Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Geekcorps Looking for Linux Volunteers

Have you ever wanted to travel to exotic locations while solving technology problems and teaching the local communities to use innovative information technologies? Volunteering for Geekcorps, a U.S. non-profit organization, is one way to fulfill your wanderlust while doing something productive.

"Currently, according to the Geekcorps Web site, the organization needs experts in Knowledge Management, object-oriented programming, C++, and Linux for spring and summer 2006 assignments in Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa."

"Although the organization would love it if volunteers could stay four months or longer, one-month stints are common. Geekcorps pays the travel expenses and housing and tries to make it easy for family members to come along."

"'The people we are targeting to volunteer are employed, might be mid-career and have families,' Vota said. The median age is 32."

"Geekcorps can essentially be thought of as a Peace Corps with a focus on PCs. The organization recruits technical experts to conceive ideas for integrating technology into local economies in a self-sustaining way." (CNet News.com)

read more | digg story

Correction to the Gifting Ubuntu post

In any community, there are always a few bad apples. The guy who claimed to be distributing Ubuntu CDs to McDonalds has now admitted that the story was mostly untrue.

read more | digg story

Monday, February 27, 2006

Gifting Ubuntu, one McDonalds at a time

The open source culture of sharing is demonstrated in unusual places. I posted an earlier blog entry about the guy who used the street beggar model to hand out Linux CDs, and now we have someone burning copies of the popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu, to give away at his local McDonalds.

Open source advocates do tend to be passionate about evangelizing Linux and open source software, even in the most bizarre locations and strange ways. This is not a criticism; these guys get big kudos in my book for creativity and innovation.

read more | digg story

Sunday, February 26, 2006

This Week in Open Source News Feb 19 - Feb 26

Firefox has kicked off their marketing planning for 2006 and are planning a presentation of the marketing plan tentatively scheduled for March 7. This is a great example of how participating in open source communities does not necessarily mean writing code. Most of the big projects like Firefox, OpenOffice.org and others have marketing communities and other non-technical communities where people can contribute.

The South African Revenue Service has issued a request for proposal for a proof of concept solution for Linux on the desktop, which could eventually be deployed on 14,000 desktops if the proof of concept is successful. Although this is just a request for proposal, it does show that more and more governments are beginning to at least evaluate Linux on the desktop.

Amid rumors that JBoss might be acquired, JBoss announced an acquisition of objectone GmbH, a key partner and reseller of JBoss products and services in Germany, on February 23. Effective March 1, 2006 the former objectone staff will become part of JBoss Deutschland GmbH. In more acquisition news, Sun acquired Aduva, a Linux and Solaris patch management software company that not only installs patches, but also uses a knowledge base to check for dependencies and patch compatibility with other software.

The SCO / IBM lawsuit is back in the news (for anyone who isn't already familiar with the case, here is a great summary). IBM has subpoenaed Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and BayStar Capital to provide detailed information about their dealings with SCO. This is expected to shed additional light on how SCO has financed this lawsuit; for example, we know that BayStar Capital invested $50 million dollars in SCO, and after much speculation, BayStar finally admitted that Microsoft was involved in this investment. These depositions may help us understand exactly where SCO is getting the money for this case. This follows a comedy of errors earlier this month when SCO made so many mistakes in their subpoena of Intel that it would have impossible to comply with the order and then told the judge that Intel didn't show up despite having adequate notice. This was followed by a response where Intel basically calls SCO a liar. The judge ruled this week that the subpoenas were defective and did not provide adequate notice adding that "Her October 12th orders were clear, not subject to unilateral decisions to violate" (Groklaw). Oops, irritating the judge will not win SCO any bonus points in this case.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Is Linux on the Desktop Approaching the Tipping Point?

Dave Rosenburg of OSDL seems to think so. He accurately describes the challenges of Linux on the desktop, which I have described in previous blog entries: the difficulty in getting the applications that people expect to see on a PC ported to Linux (Adobe, Intuit, etc.), and the lack of support for plug and play drivers that consumers expect with devices like digital cameras. Dave points to the Portland Project as the unified effort to tackle these problems and help the ISVs port applications to desktop Linux.

