Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rules for Planet GNOME?

Recently, Richard Stallman has suggested on the foundation-list that Planet GNOME is not effectively representing the free software movement, and that rules should be developed to bar "favorable mention" of proprietary software.

I've put together a small survey on SurveyMonkey in which I hope to get as many people to participate as possible. Mr. Stallman has raised "supporting free software" as being a critical obligation of the Planet, since GNOME is part of the GNU Project; Philip van Hoof, among others, has suggested that perhaps we need to re-examine that relationship.

The thread on the foundation-list can be found archived here., in the thread, "Code of Conduct and Foundation membership". Mr. Stallman's contributions begin here.

The survey can be found here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Communication-Driven Economy

(This posting originally appeared on the LiMo Foundation blog...)

I recently read an extremely interesting special section in The Economist, concerned in particular with how mobile communications, and "mobile finance", was positively affecting emerging economies. One figure that stuck with me was that adding ten cell phones into a population of 100 people had the net effect of raising the country's GDP by 0.8%; that's a simply staggering figure relative to the investment involved. Particularly in countries that have been historically lacking in infrastructure, mobile communications can be paradigm-changing: it allows instant communication with places and people that might have been days off, or otherwise inaccessible. By providing a flow of information of all kinds, where none existed before—especially over long distances, mobile communications make new markets and new products possible in ways that would have been out of reach otherwise.

Today, more people access the Internet, globally, from cell phones than from traditional computers. Many people have never accessed the Internet any other way. This is a continuation of the major "paradigm shift" which began in 1995, when "the Worldwide Web" moved from being a province belonging solely to the technically adept to something which was accessible and usable by anyone at all—with the right equipment, anyway. The "right equipment" was, of course, hideously expensive in global terms: a computer costs at least a couple of thousand dollars.

Today, we see cell phones that are, in terms of power and performance, the full equivalent of "desktops" or "laptops" of only a few years ago, at a fraction of the cost. And the cost only keeps getting pushed down. A phone that is capable of accessing the Internet, and hence the world, is within the reach of more and more people in the world. And, as The Economist points out, having that phone enriches and improves people's lives in tangible and quantifiable ways.

But cell phones and mobile devices don’t only drive economic change: they can drive political change as well. Five years ago, cell phones and text messaging played a crucial role in Moldova’s “Orange Revolution”; today, it’s at least as likely to be Twitter that is used for mass communications. Communications of this sort cannot be censored, and we can expect to be seeing such facilities playing an increasing role in all kinds of political discourse.

The device-manufacturing members of the LiMo Foundation ship on the order of a quarter of a billion phones worldwide annually. The economics of the electronics industry keep driving the cost of a device with a given feature set ever-downward; efforts both in the open source world and in organizations like LiMo do the same with software. Virtually every phone on the market comes with a web browser of some sort—ACCESS alone ships scores of millions of new installations of our browser product a year on phones at all price points.

Change on a global scale is rarely sudden. It’s a series of small changes - incremental ones. In the past twenty years, cell phones have gone from being a luxury available only to the wealthy to something that’s within the reach of the majority of people on the planet. At the same time, the power and functionality of the devices themselves has only increased. With that increased availability and functionality has come better flow of information and news, improved economic prospects, better education, and the ability to stay in contact with those who are physically distant, for people around the world. We’re only beginning to see the changes that will come out of a transition like this.

The "One Laptop Per Child" effort set out to produce a general-purpose, portable computer suitable for children's education at a cost of $100. It didn't quite achieve all of its goals, but it led to a number of interesting and useful experiments and results. It may be that the modern and increasingly functional cell phone turns out to be, to a large extent, the real "hundred dollar laptop" and not just for children.

[Lefty will be presenting at eComm, the Emerging Communications Conference, in Amsterdam, on behalf of the LiMo Foundation, on Oct. 28. For more details on the conference, please see]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Quick Note...

I got an email from Bruce Byfield yesterday, from which I learned that one of my stealth projects had been "outed" by my pals Miguel and jdub. This is actually a good thing, since I'd gotten distracted for the last month or so on paying work. In any case, the site was actually pulled together enough that it was good to get the kick in the ass and get it out there.

So, I actually did what I was threatening to do at GCDS, and put up Enjoy! I'm happy to have outside contributions if anyone wants to provide some. Traffic's going up nicely, and it's getting a lot of mentions on Twitter and elsewhere.


Your friendly, neighborhood "troll-like enemy of the free software movement" (still no word on whether this represents the official position of the FSF...)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

T-Shirt Designs for the FSF

or perhaps

Some might prefer this one, I suppose.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Damned Chose...

I didn't attend LinuxCon this year for a variety of reasons—chief among them being that I'd have had to go straight to Portland from Amsterdam rather than get to visit my home—so I missed out on the talk by Mark Shuttleworth. I did read about it on the geekfeminism blog, however.

Sorry, Mark: explaining this stuff to anyone is hard, not just to "girls". Here we go again, falling into the bad and distancing habit of using women as the archetype of technical non-adeptitude. I do it myself: I've worked hard to break myself of the habit of using my mom or my daughter as someone who something is "easy enough for", with incomplete success. Moshiwake gozaimasen. Ganbarimasu.

