the GPLv2. Since the primary goal of updating the GPL is to protect the four freedoms, the DRM clause is not a separate new idea, it is an addition to close the loophole that is legal to the letter of the law, but counter to the intent of the GPL. Yet a lot of people have trouble understanding this.

Before the revision process of the GPL started, it was made very clear by Eben Moglen, that the GPL was and is the work of authorship by Richard M. Stallman. The GPL is not a free document. You are not allowed to change it. You may use verbatim copies. It could be that everybody feels like the GPL is ours, because it is one of the darling FL/OSS licenses. Still, just because the GPLv2 gives us the warm fuzzies, doesn't mean we have veto power over additions RMS and the FSF deem necessary. The GPL always was a take it or leave it license. All in all, the public review process is a very open and fair undertaking. RMS could have just handed down the new GPLv3 “as law”, but he opted for public commentary and revisions based in part on that commentary. RMS did more than he had to do.

Another misunderstanding seems to be the idea that the GPL is a Linux license. While Linux uses the GPLv2 and became very successful under it, the GPL is primarily a license written and used by the FSF to protect software written for the GNU project. GNU is a project with the goal of writing a completely free implementation of the UNIX (tm) Operating System. Started by Richard Stallman in the early eighties, the GNU project recreated the software pieces of a Unix system using the GPL as the governing license. In the early nineties the GNU project almost had all pieces together to be able to build a Unix-compatible OS. The only missing piece was a kernel*. GNU had started work on the HURD, but that project didn't yield a usable kernel in time. Here Linus Torvalds stepped in, who released the Linux kernel in 1991 under the GPLv2. GNU could be completed by filling in the gap with Linux.

* (A kernel is the piece of software at the core of an OS. It is, let's say, the super-driver that makes the pieces of hardware work together and it regulates the communication between the hardware and programs that run on top of it.)

What most people don't know or conveniently try to forget if they do know, is that Linux came to be, because Linus Torvalds could freely use a complete OS environment created by the GNU project. Linux still depends on GNU software to be of any use at all. We could go as far and say that Linux probably would not have been as successful if it didn't have the complete Operating System tools from the GNU project available. GPL + GNU + Linux was the winning combination, because all three components complemented each other and the GPL kept the whole system free.

The sad part about the struggle over the draft of the GPLv3, is that Linus Torvalds opposes the new proposal. Torvalds claims that the GPL is overreaching in its stipulations, when it takes on the DRM padlock. Torvalds thinks that software has no right to dictate how hardware interacts with it. In several statements Torvalds has said that the new GPL is based on hate, is unjust to hardware vendors and misses its goals. Torvalds solution to the threats of proprietization of free code by DRM and patents is to do essentially nothing to the GPL. His stance is that DRM can be stopped by not buying DRM hardware. Which would be the most effective way to kill DRM if the IT and content industry were free markets.

Torvalds seems misguided on a few things. First his assumption that the free market will sort this out. The free market has been disrupted for years. Multi-billion dollar interests have the money and the power to tip the advantage towards their goals. Governments are not as keen to keep the playing field level as they used to be. Anti-consumer laws have been passed, that were the sole result of lobbying efforts by the industry. These billion dollar interests are working very hard to wrest control from the end-users over their own computers. DRM is the magic word to enable failing business models and predatory monopolies to secure their future and make some more bucks on the side.

Imagine to be able to sell hardware that prohibits its user to do anything that the vendor doesn't like. A spyware chip on the motherboard controls every action a user can or cannot perform. Programs and content obey their masters, not you. DRM effectively makes everything you purchase rented, as outside interests can use the hardware against you to disable the use of purchased programs and content anytime they feel like it. Does anybody really think that a relatively small group not buying DRM hardware will make a difference against these anti-capitalistic influences?

The second mistake Torvalds makes, is his assumption that the GPL, as a software license, has no business dictating hardware requirements. The GPL, from its inception, has dictated requirements to hardware. Since the GPL forbids the linking of closed source software with GPL-ed software, the Linux kernel itself, being released under the GPLv2, has always dictated to hardware manufacturers that they can only interact with the kernel through open drivers. Torvalds never objected to that particular restriction on manufacturers, because it has made his own life as a software developer easier. Still, it is a tad silly to object to one requirement, while accepting and enforcing the other similar requirement.

