Archive for the ‘open-source’ Category

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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Microsoft and OOXML – another battle to add to the list

September 6, 2007

I’ve been doing a little reading tonight on Microsoft’s attempt to fast-track approval for it’s OOXML (Office Open XML) standard by the ISO. Just trying to wade through all the anti-Microsoft rhetoric and educate myself on the issue.

Mary Jo Foley writes about Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote. She does a good job of clarifying the issue for me – the proverbial layperson:

In spite of the rhetoric on both sides, Microsoft wants OOXML to gain ISO standardization so that it won’t lose out on government contracts that require “open,” standards-based products. Microsoft’s competitors don’t want Microsoft to obtain ISO standardization because they see this loss as a chance for them to finally lessen Microsoft’s 90-plus-percent market share in the desktop-productivity suite business.

I’ve also read a lot of comments about how Microsoft’s current specification is in quite dodgy shape technically speaking. Many people are of the opinion that the standard was rushed and that it was not written with interoperability in mind at all. For some more technical criticism of MS’s proposal, some people are pointing to the Danish complaint’s listing (pdf document).

Now this was only a vote on fast-tracking approval of OOXML. Microsoft needed 2/3 of the votes and only received 17 out of 32 votes. But it’s not necessarily the end of the story. MS can get another vote in March after it addresses technical questions posed by some of the voters. It may very well win that one. And only adding to the political drama is Microsoft’s apparently unethical lobbying tactics.

With Microsoft owning so much of the commercial market share in office apps, you might doubt the importance of such an ISO standard. But then again, Redmond seems to be going to great lengths to have it go their way.

It will be interesting if they lose out in the end. They’re already embattled with Google on several fronts, watching Apple hit home run after home run, trying to get to grips with an increasingly open-source world, battling Linux on the server side, and finding a few manufacturers now offering pre-installed Linux systems on the desktop…

Geez, I’m almost starting to feel bad for them…

Nahhhh. 😉

My Open Source Oasis

July 4, 2007

I first started dabbling with Linux almost three years ago. In the past year it became my primary OS at home, and now it’s the sole occupant of my home pc. But at work we run AutoCAD on XP Pro, so there’s no escaping the giant from Redmond I guess. However, I have managed to maintain my little ‘open-source oasis’ in this proprietary desert. Here’s how I cope:

First, I run windows versions of my favourite Linux apps. Inkscape, GIMP, and GVim get a full workout here on my XP box at work. More recently I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that Avidemux (which I use for a bunch of screencasting tasks) has a windows version too. As does Blender, the 3D modelling and animation application that we used to create that 15 second animation for our screencast intros at screencasters.heathenx.org. Oh, and don’t forget Audacity which I use for a bit of audio editing – which has a perfectly serviceable windows version. And let’s not forget OpenOffice which I try to use in lieu of MS-Office whenever I can. Of course Firefox goes without saying.

Next, I run Cygwin, which is a Linux-like environment for Windows. It isn’t an emulator and won’t run native linux apps on windows, but you can recompile linux applications from source to run on Cygwin. However my needs are much simpler. I mostly use it as a terminal for file management and my todo list duties. There is even a port of the X-Window system called Cygwin/X that allows you to run many graphical Linux apps inside of windows. For some reason I can’t seem to get that working – something to do with our proxy server setup here at work. A head-scratcher that is…

Interestingly, I ran Cygwin from a shortcut on my desktop but was frustrated by the fact that it ran inside a DOS window. This limited my font choices to raster fonts or Lucida console 12pt. I could do various things to customize the bash shell (colours etc..) but the font limitation seemed to stick. That is, until I found these instructions for running rxvt on top of Cygwin.

Now I run a shortcut to rxvt and set up the shortcut to launch with whatever font I want. Here’s my current shortcut launch command to get rxvt up and running:
C:\cygwin\bin\run.exe rxvt -sl 1500 -fn “Consolas-14” -bg black -fg grey -sr -e bash –login -i

Now you combine this with the recent excellent blog post (and comments) by Kyle Pott at Lifehacker about turbocharging your terminal, and you’ve got a perfectly serviceable linux terminal inside of XP.

So there you have it. That’s how I get my Linux fix at work. If you’re a lone Linux fish swimming in proprietary waters, how do you cope?

LIC – do you have it?

May 28, 2007

Penguin Pete outlines the symptoms of LIC (the Linux Insecurity Complex).

Describing one of the typical symptoms, Panic Attacks (thinking about how MS will sue Linux out of existence), Pete writes,

“You could drop nuclear bombs on every Linux user on the planet, but you’ll miss at least one server housing the source code, to be found by some future archaeologist, and there it will go spreading again. Linux is creeping charlie. It is rooted too deeply to budge. Why do you think Microsoft is so afraid of it?”

So if you’re a Linux user, you owe it to yourself to read his post and start showing some dignity! 🙂

Now that’s a keynote!

February 19, 2007

I listened to an inspiring keynote yesterday by the FSF’s General Counsel Eben Moglen. The recording is from the O’Reilly Open Source Conference. This is one of the best talks I’ve heard regarding the state of open source and licensing (or any other subject for that matter).

Besides being about a subject that fascinates me, I have to say: Damn! – is that guy ever well-spoken. Knowledgeable, passionate and inspiring, all in one go. If you’re into free and open source software, or just want to hear a great keynote, you owe yourself a listen.