Wednesday, May 31, 2006

One Laptop per Child Prototypes

Nicholas Negroponte unveiled a working prototype of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) PC this week, and Dan Farber posted a great update on the project. The OLPC has also been called the $100 PC; however, this is not currently accurate, since the PC will cost $130 - $140 at launch and is not expected to hit the $100 mark until 2008. They plan to launch these Red Hat Fedora Linux-based systems in April of 2007.

These systems are not intended for consumer purchases, but they will be made available working with local governments. Nigeria, Brazil, Thailand, Argentina, China, India, Egypt. Russia, Mexico and Indonesia have all shown interest in these laptops according to Farber.

I admire the goal of getting computers in the hands of every child, and I like Negroponte's approach of designing the systems with the specific needs of emerging nations in mind. Features like the hand crank for power, screens with good visibility in full sunlight, and rugged form factors to handle rough conditions match the unique needs of these users. I am still a bit skeptical, so I will be curious to see how well these work when they start getting them in the hands of the users. Will they use them? Will these computers create security problems (theft / bodily harm) for the children who receive one? Will these unique features really meet their needs?

I am anxiously waiting to see the results of this project.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mozilla's Millions of Dollars

Mitchell Baker, Chief Lizard Wrangler at Mozilla, was recently interviewed by the Telegraph, and she talked about how Mozilla is dealing with their millions of dollars in revenue. Mozilla is not trying to hide the fact that they are profitable; although, the exact figure is still unknown. Mozilla is reported to have revenue in the tens of millions of dollars, but slightly less than the $72 million rumor from March. Much of this revenue comes from their search partner, Google, who pays about 80% of the ad revenue generated from user searches back to Mozilla.

The fact that Mozilla is making money really irritates some people within the open source community who see Mozilla as a sell out who might become more focused on bringing in buckets of money instead of focusing on open source. This type of thinking is really unfortunate. Mozilla has done a fantastic job with Firefox, and we should give them the benefit of the doubt that the money earned will be well spent. In the Telegraph interview, Baker said that the money would be spent on product improvements, building their infrastructure, strengthening Mozilla's ties with developers, and a rainy day fund. The reality is that Mozilla is still trying to figure out exactly how this money should be spent. This is also a good sign. An organization should take some time to plan how to best use their resources. A less mature and less responsible organization might have spent the money as it came in with little thought put into how the money can best benefit the organization.

Firefox has been growing at an incredible rate and is becoming a worthy competitor to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Keeping up with a growth curve of this magnitude will be difficult for Mozilla, and having some money to support it may help.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I just read an interesting BBC piece by Bill Thompson, "Serendipity casts a very wide net". Bill talks about how some people, like William McKeen, believe that our heavy use of the internet limits our ability to find information serendipitously. According to McKeen, we use highly efficient search engines to find exactly what we are looking for, which makes it unlikely that we will run across new and unexpected nuggets of information.

Bill Thompson disagrees with McKeen's assessment as do I. The Internet makes it more likely, not less likely, that I will serendipitously run across unexpected information. I have a large number of RSS feeds that I look through every day, and I frequently read an article or a blog with an interesting title containing information I would never have searched for. It is also common for me to take a serendipitous trip down a chain of links to other interesting information starting from one of the blog entries found in my RSS feeds.

Internet communities, including open source communities, have been built on serendipity. With open source software, the mailing lists are used to share ideas and get feedback from other developers hoping that someone will add their input to improve the software in an unexpected way. Online communities, like Digg, have made an art form out of serendipity. Digg allows anyone to submit a technology news story, and people vote on the stories to push the most interesting stories to the home page. Those of us reading Digg will find a wide variety of stories with information that we would never have deliberately looked for.

