Monthly Archives: April 2009

Updating from Ubuntu 8.04 LTS?

A Phoronix article suggests that Dell should update the Ubuntu on its Inspiron netbook. Michael Larabel wrote:

Besides running faster, the newer Ubuntu releases have better hardware support, various package updates, many improvements to GNOME, and all sorts of other features. Ubuntu 8.04 is nice for its Long-Term Support with Canonical continuing to push out security updates for years to come, but a much better experience can be had on Ubuntu 9.04 with its faster performance, updated packages, and newer features.

I think this view is very wrong. It is really a rather geeky kind of way of looking at computers. Take alone the fact where they are basing their suggestion “For our Ubuntu 9.04 testing we used a development snapshot from 2009-04-10“. Jaunty also introduces two new design decisions/technologies like the new notification system and also the extended FUSA applet. Both cant be called stable and have caused some protest already. both technologies will either be removed or much better in the next LTS release.

The whole point of LTS is trading stability and predictability in favour of newer and quicker technologies. So Michael misses the core point of why LTS was invented. It also removes the need for administrators to look at updates besides the security updates. if the users running around with the newest non-LTS Ubuntu the admins will have to look on every update – this takes much more time on a current Ubuntu than on a LTS release.

It is still up to the decision of a user who bought such a netbook to update if he thinks Ubuntu Jaunty is better for him – if he desperately needs a quicker boot process and so on. So I am not arguing against progress but rather like to brake the very idea that newer is always better and that progress alone is an argument for updating. I know that this is a very common view in the Linux world, but outside of that it is not always a smart thing to do.

What was good some years ago does not become bad overnight.

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tag based working ? 1 ?

The more I do with TAGS in blogs and in microblogging and with bookmarks the more I think this could be a way to work with a lot more.

One problem we face when working with keywords is the selection of keywords. We have many different systems of keywords – like for photo management or music categorization. Also as I say “Categories” – categories are keywords/TAGS, arent they?

I know they are not REALLY. But I am reminded on the massive discussion about backlinks vs. categories in wikis.

A CATEGORY is something big …. TAGS are some small notes in one word attached to a thingy – an object. Maybe a photo, maybe an article.

Objects we do from programming. TAGS are or should be attributes to those objects.

NOW… I guess most TAGS should make sense for every object. or MOST.

TAGS are also a common knowledge. The act of tagging is important, too. On blogs like on wordpress we might get hints how to tag an article.

But how about a software that suggests to us a tag after we wrote an article? Like this one. I could assume that my article does contain some words more often. If we remove those words like “the” or does” or “wrote”we might get nowns primarily or also attributes or  adjectives.

Tags could be interrelated. This is why some web software offers popular tags. Many desktop applications still do not import the knowledge of the web.

Tagging means also that there is mostly more than one way to tag virtual objects. There always will be. Also every human will tell a story differently. The divergence is not a problem but is part of the ESSENCE of communication. And what are TAGS other than commnication.

If you write a blog you tell others what you think it is you are talking about. Others might think differently. Some Web2.0 software offers you the ability to add tags to foreign objects that are than publicly visible. Tags soemtimes reflect your own perception – but maybe more often you try to be smart and try to catch the peoples eyes by throwing TAGS at THEM to make you picture or article more visible. But you wont try to choose as many tags as you can imagine. This could be one method to gather attention but it would also be stupid. Like if you want to sell a product it is not recommended to promise EVERYTHING.

Google does not really honor keywords that much because it is a weak concept for public content. it becomes stronger when people vote on the popularity. But not always does a greater popularity of an article indicate that it fits one of the tags best!

So what do we need? I think maybe we would need some kind of TAG service that is spreading over different subjects and allows people to talk about tagging and follow different taggings strategies. Like Wikia Search did allow users to vote on what search results are nicer – but you cant just allow anybody to vote on anything if the end result should be smart.

Or better – its ok to allow anybody to do anything – but you then should also allow the user to select which choices she thinks are smart. Tagging should be like we talk to our friends and neighbours about where to buy or to let repair. We may come to the conclusion that some of our friends have a better idea where to buy good products than others. And we will turn to them more often when it comes to buying.

Same may be true for personal matters. The one who may know mich about buying might be dumb when it comes to personal relations – and somebody else may have a good advice for you … tagging solutions.

We now often see voting systems on Amazon and elsewhere – but they often are not very sufficient and also are corruptable.

I also think when it comes to work on the computer tagging could be cool, if the computer would have a fuzzy way to recall our choices.