Although I wish that 2006 would be the year of Linux on the desktop, I have to be a bit more pessimistic. I think that the Portland project will help; however, it will not solve the chicken and egg problem that exists with desktop Linux. I suspect that it will take a while before enough applications are available and before consistent driver support makes it easy for people to use their consumer devices with Linux desktops. The Portland Project is a great first step to help drive momentum for the Linux desktop, and as we start to get momentum, it will become easier to convince vendors to commit resources for application and driver support on Linux.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Governments and Open Source Software

I have blogged about the benefits of government support and encouragement for using open source software, but I was reminded about this topic when reading a blog by Matt Asay on InfoWorld.

Matt has a really great point here:

"it's clear that money really isn't driving these decisions. Freedom is. Freedom from lock-in to vendors whose interests are not always aligned with the government's. Freedom to build up the local economy..." (InfoWorld Blog)

People tend to talk about how open source is free (as in free beer) saying that the cost factor leads governments (especially in emerging countries or countries without many resources) to select open source. This misses the point and misses a great opportunity. Many governments do not want to be locked into purchases that require them to pay large sums of money to big software companies in the US and other wealthy nations. These governments also have the opportunity to grow a robust, local software ecosystem and create local jobs by using open source. With readily accessible source code and online communities of developers, local companies can be formed to provide support and service, consulting, and system integration. This creates local jobs and supports the local community by combining open source software with local services, something any government would readily champion.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Open Source E-Government System for Colorado

This is a great way to put the community benefits of open source into practice. Several local Colorado governments are creating an open source e-government system that will allow people to perform a number of services online (animal registration, parking ticket payment, etc.) The reason for doing this as an open source project is particularly interesting:

"We would love to have other organisations using the product. For example, if a small rural community in Australia implemented the system and added an animal registration module, they could contribute that module back to the project and everyone else could use it" (ZDNet UK).
This collaboration and spirit of sharing in order to have the best possible end product is one of the reasons that open source culture so compelling. I will be curious to see how the project progresses and to see how other governments decide to participate.

read more | digg story

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Linux Cafe

Toronto now has a Linuxcaffe: coffee, sandwiches, and Linux all under the same roof. Open source groups use this as a meeting place, and you can buy various open source and penguin gear along with your espresso. They also say that if you are looking for a new Linux distro, "The CD burner and the panini grill take about the same amount of time (hint, hint)."

Portland, Oregon is a hot bed of open source activity. We have Linus Torvalds, OSDL, the OSCON conference, POSSE, FreeGeek, and many other open source activities. We are also known for having a coffee shop and brew pub on nearly every corner. I would encourage some local entrepreneur to open a Linux café or Linux pub here in Portland!

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This Week in Open Source News for Feb 13 - Feb 19

With the Open Source Business conference in San Francisco on February 14 & 15, quite a bit of open source news was revealed as companies timed press releases and announcements to coincide with the event. The most significant was the Oracle acquisition of Sleepycat, which I covered in several previous blog entries. I will not cover it again here, but I encourage everyone to read the previous posts.

Sun announced that they are GPLing UltraSPARC technology along with a quote from Richard Stallman: "The free world welcomes Sun's decision to use the Free Software Foundation's GNU GPL for the freeing of OpenSPARC," said Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. This is quite an endorsement from Richard Stallman and shows that Sun is able to get support of the open source community on efforts like this one. I will be curious to see how people use this open source code and what kind of community develops for this project.

Microsoft and SugarCRM announced their new technical collaboration at OSBC, and they distributed Valentine's Day chocolate bars that read, "Share the Love". This will be part of Microsoft’s shared source initiative and will improve the interoperability between SugarCRM and Windows Server products. Although it sounds odd to have Microsoft at open source conferences (Microsoft even gave one of the keynotes), it is important for people to recognize that many open source software packages run on Windows in addition to Linux and other operating systems. It never ceases to amaze me to hear people say, "I can't run open office because I run Windows." People tend to have an automatic association between open source and Linux that is not justified. Both use open source licenses, but open source software can run on any operating system. In other words Linux is open source, but open source does not imply the use of Linux as the operating system.

The GPL debate continued this week at OSBC with a panel of lawyers leading a discussion about the new version of the license. The conversation mostly addressed questions about the license and areas where further clarification is needed, which supports the view that it is still too early to take a definitive stance on whether or not to use the license.

