Monthly Archives: October 2006

We design freedom!

Nice to see other free software advocates like Dave Neary taking the point of freedom. I had taken some similar points at gnome-marketing list.

Dave says about freedom: “Ignoring such a powerful concept, which we *own*, seems to me like suicide. “We’re the nicer browser to use” will work for a while, but one day that may well not be the case…”

That’s exactly the point! I think  that freedom ist playing a very minor role in marketing free software.

And I want to suggest again to combine more marketing knowledge for free software. But I think  we should beware not to just take marketing as something we need, not something essential. For good open source marketing I recommend the reading of The art of envangelism buye Guy Kawasaki and Creating passionate users: You ARE a marketer. Deal with it. by Kathy Sierra.
Lets learn from each other.

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First impression of Fedora Core 6

On October 24th Fedora Core 6 came out. I have installed it on my 1,6 Ghz Desktop with a 512 MB RAM and a new 250 GB Samsung disk and a DVD writer. My first impression: Really clean installation, many things go smoother than at last installation. For instance for me downloading additional is much better because there seem to be more mirrors. Yep and there is GNOME 2.16 – looks nicer and quicker really. The notification area applet is usedmuch more and better than other applications. Gaim beta is still buggy. I really do not like the icon-theme that Fedora does. I think Tangos icons are much better and they even fit better to the Fedora Theme! (strange) wih their blue.

What’s not so nice is that we did not get Firefox 2.0 . That would be a hit! GNOME 2.16 looks a bit rough to me. it looks like it wants to do everything right but the mechanics or the feeling is a bit hectic. They should work on the smoothness so that the overall impression feels more natural.

The installation of aditional repository like (for me) essential rpm.livna.org was relatively stressless, except a bug that forces the user to circumvent some obstacles by hand. Well, shit happens.

What I still find stupid is that in german Abiword is name “Textverarbeitung” and Openoffice.orgs Writer is names “Word Proccessor” (Which means “Textverarbeitung” in german.). I think there is a real problem with the idea of naming an icon by its function. Because what do you do if there are two applications that do the same thing? Why no use both? Or why not have an option to sort menu by application purpose? you can also look at one of my ideas at http://live.gnome.org/GnomeIdeas/DropBox. So far for now.

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OpenSUSE and Fedora unite?

First off: No this is not news. If you’d expect that I tell you that this is happening you are at the wrong blog article.

I just like to be heretical. I want to tell you what I think:

  1. Both (Fedora Core and OpenSUSE) are free community projects
  2. Both are having similar goals
  3. Both work on things like 3D-Desktops
  4. Both have a tie with their parent companies (Redhat and Novell)
  5. Both use RPM as a standard.
  6. Both are already cooperating

I thin essentially Linux development should try to reduce redundancy in development. I think both come from different angles and that it would have been an illusion to bring Red Hat and SuSE together. But I now think that the projects that are more interested in the users as in the success of their parental companies.

I am not a software engineer, but as it is possible to install RPM packages on different platforms (OK don’t do that really) I think they have at least some things in common. My suggestion would be that somebody tries to unite both distributions, kind of a best-of both.

I guess repackaging is not so complicated. I would dump YAST because it is so monolithic and I would wish for OpenSUSE that they would dump it anyway.

What were the benefits:

  • Much more packages!!
  • More ease for the maintainers to only have to provide one RPM for tow major distributions!
  • This could give Linux a boost as Fedora and OpenSUSE user base is maybe doubling and so more bug reports for one distribution.

I know Red Hat already said that they like to have many different distros on the market, but from my view these two are too similar and both unified would be a great thing. Yeah, maybe I only like it if people are cooperating 😉 – I am a believer in cooperations much more as in the “everybody does what he likes best” . I try to look at it simple: What goals do we have and what can we do to reach them? I think those two could make one great distribution. This should be an external project in order not to confuse users. So now how to name this beast.

Fedora SuSE? 😉

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Tag reorg

I just reorganised my tags so that I used those that are used more often (lower numbers). Hope this helps people to find my blog entries.

