After installing Ubuntu 10.10, I had a strange feeling I was seeing something that was already old. Yes, Ubuntu is a fantastic desktop system, and yes it's better than Windows. But today, in 2010, that's almost a given. And that's not enough. The IT world is changing, and PCs themselves as a whole are getting old. The mass is moving towards tablets, mobiles machines, and netbooks. Ubuntu, the way it is today, might be the best choice in a dinosaur world. I can't read Mark Shuttleworth's mind, but I can only guess this is exactly what he felt when he decided to switch to Unity (for the UI) and Wayland (for the graphics architecture). Let me explain what all of this means.
In a recent blog, Nina Paley, the animator behind the free-licensed animated film, "Sita Sings the Blues", complained of the enormous confusion caused by poor differentiation of the Creative Commons licenses. In particular, there's a great deal of confusion over the difference between "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" licenses. Maybe the Creative Commons licensing system is still too complex? I'd suggest that only three licenses are really needed: "Attribution" (CC By), "ShareAlike" (CC By-SA), and "NonCommercial" (CC By-NC), and that the others are essentially deadweight that's holding the movement back.
The end of 2010 has been interesting. Mass defections from Oracle's OpenOffice team and the software is ported as LibreOffice. Then Mark Shuttleworth announces that Wayland is in, Xorg is out and Unity will be the next Ubuntu desktop. I was just getting my head around all that when the newswires started humming again with the news that Novell had been sold. I experienced a strong sense of deja vu and began to wonder if this was going to be a reprise of Sun's sale to Oracle and the forking of OpenOffice, one of the crown jewels of GNU/Linux.
As you may know I was quite keen on the ideas and potential of Google's Wave project and like many thought it a bit of a shame when they closed the project. When the creator of Wave Lars Rasmussen left Google for Facbook, Wave seemed finished before it had started. At the time they pulled the plug Google said the project would live on but details were scratchy. Now we know more and the good news is that in yet another kudos point for free software and the development models around it, Wave will rise again and this time maybe even stronger but certainly with greater freedom.
There has been a lot of talking, lately, about Google's Chrome OS. People didn't take it too seriously initially; then, last week, Google started sending out demo netbooks which ran -- hear hear -- Google Chrome OS. Google Chrome OS is based on Google's browser, Chrome -- hence the name. The idea is that all you run on your laptop is your browser -- that's it. But this raises a lot of questions. In this article I propose a possibly interesting solution to Google's issues, and how a possible (and not-so-painful) merge with Android should be possible.
The internet has been awash with the fallout from Oracle's stewardship of OpenOffice.org and Ubuntu's announcement that Xorg would be replaced by Wayland and Unity would be the next desktop. The F-word was used. A lot. No, not that F-word. The other F-word. Forking. OpenOffice.org has already forked to LibreOffice and I've no doubt that Unity haters will fork off to Gnome Shell 3. Fair enough. It's all about choice in the end and choice creates competition and competition often creates innovation and cross fertilization (as well as fragmentation).
Since I started using computers and since I abandoned the choppy waters of Windows for the safe harbour of FOSS, the internet has experienced huge change and rapid growth. Better web browsers, file sharing, iPhones, iPads and other touch screen tablets too. The one thing that has not changed much though is that GNU/Linux always seems to breast the tape second. It seems fated to forever be behind the curve. I can live with that as long as I'm using my software my way. Free and open. However, that has implications for freedom and privacy that I don't like living with--and neither does Tim Berners-Lee. Specifically, he has been venting about those very things in respect of social networks and how they threaten that freedom and privacy.
Having established the motivations for fair payment on a "commercial free culture project" in the previous column, I'm still left with the question of what exactly "fair" means. The problem is that there's more than one way to determine fair shares on a project like this. The organization is necessarily loose, and so there's no really clear and unambiguous way to determine fairness. Nevertheless, some plan has to be chosen, and in a way that is at least defensible.
Free software can be viewed as sort of a public good — everyone can benefit from it. Instead of paying for complete applications, buyers may wish to only pay for specific program elements they want, which the software lacks. Therein lies an opportunity to make money on free software, instead of around it.
We all know that Google is huge and there are more than enough examples of people crying the end is nigh regarding the seemingly insurmountable rise of the one-time search engine. But are they really that big? Do they have that much of a hold over us and should we be worried?
