“Free” as in “free lunch”

Too long ago, when I was a sprog growing up, my elders and betters drummed into me in no uncertain terms that there was “no such thing as a free lunch”. At the time, I was going to school and my lunches were either provided by my parents or paid for by them, so as far as I was concerned my lunches were free. However, I soon appreciated what they meant as I approached adulthood. It is a very rare event, if it happens at all, that someone gives you something for free without some ulterior motive.

You, my friend, are reading this article. You probably didn’t have to pay anything to read it (or nothing extra from your usual ISP and computer costs anyway). Myself, and Free Software Magazine give it to you for free. What is our ulterior motives then? Read on...

Microsoft’s ME/98 patch dilemma: a golden opportunity for FOSS

A few days ago I posted about Microsoft’s efforts to curb unauthorized distribution of its products by misrepresenting a piece of malware as a “critical security update”. However, Microsoft’s also arousing ire by refusing to offer a patch to fix a critical security flaw in Windows ME and 98. In short, unless you want to risk exposing your computer to criminals, you need to either (a) pony up $100+ for XP or (b) switch to GNU.

The demo experience

I may qualify myself as a power user sometimes - I'm not afraid to go dabbling in a system merely using a command line interface and an alien looking text editor (alien looking to those who think Notepad is pushing it in terms of bareness).

Still, some very enjoyable experiences are still difficult to have under Linux - for purely technical reasons.

Rosalyn's COMPLETELY LOST in free software blog

Hey! I got a blog!

Hi everybody. My name is Rosalyn Hunter, and I've been using a GNU/Linux system exclusively since about 2001, so I've used a lot of software that hadn't reached version 1 yet.

Now a zillion people will tell you to switch to free software, but hardly anyone tells you how many programs there are to choose from, and when you do choose, some of them aren't very good, and some of them work... sort-of.

Any way the wind SCOs...

OK, so I admit: I can’t get enough news about SCO. It’s like the best and worst parts of a soap opera, train wreck, and slapstick comedy all rolled up into one big, sticky ball. This week’s entry into their history of shame is a claim to own the standard Unix executable file format, which is ridiculous for more reasons than I feel like going into right now. What I took away from the whole circus, though, is that you’re playing with fire if you entrust your company or personal computing to proprietary software vendors.

Premature synchronicity

I have noticed in life when you have issues that often a solution appears from the same environment at the same moment. Synchronicity challenges you to move to the next level of efficiency and quality. Problems force you to reroute and grow in new ways and directions. Once the fields have burnt the wheat may grow. Of course I would love to be able to pick my problems, hum, I mean potential solutions and have them pitched at only a slightly higher level than that of the background noise. This week I was lucky to find myself in such a mild training situation.

Microsoft Research India: friend or foe?

I’m going to make no excuses here—I was a chardonnay socialist and it’s time I came out and everyone gathered together and gave me some support. I have, from the time I was a little child been dreaming of hammers and sickles and the like, had a knee-jerk reaction to: big corporations (evil), government (evil), conservatism (evil), and stiletto heels (rank consumerist EVIL). So if you were to say “Microsoft”, I’d say “Where?

Control of where I browse

I have a car, and I pay car tax that, in theory at least, pays for the roads that I drive on. I can don my driver’s gloves, expensive sun-glasses and cool-looking cap and motor anywhere on the road network in the UK—and Europe for that matter—for no extra charge, or most of it anyway. There are some toll roads where I need to pay extra. I don't have to use these as they are alternative routes, but it usually saves a large amount of time and hassle when I do.

Lenovo and Linux support

On Monday, I commented on reports of Lenovo dropping support for Linux.

Ryan Cartwright was quick to comment that Lenovo have since denied that any such announcement was made. Others around the blogosphere have commented that the retraction could be due to the negative response received by Lenovo when the original story broke, but honestly, I should have seen it for the fake that it was.

DRM, guardrails, and the right to be stupid

I'm a big believer in rights. I believe in the right to speak your mind, the right to act however you want, as long as you aren't interfering with others' rights; I even believe in more controversial rights like 'the right to die', and one of my favorites is the right to be stupid.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think that if people want to jump out of airplanes, down cliffs, or free-climb El Capitan, like Captain Kirk, they should be allowed to do that -- even though it's very clear that they may be stupid things to do that are likely to get them killed. One of the more powerful and hard to refute arguments for Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), though, is that it can be used in life-critical systems to prevent failures due to users' own modifications -- and it seems to me that this is a sticky case of balancing the right to be stupid with the right to be ignorant.

