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I just returned from LinuxCon, the Linux Foundation’s premier conference, held this year at the warm, muggy Boston waterfront. There were many interesting items to report, these are only a few:

  • MeeGo is emerging as a powerful alternative to Android, partly due to its excellent user interfaces (albeit highly Intel-centric driver support) but, in my mind, mostly due to its adherence to open-source standards. In opposition to Android’s divergence from mainline, MeeGo‘s central philosophy is very much in line with the Open Source Way, and that is a very good thing to see in embedded Linux. I am hopeful that they will adopt much of the incredible work being done by the Linaro folks in bringing ARM support to Linux in general. Note as well that MeeGo has been selected by GENIVI as the reference software for future in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, and MeeGo certainly looks up to the task. I may be forced to revise my prior opinions about netbooks as a result of the demos I encountered.
  • Oracle had a large (though relatively ignored) table at the conference, and Oracle SVP Linux & Virtual Engineering Wim Coekaerts gave an interesting keynote the first day explaining some of the Linux-based work going on inside Oracle. This, however, was immediately overshadowed just after the conference when Oracle sued Google over the use of Java, a suit which appears to be not only baseless but outright hostile. News like this confirms the worries many of us have about Oracle’s stewardship of the valuable open projects they have acquired along with Sun Microsystems: Java, VirtualBox, and of course MySQL, which some have opined was the reason for acquiring Sun in the first place. (Personally, I tend to think it has more to do with Sun’s enterprise server customer base.)
  • Speaking of MySQL, Monty’s excellent team has countered with a new fork called MariaDB, which looks remarkably like MySQL under the hood. They have also started a community:, a meeting place for open database enthusiasts. is the central point for MariaDB and provides downloads, a blog, and a developer wiki.
  • On Monday, Teaching Open Source gave an education mini-summit that I was honored to help organize. Between 20 and 30 interested folks – educators, administrators, students, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals – came together to discuss the best methods for teaching open source and getting students involved in the processes and communities early. Many fantastic ideas were explored. Video and audio should be available soon, and Fedora hero Máirín Duffy has written up an excellent set of notes on the day.
  • Yours truly gave a resounding talk (standing room only!) on the subject of desktop Linux entitled Desktop Distribution Showdown. The slides are available [PDF], and look for an article on the subject very soon be sure to read the exciting companion article.

All in all, LinuxCon and the Education mini-summit were intense, informative, and highly community-oriented. I was glad to meet new friends and see old ones, and I am already looking forward to next year.

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.

Normally I think Andreas Constantinou is one of the smartest guys in mobile computing today. He knows the business inside out. His latest post, though, has me wondering: The Wintel future for mobile: a wakeup call for network operators hits on about seven of eight cylinders for me.

The premise of the article actually belies the title. Andreas is not saying that Intel (or MS, for heaven’s sake) plan to dominate the mobile world. Rather, he predicts that Android, along with Qualcomm’s parallel chipsets (and those from Mediatek to some extent, though I think TI might be a contender as well), is providing the same kind of disruptive force in the mobile marketplace that the Windows/x86 combination did in the 1980s for desktop computing. He states that this should be a wakeup call for network operators, who currently control 70% of the money surrounding mobile computing as a whole.

I certainly agree that the current state of affairs for the cellular business worldwide should indeed be a wakeup call for network operators, and frankly I am just loving the sight of these huge corporations starting to topple—I think that both developers and end users can only benefit from this. However, in my mind this sea change is not necessarily because of a Wintel-like disruptive influence, though that is there.

The issue is that these network operators who have controlled the game up to this point by charging for minutes and kilobytes are now seeing their service become obsolete. I propose that this is due as much to the disruptive influence of the iPhone as to the staggering innovations in hardware and software—the important difference is in the business model and in the expectations of the end consumer, not advances in technology. Technology has always changed fast and in disruptive ways, and will continue to do so. For mobile right now, it is the changes in business models which are disrupting the old guard, and which will eventually dismantle it in much the same way that GNU software upended the previously highly-profitable development tools business, in the same way that blade servers and server farms took down massive centralized servers, and in the same way that cheap cluster computing thoroughly dismantled the supercomputer industry. The consumers of those products found better, cheaper ways to get what they needed, despite any changes in the technology. Heck, clusters were originally built with used parts, optimizing for both cost and performance despite advances in technology.