Interestingly enough, Bill Thompson found McKeen's article through a serendipitous journey from an RSS feed to a blog post to McKeen's article in the St. Petersburg Times, a Tampa Bay newspaper that he never would have read without the Internet. Likewise, I do not regularly read Bill's BBC column despite regularly listening to his contributions on the BBC Digital Planet Podcast; however, while reading Techmeme, I ran across Bill's article and links to related stories, which I followed to McKeen's original story. Sounds like serendipity to me.

read more | digg story

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crowdsourcing, Open Source, and Web 2.0

In The Rise of Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe looks at outsourcing in comparison to web 2.0 and other collaborative online communities:

"Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D." (Wired)

People are increasingly looking to online communities to accomplish tasks more efficiently, more quickly, with higher quality and lower in cost than more traditional solutions. Howe has a number of examples of this phenomenon. First, the high priced stock photography market is being cannibalized by companies like iStockphoto that collect images shot by amateur contributors that can be sold at a much lower price. Second, media channels like VH1 and Bravo are looking to the web for funny and outrageous viral videos already becoming popular with their audience and putting them on television. Third, and most interesting to me, companies are using the internet to facilitate innovations and R&D for complex problems, like how to put fluoride into toothpaste tubes without getting the fluoride in the air.

This is not a new phenomenon. Open source projects have been doing this for years. Within the open source community, people work together online to create very complex products, everything from the Linux kernel to open source databases to open source web browsers. Creating complex products requires quite a bit of innovation, and communities have a unique opportunity to focus on innovations that are created by users or that build on the ideas of other people as discussed in Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel. Firefox extensions and themes are a great example of user innovations shared within the community of Firefox developers and users. Like anything else, the quality of open source products can vary; however, many of these open source projects are of a very high quality partly due to what Eric Raymond called Linus's Law: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

Although "crowdsourcing" has existed in the open source community for years, the difference now is that the technology has evolved to allow anyone to participate in these communities. Fifteen years ago, you almost needed a computer science degree just to use open source products, not to mention actually contributing to them. With the web 2.0 technology of today, even those with minimal computer skills can join and become active participants in online communities to contribute thoughts and ideas via blogs, photography via Flickr and iStockphoto, and maybe even solve a complex R&D problem for a major company. "Crowdsourcing", while not a new idea, is now becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wikipedia: Premature Death or Evolution?

Nicholas Carr has pronounced the death of Wikipedia:

"Wikipedia is dead. It died the way the pure products of idealism always do, slowly and quietly and largely in secret, through the corrosive process of compromise.

There was a time when, indeed, anyone could edit anything on Wikipedia.

… A few months ago, in the wake of controversies about the quality and reliability of the free encyclopedia's content, the Wikipedian powers-that-be - its 'administrators' - abandoned the work's founding ideal and began to impose restrictions on editing. In addition to banning some contributors from the site, the administrators adopted an 'official policy' of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, 'semi-protection' to prevent 'vandals' (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia." (Rough Type)

I must respectfully disagree with Nicholas. This is not the death of Wikipedia; it is the natural evolution of the online encyclopedia. In a sense, evolution is like death. The original species becomes extinct and is replaced by one that is better adapted to the current environment. In human evolution, previous species like Homo habilis and Homo erectus became extinct leading up to the evolution of modern Homo sapiens.

The open source community can be used as an example of how to make online communities function smoothly to produce a high quality product. We can certainly argue that Linux and other open source applications are high quality products that are created by a collection of people online, similar to Wikipedia. However, open source projects rarely (if ever) give access to the source code to anyone who wants to contribute. A smaller group of people have access to commit changes, while newer and less experienced members must submit code to others who review it and make the changes (or not) based on the merits of the contribution. These are commonly accepted practices that have been proven to work over time within open source communities.

As Wikipedia evolves, it is adopting practices that are similar to those used by open source communities. Unregistered users and very new users are not given full access to edit any article; however, after a few days they can earn the right to make changes. Those that abuse the privilege to edit articles by vandalizing pages will no longer be allowed to make changes. This seems like common sense, especially when compared to the commonly accepted practices of open source communities. These practices help to prevent controversial entries from being edited with incorrect or incomplete information in order to protect the integrity of the information in Wikipedia and to preserve the notion that Wikipedia is a reliable and credible source of information.