Look, it's awfully easy to say bone-headed things: I've done it (and still do it, occasionally) and so have you. What's a lot harder is being able to step back from the knee-jerk need to defend oneself and look at the situation from the point of view of the person who's complaining about it.

(Let me also note that, in fact, not every single complaint of offense may have merit: I do not, personally, feel obligated to apologize to platypus fanciers for saying that platypi are funny-looking, or to creationists who are upset that I'm somehow abridging their freedom of religion by looking askance at mythology being taught as "scientific theory". However, my bar for having offended others is pretty low, "reasonable doubt" that the person's offense might be out-of-line, rather than my own perception of "preponderance of the evidence"...)

The appropriate response at that point is not to counsel the other person that they're wrong to feel offense, but to acknowledge their feelings (which doesn't mean agreeing with them) and to apologize. Not "I'm sorry that you're feeling offended", but "I'm sorry for having offended you", ideally with some actual sincerity. At that point, one is well-advised to rethink the behavior that caused the offense, and to find some more useful substitute behavior for future use.

I've met Mark several times, and I think he's an essentially reasonable guy. I hope, and expect, that he'll respond to Skud in a reasonable way. We'll see.

On a somewhat related note, I was interested to read the minutes of the FSF's "mini-summit" on increasing the participation of women in free software, with a stated mission "to increase women's participation in the free software movement and work to make sexism in person or online unacceptable within our community". Sadly, there's no suggestion among the various "Initiatives" along the lines of "Discourage FSF leaders and representatives from telling jokes in keynotes which portray women as in need of technical assistance of an intrusive and nonconsensual sort, from the sound of things". I'm a little surprised they missed that one, frankly.

I'm likewise fascinated at the performance of Bruce Perens on LWN in the discussion on the "mini-summit" there. Bruce is pretty sure that there's no problem at all, or at least no problem for us to address. Additionally, Bruce's experience as a white-water rafting guide apparently allows him to assure us that the sort of behavior that people are finding upsetting is caused by Asperger's Syndrome, and therefore cannot possibly be fixed, and it's wrong of us to draw attention to it. Interestingly, Bruce has also only encountered one single solitary woman in all his years who knew how to use EMACS. Says Bruce, "What I meant was that there are more women who hold technical jobs than there are women who so love the technology that they will work on it whether they get paid or not. That seems to be an especially male thing." You can't make this stuff up.

I was likewise not at the Boston "Software Freedom Day", but I read on the GeekFeminism wiki that a question regarding the Gran Canaria keynote was put to Mr. Stallman there, and he responded that "The person who brought that up seems to be a troll-like enemy of the free software movement." This was, by the way, the same event at which Mr. Stallman felt it necessary to label Miguel de Icaza "a traitor to the free software movement". (Was there a loyalty oath? I missed that...)

At least I'm in decent company. Maybe Miguel and I can get t-shirts made up or something.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The 2009 Open Source in Mobile Pub Quiz!

I was at the Open Source in Mobile conference in Amsterdam last week, both to present on "Strategies for Enabling Innovation with Open Source" and to act as quizmaster for this year's 2nd Annual Pub Quiz (and having done it two years running, I think it's an official "tradition" now...)

People expressed some interest in seeing the questions and answers, and I promised to post them here. Adam Shaw of Informa, the conference's producers, worked up the first four categories this year; the last four were mine. So, without further ado:

[Well, much further ado, anyway. Sorry for the remarkably idiotic markup problems, fixed now. The quiz started its life as a MS Word document from Adam Shaw to me, and stayed that way. The amount of nonsensical horsecrap that Word throws in with a simple paste is amazing, and the editor that Blogger provides you with doesn't help...]

Round 1- Sport

  1. Q-Due to superstition, what did Bjorn Borg not do during the Wimbledon fortnight?
    1. have sex
    2. wash his hair
    3. shave
    4. wear underpants
    A- Shave

  2. Q- Nigel Mansell won the World Drivers’ Championship for which Formula 1 team?
    A- Williams

  3. Q- Who was the first unseeded man to win the Wimbledon Singles title?
    A- Boris Becker

  4. Q- Which sports playing area is 2.7 metres by 1.5 metres?
    A- Table Tennis

  5. Q- In which country will the 2014 Football World Cup be held?
    A- Brazil

  6. Q- In 1988 who became the first boxer to have won world championships in five different weight categories?
    A- Sugar Ray Leonard

  7. Q- Which piece of sporting equipment is 3 inches in diameter and weighs 6 ounces?
    A- An ice hockey puck

  8. Q- At which sport did Scotland become world champions in 2005?
    A- Elephant Polo

Round 2- Geography

  1. Q- What is the home country of Van Morrison?
    A- Northern Ireland [NB: I want to acknowledge that this answer is disputed by Mr. David Neary, who informs me that Northern Ireland is a "province", not a country, and that Mr. Morrison was, in fact, born in the country of Great Britain the United Kingdom.]
    [NB: I want to further acknowledge that I know something between "jack-shit" and "fuck-all" about the geographical vagaries of the United Kingdom. Sorry for the Inconvenience.]