I think about saving an image would not mean to select a file location – but rather to tag it – in the same manner we do it after uploading to a photo sharing site like Flickr. I think it many ways the idea of the online desktops is not that bad – but in another way. The interesting part should not be to integrate Flickr or Myspace better in our desktop – but to give the user more world knowledge in his day-to-day applications. We get some – like we can let last.fm player play our favourite music (which works more or less well) and also we might get some categorisation for our music albums that we import in our desktop via CDDB databases. But this is mostly just added feature or plugin and not something deeply integrated.

Or think about the work on the desktop -like I want to do some work with vector graphics and Inkscape editor (sort of Adobe Illustrator clone). I then want to learn about how I should act – but maybe also want to talk to people about how to use it.

Today people either use the provided help from installed manuals, or they search the web – or forums, wikis, … and maybe enter an IRC chat. And then they pose the same questions all over again – even if they have read the aqpplications FAQ. What might be interesting is if I enter the question I have inside the applications – maybe also by pointing to the section I am working on – and then I can get help documents as well als forums posts or the possibility to chat directly via instant messaging with other users who are currently working on inkscape and might be willing to help.

There used to be a service Qunu (which seems to be unaccessible fpr some months now?) which organized instant messaging interaction. You could define some tags where you think you were smart and people searching for that tag could find you and contact you directly. What about when I am using an application I could register and with this process tell my knowledge level – and then if other users work on a project with “my” application I can read their questions like in the groups of Laconica – and then even decide to interact directly and maybe not publicly. It would also be possible to not only interact by word but also by action. Some applications like Gobby, Inkscape or Abiword have been working on the ability to work on shared documents online.

And when you save – maybe you tag something as public. Epilicious is a delicio.us bookmark exchanger. A bookmark you wanted to share you tagged with “epilicious” also. And maybe just the public tagging will save the object online. Or like on upcoming.org – you can send an event to a group. People who follow that group get a notice about this new event.

I really think that this is the future computer interaction. Window managers like wmii allow you to tag an application to reside in one specific desktop window.

Essentially all computer work is about organizing. In some way if you print this is also some kind of organizing. Its an export. F-Spot uses “export” for photos who are uploaded to Flickr. In this case I think it is not good to name that an export – it is in the old sense – but in a new sense it is another saving location.

We will see a lot more virtualisation of webspace and stuff. Some people might even not use any local hard disk any more. But they still need a place where they save data like addresses.

This does not mean that we will not need locations. I think the Plan9 way was very good – to integrate all necessary location information in one file system. A completely different question is if we would need to show the location to the users or if that wouldnt rather confuse them?

So maybe lets create a tags based desktop?

Comments welcome.

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Fedora Community

Max Spevack hold a talk about the Fedora Community on 2009 FOSDEM. Which I suggest you listen first before reading on:

Essentially I think Max grabbed the “Community” at the wrong handle. He elaborated a lot about how Red Hat and Fedora  work together and ow they enable people to build uppon the tools that Fedora has invented. Thats all very nice, especially for Red hat. In the last years Fedora often has stated that they do not interfere at all with Ubuntu. This always comes up when people compare the popular success of Fedora to Ubuntu.

Fedora is very developer centric. What Fedora is missing some warmth – some more “family” feeling. Do people feel comfortable? Fedora is also a big testbed for Red Hat – it can look what technologies work or are popular – and which are not. That makes Fedora often bleeding edge – more than a general user might often want. Also the support cycle is much shorter than on Ubuntu. So Fedora is not really a distro you would want to plant on your organisations desktops or servers. You will be forced to update quite often. Fedora moves fast. But thats getting offtopic from the community.

Fact is that trough the developer centricity leads to make the barrier for non-developers harder. One thing is what I already have pointed out in another post is the fact that even when editing the wiki you will have to sign some papers.

My view is that it is very important that the connection between general users and developers is open and flowing. Fedoras style is more a either you are a part of us or you are not.

On April 23rd I will organize my first Ubuntu  Release Party in my hometown. Why not for Fedora? Because essentially also on marketing Fedora INVENTED barriers and  created the Ambassador program, which I interpret as a means to professionalise the marketing efforts. And to make sure that people talk about the right things.

The problem here is that this turns of a lot of general users who are totally capable to talk about Fedora and show people how cool it is and what to do with it. Fedoras problem is that technically it is slightly ahead – but not years, but rather months – and that this alone does not attract people.

From all the talk I can not really see to what audience Fedora is talking. I would say Fedora is for people who want a fairly new Linux as a build platform and do live and like the Red Hat/ Fedora world. So you can use Fedora to develop an application that will work on future versions of Red Hat. Fedora also contributes a lot upstream and so allows work to be transfered outside Red Hat and Fedora.