Most of us would never have an opportunity to contribute to a traditional encyclopedia, so Wikipedia is still very open when compared to other alternatives. In an ideal, utopian world where people always do the right thing, maybe we could have complete openness without restriction. These changes do not mean that Wikipedia is no longer "open". Wikipedia has simply evolved as an online community in order to maintain its survival.

read more | digg story

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ham Radio and Being Geeky

Someday I will rule you all.

This has nothing to do with open source software, but I had to get a little geeky. I am also exposing my ham radio past, which I have not actually used in maybe 20 years.

Firefox is Big in Canada

The Canadians love Firefox. According to, Firefox currently has a 16% market share in Canada compared to an 11.8% Firefox market share worldwide. As a frame of reference, Internet Explorer usage in Canada is only 77.4% compared to IE's 85.2% market share worldwide. In the US, Firefox has a 12.8% market share, while IE is at 82.5%.

read more | digg story

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Java, Open Source, and Harmony

While the rest of us are talking about how and when Sun may open source Java, the Open Source Diva, Danese Cooper, has a slightly different take on the topic. From Danese's perspective, we should be following Harmony, a J2SE Apache project:

" So...I'm wondering how long it will take the various Linux distros to figure out that they can ship Harmony (as they ship Apache) pre-installed and ready to use (even while they continue to put Sun's JRE in the "non-free" directory, where its still two clicks away from users)." (DivaBlog)

Mellon Foundation Open Source Awards

The Mellon Foundation will for the first time "recognize not-for-profit organizations that are making substantial contributions of their own resources toward the development of open source software and the fostering of collaborative communities to sustain open source development." ( Multiple awards will be given at each level: $25,000 and $100,000 depending on the significance and benefits of the project.

"To nominate an organization for an award, please click here. Each nomination must address one organization and one software project. You may nominate more than one organization, or nominate the same organization for more than one project, but each organization/project pairing must be a separate nomination. You may nominate your own organization or project." (

This is a great way to recognize an open source project!

Open Source Religion

People are now using open source methodologies and collaborative approaches to create new religions that often focus on working together to create a belief system rather than receiving instruction from a small inner circle of leaders. Examples include Yoism, the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, and the open source theology movement.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oracle Contributes Ajax Tech to Open Source Community

As anticipated, Oracle announced yesterday that they will release some Ajax user interface technology into the open source community.

"Oracle said it would donate a set of Ajax-enabled user-interface components in the next few months. The Redwood Shores, Calif., database company said developers would be able to assemble the reusable components on a page and connect them to an application data source. The company has integrated Ajax with JavaServer Faces technology to build highly interactive user interfaces that run 100 percent within a browser with no downloads, officials said." (TechWeb)

This is not a big announcement, but it does support Oracle's recent focus on open source. From my perspective, open sourcing existing technology is a better open source strategy for Oracle than the acquisition strategy that it has been rumored to have been pursuing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sun to Open Source Java

At JavaOne today, Sun announced that they will open source Java. They have not yet released a timeframe because they still need to figure out exactly how they will open source it and resolve a few issues first. This is a positive step in the right direction for Sun.

Wall Street Journal Reporter Tries Linux on the Desktop

I have discussed the difficulties of getting wide adoption for Linux on the desktop in quite a few blog entries (here and here). In short, we have a chicken and the egg problem: there are not enough Linux desktop users for application vendors to justify the port to Linux on the desktop; however, users are not willing to move to desktop Linux until it supports the applications they require. I have also talked about the lack of vendor driver support that would allow users to plug and play with any device they happen to buy at the local electronics store (scanners, printers, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc.) The human tendency to resist change is another factor slowing the growth of the Linux desktop.

