I heard a phrase today that reminded me of my childhood: “...learning and sharing together”. I’m not sure if I ever heard this exact phrase, but it was definitely a theme that was central to my early education; it’s now a central theme of my life again, this time through free software. This link between free software and education was first made by Richard Stallman in his essay Why Schools Should Use Exclusively Free Software, and this link is now being reinforced by the work that’s going on with the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
GNU/Linux is getting bigger and bigger. Microsoft’s recent patent threats are definitely helping GNU/Linux to gain mainstream popularity. Unfortunately, new users are often confused by why they should actually use GNU/Linux, and how to go about the transition. Hopefully, this article will fill that gap!
Why should everybody use GNU/Linux?
The desktop computer is not dead, but it’s doomed. Laptops are not dead, but they are doomed. And our mobile phones are going to kill them... sounds unlikely? Well, please read on—and let me know what you think. People have predicted the death of the desktop computer and the death of the laptop many times. These death sentences have often sounded like those religions which predicted the world would end by the year 2000—then the year 2000 came, and the end of the world was then rescheduled for 2004—then 2004 happily came and went—and so on.
In April, the Supreme Court issued two rulings with respect to patents that will have significant ramifications for software companies. The first case dealt directly with Microsoft, which won big, staving off millions in damages for patent infringement. But in the second ruling, dealing with the design of a gas pedal control system for cars, Microsoft (and the whole software industry) lost big time. However, in one of those rare cosmic moments, the FOSS movement was a major winner in both cases.
My neighbor Jim is obsessed with vintage gasoline pumps. He collects them. He restores them. He named his dog Petro. He stores them in his garage, and under his carport. They are beautiful things, I must admit, all shiny and strangely elegant. And though he suffers from severe fibromyalgia, he spends much of his free time restoring rusted and neglected pumps to their original beauty.
I don’t know why he does it. Nobody claims he does it out of boredom, or that he’ll stop doing it because he isn’t getting paid. But I don’t know why he does it.
Neither do I know why I write free software. But I know it’s not from boredom.
When considering moving a Small to Mid-size Business (SMB) client over to GNU/Linux or talking to someone who is considering the same, there frequently is a “but” somewhere during the process. The hesitation is one that is rarely talked about, or one that I have rarely heard; the lack of specialized applications from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).
So, you’ve made the move to free software. As you’ve no doubt noticed, there are quite a few differences between the proprietary software you’ve been used to and free software: the interfaces are different; it costs a heck of a lot less; and if you’re using one of the community supported distributions there’s no premium rate helpline! These all seem like benefits to me, but what happens when you have a problem?
The free software world erupted into cheering when Canonical announced that Ubuntu would be one of the first GNU/Linux distributions to ship pre-installed on Dell machines. Obviously, this is huge news. A major computer manufacturer has not included a GNU/Linux distribution as a pre-installed option on desktops and laptops in a very long time. However, I’m not getting excited until a few questions are answered.
Question 1: What versions of Ubuntu?
The IcedTea project has been launched by GNU Classpath. It's goal is to make Sun's recently freed Java implementation, called OpenJDK, work in free software environments. This involves replacing some binary blobs with code from GNU Classpath, and making or adapting a free software build system for OpenJDK.
That’s right, they’re the top dogs in the business; with “unprecedented control” in the technology industry and “access to a huge amount of consumer information”. And a concerned member of the technology community recently put out the call for scrutiny on the new big boys in town “from regulatory authorities to ensure a competitive... market”. Sounds like old news, huh? You know which big dirty corporate bad guys I’m referring to? The baddest of the lot... Google of course.
Sound redundant? Read on to find out why it isn’t.
Fedora 7 Test 4 was launched last week and I’m excited! Right now I’m downloading the ISO to try it out and, although I’m aware that there are plenty of new features for me to explore in the distribution itself, many of the elements that have me most excited are changes relating to their infrastructure: they are setting out to empower the community more than any other distribution has.
Many more people are becoming interested in GNU/Linux, as even seasoned Microsoft users and advocates are beginning to question the issues surrounding the latest operating system from Redmond. The variety of GNU/Linux distributions, while a good thing, can make a difficult time for a user, especially a new user. There are many desktop and server distributions, such as Red Hat, SUSE, Debian and Fedora. There are also many derivatives, like CentOS, Ubuntu and Mepis, as well as specialized distributions like Knoppix, DSL and Knoppmyth.
Having a web page is probably the most complex of the 'simple' tasks available. The typical process pipeline would begin with DNS, converting a human-friendly name into an IP address, and would be registered through one of the many registrars on the Internet. This IP address would connect, via your ISP's address block, to your public router or load balancer, routing valid traffic (and only the valid traffic) to the appropriate machine on your network. This machine could be a GNU/Linux box, an embedded device, or an arbitrary, standalone, application that just happens to open a suitable port. This machine relies on the server software and (sometimes) the underlying operating system to determine which files are available to which users.
And at every stage there's software involved that could be bugged, broken, or suffering planet-sized security flaws. Each configuration file gives an opportunity for human error, opening the holes wider. Every registration service discloses a little more of your private information to the general public. With so many steps involved, is it any wonder that problems exist?
“More means worse.” Kingsley Amis said that when he was discussing what he believed to be the deleterious consequences of the expansion of higher education in the United Kingdom in the nineteen sixties.
The exciting side of free software is that anybody can jump in andhelp. This is, in a way, what we did when we created Free SoftwareMagazine - and this is what many others around the world are doing, withsoftware projects and informational web sites.
It is an old question, and one worth investigating regularly.
What do you do when you want to move a disk back and forth between a GNU/Linux system and Windows? **Updated: how to update FUSE and some precisions**.
After the comments on my last post, I decided that perhaps I should investigate the world of free web apps a bit further, and give some real thought to the licensing implications of software that is, in many peoples’ view, not actually distributed.
My paper “Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers!” is a massive collection of quantitative studies on free software, with the goal to “show that you should consider using OSS/FS when acquiring software”. It has a large set of different studies grouped into the categories market share, reliability, performance, scalability, security, and total cost of ownership.
If you need evidence, not anecdotes, it’s been the place to go. But it was last updated in 2005, so the latest information hasn’t been included. Finally, a brand-new 2007 edition is available, with lots of additions.
As a GNU/Linux user and developer I rarely get to see how the other half lives. That is, Windows users. So, during my week off work, I had two goals: complete the recording of a music project I’d been working on, and finish as many outstanding (non-Linux-centric) projects as possible... using only Windows. I managed the first without too many problems (now to find a record deal ;) but had some issues on the second. This entry documents those problems, and the lessons to be learnt from it.