Scalix announced the availability of the latest version of their enterprise email and calendar solution. They demoed the web client version of this product at OSBC, a slick, fast, AJAX-based client with an Outlook look and feel.

There were too many new product releases and other news announcements to cover this week, so this is a sampling of the stories that I found the most interesting. Tune into this blog every Sunday for the best open source news of the week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More on Oracle: The MySQL Twist

In an interview yesterday with MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, he confirmed that Oracle had approached MySQL with an acquisition offer. Unlike JBoss and Zend, MySQL turned down the offer.

MySQL and Oracle do not directly compete in most markets with Oracle focused more on back end applications and MySQL focused on high volume markets; however, there is a gray area of overlap in these markets where they do compete. MySQL would have been a good product fit for Oracle, but I still do not believe that this would have been a good move for the overall software and open source ecosystem (see previous blog post). This supports my earlier argument that Oracle is going after the application control points within the open source stack. Many customer solutions use MySQL, Zend, and / or JBoss as part of the basic LAMP stack, and Oracle seems to be going after all of the acquirable application control points (the Apache Foundation is a non-profit organization and cannot be acquired). I am becoming even more concerned about how additional Oracle acquisitions could change the balance of power within the open source ecosystem and the broader software community.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Oracle Buys Sleepycat and Other Implications

In an earlier blog, I discussed some of my concerns about Oracle buying several open source companies, and I still have those concerns along with a few others. Yesterday, Oracle acquired Sleepycat, one of the three open source companies that they had been evaluating. Sleepycat, an open source database company, is a fairly good fit for Oracle, and this acquisition by itself may be a good thing. Sleepycat is fairly small and does not have the broad mind share of other open source databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL.

My primary concern is with the acquisition of JBoss and Zend, which could drastically shift the balance of power within the open source ecosystem toward Oracle. JBoss, an open source Java application server, is within reach of the market share of BEA and IBM (the two leading players in the proprietary application server market). PHP is a cornerstone of the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) stack, and Zend is a popular commercial PHP company. In other words, these are two of the most important open source application companies (along with MySQL), and for Oracle to acquire both of them would put Oracle in a very powerful position within the open source ecosystem. Will this reduce choice or slow innovation within the open source ecosystem?

I also wonder how this might impact MySQL. Oracle has been building more open source database functionality through the acquisition of Sleepycat discussed above and an earlier acquisition of Innobase. The press release announcing the acquisition of Innobase contained a very interesting statement: “InnoDB is not a standalone database product: it is distributed as a part of the MySQL database. InnoDB's contractual relationship with MySQL comes up for renewal next year. Oracle fully expects to negotiate an extension of that relationship.” It will be interesting to see exactly how Oracle negotiates the InnoDB renewal with MySQL. If Oracle gains control over JBoss & PHP, how will this change the dynamics of this negotiation, and what will happen if they cannot reach an agreement? We may see the open source ecosystem moving away from MySQL and toward open source Oracle databases in cases where customers are looking for greater interoperability or support from Oracle on more components of the LAMP stack. Could we be looking at a LAOP stack? It just doesn't have the same ring.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

This Week in Open Source News for Feb 6 - Feb 12

This is the second Sunday installment of the weekly open source news spotlight to cover the hottest open source news. Unfortunately, this has been a slow week for open source news. I suspect that most companies are holding press releases and other announcements until the Open Source Business Conference February 14th & 15th in San Francisco. I will be attending the conference, and I hope to find time to blog from the event next week.

The GPL debate continued this week with a number of open source advocates calling for patience during this process. They stress that the license is still in the draft phase, and it is too early to predict with any certainty what the final product will or will not contain. They caution against taking a strong stance on whether or not to accept GPL V3 until the license is in its final stages.

The most interesting rumor of the week is that Oracle may acquire three popular open source companies: JBoss, Zend, and Sleepcat. This follows a recent acquisition of Innobase, an open source database company. Oracle is embracing open source software and planning to charge regular fees based on a subscription business model, rather than charging per license. Subscription models that charge users for support and maintenance have been one of the most popular open source business models. This news concerns me for a couple of reasons.