  2. Q- In which country was OPEC founded?
    A- Iraq

  3. Q- Which country is the world’s largest coffee exporter?
    A- Brazil

  4. Q-If you flew due east from New York City, what would be the first country you would reach?

  5. Q- Bollywood is the nickname for the Indian film industry. The film industry of which country is known as Lollywood?
    1. Pakistan
    2. Laos
    3. Portugal
    4. Luxembourg
    A- Pakistan (Lahore)

  6. Q- Paris attracts the most visitors in France each year. Which French town attracts 5 million visitors a year and has more hotels than any other French city except Paris?
    A- Lourdes

  7. Q- At 29,029 ft Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth. The tallest mountain in our solar system is Olympus Mons on Mars. Plus or minus 10,000ft, how tall is Olympus Mons?
    A- 88,600ft, it stands 27kms above the surface level

  8. Q- What Mexican cactus is tequila made from?
    A- Agave

Round 3- Wordplay

  1. Q- What kind of mixed drink takes its name from the Hindi or Sanskrit word for five?
    A- Punch, from the Hindi word Panch as punch initially had 5 ingredients, spirit, sugar, lemon, water, tea

  2. Q- If you were awarded 10 points in the UK for using it but only 1 point in Poland, what would you be doing?
    A-Playing Scrabble with the letter Z

  3. Q- Which animal does a Hippophobe fear?
    A- Horses

  4. Q- Who wrote over and over again: ‘I will not yell she’s dead during roll call’
    A- Bart Simpson

  5. Q- The Toyota MR2 had to change its name in which European country?
    A- France- MR2 sounds like Merde

  6. Q- Which five letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
    A- Short

  7. Q- What is the Romanian Word for ‘Son of the Devil’ or ‘Son of the Dragon’?
    A- Dracula

  8. Q- There exists only one word in the English language that when it is capitalised has a completely different meaning. What is that word?
    A- Polish, polish

Round 4- Entertainment

  1. Q- Which TV Shows spawned the following spin offs? (1 point per correct answer)
    1. Frasier
    2. Mork and Mindy
    A- Cheers and Happy Days
  2. Q- Which singer appeared on stage at both Wembley and Philadelphia during the Live Aid concert?
    A- Phil Collins

  3. Q- How is singer Paul Hewson better known?
    A- Bono

  4. Q- If you allow for inflation what is the highest grossing movie of all time?
    A- Gone With the Wind

  5. Q- How is Annie Mae Bullock better known?
    A- Tina Turner

  6. Q- What was the name of Anthony Edwards character in Top Gun?
    A- Goose

  7. Q- Who was the boxer portrayed by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull?
    A- Jake LaMotta

  8. Q- Which three presidents does Forrest Gump meet in the film Forrest Gump? (all three needed for a point)
    A- Nixon, Kennedy, LBJ

Round 5- Open Source Trivia

  1. Q- How many children does Linus Torvalds have?
    A- Two.

  2. Q- How is “dead beef” used in a running operating system?
    A- Freed memory is frequently overwritten with this value, which is guaranteed to generate a page fault if dereferenced (in, e.g., Solaris).

  3. Q- How many PhDs does Dr. Richard Stallman hold? How many are honorary?
    A- Six. All of them.

  4. Q- What is the birthday of the Linux kernel?
    A- August 21, 1991.

  5. Q- What was the first software project that Apple, Inc. released under an open source license?
    A- Rendezvous support for “zero-configuration” networking, later renamed “Bonjour”, under a BSD license.

  6. Q- What was the first “live CD” Linux distribution?
    A- Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X (LGX), released in December 1992.

  7. Q- From where does the Jokosher project derive its name?
    A- It’s a play on the name of the project’s creator, Jono Bacon: Jo-no-bacon == jo-kosher.

  8. Q- The “Jargon File” has existed since 1975. What is it, and who maintains it?
    A- The Jargon file is a glossary of “hacker terminology”, originally created at Stanford, but great expanded at MIT. It is maintained by Eric S. Raymond.

Round 6- Geek Movies

  1. Q- What does an “oscillation overthruster” enable you to do?
    A- Drive through mountains/enter the 8th Dimension (Buckaroo Banzai)

  2. Q- How much power is required to energize a flux capacitor?
    A- 1.21 gigawatts (Back to the Future!)

  3. Q- What do the characters Elrond (from Lord of the Rings), V (from V for Vendetta) and Agent Smith (from The Matrix) have in common?
    A- All are played by Hugo Weaving

  4. Q- In what movie does a character save the day, exclaiming, “This is a UNIX system! I know this!”
    A- Jurassic Park

  5. Q- What 2001 movie featured Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond and a host of other open source and free software luminaries?
    A- Revolution OS, directed by J.T.S. Moore

  6. Q- What was the first appearance of a laser in a motion picture?
    A- Goldfinger, 1964

  7. Q- What is the relevance of banging a radio antenna guy-wire with a hammer to the film Star Wars?
    A- Ben Burt used this sound for the blasts of the ray guns.