Google's Spreadsheet

Sometimes I get the notion that everytime someone sneezes at Google, the snot shows up in 50 blogs the next day. Everyone seems to love imagining Google as the underdog in a boxing match with Microsoft, and Microsoft even seems to like playing into the role. At any rate, everyone is talking about Google's New Spreadsheet, though the reactions are somewhat mixed.

In the Linux comfort zone...

When I go to visit my mother (as I will be doing shortly) I feel like tearing my hair out. "Oh," I hear you say, "one of THOSE stories". But no, it's not. She lets me enjoy my usual sleeping habits, lets me put my shoes on the couch, and eat whatever I want. But there is one huge difference between my house and her house, and for the two weeks a year that I stay with her there is just one point of tension. I'll set the scene:

More on Adobe, Microsoft and the PDF standard

I have been doing a small amount of research on the latest Adobe/Microsoft tussle, as brought to my notice by Matt Barton’s blog entry (thanks Matt).

The first thing I found slightly frustrating was trying to obtain suitably unbiased material on the matter. The precise nature of the discussions Adobe and Microsoft had do not seem to be in the public domain anywhere, nor is the precise nature of Adobe’s gripe. The only party “in the know” to have publicised this is Microsoft, and they have obviously put such a large amount of spin on this that their ball is going around in circles. Adobe are remaining tight lipped. Therefore, while the following is based on the digging I have done, a large amount of guesswork has gone into it.

Lenovo to drop Linux support

Many of the MySQL team use IBM computers by preference to do their developing on; and I know that, for some, a lot of the reason was the support for Linux.

Now Lenovo owns IBM's hardware business, but it seems they are dropping support for Linux (that's a Slashdot link, because, as always, the comments are as interesting as the story).

Broadband, standards, and a web of little white lies

One of the frustrating things about standards is that so few people really follow them. Engineers, of course, like to stick to standards, and they understand the importance of explaining things in terms of standards and interfaces. “Documentation” to an engineer is descriptive—it tells you what the thing is, what standards and interfaces it conforms to, and (unfortunately), it usually relies on jargon to accomplish this. Of course, the nice thing about jargon is that it turns up pretty well on a Google search (for example, when I wanted to figure out if I was wiring my home network correctly, I got really good hits by typing: '"cat 5e" TIA 568A network "color code"'—all jargon I pulled from the diagrams that came with the tools).

“Documentation” for newbies, however is imperative—it just tells you what to do, and doesn't bother explaining. That means that instead of relying on technology standards about the thing you're actually doing, the documentation relies on platform standards. In short, it just assumes you're using Microsoft Windows, and ‘what a troublesome person you are’, if you aren't using it. Of course, we all pretend we're conforming to standards, but the truth is that the ISPs tell a few little lies (‘384kbps dn/128kbps up’—but they only have a T1 connection!), as does the manufacturer of the modem and the firewall, and me of course, who had to quietly ignore any questions about operating system in order to evade the standard ‘Oh, we don't support Linux’ response.


I have always wanted to invent a new word. Not any old word, but a word that would gets used even in the deepest, darkest corners of coffee shops in Amsterdam. Not that I would ever get to hear the word used. I don't like coffee! So let's try vistarization. The process of a sensible, definitely obvious idea degenerating into a heavy weight project that takes many extra years to complete. I have images of small spacecraft trying to divert asteroids that are going to hit the Earth.

Adobe and Microsoft tussle over PDF

Well, I hate to say "I told you so", but it looks like Adobe has finally revealed that its "open" standard for PDFs was, in fact, a double standard. I've been warning colleagues for years about PDFs and urging them to avoid them in favor of a more truly "open" format, but my arguments tended to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps now that Adobe has refused to allow Microsoft to incorporate "save as PDF" into its new Office suite, I'll have an easier time of it.

Are GNU/Linux distribution choices a fad, or favouritism?

Over the years I’ve tried numerous distributions, and there’s been a gradual progression from what were probably the early leaders in the Linux market—RedHat for example—through to the some recent and popular examples, particularly Gentoo and Kubuntu.

The question that has been running through my head recently though is whether this is an issue of favouritism on my part, or whether it is because the distributions I use today really are comparatively better than the distributions I used 4 or 5 years ago.


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