Torvalds has stated that the Linux kernel will not move over to the GPLv3, when it is finalized. Adding that he himself will not relicense his own code under the GPLv3. His rationale, why the kernel as a whole will not move over, is pretty clear cut and valid. Torvalds stopped being the sole copyrightholder on Linux the day he released the kernel on the net. Torvalds can’t relicense it GPLv3, because he would have to get permission from every contributor with active code in the kernel. Some of those distributors are deceased. So his statement, that he won’t relicense his own code under the GPLv3, is a paper tiger. His refusal to relicense, is just a minor showstopper in light of the reality that there are too much rightsholders to be able to relicense easily. A symbolic protest against the update of a license that still upholds the ideals of freedom in every sense.

Some try to characterize this disagreement as an ego battle waged by RMS on Torvalds. Some say RMS doesn’t matter anymore, because Torvalds gave us Linux. RMS supposedly is trying to get back in the limelight. I think they are missing the point. RMS has never been about anything else than free software. He is concerned about the long term viability of it. Viability in this case does not mean uptake by corporations or Windows ex-patriots switching en masse. Viability means the continuing availability of the code under licensing conditions which give everybode the same rights and obligations. No ifs and buts. That is free software. It has been RMS’ unbending effort of spreading the word on free software that has gotten GNU and other FL/OSS projects so far. RMS has been a deciding factor in the way we look at the underpinnings of FL/OSS. To paint him as an unconsequential, raving lunatic is doing the man grave injustice.

The linux kernel is a tremendous achievement and it powers a lot of free, alternative Operating Systems in the GNU/Linux family. Nobody is trying to take away from Torvalds’ ability to push the technical enveloppe of the Linux kernel and his ability to organize and lead his kernel developers. Linux was the missing piece from the GNU puzzle and a very welcome one. However, does Linux, as the engine, invalidate the tremendous effort made by RMS, FSF, GNU, and all the people contributing to it? Is taking an entire OS enviroment and placing a kernel underneath it, enough to brush the GNU project by the wayside? It seems a lot of people think this way.

It is sad really that most GNU/Linux users only know of the Linux part of their OS, but don’t spend any time at all to understand the enormous contributions that were and are made by projects like GNU, X.org/Xfree86, KDE, Appache, Mozilla, and many others. I think it is this onesidedness that is influencing peoples judgement on this issue. There is this kneejerk reaction to Torvalds statements. “Ooh, Linus Torvalds says that the new GPL sucks. There must be something wrong with it!”. Automatically, RMS is demonized for “destroying” the GPL.

I wonder how many people have actually read the second draft and took the time to think the new clauses through, before joining the naysayers. The second draft of the GPL is being tarred and feathered, without any solid evidence that the license has gotten worse. The fear, uncertainty and doubt spreads like oil on water, in the wake of Torvalds statements.

The only positive note in this witch hunt is the fact that the GPLv3 will get a chance to prove itself in the real world. The moment GPLv3 is released, all of the GNU software will be dual licensed under the GPLv2 and GPLv3. This will be the moment the license gets accepted or struck down. The first signs of rejection will be very easy to spot. If nobody wants GPLv3, there will be a massive forking effort to keep the current crop of GNU software GPLv2. The FSF will go full steam ahead and apply the GPLv3 to newer patches, so forking will be the only way to keep all of the GNU collection under the GPLv2. My guess, though is that the GPLv3 will quietly pick up steam after it is released. Only projects with vested interests in the ability to close GPL-ed code with the DRM trick, will keep the GPLv3 out of the door.

© 2006 Ronald Trip. Verbatim copying and redistribution are permitted provided this notice is preserved.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A year and a DE later...

I for one would love to see that big K on every computer, wether it runs *Nix or Windows. We'll see how this will play out in about a year.

Strange how much can change over a short period of time. Februari 2005 I was a KDE man, now a year later I love to use Gnome.

Thanks to Ubuntu I might say. If it had been dual desktop, I wouldn't have given Gnome the time of day, but Ubuntu forced me to use it for more than an afternoon. Loved it ever since.

No ill feelings towards KDE. Great desktop, nifty technology, but a little too much for me. I like the clean, underwhelmed approach of Gnome. It is there when you need it, but otherwise it keeps out of your way.

updated the layout. much more readable this way ;)

Influx Windows Refugees alters GNU/Linux culture

The recent influx of Windows Refugees is watering down the core ethos of the Free Software movement embedded in the GNU/Linux Operating System. A new subculture is forming within our ranks who are waving the Free Software flag, whilst preaching for the inclusion of proprietary technology.

The GPL, which covers most Free Software, itself is pretty resilient against proprietization. There is a deadly workaround though. Inclusion of interdependant proprietary layers. Such proprietary layers could be used as a gateway between isolated Free Software chunks. That, in essence, would make Free Software beholden to proprietary interests again.