It is not hardware or software that drives these trends, but rather the market’s insistence—and by that I mean the insistence of actual human beings in the marketplace—on being treated fairly, for two reasons: (1) they recognize that alternatives are possible; and (2) they either source those alternatives, or supply them. If it weren’t Android and Qualcomm this year, next year it might be MeeGo and… who knows, maybe homebuilt phones with Beagle Boards or Gumstix. Pandora’s box continues to provide disruptive tech, and that provides opportunities, but it requires humans to take advantage of those opportunities.

PS. Andreas still is the smartest guy in mobile. 🙂

Normally this blog covers issues about open-source software and the industry around it. However, sometimes I have to share some really cool things that are only tangentially (if that) related to computing at all. For today, the cool thing theme is Flying Cars.

It is 2010, and many of us assumed we would be living in space pods, eating astronaut ice cream regularly, and getting to work in our Jetsons-style flying cars. A few of these things have happened—people DO live in the international space station pretty much full-time, and you can buy astronaut ice cream over the Internet. Flying cars, however, have eluded us.

Until now.

This year, two companies intend to take the flying car concept public, or at least make serious waves

Terrafugia Transition

The Terrafugia Transition is a “roadable aircraft” in the pre-production (FAA certification, possibly?) phase with first customer shipments expected in 2011. They don’t actually specify on their website, but with a useful load of 430 lbs and a 100hp engine, the Transition must be a 2-seat aircraft. Note that their prototype is flying (see photos & videos) and they are taking $10,000 deposits—the expected final price is in the $200,000 range.

Samson Switchblade

Samson Motorworks has taken a slightly different tack with the Switchblade. This 2-seater, 3-wheeled vehicle is actually classed as a motorcycle on the road, and the wings fold into the body rather than folding up next to it. The ducted fan is also a very slick. No flying prototype yet, but I have high hopes for Oshkosh. (And I wish I had high hopes for attending Oshkosh, sigh.)

Volante Aircraft, a sharp-looking kit with a flying prototype. The canard design reminds me very much of the Rutan Long-Eze, which was my absolute dream aircraft for many years. (ok, it still is)

UrbanAero X-Hawk, an interesting dual ducted fan design that seriously looks like something out of a science fiction story. The two large circles house rotor blades, sort of like enclosed helicopter rotors. I can hardly look at it without picturing Bruce Willis hanging off the side of it.

Parajet Automotive Skycar, the folks who drove and flew a dune buggy from London to Timbuktu! This one is radical and represents some serious out-of-the-box thinking, and also has the option of being very inexpensive.

LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1 – with 5 seats, this is the largest and most “family-friendly” design, although it also looks to me to be the most complex. In car mode, it also looks the most like an actual car, and a nice-looking one at that. They are still building the prototype. Expected cost is around $175k, putting it near the Terrafugia in price but with more payload.

Aerocar 2000, inspired by Moulton Taylor‘s original Aerocar design. With this one, the actual flight mechanism – pusher prop, wings, and empennage – are mounted on a normal car, in this case a Lotus Esprit (why not?). You must then leave the wings etc. at the airport, but that probably suits most circumstances well.

And no compendium would be complete without mentioning Paul Moller’s Skycar, though I won’t link to it—see Wikipedia for more information. In my opinion, Moller has made great strides in capturing imaginations and in separating investment dollars from their prior owners, but with no viable product in 40 years of development and a host of lawsuits, I fail to see how the Skycar will ever see the showroom. I invite him to prove me wrong.

As a full-time telecommuter AND a holder of a pilot’s certificate, I look forward to these developments with great anticipation. When I was flying regularly, I could get to work for meetings in 5 hrs by driving, or in 1 hr in the air, though there was always the problem of transportation on the other end. I see these vehicles as the start of a new industry that can enable people to live out-far, as I do, and only show up at work physically when absolutely necessary. That is excellent news for the planet.

Keep in mind, of course, that even if it is called a “car” you will still need a pilot’s certificate in order to actually operate these vehicles in the air. For the Switchblade at least, you will also need a motorcycle authorization on your driver’s license in most US states and Canada. And for any of them you will need a lot of training, practice, and the thing that actually keeps airplanes up in the air: money.

However, the chances that you will have the coolest car in the parking lot at work are 100%.