Yesterday, a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mark Golden, discussed his experiences with installing and using desktop Linux on his Pentium III Sony Vaio. He tested six distributions: Linspire, Fedora, Suse, Xandros, Mandrake, and Knoppix. His findings are not surprising. Printing, email, surfing the web worked well, but getting sound and graphics cards to work (drivers) along with multi-media applications and iPod / digital camera operations did not work properly. As I have said many times before, until we get the applications and drivers for desktop Linux in good shape with plug and play capability for consumer devices, ordinary users will continue to struggle and ultimately will not use Linux on the desktop.

Golden also struggled with due to his use of complicated Microsoft Office documents that could not be properly converted. Most of us, meaning ordinary office workers, can easily convert documents back and forth between Microsoft Office formats and formats; however, people using some of the more complex features of either application will find conversion between formats difficult.

The blogosphere has a number of opinions on Mark Golden's experiences. For example, Scott Granneman of theopensourceweblog thinks that Golden should have tried Kubuntu instead of the six that he originally evaluated, and Ed Caggiani of Life in the Valley thinks that Linux should be used where it performs well: on the back end running servers.

I still think that Linux on the desktop could be a great solution for some people if we can just get over the application, driver, and plug-n-play issues.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Web 2.0, 53,651 and Open Source

Josh Kopelman on the Red Eye VC blog recently had a thought-provoking post that was widely discussed within the blogosphere. He stated that 53,651 people subscribe to the TechCrunch blog feed. I am one of these subscribers along with 53,650 other people who follow the web 2.0 trends closely, and most of us probably know quite a bit about Digg, MySpace, Flickr, Frappr,, and many other web 2.0 sites. Herein lies the problem; most of the rest of the billions of people on this earth have never heard of these sites, and we throw these terms around as if everyone else in the world is as immersed in this phenomenon as we are. Om Malik of the GigaOM blog recently realized that even many of his tech-savvy friends who read blogs and listen to podcasts are not fully aware of the web 2.0 phenomenon.

At this point, you are probably wondering if I am ever going to tie this back to open source software. This idea, that a few tech savvy early adopters do not represent the entire population of people, is also applicable to open source software. In March, I blogged about how difficult it is to get users to try a new browser (Firefox) when most people do not understand what a browser is and why they would want a different one. We get so caught up in our techie world where people understand terms like browsers, operating systems, Firefox,, and Flickr that we do not always think about how to reach the masses. This requires education and lots of it. A number of times recently, I have informed reasonably tech-savvy people that can actually open and save documents in Microsoft formats to clear up the common misconception that the two are completely incompatible.

If we want to drive broad adoption of open source software, we need to take the time to step back and patiently educate people in terms that they can understand without assuming that people have the same knowledge and passion about the topic as we do.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sun Unlikely to Open Source Java

Sun is unlikely to release Java under an open source license if James Gosling, the father of Java, has anything to say about it.

"There's a bunch of people out there getting all hyper, and I don't believe there's anything there for them to get hyper about," Gosling said when asked about the possibility of a full open source route for Java.

Source code for Java already is available and has been for 10 years, he said. The current model for Java is close to an open source model, Gosling said. (InfoWorld)

Interesting. "Close to an open model", but not open source. Peter Yared (previously Sun's CTO of Liberty Network Identity initiative and CTO of Sun's App Server Division) and others have been publicly calling for Sun to open source Java. I tend to think that Sun should open source Java. Releasing the JVM under an open source license would have quite a few benefits (greater community innovation, better adoption within the LAMP stack, etc.)

This type of infrastructure software has become so commoditized that I do not see how Sun could possibly be getting any measurable benefit by keeping it proprietary.

Gosling also had this to say:

Despite some assertions to the contrary, Sun is doing fine with making money from Java, he said. The company earns money with its Java Enterprise System network services software and also in selling services and support, Gosling said. (InfoWorld)

Assuming this is true; Sun could continue to make money from an open source Java by offering value-added software and by selling services and support as described above.

