Monthly Archives: December 2006

The distributed Web (or web3.0 ?)

If  one watches how things develop in the web sphere one can now see that the web in general is lacking one feature that right now is most exciting in the software world. This is actually woking distribution. The web today has some major problems

  • Most of the content is not free, so distribution is not free
  • The upcoming of DRM makes things just more complicated
  • There are no good ways to distribute content
  • There is no versioning content accross websites.

On the other hand the web faces major tasks:

  • A growing number of users makes it more and more important that every website is able to cope with a slashdot effect.
  • Content gets more and more mixed up as it is a promising possibility to reduce costs and also promises to be more flexible in the future.

There are some software projects like Mercurial and rPath  that build heavily on a distributed system. This enables a maximum of flexibility ans also a very easy way to integrate content and patches.

But as far as I can see the mist you can expect from a web server is that it does versioning itself – or that you may be able to build a network of webservers that you own to distribute requests. But these are all solutions of control. at best that works with Web 2.0. Right now we have big companies like Google, Amazon and Ebay that own content and technology – and we are getting more and more dependent on these companies. For new companies it would be more and more important to be able to give users the same ease of integration and a trust level without these dependencies on very few companies. The users also would be happy if they had more choices. I hope that we will see a major revolution of how the web is built and uses, soon. If not I fear if one or two of those big names do something wrong the effects will be disastrous (millions of shop owners will loose their ecomic base and major functions that everybody is relying on will not work).

The truth is that the greates  danger is always there of only few have control over many. The web was not ment to be dependent on only few. What we have now is the result of o nly few companies being smart enough to deliver (web2.0) to the users. Our task now is to build the next generation web that gives us all more freedom and independence.

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Free Software Magazine

Did I mention already that I really like the “Free Software Magazine“? Well, I do. Not 100% of the articles are good but very much of them are really good and offer perspectives you read nowhere else and are truely original.

I also like their Drupal site which works quite well.

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OpenSuse 10.2 Install

I have just installed the basis of OpenSuse 10.2 on a Lenovo Desktop PC for a customer. Some criticism:

  • OpenSuse states to serve the newest GNOME 2.12 (while it really GNOME 2.16)
  • At first it offered me to resize the WindowsXP partition that was preinstalled, but it could not resize NTFS! Also I think the user will not really recognize what will be done. Personally I prefer the deletion of everything as the default. I think traditionally Linux was the “second OS” on a PC. i think it is much better to install one OS on one desktop and not mess with resizing NTFS. I can understand the intentions: Don’t delete what people might miss – but Windows does not care either. Dual-Boot always makes things more complicated and i do not do this any more for my customers.
  • At the german install notes one is led to the english wiki – shouldn’t people start on a german welcome page first?
  • There is no traditional GNOME application menu – only a favourites menu and some other shortcuts. This may make sense but it makes finding many different applications a really difficult task.

Let’s see how it behaves. You get Firefox 2. I have chosen OpenSuse instead of Fedora, because Fedora is no more a good choice as they make weird decisions in their community and my influence for myself and my customers is shrinking. That makes it unlikely to have some problems solved that may come up. So I hope OpenSuse is better at this. As it is also traditionally VERY strong in Germany it might also be easier to get answers to common questions. Currently I am only evaluating rPath/Foresight and wait for the first non-development release before I recommend it to my customers. So right now OpenSuse is THE commercial choice. Why not “Novell Linux”? Because my customers did use newer versions of OpenOffice.org on FC6 – and I fear that going back to stable Novell Linux version of Openoffice.org (1.9beta) would be a bad idea . Because of Open document Format and such things. Also Novell itself should be critiszed for the Microsoft deal and I think that with OpenSuse we are mor independent while also having some benefits of some of the good works that are done at Novell.

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2006 wrapup

I’d like to make a little more private entry at the end of this year:

Interesting year, started my new company for wiki hosting, got some intersting requests, got more involved in the MoinMoin community. GNOME International was partly interesting experience as things are getting more exciting there, GNOME Germany was more of a disappoitment, because most of the time I was not able to do, what I had planned and in the end I realised that my goals and the goals of the majority of the active members are too far away, so I pulled out of this involvment. I think I am cleaning up many things since November which I never did so much in recent years.

Unfortunately I had some big private disappointments the last weeks, which I am not going to discuss openly – just for the records if some people might think I acted weird some times that might be true, because I had trouble to sort my thoughts. I threw away a lot of material stuff, which I had kept for years or even decades. If you do not use things für 15 years maybe throw it away? This can also be a big relieve and open yourself for some new things – new people – new attitude. I don’t think that new is always better, but often old relations and stuff has nothing more todo with your life and you just keep them and it because of your own little insecurities.

So my plans for next year: Engage in projects that you like, meet people that you feel comfortable with and als buy only those stuff (furniture, clothes,…) you also feel comfortable with. Nobody can protect himself from negative experiences, they are part of life – but to stick to negative objects and relations is a silly thing to do.

