Archive for September, 2007

A Must-Listen Interview about the Future of Software and other things…

September 28, 2007

I spotted an interesting post about an interview done with Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation. The title of the post was interesting enough, “The inevitability of free software”, however I’ve written before about how smart and passionate Eben Moglen is, and after listening to an mp3 of the interview, I have to say I was not disappointed.

While the interview was fascinating from start to finish, his views on the future of the software industry were a lot less rosey and idealistic than I was expecting. Of course he contends that the old models of proprietary software manufacture (like Microsoft) will die out, but he also predicts a landscape of freely available software being produced by millions (if not billions) young people the world over, not a relatively small group of high-minded rich programmers in the US destined for early retirement. The high-level, money making task it seems is not in the software production and design, but in the ‘editing’ of the newly commoditized software landscape. That is, taking the raw materials and forming practical and palatable solutions for corporate and consumer consumption. Adding value is the thing. He illustrates it with IBM. He says they are well on their way. They are commoditizing all the software they can and concentrating on their high margin/ high-value added items instead.

There has long been discussion about how free software developers are supposed to make money. Maybe they’re not. I remember an interview on TLLTS where Richard Stallman is  confronted with this question. And if I remember correctly, I think he said the same thing.. ‘maybe they’re not’.

And while this undoubtedly won’t sit well with many free software developers (or software developers in general), it may be the inevitable truth in the long run. Does the western world have some divine right to software technology production? Perhaps it (the western world) just has to move on to something else – something further up the chain.

I’ve been mulling over a prospective blog post in a similar vein for a month or two now. Maybe traditional journalists will go the way of the Dodo Bird. Maybe free software programmers are not supposed to make money doing it. As technology develops, certain careers fall by the wayside. What about secretaries? What about professional photographers? What about professional graphic designers? Are any of these things sacred? Maybe not. Maybe those people have to find other ways to make a living in the future. Time passes, things change, and being a stubborn optimist, I think we, as a whole, move forward. But I digress… that post is still simmering.. 😉

One final fascinating thing in the interview was Moglen’s distinction between functional and non-functional digitial goods. Functional meaning things like  data collections, algorithmic systems, blueprints, software and the like which can be judged on their functionality. Whereas non-functional digital goods are things like music, art, movies, literary works etc. whose evaluation is subjective in nature. He proposes that  the quality of functional commodities improves when no-one is excluded from producing it (eg. free and open-source software) so rights restrictions on these things inherently limits quality. However he states that non-functional digital good (music, art etc.) will not necessarily be better or worse depending on how they are limited in terms of rights – so whether or not these rights are limited makes little difference.

Now I’ll stop pretending to know all of the intricacies of these issues. Do yourself a favour and listen to it. It’s the most interesting 45 minutes I’ve spent in a long while.

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Is Google Reader really slow to refresh feeds?

September 27, 2007

Anybody have any idea why my blog posts are taking so long to show up in Google Reader? It took about 5 hours yesterday for a couple of my posts to show up. This morning for instance I made a couple of hours ago. It shows up in Bloglines, but still nothing in Google Reader.

And also, I think that posts I make on WordPress (at screencasters.wordpress.com) come into GReader a lot quicker too. You’d think that since Blogger and Greader are both Google, they’d have them working well together.

I’d be interested in hearing from other Google Reader users. How long do you have to wait until your posts show up in GReader?

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Another question about customizing XP…

September 27, 2007

Okay. So it’s almost 6 years since Windows XP first shipped. And you mean to tell me that no one has developed a free utility to customize the desktop right-click context menu?

Using Openbox has spoiled me. I thought for sure something would be out there for use on my XP machine here at work. I’d even do a registry hack. There are fixes for modifying the context menu on files and folders, but not on the desktop as far as I can tell. Please someone… tell me I’m wrong. Show me the way…

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Young Engineers

September 27, 2007

This was very very cool and not what I expected….

Nice IdeaFor more funny movies, click here

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Here’s a menu entry you don’t see every day..

September 26, 2007

I’ve been playing around with Foxit for a couple of days as my default PDF reader tool on my XP machine at work. It’s got a little self-advertisement up on the top right touting additional features of the paid versions (I assume). Wonder of wonders, but there is actually a simple checkbox in the view menu to get rid of it. Nice! Check out the screenshot below:

sshot_adtoggle.png picture by rfq

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Mystery System Tray Icon – anybody recognize it?

September 26, 2007

Anybody know what this icon is in my system tray? When I hover over it, it only displays that it’s downloading updates (10%) but the percentage never changes. Left-clicking or right-clicking on the icon does absolutely nothing. I’ve opened up Windows Task Manager to see what it might be, but I can’t spot anything too suspicious. It looks like a shield but I uninstalled McAfee months ago and also recently uninstalled the horribly bloated Adobe Reader 8.1 (Foxit Baby!).

Anybody recognize this tray icon? What the hell is it, and how can I get rid of it?

mysteryicon.jpg picture by rfq

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Sketchcast

September 25, 2007

Are you trying to illustrate some important world changing idea? Or just want to show the world you’re the next xkcd or the next Hugh Macleod?

Check out Sketchcast.

BTW – man do I miss not having my Wacom Tablet at work. 😉

[via Drawn!]

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Microsoft, Apple and the inevitability of openness

September 25, 2007

Tom Raftery thinks that Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!). While I agree with Tom that open source is a better model in a lot of ways, I’m not sure if any of them appeal to Redmond.

I don’t think Microsoft will ever open-source Windows. Not because it wouldn’t make for a faster moving, better product, but it forces Microsoft to lose something they hold quite dearly… control. Interestingly, Apple has banked on ‘control’ even more heavily and are reaping rewards from it (for now anyway).