I cannot seem to find a compelling reason for Sun to keep Java proprietary. This is especially perplexing with Sun, a company who typically "gets" open source and has done quite a bit in support of the open source community.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Open Source Software and Avoiding Feature Bloat

In a recent OpenForce blog entry, Zack Urlocker makes a couple of interesting observations about open source software complexity, ease of use, and features:

"It used to be that to go open source meant making trade-offs. For example, Open Office still never quite does as good a job as Microsoft Office. But when you get to the On Demand systems, I would argue that the open source systems are in many ways better than the traditional closed source on-site systems: Less complexity, better user interface, easier to use. That may not necessarily be due to the free availability of the source code, but more in the spirit of open source that focuses on the basics, not all the bells and whistles. And why is that? Because open source developers shouldn't be caught up in adding every feature under the sun in order to justify an annual upgrades." (Zach Urlocker)

Zack makes a great point about how "open source developers shouldn't be caught up in adding every feature under the sun". Open source software seems to be better at figuring out which features are really needed by most people and not getting into the trap of trying to satisfy every need that a potential customer might someday have. Too many proprietary companies end up with bloatware because they try to provide too many features.

By providing the source code, open source software often avoids feature bloat. The source code gives a customer with a specific need the flexibility to add a feature. In some cases, projects nurture open source sub-communities who serve this purpose. Firefox, for example, has a robust community of developers who write extensions and themes that people can use to enhance Firefox with a flexible set of additional features. By providing these separately, Firefox avoids becoming too bloated with infrequently used features.

It boils down to this. When considering feature bloat, open source software has an advantage over proprietary software because the source code provides more flexibility to the user community. Users can choose to add features and functionality as needed without relying on a vendor to satisfy their every need.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Document Format Wars Part Deux

More on the document format wars that I mentioned on Monday. Now a group working closely with Microsoft is accusing the Massachusetts government of having an open source bias.

read more | digg story

Killer Bees and Open Source Software

I read a really interesting blog post this morning called Microsoft...Attacked By Killer Bees. Here's the idea:

"A hive of bees weighs just a couple of pounds. If a man were attacked by a single animal weighing just a few pounds…say a Killer Chihuahua, it wouldn’t be much of a contest. But 5 pounds of killer bees make a formidable assailant. They succeed by being many, being quicker, more agile and extremely determined." (Below the Bottom Line)

The point of this blog entry is that as Microsoft tries to shift from a software company to a media company, they are facing many small, but nimble competitors. "In other words, they’ll be surrounded by Killer Bees."

This got me thinking about how you could extend this line of thinking and apply it to the software market with open source software as the killer bee. As of 12:33 PM today, there were 118,717 registered open source projects hosted on SourceForge alone. Like the killer bee, there are many open source software projects that can move and respond quickly to changes in the environment. The larger software companies like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP and others will continue to face tough competition from open source software. The software companies that are able to successfully embrace open source software, like IBM, will probably be in a better position to prosper in the long-term.

With killer bees and open source software, you might be able to swat a few down (or acquire them); however, more will come to take their place.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Document Format Wars

Multiple document format "standards" are competing for dominance, similar to the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format wars. The OpenDocument standard, which was ratified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) last week, was designed to provide a non-proprietary document standard for use by governments and other organizations. Originally, the EU said that they would recommend the OpenDocument file format if it was approved as an ISO standard; however, competing formats are resulting in a wait and see approach.

The issue is that Microsoft has submitted their own standard, the Office Open XML file format. We now have two proposed standards competing in the market, and the EU is reluctant to support either one in case the Microsoft standard is also approved. I understand that large organizations have competing agendas (I work for a large technology company); however, our customers would be better served if technology vendors could cooperate and reach some type of agreement rather than fighting it out in the standards bodies.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Microsoft Not Quite "Getting It"

This week Microsoft launched adCenter, an advertising product similar to Google's AdSense. The problem is that Microsoft launched the site without any support for non-IE browsers. As they strive to "evolve Microsoft from a software company into the world’s largest, most attractive provider of online media through MSN, Windows Live™ and adCenter" (Microsoft), they need to think outside of the Microsoft box to recognize the need to provide broad support for other platforms and browsers to be successful with the new direction.