So in the end that makes Fedora not very attractive neither for general users nor for company desktops – besides being the testbed for Red Hat. Fedora does not seem to have an autonomous agenda and depends highly on Red Hats decision. it does not make much sense for self-employed Linux folks to base their installments on Fedora nor does it make sense for the typical grandpa.

Some people at Fedora might agree and would define Community as this: Developer Community. The problem is that this also means that general users will not participate as whole heartedly as they do (for example at Ubuntu). And to make it clear: Thats a concious decision of Fedora – everything from development, contribution to marketing is organized in a hierarchical way that DOES allow everybody to start contributing but in fact turns a lot of people of.

In my hometown I have not met one guy who uses Fedora. Many early Linux users did use SuSE – and if they were dissatisfied they switched to Ubuntu – and then there is the Debian, Gentoo and FreeBSD crowd. This means nobody ever sees Fedora, this means nobody ever sees Red Hat. If this is a concious business model it is not working here.

What is Fedora missing? I think as a start it should be encouraged to talk about fedora even if you are not an official Fedora Ambassador. Give people something to work with, encourage them to make  Fedora their own. I also had the experience that nobody was willing to give a speak about Fedora at our local Linux conference – actually nobody even answered my plea. But it should be the other way around. Fedora Ambassadors should go out actively and seek for the possibility to show Fedora. And here is also the problem – if only Ambassadors do it, Fedora will be shown in fewer places.

So I think the whole Fedora eco system has a problem and thats why Ubuntu is so much ahead in popularity. And I dont believe you guys that you wouldnt love it if people would adopt  Fedora as much. Technically Fedora is much better than ubuntu, its the better product – but you very miuch have given up the popularity contest, which is sad. Even OpenSuse is doing more in this regard and it shows slowly.

I dont know who does the strategies at Fedora. And maybe you guys are satisfied with the status. But what I think is that in the longterm Fedora will be marginalized, especially when OpenSuse as another RPM based distribution is gaining more ground.

Thats it for now.

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Commenting on GNOME 3.0

First of all I think that this is the first time for some time that I see GNOME taking the right steps and the right direction when they announce the GNOME 3.0/plan. I have left marketing team because there was no marketing plan – no direction and man opportunities missed. So I was very astonished to read this well written document. I will take the chance to comment on some stuff:

Planning for GNOME 3.0

[…]
Let’s first diverge a bit and discuss the general impression that GNOME is lacking a vision. If you look closely at our community, it’d be wrong to say that people are lacking a vision; but the project as a whole does indeed have this issue. What we are missing is people blessing one specific vision and making it official, giving goals to the community so we can all work together in the same direction. In the pre-2.x days, the community accepted as a whole one specific vision, and such an explicit blessing wasn’t needed. But during the 2.x cycle, with our six months schedules, it appeared that everything (community, development process, etc.) was just working very well, and as the vision got more and more fulfilled, the long-term plans became less important as we focused on polishing our desktop. But we’ve now reached a point where our next steps should be moving to another level, and those next steps require important decisions. This is part of what the Release Team should do. Please note that Release Team members don’t have to be the ones who have the vision; we “just” have to be the voice of the community.

Exactly the point. Apple is leading the desktop because they have a vision. People follow when they like a direction. If no direction is chosen people will look elsewhere.

(As a sidenote, the roadmap process that we tried to re-establish two years ago was a first attempt to fix this. Unfortunately, it turned out that we were missing the most important side of things: a project-wide roadmap. This is because a collection of individual roadmaps isn’t enough to create a project-wide roadmap.)

Right. Many project all do their own stuff. I would even think further and also communicate with guys from Abiword, GIMP, Gnumeric – those are big apps that build on top of GNOME – they do have their links to GNOME but strictly spoken, they are not part of GNOME – but they are very important parts. Or even Epiphany is like the unwanted child of GNOME – now there is nearly no distribution selecting it as primary browser. Which means GNOME is dismissed, often also by the GNOME folks.

* Revamp our User Experience
* Streamlining of the Platform
* Promotion of GNOME

Very good points – and also not too much.

Changing our User Experience

[…]
It seems pretty clear now that there are two important ideas that can have a real positive impact on the user experience:

* GNOME Shell: the shell idea is not just about changing the panel and the window manager. It’s about changing the way you start an activity and how you switch between two different activities. Or more generally, how you manage your different activities on the desktop.
* Changing the way we access documents (via a journal, like GNOME Zeitgeist): having to deal with a filesystem in their daily work is not what makes users happy — on the contrary, they generally just want to access their documents and not to browse their hard disk. Providing new solutions to this problem (using timelines, tags, bookmarks, etc.) is something that has been of interest in our community for a long time, but we never completely jumped in. We simply should.