Tom writes about the benefits of open source:

“With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” –
the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result”

There are a *lot* of people who would disagree with that statement, although I’m not necessarily one of them. One of the problems with open source development is the scattering of resources and lack of focus. In my opinion it is a good thing to have a BDFL (benevolent dictator for life) type of arrangement within an open source project. Design by committee doesn’t always work too well when it comes to making a better product for the consumer. You need to have someone with focus (like Mr. Jobs at Apple), but without all the pomp and circumstance.

It is interesting to watch the Apple model. They try to lock you in at
every step. And while that keeps me away from Apple, I have to say, it
makes things work a lot smoother for them. They design software for
their device and nothing else. They have a focused design philosophy
which is envied by a lot of people. Is it always the best design? Not
in my opinion. But it does make for consistency.

One point Tom makes that I’ve always felt is more powerful than a lot of people realize is:

“In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in”

You have people who are doing things because they enjoy them. They’re specialists by default. Imagine having your workplace filled by people who all want to be there. Who all want to make the best stuff they can. This is what can make for a better product. It also makes for stubborn people who won’t just give up. That is why open-source is not going away any time soon.

I think the growth of the open-source philosophy is inevitable. Apple can try as it might to produce finely designed and overpriced products that lock you into their system. Microsoft can keep heading down the road to forced upgrades that nobody really wants or needs. There is simply nothing compelling to me about either company’s products. But still open-source marches on. And not just on the Linux front. Look at Google. Look at OpenOffice. Look at Firefox. Look at Flickr. It ain’t going away, and it ain’t slowing down. And neither Redmond, nor Cupertino can stop it.

While I don’t think Microsoft will open-source their OS, they had better wake up and do something soon before they become even more irrelevant.

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For Gnome fans trapped in XP

September 24, 2007

For the last month or so, I’ve been running Openbox on my Ubuntu Feisty home system. I like the simplicity and speed of it. It takes a little more manual work to customize it, but then again you end up with a system that works the way you want it. It’s like taking a standard desktop environment like Gnome and removing (or hiding) all the bits that are not important to what it is you do every day. Eliminate the fluff, so to speak. I run a very sharp and slick looking Murrina-type theme on it. I don’t bounce around between a lot of different themes, but I have to say that the Murrina style themes are definitely my favourite.

Anyway, at work I’m stuck on XP-Pro. I do have Virtualbox installed to run a virtual environment that is pretty much the same as my Linux box at home (Openbox on Fiesty etc.). And for probably a year now, I’ve ran a Gnome theme in XP on my work box to at least make it a little more homey ;).

Today however, I came across WinGNOME-XP on deviantART which is a project that aims to provide various resources to allow users to experience a consistent Gnome-type desktop environment on Windows XP. I’ll sign up for that!

Of course the project is just getting organized, so there are only a couple of things available so far. One neat utility is the Tango Patcher which will replace or revise your system resources to provide icon themes based on various Linux projects (basic Tango, Tangerine, Suse Industrial Theme, Gnome 2.0 theme..). I ran it on my system and it seemed to work fine – although like any utilities of this type, it’s caveat emptor.

I also downloaded and installed the MurrinaFancyClearlooks theme which finally got my windows controls looking somewhat like my home box.

It ain’t perfect, but at least I can now be somewhat happy with the look and feel of the XP box I have to spend all day with. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Flock revisited… nearing my happy place.

September 22, 2007


As a follow-on to the comments for my previous post, I was not having any luck finding a blogging tool for Linux that would allow me to upload photos to my blog (curs-ed Blogger API!). So I decided to give Flock another shot. I knew they had updated their release a few months back and thought I’d check it out again. I first checked it out quickly on my XP box at work. The early beta version of Flock that I had tried when it first came out seemed to be crippled when I tried to use it from work (proxy, naughty proxy). But this time out I was very pleasantly surprised to see the blogging and Flickr aspects working smoothly. Now, the question was, how was the Linux version….

Naturally I’m extremely impatient when it comes to things like this, so having Feisty installed here at work on Virtualbox is a very nice thing. I booted up the VM, downloaded the Flock setup package for Linux and got down to work… Following their dead simple instructions for Linux installation in the FAQ, it was up and running in about 2 minutes. Very very smooth. Very slick. Granted, this is my first official post using it, but it does seem to run every bit as well on Feisty in a VM as it does on native XP-pro.

The compromise it seems is that to get photos into my post (no Flock can’t directly upload files to Blogger either), I’ll have to use Flickr. The bonus is that Flickr is so nicely integrated into the Flock browser that it becomes very very painless for me to do that. Normally I’d have to be switching back and forth between Flickr and Blogger to coordinate things. With Flock it appears to be very simple. The photos appear in a bar along the top of my browser, I right click the one I want and up it pops in a very slick and simple blog post editor.

The blog post editor itself allows me to do tagging (very important – since gmail-ing posts in doesn’t allow tagging), edit the source, preview the post and of course insert links, lists, and does indentation. All very basic, but all very slick. I can easily right click the images that I’ve inserted from Flickr and change the image title, alt-text and alignment. Also wonderful is that I can just drag and resize the images. I can also save drafts of posts. Not sure yet where those are kept (online or locally).

Keep in mind that I’m saying all this before actually hitting the publish button. It could all go very very wrong….

But for those on Linux (or Windows or Mac) posting to other platforms like WordPress or whatever, you might find the latest Flock browser to be very useful indeed. It might be a little too feature-rich for when you just want to do some quick and dirty web browsing, but I have to say, it’s significantly improved from when I first tried it out.

Expect more spouting off about Flock on Linux if things go well.

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