  8. Q- Where would you not go to buy a “phased plasma rifle in a 60-watt range”?
    A- 1984 Los Angeles (The Terminator)

Round 7- Technology Free-for-all

  1. Q- If you were to look at “NMEA data”, what would you be looking at?
    A- GPS information.

  2. Q- The third time definitely wasn’t the charm for this well-known computer company. What is this a reference to?
    A- The Apple ///, released in 1980, proved to be extremely unpopular. It’s the only computer Apple ever produced which was replaced by one with a lower model number (the Apple IIe).

  3. Q- What does “DLNA” refer to?
    A- The “Digital Living Network Alliance”, a standard used by manufacturers of consumer electronics to allow entertainment devices within the home to share their content with each other across a home network.

  4. Q- Which of the following has not been used to access the internet: carrier pigeon, semaphore, morse code, catapult?
    A- Catapult

  5. Q- ENIAC, the US Army computer which ran continuously from 1947 to 1955, was based on vacuum tubes. How many did it contain (to the nearest thousand)?
    A- 17,468

  6. Q- Smalltalk was originally designed to be run on a specific device aimed at giving children access to digital media. What was the name of that device?
    A- The “Dynabook”, designed by Alan Kay.

  7. Q- When was the notion of “hypertext” first proposed?
    A- In a 1945 Atlantic Monthly article by Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, which described a proposed device called a “Memex”.

  8. Q- Tim Berners-Lee is credited with the development of the world-wide web. When did Berners-Lee first propose the “WorldWide Web”?
    A- In November, 1990.

Round 8- Name that Distro!

(Visual round: teams had to correctly identify the distro from its logo)

  1. Q-
    A- Xandros

  2. Q-
    A- Mepis

  3. Q-
    A- Gentoo

  4. Q-
    A- Mandriva

  5. Q-
    A- Arch

  6. Q-
    A- Knoppix

  7. Q-
    A- Kubuntu

  8. Q-
    A- Puppy Linux

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Disappearing Desktop

[This posting was originally published on the LiMo Foundation blog...]

The “desktop” has been getting all the attention for the past score of years or so, and it was a big improvement from the “command line”, which is what we had to deal with prior to that. The desktop metaphor opened up all kinds of possibilities for people who had never used computers before, and unleashed a wave of new applications development the likes of which had never been previously seen.

But the desktop itself—the notion of the “computer” as a completely general-purpose device, a sort of “Swiss Army knife”, if you will—is itself an artefact of the fact that, at the time the metaphor hit the street, as it were, computers were extremely expensive devices; few people could afford to have more than one of them. However, times have changed and are still changing, in dramatic ways.

Computing power is cheaper than ever: if you compare a current cell phone (at around $400) with a desktop system of five years ago (at around $2500), they’re remarkably comparable in terms of their general specifications. In fact, the phone does more, in terms of being able to support GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi and other capabilities right out of the box; it probably has at least as much memory and, more than likely, a larger amount of mass storage. We don’t, however, tend to think of it as a “computer”.

Don Norman has observed that the more skilful we become at using a technology, the less visible the technology itself becomes, as it gets subsumed into the purpose to which it’s being put. When cars were new technology, you had to be an automobile mechanic to own one; the same was true of bicycles before that.

Open source development grew up in an environment where the desktop was the landscape in which one worked. But that’s a landscape that’s becoming increasingly less relevant. The sale of cell phones and mobile devices of increasing sophistication and capability has far outstripped the number of “desktops” being shipped each year. However, our understanding of development models and use cases hasn’t really kept pace with that.

There’s a great potential opportunity, one which we’re at the very beginning of seeing realized, for open source developers in the increasing number of Linux-based phones coming onto the market, and it’s measured in hundreds of millions of potential customers a year. Right now—and unlike the classic desktop market—there’s no entrenched “winner” in the mobile device space. There’s less likely to ever be one, since the investment people make is smaller and they’re more prone to replace a cell phone than a desktop or laptop system. People’s investment in applications for their smart phones also tends to be smaller than for their desktop systems: they tend to have fewer applications, and those applications are cheaper in cost.

Successful development for mobile devices calls for a rather higher standard of quality than we’ve typically been used to delivering in the open source world. In an environment where it was at least tacitly expected that everyone was capable of programming, the assumption developed that, if a problem wasn’t bothering me, then it wasn’t my problem; those whom it did bother could fix it if they liked. That won’t work on the mobile devices your grandfather and your teenagers use. This is an area where partnership between open source community-based efforts and the work of carriers and device manufacturers could be especially fruitful: the folks who make up the membership of organizations like the LiMo Foundation have a lot of experience here.