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First experiences with Foresight

Today I have installed Foresight Linux, which is based on rPath Linux. I have not seen much, yet. But sound works, there are no crashes and it is much faster. The community seems to me much more open and looking for developers and users instead of ambassadors. What does not work is the ndiswrapper driver. Have to look into this issue.

So far most things went smoothly. Also I could set the laptops resolution without having to edit the modelines. It also has Firefox on board. The overall feeling is more responsiveness of the GNOME desktop.

Why did I choose this? Well, because I like to work with software appliances in the near future and I also liked the idea of distributed package management. I think most distributions have a very conservative structure and try to establish a control system that in the end reflects in poor software handling.

Maybe what also make Foresight an attractive distribution is because it is a much smaller community and no big vendors behind it – also no tradition – so very open for new ideas. Every distribution has to built its own culture of sharing and working together. And the developers and user look at it and decide each day if this is what they actually want. I like distributions that welcome you as a contributor if you want to share but also leave you alone if you want to do things differently. I don’t believe so much in ESTABLISHING a distribution but more in NURTURING the conmunity. Distributions are like alive animals. If you put them in jail, they can die and also do not behave naturally.

What is difficult is to preserve the positive culture if such a thing gets bigger. I think thats what often made old distributions boring or bueraucratic: They tried to organize and lost momentum.. they “tried to make sure” and lost culture. Sure if things get bigger you must adapt, but is is essential to try to preserve the core of the culture, the openness as good as possible.

So right now I am on the Foresight waggon and like to encourage others to join us. my desktop still is Fedora Core 6, because I am not able backup all private data now and do not want to buy yet another har disk. I also always like to have one stable system.

Oh one more: I now can finally print on my Fedora desktop via notebook! (ThinkPad T23). I never got his working under FC6! Isn’t that stupid that two Fedoras are talking to each other not as good as Foresight with Fedora? Strange, but my feeling is that a lot small issues are not getting fixed in Fedora because they are always at hard work to get the big issues solved and to get the new major releas out in time. Thats just my private impression – I dont know any statistics…

I am quite optimistic that I can handle many problems with Foresight, but I think I also gave up the idea to find the ONE last distribution that I use in my life. Progress is fast in Linux and so … it is more important to be able to move the own data – instead of trying to preserve a working environment for years. At least thats my priority now. On my notebook I onely had some copies of data, so I could qickly erase the old distro. Only thing I think it is bad is TomBoy, becauseyou can not backup these notes.

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YA Webmonday in Kiel

Yet another webmonday in Kiel today. The first in a series where we really started with talks about topics. The talks where not as dense as I hoped. But as this was our first real webmonday one should not take this too serious. It was interesting in many perspectives and sure I continue to go there. I like the idea of sharing knowledge.

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RPM restructuring

I’ve read about the new RPM developments. My thoughts on this:

  • Why on earth are distributions the core application unmaintained for years?
  • Ok they have a wiki now (good) but
    • it’s Moin version 1.3.4 (bad)
    • Only people in the EditGroup have write access (bad). This is the same stupid thing that went on with Fedora (again Red Hat involved). A wiki should be an open space – IRC and amiling lists are anyway – if some newcomers post stupid things – you can revert.
  • Again meritocracy – they invite people that have positions in different companies – no open space.
  • Open Publication License. not again (again Red hat involved, which just seems to LOVE this license, although almost nobody else does)

My suggestions (as I do not have write access):

  • Choose a new name. As it is not Red Hat only any more. This is the chance! You could have a link to rpm for compatibility. But a new name would make things much clearer.
  • Please open up more. It’s just unneccessary to act behind closed doors. This will only in effect give you less input than you could have eventually.

regards,

Thilo

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It’s final: Good bye Fedora!

As things will not change in Fedora and my arguments were not accepted by the Meritocrats of Fedora my decision is final that I will longer promote the use of Fedora or install it on my customers computers. It took me a long time to make this final decision – The final decision came with a talk with a customer of mine, where I was not convinced enough to tell him that he should install Fedora. I hate to make this cut but I see no other choice because the basic of my choice are the possibilty to contribute to a free software project. If this is not possible I rather choose another. This is because if I can not contribute I can not influence the direction. And then I can not work in my customers interest. I hate to do this cut because I was quite satisfied with the technical aspects. I fee a bit like I left MacOS /Apple 1998 where I also felt that it had some nice points but that it was not based on Unix, was not build for cheap i386 platform and was not free. Things have changed and Apple made some things better than they were 1998 (well I think the GUI was better back then, than nowadays). So I guess this mean that some time next year I will have to make a complete backup of my new 160 GB disk or buy a new one. What to put on than? I am thining about these choices:

  • Ubuntu or Mint (Ubuntu clone)
  • OpenSuse
  • Freespire
  • rPath

Umm, anybody wants to comment on one or all of these options? (No, I am not going to take Gentoo, FreeBSD, Debian or Mandriva into account) Would be happy to hear some new arguments. What I find interesting is rPath – somebody had mentioned that for creating live cds. I think their concepts sound interesting. This distributed thingy that also Mercurial does has large potential. I think this “RELEASE” thing is rather outdated. You see this with Debian: Some seem really to use Debian stable. But really who is so silly to use GNOME 2.8? So the directions is clear – that users want a mix of modernity and stability. Best is if they can choose – They might want the most stable Apache web server but the latest Evolution mailer. Every user or organisation has its own profile. And rather than having a dozen distros the user should be able to mix like he wants without having to switch.