I guess everybody has heard that a majority of the key developers in the OpenOffice.org community decided to set up the Document Foundation: an independent foundation to continue and manage work on the Openoffice.org codebase. If you've not, then I can recommend Terry Hancock's piece as a starting point (and a good summary of why forking is vital). To recap: Oracle are not behind the move so the foundation temporarily named their product LibreOffice. It was not, we were told, a fork. Oracle were invited to the party and asked if they would consider donating the OpenOffice.org brand to the foundation. After the mess with MySQL, here was an opportunity for Oracle to vastly improve relations with the free software community and their own reputation. In short Oracle missed their chance like an English footballer taking a penalty.
I've been trying to zip together what I know about free online collaborative projects (like free software) and commercial free culture projects (like the just-released "Sintel" from the Blender Foundation or "Sita Sings the Blues" from Nina Paley). It's easy to get lost in the logistics of such a production. One of the questions I'm bound to be asked is "How do I know I'm going to get paid?" Artists have a strong fear against being "exploited", though they're often less clear on exactly what that means. A little bit of examination, though, shows this may be a strength of the "Creator Endorsed" free culture approach to marketing a work -- it makes fair payment a matter of personal financial interest to the publisher, as I hope to explain here.
There is a significant spam problem on Identi.ca, and it looks like some fresh ideas are needed to crush it. Here are mine, and a few ideas that I like from other people.
Identi.ca is the open microblogging site based on the StatusNet software. It's a fantastic service, with features that leave Twitter in the dust. But spammers are not being caught and banned quickly. Users are becoming frustrated.
One of the most controversial freedoms of free software is the right to simply take the code and go make your own competing project -- what is popularly called a "fork". It's controversial because it seems like a betrayal of the original developer; because it distributes resources into competing groups, which may waste effort; and because it may create confusion in the marketplace of ideas that is free software distribution. But it is a critical freedom to have, and the recent fork of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org, like the fork of X.org from Xfree86 years ago, shows why it's so important.
Multi-touch is the future of computing – from phones to tablets. And the future is almost here -- or, maybe, it's already here. But what free software platforms can provide a viable alternative to catch up with and rival Apple?
Since 2001, Microsoft has been trying to sell Tablet PCs running the same Windows XP user interface as ordinary computers but they never really took off. What Apple has shown us with the iPhone and iPad is that only a user interface designed from the ground up for touch screens can live up to the expectations we have of tablets: intuitive, fast and fun. But a couple of free software platforms are shaping up to become viable alternatives to Apple's walled garden. I'm going to look at Android, Ubuntu's Unity and MeeGo.
There's a reason they're called "movies." They're supposed to move. Your eyes are keyed to follow motion, and the constant revelation of new information in a moving shot holds your interest longer. Thus, while four seconds might be about the maximum comfortable length for a static shot, shots in which the camera or subject are moving extensively can often last more than a minute without feeling slow at all. Storyboards made entirely from static images make it hard to judge active shots. It's useful, therefore, to be able to insert some movement at the storyboard phase by panning and zooming a drawing. Here I'm going to demonstrate such an animated storyboard using Inkscape and Blender.
Recently two pieces of first class anti-free software diatribe hit the headlines. The first is Microsoft's "please don't use OpenOffice.org" video and the second is Steve Jobs' anti-Android rant. Both are pretty shallow attempts at deflection and have been rightly called out as actually endorsing the subject of the attack as a valid opponent. In both cases it does seem to say that Microsoft and Jobs are concerned enough about OpenOffice.org and Android respectively that they need to tell the rest of us how bad they are.
So you've got your GNU/Linux based box. You've installed the base system and you're good to go. Welcome to the world of freedom. But then what? How do you determine what packages to install. How do you decide which of the alternatives to go with?
It's been a long time since I really designed a webpage, and the web -- or rather users' expectations of the web -- has changed a lot. "Craft" web pages constructed largely for fun by individual users, designed from the ground-up in simple HTML, went out sometime in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, the web was all about "content management systems." Later, specific forms of content like forums, wikis, and blogs began to take over.
Try ZenOSS, free monitoring software
Today, even blogs are too content dense for most viewers, and "microblogging" and "social networking" are the new buzzwords. Static images were replaced by kitschy animation and then by full-motion video as most of the viewers are not only using fast machines that can handle the rendering, but are also connected to the server by "pipes" that would've shamed a university computer center back in the 1980s.
I don't know how many times I've run into this particular mistake, but free software developers keep making it, so I think it's worth a brief post. Free software is based on contact between users and developers. Without that, it's just not very efficient, and any free software project that breaks that bond is going to flounder for the same reasons that so many proprietary products flounder -- total disconnect with the users.