Another difference is the target audience and understanding the expectations of that audience. Open source development began as, in essence, a hobby: people wrote code for themselves and, eventually, for one another. But they were always writing for people who had a technical skill set and a certain level of ability with it. This made for a very different outlook than the one which is required to develop for end users and for consumers. We’ve learnt a pretty good amount about this in the community, especially over the past five years or so, but there’s still a long way to go. This is an area where collaboration with device manufacturers and carriers, who have long experience (not always good experience, admittedly) in things like usability, can really pay off.

But successful development for the mobile world requires—even more importantly—an entirely different way of thinking about how applications are used and even what applications actually are! As the various activities in our lives leave increasing online “impressions” (e.g. By our writing movie reviews, or purchasing books online, or engaging in various “social networking” activities). the ability of applications and web-based activities to interact, support and reinforce one another will enable new sorts of capabilities on the devices we use the most. I can already be notified (by a web site which tracks airplane flights) when one of my flights is delayed, and I can reschedule myself onto a different flight—all from my phone. I can take a photo of a business card, have it OCR’ed, added to my contacts, and then synchronized to a web-based server, so that it ultimately winds up on my desktop system—all from my phone. (It’s impossible for me to ever lose a contact any more: I have too much redundancy.)

This is an area that is evolving now, and evolving so rapidly, that no one has really been able to get their head around it yet. People continue to ask whether “the future” is “on the web” or “on the device”. The answer, as usual, is “yes”—and new potential applications like “augmented reality” are underscoring that—how that evolution plays out is the key area in which I expect to see organizations like LiMo working increasingly with the open source community as we discover what “computers” are going to be like as we become less and less directly aware that they are computers.

The “desktop” is increasingly going away, except for fairly specific, usually business-related uses. Outside the US, many more people are already accessing the internet from their phones rather than from a desktop system. As social networking, online shopping and content creation become even more important, the devices which will be most important to us are those which are supporting those activities, the devices we spend the most time with, the ones we carry around with us.

We used to talk about “the paperless office’, and—in some ways, anyway—it sort of happened: I don’t get a lot of paper bills and other documents as I used to anymore; now, they’re web pages of PDF files. On the other hand, my desk has vanished...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Microsoft, the GPL, and Nonsense from Folks Who Know Better

The big news this week, causing much contortion and hand-wringing among the Phoney Fundamentalists, is Microsoft's submission of its Hyper-V drivers to the kernel driver tree. Those pre-disposed to view Microsoft as Satan Incarnate are sure that there's a trick, a devious plot, in there, since Microsoft is, of coure, Satan Incarnate.

What I'm finding disturbing this morning is that none other than Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center has apparently added his voice to the chorus of those claiming that "Microsoft violated the GPL!" What's disturbing is that Bradley certainly knows better.

Stephen Hemminger, the Vyatta engineer who initially turned up the issue (and no one is claiming that there was no potential compliance issue with these drivers) denies that there was a violation. Microsoft has likewise denied that there was a violation (but, of, course, Microsoft is Satan Incarnate...)

Just to remind the folks who should know better (and enlighten the folks who have not actually read the GPL), a violation will occur under the following set of circumstances:
  1. Microsoft distributes a binary copy of a "program" (in this case, the Hyper-V drivers), which includes GPL-licensed code, to a third-party, sources not included.
  2. The third party makes a request to Microsoft for the sources corresponding to the binary they received.
  3. Microsoft fails to provide those sources, in a timely fashion, for no more than the cost of creating the media and shipping it to the requester.
Absent that specific chain of events, there's simply no violation. If Bradley doesn't use hasn't received a copy of the Hyper-V drivers, from Microsoft, through legitimate channels, he's got no standing to be requesting sources, and he can't assert a violation. However, that doesn't inhibit the untruthful propagandists from using Bradley's (unfounded) claims to support their own (inaccurate) assertions of perfidy on Microsoft's part.

The SFLC has absolutely no business making such a claim unless they're prepared to support it, and the only way they can do so is by producing the third-party mentioned above, something which has so far not happened. The SFLC should issue a clarification immediately: they've called Microsoft liars, which is about par for the course, but they've also called Stephen Hemminger a liar, which is completely unreasonable.


Microsoft could have failed to comply by either the sequence of events noted above, or by failing to include an appropriate notice of how to get sources. There are assertions (and I don't personally know for a fact that there isn't an appropriate offer buried in the wad of stuff one gets with a Windows Server 200 license, I don't have one) that no such offer was tendered by Microsoft.

Assuming, for the sake of the discussion, that this was indeed the case, then the copyright holder of the code being infringed (so far unidentified) could indeed have cause to complain about a violation—since the copyright holder is the only one in a position to actually do anything about it—but it would be difficult for him-or-her to start complaining after the sources had been published and submitted, and the code was brought into compliance with the license's terms.

Which seems to be exactly what Bradley's doing, albeit at second hand. Usually this sort of rhetoric gets saved for when the SFLC files an actual suit, but it's being dragged out here when such action was avoided, thanks to Microsoft's deciding in this instance to play by the rules. That the SFLC is doing this strikes me as either grandstanding or ambulance-chasing after the case has already been settled out of court. My comments about "sore winners" still stand.


directhex has pointed out that what Microsoft evidently did in the Hyper-V drivers is to have a GPL-licensed driver shim, which pulled in a hitherto-proprietary binary blob at boot time, no different than what Nvidia and ATI do with their drivers. About which no one is screaming "Violation! Violation!", even though neither Nvidia nor ATI appear to have corrected those situations...