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Debian & Mozilla

Some of you might already have heard of the problems between Debian and Mozilla. (see Debian Project Leader report for 2005-07-07 look for “Firefox”). I really think that this is more of a joke. First i want to comment on the so often called freedom of Debian. I don’t really think it is free. It includes more patent problematic software than any other distribution, especially related to OpenSUSE and Fedora. They have different repositories/sources for those, but they are distributed with Debian. That’s why you can listen to patented and copyrighted MP3 in Debian right from the start, but not on Fedora. The problem they have is with the trademark of Firefox.I don’t want to go too much into details. This is an evolving story. My view is that to make a fork should be possible. And if Debian chooses to do some patches quicker and better, why not. Sure this has the effect that a default installation base gets split, but if people are not really using Firefox in Debian they should see this by the name. So maybe this is what should be the default way. Debian often chooses to patch things that make software work differently – but mostly you do not recognize this “forks”. So maybe this whole issue should be seen more positive. Maybe Mozilla forces Debian to show their cards.

( see also Behind the Debian and Mozilla dispute over use of Firefox )

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Are Mac lovers dumb?

If you read the comments on “when the bough breaks” one might come to this conclusion. The think that formats like PSD an H.264 are free open file formats, which they are definitely not. They do not get the point and they insist that their Macs “just work”.

This is the result of an oversimplification in Apples marketing strategy. Although they sure have some fine people inventing new hardware Apple continuously betrayed users, locked them in and mistrusted them. And if Apple does not trust you, how come you trust Apple?

Some people coming from Windows may think switching to a Mac might be good idea – ans also some Unix geeks think that a Mac saves them time. Well: it is not. This is true if you are a real simple user that just needs a computer to tank your iPod – and it is only true if you are willing to pay a price. The price is the loss of your freedom and you can also count it by your expenses. Better have a credit card right by your side if you use a Mac. The Mac is just selling “it just works”. Why else did I have to help a Mac user hours and hours to get things working that I could do with my Linux box within a few minutes? Ah yes it is easy if your Mac dealer lives around the corner and you pay him for every help you get.

The truth is that there is no such computer that “just works”! Said but true. I am using GNOME on Linux. GNOME also has Human Interface Guidelines like Apple has and it also tries to make things simpler. But I would not say that it “just works” – but it often works much better than a Mac. The only argument pro Mac I accept is if you have an application you need and that only runs on a Mac. Than you HAVE to use it, poor guy/girl. 🙂

The concept of Linux and Free Software in general advocates the freedom instead of simplicity. It includes the possibility to develop applications that are easy to use, while Macs philosophy does not include freedom. So it might be easier at some points – but if it is more complicated you do not have the freedom to make it easier. Even if you could.

You might now say that the Mac also is able to use free software. True, but really a Mac that tries to use free software is much more complicated to use than a Linux that is build upon free software. I could not get Gimp-Print to work on a Mac, even though I use it for years on Linux. On a Mac many things are hidden because Apple thinks you are stupid. I admit GNOME is also hiding more things than KDE because it also thinks users are stupid. But in the end it is free! What is hidden is up for discussion. You can send in bug reports and it even might get changed in the next release or you can apply a patch and have what you want in only hours.

So Apple is only as far interested in its users as they are paying for their products. Apple really does not care about you! Apple wants your money, therefore it makes nice looking and working products. They don’t do it because they want to help you. In GNOME and KDE users and developers are one family that help each other and try to understand each others needs, even if they do not agree every time.

If you like freedom throw away your Mac-Os and install some decent and trustworthy OS. If you are rich and have people that help you in handling your Mac, keep using it you do not want or need freedom.

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Inclusionism vs. .* ?

