So close, yet so far

I just got done reading an article from The Inquirer entitled, “Ubuntu spurns Microsoft’s advances“. Admittedly, the title seems is a bit cryptic once you have read the article, but at the very least it is compelling. When I saw the title I expected to read an article about how Microsoft had tried to lure Mark Shuttlework and Ubuntu to the the dark side. But as you read it you realize he is talking about his experience with installing Linux alongside Windows.

Now, I have read articles like this a thousand times. Admittedly, in about 50% of the cases it doesn’t go well. As a long time Linux user, and in particular working with a Linux desktop product, I crindge as I read these articles because I’m just waiting for the point where it goes south. I can hear the collective cries of the Linux faithful saying, “…But it’s so easy!!!” Then the barrage of advice to go to this web site or that user forum, or to just compile this one piece and put the result in a particular directory. Maybe just the old standby: RTFM.

Now, as I said, in at least half the cases the install goes swimmingly and the writer ponders, “…so why do I need Microsoft?” Those are always great to read, but I can’t help but think, “Please write a follow-up with your experiences over time.” I’m not rooting for them to fail, I’m looking for areas where we need to improve. In all the cases where I read an article where a non-Linux user installs and reviews Linux, though it is painful to read, I take the failures as just more areas where we as a comunity can strive to improve.

That is not to say that a user’s experience on Windows should be the gold standard, and contrary to what many Microsoft shills will say Linux does and always has branched out and strived to be better. Mac devotees will tell you, “Use a Mac!! It’s so easy and intuitive!” From first hand experience observing several Windows users of varying expereince levels switch to a Mac, and from my own experince with UI testing and design, I can tell you that Mac OS X is not the gold standard either.

We need to continue to work on cool new projects, but we can’t forget the simpler parts of the user experience. In this case, the guy just wanted to be able to get a file from one computer to the other. Yes, I know that Samba and Microsoft networking is complex and riddled with pitfalls. Instead of making excuses, let’s take this as a challenge and strive for the ever-elusive “just works”.

As I noted in my last (and first) entry here, I have switched locations for my blog in an effort to actually use my domain for something other than e-mail. It also makes it easier for others to find my blog. If you would like to see my previous blog entries please go to http://xrepete.blogspot.com/.

Ubuntu inches closer to becoming the Canonical distribution

Please forgive the simple play on words. I couldn’t resist. It is well known that Mark Shuttleworth’s goal for his Ubuntu distribution was to make it the distribution off which all other distributions are based. The parent company, Canonical Ltd., is working to supply all the pieces you need to build and maintain your own distribution; from a build system to enterprise-wide software management. Canonical has an uphill battle that has only been exacerbated by the announcements over the last few months by Oracle, Novell and Microsoft supporting rpm-based distributions. However, if you look at many of the upstart Linux distributions you notice an important theme: They are all based on Debian. This means with Canonicals positioning they could move to subsume all these various Debian-based distributions, and together with the already substantial (though not commercial) base of Debian, garner a significant user base. This user base will be more and more attractive to ISVs and IHVs. I know, I know. It is a stretch, but Canonical today announced what I see as a step in that direction.

Today Canonical announced a strategic partnership with Linspire, Inc. whereby future versions of the commercial Linspire, and the open source Freespire project will be based on Ubuntu. In addition, Ubuntu users will be he first distribution outside Linspire and Freespire that have access to the CNR e-commerce and software delivery technology. The Click N Run technology is actually pretty cool, and when Linspire (then called Lindows) was first released I marveled at how simple it made software management, not just] compared to the base Debian distribution but to any distribution. There may have been ugliness inside, but to the user it all “just worked.” The biggest win here for Canonical is the fact that their user base will now have access to a legal DVD player on Linux, and possibly access to proprietary multimedia codecs like Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV)[1].

Who will be next? Xandros? Progeny? GNU Hurd? Oh wait, I think that is already on the way…

[1] It is questionable whether CNR will offer the WMA and WMV codecs to distributions outside Linspire and Freespire. My understanding is that Linspire obtained the right to distribute these codecs as part of their settlement in 2004 with Microsoft, and therefore it may not be in accordance with the terms of that settlement to distribute the codecs for any distribution not owned by Linspire, Inc.