  • First, Oracle could gain considerable control over the open source stack, which according to one source close to the deal, is exactly what Oracle plans to do. When any one company gains too much control over the ecosystem, it tends to stifle innovation and reduce interoperability.
  • Second, Oracle may not be able to effectively assimilate these companies. Oracle is still digesting the Siebel and PeopleSoft acquisitions, which tends to be a lengthy and difficult process that can become self-destructive when too many companies are acquired in a short period of time without giving the companies enough time to work out the internal thrash. These open source companies may be more difficult to assimilate given their unique corporate cultures. Open source companies tend to have cultures that are very different from more traditional, proprietary companies, which may result in an internal culture clash between Oracle employees and open source employees.

The companies are still in talks and have not finalized any of these deals. Some speculate that JBoss may not be worth the price they are asking; however, Marc Fleury (JBoss CEO / Founder) is a smart guy who has repeatedly stressed that JBoss is not for sale, and he may be using the high price to keep JBoss independent unless it becomes really lucrative to become acquired. I will be anxiously watching as these deals develop.

Eclipse, the open source Java development tool, is cited in the news several times this week as big competition for other Java development products. Oracle goes head to head with Eclipse by releasing their new free version of JDeveloper, while Borland exits the tools business with plans to sell JBuilder and other tools citing competition with Eclipse as one reason for this departure.

Novell helps to enhance the look and feel of the Linux desktop this week with the release of considerable enhancements to the XGL framework. Enhancements include a virtual desktop affixed to a cube that rotates, transparent objects, and increased text display speeds.

One final tidbit … This week, Sun and OpenOffice.org ran ads on the sides of buses in Microsoft's home town of Redmond, WA.

Check back next week for another rundown of the week's top open source stories.

Open Source for the Masses

It is great to see an article like this in the mainstream media (Fox News) saying that open source software can be just as good as commercial software. The article goes on to recommend six of the best open source programs including Firefox, Thunderbird, and Gimp. We need articles like this one to help raise public awareness of open source software outside of the geek community.

read more | digg story

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Linux Desktop Adoption: Is it being sabotaged by Microsoft?

I ran across this article on Digg today, which claims there are two ways that "Microsoft sabotages Linux desktop adoption". I am not going to attempt to determine whether or not Microsoft engages in these behaviors; however, I think that this article leaves out a few important issues.

For the record, this is an open source blog, and I am an advocate for open source. I would like to see more people using Linux on the desktop; however, I also think that we need to accurately recognize the challenges with Linux desktop adoption. By understanding why people resist using Linux on the desktop, we can work to tear down the barriers to adoption.

The author claims that Microsoft "has convinced users that a switch to a competing office suite would require too many sacrifices." This may or may not be true; however, it does not effectively address the issue of resistance to change. In general, people get accustomed to a certain environment and tend to resist ANY changes that are introduced; this is true of most business change efforts, but for some reason, major technology changes seem to have an extremely disruptive influence on at least a portion of the install base. During any migration, we need to recognize that change is hard, and it will take quite a bit of time to get people comfortable with a new environment. I suspect that the natural human tendency to resist change is a more important factor than any specific actions by Microsoft.

The author also says that Microsoft uses its influence to coerce hardware vendors not to support Linux. This refers to the issue that Linux cannot easily be used with certain hardware configurations because the hardware manufactures have not made Linux drivers available. Again, I will not attempt to determine whether or not Microsoft coerces hardware vendors. I do know that when a market exists for a product, companies will usually do whatever it takes to provide a product for the market. In other words, if enough people are running Linux on the desktop, the desktop hardware manufactures will provide support for Linux. This is the chicken and egg problem that I have discussed frequently on this blog. Vendors will not support a product without a critical mass of users, and users will tend not to use a product that vendors do not support. This is a problem with hardware support (drivers) and application availability. We need to recognize this problem if we want to resolve it. I actually think that the driver support for Linux on the desktop is starting to improve (very slowly) due to the vocal minority. Linux desktop users tend to be a small group of people; however, they also tend to be intelligent, loyal, and very vocal when vendors do not step up to provide support for Linux. To overcome this chicken and egg problem, Linux desktop users need to continue to complain frequently, publicly and directly to the companies that are not providing drivers to keep the issue of driver availability in the press and on the minds of the vendors. A small, but loyal and vocal, minority can make a difference.