Inclusionism is a philosophy held by Wikipedians who favor keeping and amending problematic articles over deleting them.(read more at Mediawikis Meta Wiki) – thats just as a start for discussing some issues that Wikis andopen source projects do have in common. I think one could call me an inclusionist. But not in all aspects. I love the inclusion of everything so nothing will be lost.
I have just experienced the force of Wikipedia Deletionists in the german Wikipedia. I wrote an article about unconferences. That was deleted, but only weeks after that a similar article with the title BarCamp was written: The deletion was led by a highly respected Wikipedian who is a journalist . She search for the german word “Unkonferenz” and only got 64 results. So somehow this article got deleted, because she argumented it was not relevant. Indeed, if she had searches in english she would have gotten 1.2 million results. This is just one but a good example how “quality assurance” indeed leeds to less quality and redundant work. I would not say that wone should never delete a Wikipedia article but it should be the last choice for really stupid articles that do not make any sense at all. At least a REDIRECT should be possible.

Similar problems come up in open source. See the article “About leaving” from Russel Coker. Fedora decided not to support Xen for older CPUs like his (that he got from Red Hat as he left the company). There we see the problems with the classic WONTFIX approach. I found that distributions like FreeBSD have this WONTFIX attitude more often – and sure Fedora also does this more often than Debian. I think it is understandable if you have limited ressources but want to get a working release in time. I think the probklem is starting if people have less opportunities and are forced to switch (like from Fedora to Debian). There are other examples where people siwtch from Debian to Fedora for similar reasons. On my partI switched to Fedora because Debian never had uptodate software. Ubuntu really filled a gap here. Maybe I had switched to Ubuntu and not Fedora if it had existed at this point. I think the problem is that users often like to have a fork, something slightly different but that the efforts for switching or extending are often big. We still have different package formats. So as a user you often stuble accross a site where a developer builds only for his distribution (that might be Gentoo, Debian, or Fedora/Red Hat, etc.) and that just does not is what you are using right now. I think there is something wrkong in this development processes. People are starting to write for a distribution because they have limited ressources. At the same time that emans that many users will not be able to uses their packages and that some extra work will have to get in migrating the package.

I think the classic distribution development is outdated. Understandably but outdated. This approach only makes sense for tools that should only be run on one distribution and never on another platform. I am not a developer but I think it should be possible to automatically build for different distributions
while programming? Ok, sometimes you want to build on one library version that does not (yet) exist on other distributions, but this could be solveable. Maybe a tool could help you in deciding where to build on knowing what libraries all distributions use. Also I think development tools should enable users to write code that immediately is published online like with wikis or with Gobby. So certainly a devtool needs a jabber chat built in! So I am talking about live programming. And I am also astonished that translations of GNOME still happen via mailing lists and not while the code is written. This is ridiculous. This takes weeks instead of hours or minutes to fix some characters. The problem is that open source development is “traditionally progressive” – but in fact it often does not usenewest technologies to do the job better. hail to Launchpad that enabled very easy translating without people having to subscribe to mailing lists and so on. This social software stuff really is about enabling people to help each other more easily without much administrative hassle. But organisations like Fedora think that open source development needs strict organisation, while indeed it does not. Or better: development does not, creating a distribution DOES. Fedora really chose the opposit principles to Debian. While Debian chose to release when “it is ready”, Fedora chose to release on a regular basis. But a release often is nothing more as a working snapshot. I found the efforts of FedoraUnity interesting because they were able to build releases of their own without all the administrative overhead. I really think development and release building should be a complete seperate process. Distributions should not be proprietary. So it just does not makes much sense to waste time in trying to build a product as whole. I think distributions need to share much more ressources. I think distributions like Gentoo, Fedora and Debian should have a collective developer base. So that many packages get audited and worked on together and only after that the packaging happens in the manner that all developers try to automatically build packages for all possible distributions. And after that distributors fetch these packages and make installable ISOs out of it. in open source combining powers always will leed to better results. Do your forks like Inkscape did from SodiPodi but do not develop for a distribution. Development needs freedom. Freedom from policies like DFSG or Fedora meritocracy. Its just plain stupid to bind users and developers to a specific philosophy. Science and softwre development need as much freedom as can be. If the common basis would be bigger I could see much more choice for each distribution. The authors could enforce the use of specific licsenses if they want, but it should not be the distributions that bind the developers. And that you can see on many distributions nowadays. Take OpenBSD, take Debian, take OpenSUSE or FreeBSD. All do have their philosophy but mostly development and distribution comes in one. Let the developers discuss their philosophies and let the users decide what they want. The problem today is that you really would have to build Linux From Scratch and do all the work of you want to have your freedom. But doing all the work is also redundant and unneccessary!