I love the ideas. But what I have seen so far looked not yet very promising. I think one problem of a desktop interface is that you may have a lot of cool applications – but all have different interfaces. Thats one thing old Apple was good at: Making and encouraging simple interfaces, so that many apps do look similar and work similar. The other problem is that users do get confused with an increasing number of applications. So to give a good selection of tools is nice. I am happy, that Empathy (Chat) and Brasero are now also part of GNOME. Personally I would dismiss Evolution as part of GNOME, because it is just way of. The better solution would be if Evolution would start implementing some simple solutions like the possibility to filter spam without opening it (which I had filed as a major bug, but was dismissed – and thats the main reason I now use Thunderbird).

So I want to suggest that applications are becoming more hidden, while the tasks are getting more transparent. Maybe even show it like you can combine actions like LEGO. People need work process chains. Maybe they like to save actions. As Open Source software we do not need to put all the featured into one big piece of software like OpenOffice.org or Firefox. We can put knowledge into the desktop as the whole.

Streamlining of the Platform

I am talking much about that. I am sure it makes sense but i dont know too much about that.

Promotion of GNOME
[…]

One common issue that often came up when discussing how to promote GNOME was that promoting the desktop as a whole is difficult. But there’s no need to do that.

I suggest implementing technology to get steady feedback from the users. The borders should be transparent. Let users decide some parts, ask them what they like. This should be a fixed part of the development process and not only be done evetually after a release. The whole idea of release often and early is to get quick responses so that you can refocuse your development. But its important to also listen to the right users. If you only listen to geeks who are loud and the only ones you hear because others dont know how to contact you, you will get the wrong impressions. Thats were technology could help – not only to report bugs, but also suggestions – get them involved!

This leads us to a third item: relaunch our website. While our current website is known for being broken in various different ways from a communication point of view, we’ve not been able to deliver the new version that would fix things. Fixing the website is a large task, but we should not give up on this: the GNOME website is a core part of the GNOME identity, and we cannot ignore the current issues. This happened because of lack of manpower, but the good news is that there are web developers that are fond of GNOME and just don’t know they can help the project.

Disagree very much on this point. There is abolutely no lack of manpower, but there has been active blocking against help. Some old pages have been removed years after I have pointed out the fact that they are outdated. Or nobody was able to do a custom 404 page. This is nt because this would be hard – its because the people who control the website and the SVN access dont value small improvements with big impacts. A website without a custom 404 page should just be ignored – the webmasters think it does not matter if people dont find what they are looking for. Its the thinking that has to change! The scripts that are executed to update the website do only run on Linux and no OpenBSD – most of the websites is hacked together and not much effort has gone into making the process more transparent. A quick solutions would be to have one content focused webmaster who indeed accepts patches and tries to coordinate the small efforts. Sure it would be nice to have the best CMS in the world – but having such a website is just shameful. the website is bad in every aspect – the homepage still reflects that its made by coders for coders. Often there are news about coding summits. Those summits are nice – but all the GNOME hackers do have the rest of http://www.gnome.org/* and all mailing lists to inform themselves about such events. The main page should people get interested in USING GNOME. its the first page they see. And they even do not care about a new GNOME version. What they need is to be taught what GNOME is, and why they may want it.

So mostly a good vision, except that the analysis of the website is far from reality. But i am very optimistic that if that really is a consensus view we weill see a nice new GNOME 3.0 !!

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Why Google should not aquire Twitter…

Twitter does not define any open standards. Actually microblogging is not high tech. On instant messaging Google chose the open Jabber/XMPP standard. Twitter is technological rather uninteresting. The only interesting subject could be the user base. OTOH those who buy Twitter will have to deal with all the old cruft.

Google did buy the wiki provider JotSpot and did not make anything out of it besides a simple web site editor called Google Sites. This has nothing to do with wikis any more. I doubt Google can do much with Twitter – I rather like them to take Laconica and help improve the code and be part of a openmicroblogging network.

Google is so big that it does not make sense to quire external technology. It would be a silly move to aquire Twitter. The times were it makes sense to spend a lot money to buy web companies is over.

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Fedora: Open up your documentation!

It is now three years ago that I said my final Good Bye to Fedora. One of the main reasons was the usage of the Open Publication License, which is not recommended any more by its creators.

Fedora decided not to use GFDL or Creative Commons because like they describe in their Fedora Documentation Licensing FAQ:

The legal counsel for the Fedora Project carefully examined all of the well-known content licenses, and concluded that only the OPL met all of the criteria for an unambiguous and enforceable license that would guarantee the freedoms of contributors and users.