How to make money with F/OSS

Open Sources | InfoWorld | The proprietary/open source continuum for ISVs | February 5, 2007 05:09 AM | By Matt Asay

Ok, in general, I am not a big fan of Matt Asay. Often, I feel his blog entries expose him as nothing but a Red Hat shill. Sorry, Matt, but you do tend to have a distinctive leaning in your blog entries.

However, the entry quoted above is an excellent one, and a thought-provoking assessment on how companies can make money with Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS). How much of that assessment is directly from Larry Augusten? I don’t know, but it is great to have it. This is an article I’m definitely going to bookmark. Too often, when explaining what F/OSS is I get the question, “… but if the software is free how do you make money?” My explanation is sometimes lost on the recipient, which means I probably need to work on my elevator pitch. ;-) However, it is nice to have a quick explanation I can send to someone. Maybe I should memorize this and re-use the content. :-)

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Great article on ars technica

A visual timeline of the Microsoft-Novell controversy

This is a really good article that I just read at ars technica. The whole Novell/Microsoft thing has been a bit of a soap opera, and a twisted tale. This article brings some much needed levity and clarity to the situation, as well as pretty succinctly explaining the sequence of events.

Of particular interest to me was the last couple of paragraphs from the article, quoted below:

The success of the Linux operating system is largely predicated on the collaboration of the Linux development community, and this petty squabbling impedes that collaboration. What the corporate executives of these companies have declared, with stentorian vehemence, is that they are all abundantly willing to abandon collaboration and take advantage of each other whenever it is convenient.
I don’t object to criticism of the deal, because frankly, it seems obvious that Ballmer vindicated the critics, and in retrospect, trusting Microsoft was not wise. I’m not passing judgement on the opportunism of the executives who used criticism of the deal as a means of promoting their own corporate agenda. It’s human nature and commonplace. The point I’m making here is that, in the end, the mutual criticism and petty bickering doesn’t further the interests of the Linux community and that the negative consequences of the Microsoft/Novell deal will continue to escalate as long as it serves as a catalyst for distrust within the Linux community.

It pains me to see the Linux community ripping each other apart of this event, and quite frankly makes me very sad. We are not a bunch of petulant children, and the last thing we need is for the world to (continue to) view us that way. Over the last 16 years, Linux has matured to become a true competitor and threat to the largest and most dominant software companies. Linux is a testament to the open source development model.

We cannot afford to slow the progress of Linux and open source development with petty and reactionary arguements. What upset me further is the opportunistic way in which the “leaders” at other companies in the Linux market tried to use the timult to gain mindshare. Linux has too often been compared to Unix because no one company makes Linux. To coin a phrase, those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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Software patents suck

Ok, that title sucks, but I couldn’t think of anything witty. ;-) Anyway, I just got done reading an article over at Ars Technica:

Cox’s DRM patent less than meets the eye

1/17/2007 9:01:09 AM, by Timothy B. Lee

On Monday, Slashdot reported that legendary Linux kernel developer Alan Cox filed a patent application in June 2005 related to digital rights management technology. Cox’s patent describes software that would automatically suspend operations if the user was found to be out of compliance with the software’s licensing terms but that would save the user’s data before suspending to prevent data loss.

 

The topic of the article was interesting, but what I really liked was the last paragraph:

The fact that even Red Hat, a company publicly opposed to software patents and unlikely to assert them against anyone, feels the need to apply for dozens of patents suggests that there are serious problems with the American patent system. The resources Red Hat spends hiring lawyers to obtain patents it will most likely never use could be more productively spent hiring programmers and customer support personnel to do useful work.

Too right. It is ludicrous that companies have to spend so much money for events that may never transpire when they could be spending money improving their products! This is roughly akin to insurance, except this is much more expensive and much less assuring. It is good to see that many of the biggest players in this industry support patent reform, even some that we wouldn’t expect. I hope that people in the European Union continue to fight the good fight.

This seems like a good site. Check it out: http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/