The problem for Microsoft is that the people currently using alternate browsers, like Firefox, tend to be very vocal early technology adopters and technology influencers. By shunning this crowd, Microsoft is asking for failure. One example of this phenomenon came from Darren Barefoot's blog entry titled "I Guess Microsoft Doesn’t Want My Money".

I do not want people to have the impression that no one at Microsoft gets it. Robert Scoble, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, understands that support of Firefox is a necessity for Microsoft. Scoble says the idea that people at Microsoft should only care about Microsoft products "must be washed from our corporate culture. … if you want the most passionate people in society to use your stuff, you must support Firefox." (Scoble)

Microsoft needs to wake up to the reality that if they want to be more than a software company, they will need to embrace competing software.

On a personal note, this is my 100th Open Source Culture blog entry!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Open Source and Religion

Open source is frequently compared to a religion complete with zealots and evangelists, and some religions are even using open source methodologies to create belief systems (known as open source religions).

However, Rev. Don Parris has extended this idea to a new level:

"This ordained Baptist minister with the Charlotte, N.C.-based Matheteuo Christian Fellowship has made it his mission to spread the good word about free and open source software (FOSS). The Greek word "Matheteuo" translates to "to make disciples," and Parris has extended the moniker to include making other software users into Linux and open source disciples themselves.

Parris is a longtime user of the Ubuntu Linux distribution and a contributor to the Freely Project, which is a community of users that promotes open source software (OSS) in churches across the United States as a less expensive alternative to the high licensing costs associated with owning Microsoft Windows. Through the Freely Project, a cadre of technically savvy Linux users helps churches migrate from Microsoft Windows to free or less expensive alternatives." (

read more | digg story

Get a Free Firefox eBook

I ran across this Free Firefox Facts eBook on Asa's Blog. You can download a copy from

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Will Sun Open Source Java?

As Schwartz takes over from McNealy, insiders are saying that Sun is considering open sourcing Java in time for the JavaOne conference in May. Schwartz led the open sourcing of Solaris, and he could be considering the same for Java. "According to sources inside Sun, an ongoing debate over whether to open-source Java is coming to a head with the JavaOne conference looming May 16." (eWeek)

Peter Yared (previously Sun's CTO of Liberty Network Identity initiative and CTO of Sun's App Server Division) has been publicly calling for Sun to open source Java and take other actions related to open source. At this point, we can only speculate on what Sun will do. I personally think that Sun should open source Java; however, we will just have to wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

FAA Saves Time and Money with Open Source

The Federal Aviation Administration saved $15 million dollars and completed an upgrade to the air traffic control systems in one-third of the projected time.

"The upgrade is part of a broader service-oriented architecture initiative that will replace proprietary traffic management systems with applications using Java, Web services, open-source software and Oracle products. …

The air traffic flow system, called the Enhanced Traffic Management System, predicts traffic surges, gaps and volume across the national airspace. The FAA tracks about 8,000 airplanes at any given time. The agency uses the real-time analysis system to keep the skies running smoothly.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is on all traffic management systems at the traffic flow central processing facility, located at the Transportation Department’s Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass. More than 100 sites rely on the system for air traffic management, including military facilities and international sites." (FCW)

read more | digg story

Monday, May 01, 2006

Open Source Venture Capital

Have you ever wanted to know just how much money has been invested in open source companies? A recent article, The Open Source Venture Capital Universe, attempts to answer this question and more characterizing open source investing as: "A rollercoaster - as trite as that image may be - is the right analogy for venture capital investing in open source companies. And what a long, strange trip it's been."

Matt Asay puts the figure somewhere around $1.3B and rapidly growing. It is anyone's guess for where open source investing will go from here.

I found this info via Alexander Muse at the Texas Venture Capital Blog.