Which of these things is not like the others...? This seems to be some sort of a trick question...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Linus on Extremism

I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.
—Linus Torvalds (as quoted in Linux Magazine)

[Über-thanks to Jeffrey Stedman and Jo Shields for turning up this quote!]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Real FLOSS Community and the "Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists"

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!
—Peter Finch as "Howard Beale" in Network

I've written about my adventures with Roy Schestowitz and the fun folks over at Boycott Novell, and I've been the happy recipient of much interesting mail over the last few weeks, as well as the subject of a number of blog postings and articles, some more flattering than others, and the experience has caused a bit of an epiphany.

I've come to realize that our community and the people in it, are under attack. We are being disrupted, we are being defamed, we are being lied to, and, in some instances, we are even having our lives invaded.

More importantly, I feel as though I've started to see a consistent thread running through these attacks, invasions and disruptions. This attack comes not from Microsoft, but from a parasitical pseudo-"community" that attempts to pretend it's actually our community.

What I am seeing is people making a pretense of involvement in FLOSS and in our community, people who we don't actually know, people who never join us at conferences, don't work in projects, and only participate in mailing lists to instigate flame wars. I am seeing people who seem to be making a sort of religion out of "free software" and issuing their demands to the rest of us to do things their way. These are people who will excoriate you as something less than a "true GNU/Linux user" if you should touch a Macintosh or (heaven forbid!) a Windows box. These are folks who will berate you for buying a piece of software or owning an iPod. These are people who will classify you as a "freedom hater" if you express reservations about the GPL v3.

As I've said, our community thrives on disagreement, and we (mostly) deal with it in healthy ways. We reject uniformity of opinion and we always have. In stark contrast, this pretense "community" insists that their way is the One True Way, and we should all just shut up, learn the catechism, and do their bidding.

I've come to think of these people over the past several days as the "Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists".

By way of a concrete example, I offer this email thread, from the ubuntu-devel list around the beginning of June.

It shows "Mark Fink" (a regular anti-Mono "advocate" who, as you will see, constantly points back to Boycott Novell and praises Roy Schestowitz, and who you may remember from that previous posting), asserting (without particular evidence) that there is "shameful censoring of mono [sic] opposition" going on, demanding that Mono (and consequently F-Stop and Tomboy) be removed from the Ubuntu default install, and further demanding that Jo Shields be removed from his involvement in Ubuntu and David Siegel be fired from Canonical, with much vituperation and insult directed at list members who attempt to help him see reason along the way.

"Mark Fink" and "Remco"--who comes in a bit later in the thread, and starts off seeming semi-reasonable, only to go progressively deeper off the deep end as things proceed--represent the "faux FLOSS fundamentalists" here.

Everybody else on the thread represents the "real FLOSS community", as do the vast majority of the hundreds, if not thousands, of subscribers to that list who didn't comment. Most of us on the thread know, or are at least aware, of one another; none of us has much of a clue who Remco and Mr. Fink are.

I appear, in increasingly testy form, a few times. The messages without line wrapping were actually posted from the countryside of Western Japan, where--as I mention--I was doing a Buddhist pilgrimage and posting from my iPhone.

Scott James Remnant asks "Remco" an intriguing question at one point, and maybe Mr. Schestowitz and Mr. Varghese would like to tackle this, too, sometime: if they're all so concerned about the presence of patents which Microsoft claims to both hold and actively enforce getting into their free software, why haven't they started a discussion about removing the Linux kernel from the default Ubuntu install?

I say enough is enough. We should put our collective feet down as far as strident demands from complete non-participants in the community go. We should say "no" to Faux FLOSS Fundamentalism, and people like Roy Schestowitz, Sam Varghese, "Penguin Pete", "Jason" of mono-nono, and the like, as well as the assortment of associated and sympathetic trolls who post endless anonymous comments to blog postings they dislike and start up flame wars on development lists.

The Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists have nothing to offer the community but their propaganda, their dogma, and their misplaced sense of entitlement. We need to reject those who demand that we all sign up for "Freedom the Way We Tell You To" and I think we need to make it clear to them that they need to either actually start participating in a meaningful way or simply stop "advocating" at us.

Plain old "freedom" is good enough for me.


I begin to detect a trend amongst the comments. People, let's get some clarity on one specific point.

I am not calling Richard Stallman a "faux FLOSS Fundamentalist" here. His name appears nowhere in this post, and, believe me, if I had meant it to, it would have.

Mr. Stallman has some other issues, as far as I'm concerned: poor judgment, a lack of willingness to even try to understand the point of view of others, a very peculiar inability to either acknowledge or see references to women (and I don't understand this at all, frankly) and a lack of good sense as far as how what he says will be understood, on a personal and emotional level, by the people to whom he says it.