What else is important? I want a distro where there is room for engagement and where I can go and promote this distro without having to fear to be sued because I am not an “official” represantative or without being able to contribute without signing a CLA.

I use Linux because I want freedom – and I rather like distros telling me: You want that – do it – we look at it and if its good we thankfully take your contribution – no agreements – no buzzwords – just community and understanding. This might make some lawyers unemployed but i am noit using Linux to make THEM happy. As Creative Commons states: “This is how you skip the intermediaries” – free licenses should be really about THAT not having lawyers hanging around to be asked,…(argh)

Those who know me a little know that I really was kind of an unofficial Fedora advovate – but there is no going back because I have tried multiple times but meritocracy works differently. In a meritocracy you have to show your commitment and it gives those power and only listens to those who have earned a reputation in a defined community. Thats’s my impression – arguments are not counting much – reputation does a lot. Unfortunately meritocracy is a very popular concept in free software. I am not saying that it is not ok if good people make good decisions, but I think that one should always try to make a community where one strives equalness of all users – where only some do more or decide more – but not because they are “leaders”, but because someone needs to decide and to make this democratic is not more just than if somebody tries to collect a rough consensus in order to move forward. I think “leadership” is the wrong way, because this leads people to become followers and not getting active. A good community activates its members and also outsiders. The problem with leadership is that if only few people have to decide they have a lot of power that can be either abused – or – if they get ill or do something different a whole projects can be in danger. You can see this all over projects, also in democratic ones like Debian, because they elect leaders and those then have these powers – or they get bought by Ubuntu ;).

That’s it for now.
Thilo

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CVSism or “the GNOME disease”

I hate things to be only available in CVS, like the Adblock extension for Epiphany web browser. Some developers either think everybody likes to download fom CVS or think their software is not worth publishing (yet). I understand that if people just start, but I think it is strange if things keep being so for years. The one major reason why people would not want to use epiphany is that there is no ads protection. So for many years now people rather use Firefox or Mozilla, because Epiphany does not protect them. Even if the adblock extension would be inferior I think one should at least publish an alpha or beta version so that people can test it. I gues it will not totally break epiphany?

I guess that the developers are often just too prowd to release something inferior – they rather live with thousands of users that switch to Firefox and possibly never come back as that they would present something that does at least do the job imperfectly. I would also like to call it “The GNOME disease” because such things happen in GNOME quite often. Othere people also came up with this terms but defined them differently.

I would describe our “disease” as following:

  • The end user experience is very different from that of the developers that always live in CVS. So they are living in a totally different world. While most users are eagerly waiting on some bugs to be fixed, developers live in tomorrow now and always actually use features users just have heard of.
  • Playing with usability: Some annoying usablity issues do not get fixed for years because it has no priority in an overall strategy – it is not exciting – so nobody likes to fix it.
  • Not-implementionism: Developers take feature wishes as prayers of the community. A good developer god listens but does not act!?
  • Meritocracy: The important things are discussed in small circles and not in public. By that one can successfully reduce the people that can get involved and the amount of ideas one has to deal with.
  • KDE-hatism: No GNOME dev likes to talk about the other Desktop

No way out? I dont want to be misunderstood: I like some direction in GNOME, but usability also means to listen to the users and ACT, not only listen and think that users are stupid. Partly the usability of GNOME ist stubborn and far away of the users interests. Usability is fine, but only if it is made for REAL users. I am also pessimistic about collaboration with KDE (via Freedesktop).

I tend to hope that someone comes up with a new common desktop that builds on what KDE and GNOME have accomplished but binds more users from both sites. So maybe the new desktop could be FreeDesktop.org? Why am I so pessimistic? Because time goes by and although some interesting things go on inside the desktops we still have not gained much more market share and still developers live in their own worlds.

The task to make a popular and attractive free desktop is not trivial. I fear that ressources are not well and that there are too much different priorities – and none of them really has the user in its focus – even in projects which work a lot on usability. You can kill a community with usability overload! Still the essence is to keep users interested in the applications. So it is important to build an keep some excitement about new features or new ways to do things. And sure this never will happen under GNOME or KDE only in a sense that could eventually attract more people.

Maybe not all of this is true. But I think at least some truth is in all of these points.

Another thing that is happening is that there is a possible swift in the community from pure developer communities to more mixed communitities. My observation is that developers have often huge reservation against newcomers/outsiders. This is also partly because of their love for meritocracy and their scepticism about anarchy. The challenge of todays open source development is to cross borders, to unite communities and to set new standards. Right now many projects like to keept their borders closed or to have them controlled. Every community has their culture which they like to stick to. But that makes participation complicate. Often the outsiders are the openers that can move something if they have gotten excepted by the developers.

Maybe this all sounds a bit like a sandbox play. It is!

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