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Old hardware or new hardware?

I like the OLPC project. They build small, affordable laptops for developing countries. I think this is the right way to introduce Linux. Some people have stated that they think it is better to reuse old hardware. But I have come to the conclusion that that really is a trap for Linux. Why? Because full hardware support is always a problemm, not because of Linux, but because most hardware vendors do not care about Linux support. I have faced the problem dozend times, that you try to install Linux and some things do not work perfect. And it was mostly hardware issues. A project that takes many different kinds of hardware will have to deal with multiple obstacles PER COMPUTER. They would not be able to make one distribution that fits all. And on the other hand I think it is very interesting to begin to develop hardware for Linux or a specific distribution. I think that the efforts to support a wide set of hardware often result in slow process.

If we would have started Linux with one computer that would have been supported 100% Linux would be much more stable than today. I think it would not have been as successful. It was attractive because you can just buy a PC in any store and TRY to install Linux on it. But I think this is not really it. PCs are mostly built to work with Windows and nothing else. So we really need Linux Computers (Desktop and Notebook). And this could also leed to hardware development that fits to the software. Apple has often shown what power could be in this combination. On the Linux side this would be an open process. Linux could initialize hardware developments everybody can use. Unlike this new Intel-BIOS that is only supported for the new Intel-based MacOS X.

I think it is time to rethink Linux deployments. Today it is not the way to install Linux on old machines and to make them cooperate with Windows. It is much better if you try to make a system that replaces Windows soft- and hardware a 100%. Cities like Munich think that this is unrealistic, but I really think it is unrealistic if you think you can live with 80% Linux and 20% Windows. You will the problems in the areas where those systems have to mix, because Windows does not want to be mixed. It only likes to number one and every effort to include it in an Linux IT-concept leads to much more problems. It may not be possible to have 100% Linux from day one, but if this is not the goal, better do not migrate!

Linux must leave its underdog habits: “We are cheap, we can install on your old hardware. Ok we try to run your Windows software on top of Linux” , etc.!

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How to make progress?

I like to take a little tour to explain how I think we can make progress in culture and also in software development. Most importantly we shoul define or find out what kind of progress we want to achieve. This may or may not be a fuzzy definition. But we need some fix point that enables us to measure our progress or to preview what progresses we will be able to achieve. Lets just view the possible progresses of a Free Desktop in relation to non-free desktops and/or these free desktops today compared to what we would like to have in future. Here we can quickly see that we do have at least two different kinds of measurements for a progressing Free Desktop: The one of the users already using a Free Desktop and those that are not yet it.

Jeff Waugh once defined a possible goal to reach 10 % of the desktop market for GNOME in ten years .What do we make of such a goal? Is this ambitious, is this realistic? Does it help to do progress?

The good point is that a goal such as this, as it is stated gives us a chance to discuss these points. We questions the goal and may end up in different goals like the one to do this goal for the whole Free Desktop and not for GNOME alone. Because we come to the conclusion that GNOME may get these percentages, but not if we would fight KDE, XFCE or other desktops.

I think theses that question the status quo are always important for any kind of progress. Because they help people to start questioning if what they do is right, And I think that even is the case if a theses is wrong and the goals are wrong. There is some similarity here with the “laws” of successfull wikis. A successfull wiki progress oftens starts with false content. More importantly it starts with people recognizing the effort, the idea behind and the fact that some things are wrong.

If you will this is the classic these/anti-these concept or we look at the relation of dualisms in Taoism. I do not want to undervalue the concepts of preserving the status quo (“the machine thats running”). There are always good arguments to keep some values or a given status because it works. But that is another discussion. Every status can be questioned and evry progress will be based in some given values and some facts that will not be changed. Progress can only be made if some things are not changing.

I would say that good progress depends on good discussion culture, which means recognizing the status quo and the values that it is based on and also the ability to formulate new goals and to question the status and the values. I think this might be one of the powers of free software movement that is underestimated most. Its discussion culture comes from scientific dialogues – and that makes it open.