Mr. Stallman wrote the GPL and the LGPL, and those have been valuable and important assets for the community. (The offer not good for GPL/LGPL v3, at least not yet.) No one can, or should dispute that.

Mr. Stallman has contributed a lot of excellent code in his time, and there's no way any one can dispute that.

Mr. Stallman did a lot of the seminal thinking around FLOSS (but he's not the only one who did. Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens and many others contributed their thoughts and ideas as well.)

Are we all straight on that? Mr. Stallman has unquestionably contributed, and participated, and I'm not referring to him, neither directly nor obliquely, neither implicitly nor inferentially.

So: I do not include Mr. Stallman among the ranks of the "Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists". His taste in humor aside, he does not make a hobby of disrupting the community to get his way.

That said, when Mr. Stallman insists that I must call not call it "Linux", but "GNU/Linux instead, I must disagree. When Mr. Stallman insists that I must not call what we work with "open source" software rather than "free" software, I must disagree. When Mr. Stallman insists that I must not own an iPod, I must disagree. In general, when Mr. Stallman insists that I must do something contrary to common practice or the dictates of my own conscience, reason or will, I must disagree. (And if I ever happen to wind up out at a group dinner with Richard Stallman--an event which seems increasingly unlikely with each passing hour, and I'm really okay with that--and he attempts to order on my behalf, trust me, I'm going to disagree.)

Because that's not freedom. That's "do what Richard Stallman says," and that's the direct converse of freedom. I do note that many of the symptoms of the faux FLOSS Fundies seem to manifest as a sort of a "free software religion", where the most extreme end of the wide spectrum of views in the free, libre and open source software community (GPL v3 only! Microsoft is our sworn enemy! The Hyper-V drivers are a plot!) is taken as the only legitimate view, as gospel.

Freedom always wins in the end because it simply can't be gotten rid of: no one can tell you how, or what, to think.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Really Didn't Want To Be Writing About This Again

mdz posted on the backlash to my blog posting (he had to close comments, inhibit the Nameless and turn on moderation as well), and dissected a lot of examples, but there's a new and (I think) rather pernicious one: the thesis is basically as follows:

"In spite of his repeated denials that he has a strong opinion one way of the other on Mono, Lefty is really a secret Mono advocate, and is leading a witch hunt against Stallman over a harmless little joke that he's told for the past decade, but it's really all about Mono."

First, let's get the harmless little joke stuff out of the way. Chani (who is a woman and who was present, so let's get that out of the way, too) posted an extremely eloquent comment on her blog:
talking about relieving women of their virginity casts women in a submissive role, with men in a dominant role, and brings up thoughts of oppression and (indirectly) rape. (yes, thinking about a roomful of guys thinking about taking womens’ virginity does eventually lead me to wondering how many of them would take it by force.) it becomes less about the non-sexual meaning of “virgin” and more about all the crazy ideas societies have had about virgin women. and thinking about that stuff would make any woman uncomfortable.
Yes. This.

Does anyone not get that? If so, speak up: I want to know who you are because I find you very frightening.

Now, as to the thesis detailed above. I've been clear about my opinions on Mono. If I had a serious gripe with Stallman's position, and I cared enough to do something about it, I'd post a blog entry like Dave Neary did. The fact is my feelings just aren't that strong.

By way of full disclosure, I know a lot of people on the Mono team, including Miguel de Icaza, and I like them. They are not demons, and they are not "Microsoft shills". Treating them as though they were and calling them names will not score you points in the community.

I know a lot of people working on Mono projects, and they're doing what I believe to be excellent work.

Now, I believe that anyone who's serious about "getting Mono out of the default Ubuntu install" should run for a seat on the UTB, and nominations are open until the end of the month. I guess we'll see if Roy Schestowitz puts his hat in the ring. If you want to change things, you get involved and put yourself in a position to change them.

What you don't do is defame people over the issue, or interfere with their lives. That's my gripe with Roy and his miserable excuse for a "journalistic" web site, not Mono.

Does anyone not get that?

Now, when you say "it's really got to be about Mono", you're effectively saying, "It's not actually possible that people could really get upset over something like sexism in the community. There has to be a better reason."

I came across a study which showed that, among incoming first-year college students, around half of the men favored the possibility of programming computers as a career and something like 20% of the women did. Men associated computer science with making a bunch of money, women associated it with typing and boredom. (Men were generally more interested in money, and women were generally more interested in job satisfaction.)

Assuming that half of that one out of five women, i.e. 10% actually end up studying computer science, only one out of five of them actually end up working in the FLOSS community. It seems to me that there's something wrong there. I say that a bunch of what's wrong is a climate where we tolerate (and laugh at, and dismiss concerns about, and divert discussion of) presentations like the ones given at GoGaRuCo and Flashbelt, and "harmless little jokes" like Stallman's.

Consider that.

Consider what Chani's said.

Now, tell me "It's really all about Mono."

Some other postings which relate to this.

