Monthly Archives: February 2007

Public Thinking: How should distros be?

I am putting this in THIS blog because I dont want to confuse the Foresight users. this is more of a public thinking and not fully thought through: In Foresight we constantly discuss how a distributions should be and what people should expect from a free desktop. Today I discussed with Ken the idea to develop a usage centred distribution. So lets say you are a musician – then we should allow people to apply changes that makes Foresight most usable for them. Sometimes this means that you must replace a sound server – and make some things work less well. You might want to add realtime functionality to the Linux kernel, etc.. This discussion was inspired by the discussion that Linus started on Desktop-architects. Some words about his flame war: I think Linus has not chosen his words wisely. But I think he does not want to harm GNOME – no he must love GNOME if he gets so emotional (and even sends patches). I dont agree with him on 100% – but I see his point and its a fact that many people think like him. You can not discuss with a user what he should feel about using GNOME. You must accept the view and you might either change things or say. ok no one wants this besides this user. I really think that GNOME is a very good desktop, although it still misses some functionality. The thing is that this often are just a few tweaks (maybe 3 lines of code) to make it really great. And there are some use cases that it just does not work with. I think there is a danger in focusing on some use cases. As I also pointed out in this thread I think a desktop should potentially target ALL potential use cases. Its up to the user to get along with the possibilities.

So back on the track: The idea is to provide the user interfaces that allow him to configure his desktop. Maybe also whole computer. This is about more than just backgrounds and themes. A user could say:
my computer should be optimized for maximum video performance – as she does video editing – or somebody may want to have a lean desktop that starts up as quick as possible and also wants to have a minimalistic desktop without beagle, etc. – From these use cases one can then decide what to give the user. I think it makes absolutely no sense to start with. We give you GNOME and then tweak. Maybe sometimes KDE or XFCE is better for a specified use case. This has to be tested thoroughly if possible. it should also be able to switch use cases or desktop modes. Right now the best thing one can do is to have different users and switch between different desktop enviroments (with GDM). I think this is just not enough. We have other profiles like power consumption. I think we already see some directions (so evince PDF viewer halts the screen saver during presentation mode – cool!). I often had the problem to get a screen saver while watching a video. I hope these issues get solved similar.

There are many options: Parents might want to have more control about what the kids do on the desktop – and even be able to reset the desktop to a simple state if their kids have messed it up (without having to work on files). Desktop snapshots (like those Vmware does) whould be cool.

The discussion will go on in the future. We are just at the start of this. The ultimate goal for us at Foresight is to give the user the best use experience he can get. And although GNOME is very usable – we are not acting in the sense of the user if we limit ourself. Also lots of new users come to Foresight who want to use either KDE or XFCE. The user experience that Foresight gives should include the full potential of the software world. It should also include commercial applications. Not because it is better then free software but because some users want to use it – and we should make it easy for them to do so. But we also should provide much more documentation on board to help users. To enable them to decide what they should use. For instance tell them about Ekiga although they COULD use Skype. Tell them about the pros and cons.

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How does Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) work?

I guess many people who are not active in the movement do not know that. You often meat preconceptions. People think a software that is given out for free must be stolen. The software industries advertisements against software piracy had this side effect: People think this can’t be true – if everybody tells them that if you just take a software and use it – that this is immoral. For people inside the movement this sounds stupid – as we know that we just cooperate differently. And we also do earn our money in different ways. Maybe its more hard to earn money with free software because you have to be more smart. We just cant say: You pay me X for 5 copies and Y form 10 copies. this just does not makes sense when copies are available for free. So the business models are very different. Nonetheless we also need to eat and drink and have to pay our expenses.

FLOSS works with giving and sharing. This is one of the essentials of humankind. In FLOSS we do cooperate a lot more as other party of the society. Everybody has a handful of projects maybe through his live and independent from his job occupation. Priorities might change in live due to job or love live – but generally in FLOSS activists and programmers are a lot more independent in what they do and what direction they follow. If they loose one job – there old projects might get more time.

FLOSS is about defining small goals, creating projects, finding people to join, finding users to test and work or use a software or project. This all exists in a community atmosphere – maybe a lot more like science community than business world, although there are also connections. its a market of ideas and opportunities and not always the ideas with the most money wins. Often small projects gain the most attention because they solve a problem best.

Nobody has absolute control. Many try to influence others about what is coming up next. Sure, as everywhere people have their interests and it is always a good idea to also be sceptical against false prophets. Look at what they actually do or what they really advocate. Many directions are not always in the best interest of the user but in the interest of one developer or one organisation or company. the problem with that is that this can successfully block projects from going to another level. This is especially true if people are very influential in the community. People still like leaders and do often not like to think for themselves but rather being told that something is cool. But we all have the chance to look more deeply – and there is no company that can keep us from doing the real cool stuff or going to another level.

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