In the past the community members actively ousted attempts to gain proprietary control through insertion of closed gateway layers. Not the new crop. They are entering the community at such a breakneck pace that the seasoned community members can't teach them the ropes as to how and why fast enough.

This new group just sees the benefit of Free Software for them, they don't know that they have severe responsibilities to keep up if they want to continue benefitting from the inherent Freedom in Free Software. They are accustomed to being subjugated under unacceptable terms. It doesn't even register that being treated like dirt and paying money for the pleasure is extremely sick.

The new members pose a considerable threat, because they bring with them the notion that proprietary is justified if it serves the need of the users. It is a falsehood, because proprietary licensing is anti-consumer. It is pro-proprietor. A proprietary license will never protect the rights of the licensee and always seek to maximize the protection of the proprietor. As such proprietary licensing is treacherous.

We, community veterans, need to be on the guard. The new crop is still drunk with the new gained Freedom and they feel secure by the large number they are forming within the community. They have a very gung-ho, everything goes approach to stuff. They feel like the heirs to the system. We need to keep our core values safe. The new crop will eventually understand why Freedom is so important, but right now we need to protect them from themselves.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sun is a friend

Over the past few months Sun Microsystems has been met with distrust in the GNU/Linux camp. Mostly brought about by the impending release of OpenSolaris and the heavier use of Java in OpenOffice.org.

Sun's public messages related to OpenSolaris have been less than flattering about GNU/Linux and the GNU General Public License. Is it a sign that Sun is an enemy of FOSS? No. Sun is trying to compete with an Open Source Solaris and being controversial brings them press time.

It is just a tad insulting to our flagship OS GNU/Linux. Must we hold this against Sun? I think not. I think that every entity will trashtalk its major opponent. Heck, look what the community has to say about Microsoft. Sun is just trying to compete and a little mudslinging keeps the presses rolling. Even if Sun's message doesn't sing our praise, it does give us air time too. There is no such thing as negative publicity.

Then we have Sun stewarded OpenOffice.org. OOo 2.0 is relying heavily on Sun's Java to get a more capable and database enabled Office suite out of the door. Is this an attack on GNU/Linux, an attempt to diminish FOSS? Not really, Sun is trying to carve an MS free zone to survive in, just like the rest of the community is trying to do. They are familiar with their own platform independant software environment and it makes Java more relevant on the desktop.

Sun has to try and preserve Java against obsolescence through the massive onslaught of Microsofts .NET. If MS get to control the next VM languages, we can all rest assured that truly platform independant languages are defacto a thing of the past. So it makes sense for Sun to tie new functionality to Java. OOo by the way is the opportunity for Sun to prove that Java is ready for Desktop use, isn't slow and is more than capable.

"Java isn't Free." True. Java is not Free in the FSF sense. Maybe Sun wil release Java under the CDDL one day, but they haven't done this right now. Does this mean that OOo is becoming less Free? Depends. One is Free to compile OOo without Java support. Then you miss out on functionality, but your OOo is not encumbered by Sun's un-Free Java.

We could see OOo's reliance on Sun's Java as an incentive to bring GNU Classpath up to snuff too. It clearly gives a signal that we need a Free implementation of Java more than ever. If we want to keep the code running under a Free VM that is. If GCJ is further augmented with missing Java functionality to the point of being able to compile the OOo Java components to the native platform, then the problem is solved too.

The mild "hurdles" imposed by Sun form a challenge. We should not condemn Sun for wanting to compete. They do it rather bluntly and unflattering, but they don't use underhanded tactics to grab a piece of the market. If we can't stand a little competition from Open Solaris, then we should reconsider if GNU/Linux is all that. I think GNU/Linux will thrive, even if a "Real UNIX" has now become Open Source.

Java is not a threat either, it is an incentive to reimplement it under Free licenses. If the specifications are to restrictive for FOSS development, we should not ask Sun to Open Source Java, we should lobby them to make the specs more accessible. We all strive for compatibility, despite Sun's fears for the opposite. What good does a fork do, if all the previous Java code becomes useless through it.

Sun is a friend, although it is a flamboyant one, with a tendancy to taunt and pester us. It is time we don't take the abrasive actions as seriously as we do. Sun takes care of itself without extinguishing the others. We should reciprocate with a "O yeah? Well, show us what you got!" whenever Sun makes one of their hallmark snides against GNU/Linux again. Sun maybe pesky at times, but they have been a better friend than some former FOSS shops I remember.