It is easy to blame Microsoft; however, I do not think that placing blame is the most productive use of our time. We need to understand the issues and work to resolve the issues that we can most directly impact if we want to increase adoption of Linux on the desktop.

read more | digg story

Monday, February 06, 2006

Firefox History and Story of Success

Ben Goodger wrote a great blog today about the roots of Firefox. An important part of his article describes the power struggles and other issues that can result between an open source community and a commercial entity that takes the product to market. In some cases, the community and a company can work well together, but in the case of Netscape and Mozilla many of the interactions were quite dysfunctional. This is a great read for both community members and corporate types to better understand some of the challenges of taking open source products to market (what not to do).

This is also a story about knowing when to start over. The user interface for the browser had so many problems that they felt the best course of action was a fresh approach. In my opinion, this is why Firefox has been so incredibly successful with a broad base of users. Quite a few open source products are designed by developers, for developers with little thought given to usability by the masses. Firefox, on the other hand, was designed from the beginning to be a browser that anyone could use and would want to use to browse the web. Firefox is so intuitive and easy to use that anyone, even those without any advanced computer knowledge, can install and use it. The Firefox community of extension and theme developers has also made it easy for anyone to control and customize the user experience without any programming knowledge required. I have coerced friends and co-workers into installing Firefox, and most of them immediately become addicted to one or more Firefox extensions. A friend of mine installed Firefox for his mom; she was not sure about making the change until he showed her the themes, and when she found that she could use a different theme for each holiday or mood, she was converted. Little things can make a big difference in the adoption of any software product, and Firefox's attention to detail on the user interface paved the way for the broad success that Firefox is currently enjoying.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

This Week in Open Source News for Jan 30-Feb 5

This is the first of what I hope will become a weekly segment every Sunday on this blog to recap the hottest open source news of the week.

My favorite rumor of the week was that Google was going to start distributing a version of Linux based on Ubuntu, dubbed Goobuntu, as a way to go up against Microsoft on the desktop. It did not take Google long to begin denying this rumor. While they acknowledge using Ubuntu internally, Google says that they have no plans to distribute it externally; however, analysts still speculate that Google will continue to move into software segments where Microsoft has been strong.

Last week Linus Torvalds said that the Linux kernel would not be using GPL v3, and he continued to clarify his position this week with several additional posts. His main objection seems to revolve around the anti-DRM clause, which Linus says would be more appropriate in a content license, not a software license. He also said that "we do not - as software developers - have the moral right to enforce our rules on hardware manufacturers. We are not crusaders, trying to force people to bow to our superior God. We are trying to show others that co-operation and openness works better." This highlights the cultural differences between the free software movement, which tends to be more politically motivated (the GPL is driven through the Free Software Foundation), while the open source software proponents tend to focus more on the software with fewer political motivations.

Mozilla delivered an update to Firefox as part of their regular two month upgrade release cycle that fixes several security and stability issues while providing better support for Mac OS X. This update also claims to fix several memory leak problems. Firefox's memory issues have been my only real problem with Firefox, and I will be interested to see how well this works as I use it over the next week or two.

Novell demoed Linux Desktop 10, which will be released in several months. Key features include the ability to convert VB macros (commonly used in MS Excel files) into a format used by OpenOffice, the capability to play MP3 files out of the box, and the ability to handle digital camera operations seamlessly.

Red Hat joined the effort led by MIT to provide a $100 laptop by donating $2 million to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. This will not guarantee the use of a Red Hat OS on the laptop; however, early demos of this laptop used a Fedora variant.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Firefox team member evaluates new IE7 beta

Asa Dotzler demonstrates some of the best attributes of open source culture in his evaluation of the new IE7 beta. He does a thorough job of evaluating where his competition is strong and makes suggestions for Firefox improvements in addition to pointing out many areas where IE has followed Firefox innovations. I talk about Firefox frequently in this blog because Firefox is a great example of open source culture at its finest. The Firefox community comes up with original innovations, but they are also willing to acknowledge where others have a better solution. This allows Firefox to innovate ahead of other browsers and use existing ideas from products like IE when it makes the most sense for their users. The culture of innovation and reuse is one reason that open source is becoming the phenomenon that it is today.

read more | digg story