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My friend Joe Brockmeier has written what I think is a very important piece for Linux Magazine. He discusses the Free Software Foundation (FSF) as currently being the “Party of Gno”, and I think he makes some excellent points.

The FSF is the grandfather of free, libre, and open-source software (FLOSS) as we know it. Linux wouldn’t exist without it, nor would the GNU tools and utilities that form the basis of a heck of a large percentage of software, from embedded devices to desktop systems to large servers to clusters. By just about any measure, free software has succeeded wildly and continues to proliferate. How it mixes with the proprietary world, however, is sticky. Like the dividing layer between airmasses, one can always expect a little wind shear and turbulence in the boundary layer between open and closed systems. Linux copes with this boundary layer pragmatically through its licensing structure. The FSF, however, continues to rally and cry against closed software in general, as it has done for the past two and a half decades.

Lately, however, the FSF has been stepping up its negative campaigning by sponsoring sites like Defective by Design and Windows 7 Sins. I won’t link to them here because I completely agree with Joe that the mudslinging is actually more damaging to the FLOSS movement than the proprietary software itself is. The FSF is marginalizing themselves with this attitude. I think it comes directly from Richard Stallman (RMS). Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for RMS – I have met him many times and I have a deep understanding of what he has provided with the world. However, I think Joe is right that it is time for RMS and the FSF to start interacting with the world as it is rather than as the fantasy it “should” be.

Like the grandfather it is, the FSF deserves to be listened to and respected, but sometimes its ideas are a little old and have been superseded by more modern thinking. Grandpa FSF, listen to your grandson Joe. And Joe – kudos for speaking up.

Like other attendees at Chris DiBona’s keynote at Linux Collaboration Summit last month, I obtained an unlocked Nexus One super-duper-phone. (Thanks, Chris!)

The gift was completely unexpected, and while it was wonderful to receive, I am just not sure I am mobile enough to really get the best user experience from it. Lest I seem ungrateful, I must say that I am totally blown away by the user interface and the potential for the device. The last similar devices I had were a Palm Tungsten T5 and a Palm Treo 650, both obtained while I was working at Palmsource/Access a few years ago. I know from experience with both of them that I simply don’t naturally take advantage of such devices. I have no cellular service of any type at my house, and in town we get maximum 2G. I don’t travel a whole lot, so obviously it makes little sense to sign up for a cellular data service. I do have a wi-fi router at home and can use one in town at the coffee house or pizza shop, but that means sitting on one place—it isn’t exactly mobile, which is how the device was designed.

The Nexus One isn’t bad as a wi-fi-only gadget, and some of the applications—like the star map—are nothing short of brutally awesome. With 3G, GPS, and accelerometer it is better equipped than any other electronic device I have ever owned or carried, bar none. But I can’t really take advantage of those things without spending more and traveling more than I intend. Not to mention, my fingers must be extra-large, because I find the onscreen keyboard barely usable. I could get a bluetooth keyboard for the thing but that seems like it would make it far less mobile – by that point I might as well get a netbook. Between lack of typing input and the 3.x inch screen, I don’t find the user experience compelling enough to just use it around the house. Again, this is not an issue with the Nexus One nor with Android. It is an issue with my usage mode and my fat fingers.

On the other hand, I do write about the mobile Linux experience fairly often, more and more with Android in the title, and this is currently the only Android device with which I have any real amount of experience (other than the SDK and x86 emulator). Granted, my writing is most often about the developer experience rather than the user end, but one naturally depends on the other, so perhaps owning and using the device can help me provide better advice to developers. And, the typing thing could be obviated by using voice integration, which I confess I have not worked with much yet other than grinning over Babelfish.

Also, Froyo (Android 2.2) is just around the corner. Would the added speed and usability tip me over the edge and make me into an official gadget-carrier? I don’t think so, given that speed is not a barrier for me, but I’m willing to wonder.

On the third hand, if I sell the Nexus One I can put the money toward a different Android-based gadget that might make more sense with my usage mode. I am very interested in Notion Ink’s Adam. Or perhaps a netbook, a form factor against which I have cautioned in the past but on which I might be persuaded, particularly running Linux. Or an e-reader: I think everyone knows now that the Kindle, Nook, and Sony’s e-readers all run Linux.

That’s a lot of issues on both sides, and I have more in my head. The gift has me conflicted.

Maybe I should think more about my usage model. What would I use the device for? What do YOU use it for, and is that usage or service really worth what you pay for it?