Actually I think the main reason was and is, that Red Hats own license has been the OPL also. That does not mean that this would be necessary a bad idea. But I like to call the Fedora people to free their licenses because of the follwing reasons:

  1. It is not possible to import any content from Wikipedia, GFDL documentations or Creative Commons content into Fedora documentation.
  2. It is also not possible to export Fedora documentation to other projects.

In practice that means that the freedom of the content and the contributors is very limited. The license effectively means that Fedora lives on the island and only can share data with its neighbour Red Hat. If you see how much efforts have gone into making Wikipedia compatible with CC licenses you see that many smart people do nearly everything to open the gates to let content flow freely. At the same time Red Hat and Fedora have decided essentially to not share anything.

This is license fundamentalism. Their view is from the perspective of what is good for Fedora (to protect the contributions). But the better view would be what would be good for the whole community. Documentation can be a common good, just like software. If  Linux software chose one license GPL to license most of the stuff this was due to recognition that it would be stupid if every distribution would use a license, only they themselves use. But this is the very situation in Fedora. But also Fedora chose to be incompatible with the other documentations they are inheriting from upstream. So like GNOME documentation is licensed as GFDL. Fedora can not use phrases used there to describe software behaviour but would have to write it all from scratch.

As far as I have seen no orher distribution has been going that path. There are already a lot of incompatible licenses in the open source sphere and also beyond that. We have to deal with that. Fedoras step is not helpful for the community at large. It may help some managers at Red Hat feel more comfortable with the Fedora project, but I would rate this decision as stupid and harmful. There is only one good thing which I considered a bad thing in the past: As all contributors now have to accept a CLA it allows Fedora to ignore the licenses the contributors made their contributions and to relicense all the stuff. They can not take aways the licensing of what was already contributed – but they can decide to:

  1. Take all OPL stuff of the net and
  2. replace it with the same content and a new license

This license could even be more restrictive. In the past it was acknowledged that Red Hat could do that, but that they would not do it, because the community would not like it and that we can trust Red Hat. From my viewpoint licenses are there, because you do not trust an entity – you want to make sure that what you contribute stays free. In Fedoras case freedom only means that your past contributions are still free if they are still online somewhere, because somebody mirrored it. If not your contributions were free under OPL and next day they can only be available under restrictive licenses or if people pay money to be able to read it. And you have signed the CLA and can not do anything about it. The positive side is that Fedora can relicense all stuff under GFDL or a Creative Commons license immediately. As they stated in the past the CLA was there “so that we do not have to go through the same thing again” (or so). I am positive that they will do that finally. There is no alternative. The current movement is trying to streamline licenses and to avoid unnecessary incompatibilities. Fedora has taken its time and I think its now the time to reconsider the licensing policy and also to restrict the power of the CLA. I know some other project give an entity also non-exclusive rights. But most projects do not – and also the question is if the contributions are made to one single piece of software like Apache or if they go into a complex product or service like Fedora, whereas 99% of all parts of Fedora come from a third party. So the CLA is more like a method to keep contributions inside Fedora and against competition from CentOS or Ubuntu. But this is essentially against the core spirit of Open Source and Free Culture.

So come on guys Free Your Documents !! 🙂

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OTR encryption denied widespread acceptance

It is so sad to see that many clients do not support OTR enryption, still. It is supported by some, like Pidgin, Adium, Kopete. But other big clients like Psi and Gajim will not support it. Gajim states ” won’t support OTR because it hasn’t a XEP.

OTR is not a clean and perfect standard, thats right. But its the only encryption available that support deniability and is usable for instant messaging. Therefore it would have been nice if all clients would have included it ASAP.

I mean if you think OTR is bad create something new that is actually better. But jabber users now wait since many years to encrypt sessions between different clients. At least GNOME, Windows and KDE user can select Kopete and Pidgin as prefered clients. and Adium for MacOs does it also.

What the programmers of the other clients do not seem to see is that as long as there is no encryption people are forced to communicate in plain text. That should be an absolute NO in 2009. And they forget that OTR is not a XMPP standard. So if there is no XEP that might be bad, but still I use OTR every day, it works very nice with Pidgin – but if I have to communicate with other clients that people prefer I am forced to not encrypt. And that makes me angry.

So this is not about how good OTR is – its about what you give users to communicate. The Telepathy people also think encryption should be a very important thing. For me encryption is second important just behind the fact that a client can handle Jabber. Right now there is no Jabber only client that can handle otr also besides Mcabber (console client). I dont even conside using a client that does not support Jabber and OTR.

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