Free software events review March 2006

Free software events review March 2006


As the March Hare sprang from the ground to frolic in the newfound warm weather of the spring season (here in the North), the free software world continued its steady but rapid advancement in the information technology landscape. Meanwhile, waiting in the corner is yours truly, glancing occasionally at the media ready to report on events that I personally think are interesting and feel like including here. In the month of March that consisted of:

Let’s all write documents together

As far as I can tell, Open Document is gaining adoption in most of the more popular vendors of office systems who don’t bear the name “Microsoft”. That particular company appears to be doing its best to sideline the Open Document philosophy. (I believe to try and maintain a grip on the formats used to exchange information so they can justify the exorbitant price of their product.) However, on the OpenDocument front, the Open Document Alliance has been created. This is an advocacy group, open to anyone interested in open standards, whose objective is to promote the concept and implementation of Open Document to governments and other organizations. Time will tell how successful this is.

Open Document is gaining adoption in most of the more popular vendors of office systems who don’t bear the name “Microsoft”

A new pixie on the scene

GNOME was originally created hot on the heels of KDE. It became very popular and gained more support than KDE from influential members of the GNU/Linux community; this was largely due to licensing problems of Trolltech’s Qt widget set used in KDE. By the time most of these issues had been sorted (and there are still some outstanding) GNOME had grown into a comprehensive and sophisticated desktop infrastructure. The new release, version 2.14, sees continuing enhancements to this. Specifically, this new release consists of many performance enhancements, some advanced window managing facilities, a more sophisticated deskbar applet for launching applications, a more useful user-switching mechanism, easier ways of registering applications to start automatically on log-in, and many more. Details can be seen in the release notes.

Book Competition!

This week we are giving away a copy of Pro Apache Ant by Matthew Moodie.

All you need to do to enter is check out the latest book competition announcement on our blogs page.

GOOD LUCK!

Thanks go to _Apress for providing this fantastic prize._

The latest in head-ware

One of the first distributions to make use of the new GNOME release was Fedora in their latest offering entitled, somewhat unimaginatively “Fedora Core 5”, whose release notes can be examined here. The treats that will tempt the connoisseur in this release includes the Fedora Rendering Project, which includes AIGLX—the OpenGL accelerated composite window manager infrastructure to facilitate jazzy windows effexts. Pirut and Pup, which are extensions to the installer, also make it to the project. Many other fixes and enhancements, which are too numerous to mention here, also contribute to an already excellent distribution.

A pixie, a hat and a PGIA pixie, a hat and a PGI

Another quarter another kernel

To me, the announcement of a new release of the Linux kernel gives me assurance that there are some things that are right with the world. It has become such a frequent event that hardly an eyebrow is raised when it happens. This is, of course, part of the free software model, which is to release often. This gives an opportunity for the community to utilise and contribute to the latest wonders of the software. This latest kernel, Linux 2.6.16, has many enhancements since its previous incarnation including support for IBM’s Cell processor, in essence a 64 bit Power chip, inclusion of the Oracle Cluster File System and lots of other goodies. The frequent introduction and release of new kernel features on an approximately quarterly basis makes a pleasant contrast to the closed model of operating system delays currently being experienced by Microsoft users.

This ain’t no game

I confess, this article is late. Don’t tell my editor, but one of the reasons is my children have been given a game for their PS2 (Ratchet and Clank 3—a couple of years old but still addictive). I’ve been spending a few too many hours recently “testing” this. It will come as no surprise then to hear that I am very excited about the next generation of this gaming console.

The penguin in the game machineThe penguin in the game machine

Sony’s new PS3 launch has recently been delayed until November this year, but when it is released it will include GNU/Linux. So, they are probably pleased that Linux 2.6.16 supports the Cell processor as that’s the one they use. Sony has embraced GNU/Linux before with their PS2; though to get it to work you needed to purchase a “Linux Kit” from Sony. The reason for that was the “out-of-the-box” PS2 did not come with a keyboard, mouse, hard disk, network card (in the earlier models) and some other peripherals required for GNU/Linux. Its adoption was not wide spread, partly because of the extra cost of the kit, and partly because the PS2’s 32 MB of RAM and a slow processor both fell below expectations of most modern Linux users. The PS3 take up of GNU/Linux is likely to be wider, good news for both Sony and the free software community.

The PS3 take up of GNU/Linux is good news for both Sony and the free software community

I feel it is worth comparing this strategy with that of Microsoft’s 360 gaming console. Not only is Microsoft NOT giving users OS access to the machine, let alone porting Linux to it, they are also doing their best to frustrate the efforts of users who are trying to gain access. The argument of copy-protection and piracy do not hold water here. Sony certainly would not be doing it if that was a risk, because they rely on piracy-protection more than most for their revenue. The denial of access to the machine has to do with, in my opinion, control and manipulation. It seems to me that Microsoft wants to control what you can do with your machine, ensure that only software that has been passed by them can run on it, and give themselves the opportunity to levy some kind of “tax” when you use your own equipment, and to frustrate others from using it at all.

Next version of a PGI

An event that interested me personally was the release of wxWidgets 2.6.3. Although this was a “minor” release, I felt it was worth reporting due to its under-exposure generally. WxWidgets is a “Portable Graphics Interface”, or PGI. It is a series of libraries that expose an API to a programmer, which can be used to display graphics and accept input. However, the library has been ported to different platforms (GNU/Linux GTK, MS-Windows and Apple to name a few) and the developers’ API is consistent between them. This means that a developer should only need to develop the application once and porting it to another platform should be little more than a recompile.

WxWidgets stands out from other PGIs in two ways. Firstly, it is free software—released under a license slightly more liberal than the LGPL. Second, it handles a lot more than graphics—file naming and file control, compression, threads and associated locking, printing, socket handling and even some elemental database connectivity. All of these functions are handled natively in each platform.

This new release epitomises the active developer community here. This project is already seen in many applications including: AOL Communicator, AVG Anti-Virus, MinGW Developer Suite, any many others. I expect we will see it much more in the future, what with this new release and all.

Wot! Not Linux!

I spend so much of my time in the GNU/Linux world that it is tempting to forget the other free offerings. March saw the release of version 1.0 of Desktop BSD. This is based on the Free-BSD kernel and the KDE graphical user infrastructure. I don’t use BSD myself, so it is difficult for me to comment on it. However, it’s nice to see alternative solutions evolving as it means that free software strategies can continue even in the extremely unlikely event of the Linux kernel being discontinued.

Alternative systems evolving means that free software strategies can continue even in the extremely unlikely event of the Linux kernel being discontinued

Conclusion

March saw the continuing advancement of free software into new areas and also saw it extend its lead in innovative technologies from the more closed software companies. There was also genuine evidence of a willingness to extend free software and open technology into areas previously monopolised by proprietary standards. The Hare may like to frolic in March, but the free software population is getting down to business and I believe it is likely to be as prolific as the Hare’s cousin the Rabbit.

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Biography

Edward Macnaghten has been a professional programmer, analyst and consultant for in excess of 20 years. His experiences include manufacturing commercially based software for a number of industries in a variety of different technical environments in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is currently running an IT consultancy specialising in free software solutions based in Cambridge UK. He also maintains his own web site.