PS. No, I won’t be buying an iPad. Not yet, anyway. But if anyone in charge is listening, I’d be glad to evaluate one. 🙂

Andreas Constantinou, as I have previously stated, is the smartest guy in mobile computing. This week he is tackling Android and pondering whether the disruptive Linux-based OS meets its parent company’s famous assertion that it will “not be evil“. (To be fair, the official company stance is that it is possible to make money without doing evil—that may be the heart of the argument outlined below.)

This is a hot topic in the Linux community. At the combined Embedded Linux Conference and Linux Collaboration Summit this past week, Greg Kroah-Hartmann explained his well-considered decision to remove Google-specific code from the upstream kernel, while simultaneously praising Android and inviting Google to sit down and hash out the technical issues (which they are doing now).

But – is Google’s relative non-openness regarding Android actually evil? Andreas questions this as well. As I stated in the comments on his blog, I have learned an enormous amount about the mobile industry by reading the VisionMobile blog for the past four years, much more than I learned in three years in the trenches working at a major mobile software manufacturer. This is a very complex subject and I think Andreas is better equipped than most to see the details—and, further, to explain them to the rest of us.

That being said, I wonder if there is a big-picture issue that is being missed in the discussion. I’ll use Andreas’ title to make a devils-advocate assertion:

Although open is defined as not evil,
Not being completely open is not necessarily evil

Openness is a spectrum, and not all parts of a given product have to be open in order for it to be beneficial to an industry as a whole. It depends on the industry, and it also depends on the beneficiary. Private branches, private roadmaps, and even a gated developer community are not “evil” if the end result is a net gain for the majority of participants. I believe this is partly what Google means by their famous and much-quoted statement, although mostly what they mean is that they don’t intend to do evil things with advertising. Google has hubris to spare, but at least in this case they are using it to the benefit of others. Maybe not completely, but enough.

Apple turned the US cellular market on its ear when the iPhone came out, and rightly so – it was long overdue for a revolution. But it did so out of narcissism, to benefit Apple. Google is taking the whole issue one step further by opening the model up at various points, to the benefit of consumers, app developers, and handset manufacturers. This is to the possible detriment of carriers as they are now, but it hastens their eventual evolution into dumb pipes (which IMO they should have been all along).

Is it ALL to the benefit of everyone? No. Does it have to be in order to not be “evil”? In my opinion, no. And I’m saying that as a serious open-source advocate. I say this not so much a begrudging acceptance of Google’s need to monetize as a realistic assessment of the situation. We all benefit from Android’s disruption whether or not it is completely open.

Actually, AFAIK the Goog never claimed to be always “open”. The relative openness of various components of the system is not as important as the disruptiveness of the whole. As an aside, I personally hope that they work out their issues with the Linux kernel maintainers, but even if they don’t they still will have helped change an entire industry for the benefit of both app developers and consumers, and that is a very non-evil thing to do.

This article on, written by Mark Fidelman, is being retweeted and reposted in countless places around the open-source virtuasphere. In short, the article shows loosely the opinions that are, if not the most important, at least the loudest.

While there is some value in knowing this figure, I believe it is important to understand what the author is actually measuring, and I believe he chose his words most carefully. These are not necessarily the trend-setters, nor are they the voices we must listen to in order to understand what is going on in open source and how it affects our lives and our jobs, though some of them certainly are. These are the people whose words are being discussed most, and considering that we (humans in general) are actually just simians with clothes who tend to follow leaders blindly, that means that even if the voices we hear from these people are filled with lies or ineptitude, they still will affect us in one way or another.

I believe that the reason Mr. Fidelman did the research and wrote on this subject, and the reason so many people including myself are discussing it and promoting it, is that despite the overt libertarian insistence in our industry for egalitarianism and flat hierarchies, we are indeed still simians with an innate need for leadership. I believe it is important to recognize that and roll with it. For example, I have been a manager of both projects and people, a solo consultant, a captive employee, an author, a freelancer, and a few other types of employee. I have learned through hard knocks that I am not an executive-style leader, nor would I want to be. However, I am also not a blind follower—I question things, and I’m not afraid to bring up issues in meetings even if it means exposing my own ignorance. I subconsciously tend to listen to leaders with the same philosophy and discount those with different philosophies.

Different people listen to different leaders, and even interpret the same things differently, so it is really impossible to say whose voices are actually the most powerful in terms of affecting industry. But Mr. Fidelman has brought a very good point to the fore—there are leaders out there worth listening to, and it is part of your job to go out and find them. By reading his article, considering it, arguing about who should be on the list, and researching leaders you haven’t heard of before, you are helping yourself to fit into the natural hierarchy and also helping open source.