The GPL tried to define some fundamental user rights as well as the BSD license defined more of developer rights. Both do have their merits for both users and developers. I think the GPL is very progressive even today in definining more rights for users than any other software license that I know off. The problem I do have is if it is the right way to define rights that can be enforced by law enforcement agencies. Defining a right is a good thing but do we really want to use our current law system against people that do not acknowledge such a right? I tend to say yes, because the definition of a right and the use of the power of a state can not be thrown together. These rights can exist without the existence of current states. And if you look at the progresses that have been made I think it is obvious that many progressions have been made through the existence of the GPL. I think even if distributions like OpenBSD replace gpled software with BSD licensed software they have profited by the possibility to have some tools that they needed before they were able to rebuild them under their prefered license.

One could also argue that Linux profited by the existence of old-skool Unices and Windows in some way. That might also be true. Linux could use Unix and Windows as role models. I think today Samba is the preferred method of exchanging files between Linux machines, although the protocol came from Microsoft. But Linux, GNU, the GPL questioned the state of mind and the status of these both software worlds. In the Unix world no company was able to make a monopole and Unix never had the one attractive GUI (maybe some company should have bought a Windows license for Unix to achieve this? LOL). And on Windows many user generations had experienced their frustration that they had to work with a system where they depended so much on the will of the monopolist Microsoft.

Progress can be made if you are able to achieve a goal. The achievability depends on the nature of the goal as well as on realism. But progress is never only built on facts. It is also built on utopia. Listen to Microsoft and AOL! They always promise us “computer heaven”. I think that free software does not do that in the same way. The utopia here is that of a completely free software world or lets focus on a completely free computer desktop. This promises infinite freedom for a user. And people like freedom. It does not necessarily promise a technically better desktop and there I think we must be careful in our argumentation.

We can not – for now – promise a better desktop. We can try. But that is another goal that is not necessarily the one that comes along with Free Software. But lets just be aware that this is another goal and not say that it is bad.

What is this goal of a better desktop? On the one hand this comes from freedom – so it is not totally unrelated. If you do have no spyware installed but all software you need is accessible really free you are not forced to do things that are not necessary for your daily work, the same is true for handling licenses: if you are a lawyer you should help your clients and not having to think about what software licenses you have or need. We also think that if software is free the software developers love to cooperate and everything should work together well. The fact today is that often proprietary software gives the user more comfort. That is because not every functionality that users need has been programmed and still too much redundant code is written. In a proprietary software development model a company defines its goals in making as many money as possible while satisfying the customers. The satisfaction of a customer is not primary for free software – or lets say it is not the goal of free software to sell copies and to satisfy a given customer to the point that he continues to use the software. The goal of free software is simply to make good software and to make it available free. This often means that some wishes of customers are satisfied just because it is possible and there is somebody that likes to fix something or to build in some feature. So I would say in free software progress more often is happening on many different levels. And the end-user (customer) can not always see the progression.

And that is a problem. I think the Free Desktop could use some progress that could easily be achieved if all ressources would go into fixing some details. But free desktops tend not to have the great goal but projects like GNOME do consist of many sub-projects – and only the parts where developers like to play will get fixed. But often developers have their own workarounds. There are companies that pay for new features like AIGLX or for fixing things but from my view most energy is wasted while simple things are not beeing fixed.

OTOH: is a better deskto really what people want? Windows has never been the best desktop in the sense of ease of use, stability and so on. Nonetheless they more or less own a monopole on the desktop market. The thing is attractiveness. People are using a desktop because it does its job or better “promises to do its job”. And today the sheere amount of software that is in use under Windows and not available on Linux is holding users back from switching. Together with the not to underestimate fact that you normally do not get a preinstalled Linux on a Desktop PC as a cheaper choice at the local computer dealers.

Linux is gaining ground where people see the benefits. It is also a change in culture that is taking place and will be needed to build the basis for further progression. We do have a real clash of cultures here that goes right through companies like IBM, Nokia or Intel.

Lets see what future will bring.

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