Matthew Garrett, RMS and Virgins
Dave Neary, Gran Canaria Wrap-up Day 1
Kirrily Robert, Richard Stallman, Feminist Ally
Geek Feminism Wiki, EMACS Virgin Joke

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I think mdz makes some interesting points here.

I played Kirrily Robert's "Porny Presentation Bingo" with the comments on my email exchange with Richard Stallman. I think I've won something.

In addition, I'm starting to get not only outright anonymous trolling, completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, but--at least as bad--I'm starting to get link pimps:
Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you! Increasing your web traffic and page views Add [DELETED], add your website in [DELETED] site, it's pretty awesome too!
So. No more Anonymous Cowards. Moderation is on until I decide to take it off. Sorry For The Inconvenience.

So. Have a name. Be on-topic. Don't advertise here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Let's All Say It Together.

STOP sexism by Casey West. License:

"I want the [...] open source [...] communities [I participate in] to be a dignified, respectful, inclusive, and welcoming place. … We’ve all been witnesses to off-color jokes, misogynistic back channel chatter, questionable imagery and unnecessary, trolling comments. I pledge to do better to stand up and call this behavior out when I see it in conferences, online and other public settings. I don’t expect it to go away but I’m not going to tacitly condone it any longer."

(And thanks to Luis Villa for the pointer...)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Me, Neither

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Emailing Richard Stallman

I emailed Richard Stallman at the encouragement of a couple of friends here in order to get my concerns in front of him, and hopefully, to get a response. The entire exchange pretty much speaks for itself, I'd say, so I'll simply reproduce it in full here.

My initial email:
Dear Dr. Stallman:

I was in the audience during your keynote at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit, and I was perplexed and distressed by a few things.

The lesser of these was your tendency to shout over questioners while they were in mid-question, and to dismiss their questions as “silly”. However, this is not what I’m mainly concerned about.

The more significant problem was your comments regarding “EMAC virgins”, which you defined as being specifically “_women_ who had never used EMACS”, and for whom being “relieved” of this “virginity” was a “holy duty”. My reaction, and the reaction of a large number of members of the audience with whom I’ve spoken was one of great dismay.

Your remarks gave the distinct impression that you view women as being in particular need of technical assistance (presumably by men, since there's apparently no such thing as a _male_ "EMACS virgin"); additionally, women are quite capable of making their own decisions about who might relieve them of whatever sort of “virginity”. I (and many others) viewed these remarks as denigrating and demeaning to women, as well as completely out of place at what is, in essence, a technical conference.

As a member of the GNOME Foundation Advisory Board, I engage in regular discussions about the relatively small number of women involved in open source. I feel that it is thoughtless comments like your remarks on “EMACS virgins” which contribute, quite heavily, to this situation. Given your position with respect to the free software community, I feel you did your audience a great disservice. If those remarks were intended as a joke, the joke was, frankly, not at all a funny one. I’d strongly encourage you to refrain from such comments in the future.

I also think you may find it worth considering that there are active and important members of the free software community who consider themselves Christians—I’d cite Michael Meeks as just one example. While no one insists that you agree with or subscribe to a particular religion, people are every bit as entitled to their own beliefs as you are to your lack of them, and I thought it likewise inappropriate to take keynote time to create a situation in which you marginalize members of the community by mocking Christianity. Again, this is a technical conference.

I personally feel as though you owe your audience, and in particular the women attending the conference, an apology. The remarks came across as thoughtless, inconsiderate and sexist--again, this is not simply my own opinion, but one which I’ve heard echoed, over and over, in my discussions with others who were present at the time. I would imagine that this was not your intention, but it was indeed the reaction of many members of the audience.

I hope you will take this letter in the spirit in which it’s intended. I’ll look forward to your response.


David “Lefty” Schlesinger
Dr. Stallman's reply:

The Cult of the Virgin of Emacs, like the rest of the Church of Emacs, is meant to poke fun at religion and at myself. I think that you and some others have misunderstood it.

>While no one insists that you agree with or subscribe to
> a particular religion, people are every bit as entitled to
> their own beliefs as you are to your lack of them,

Yes, they are. Are you accusing me of wishing to deny them these rights? If so, you do me wrong. I defend religious freedom as strongly as anyone.

However, freedom of religion the freedom to criticize religious views. No human views are off limits to criticism, or joking. People have a right to criticize religion directly, or to ridicule it harshly.

However, St IGNUcius does neither of those; at most it makes gentle fun of religion, tangentially. There is no reason for religious people to take offense at that. I have presented St IGNUcius with Catholic priests in the audience, and it did not offend them.

>I personally feel as though you owe your audience,
>and in particular the women attending the conference,
>an apology. The remarks came across as thoughtless,
>inconsiderate and sexist--again, this is not simply my
>own opinion, but one which I've heard echoed, over and
>over, in my discussions with others who were present at the time.

I do not believe I owe anyone an apology. I did not insult or attack them, but it is clear some people are attacking me. I think I am being criticized unjustly criticized, and I feel I have been wronged.

I am concerned about this reported hostile reaction. But I am not sure what to make of it, since it goes against nearly all the rest of my experience. I have had very few negative reactions to St IGNUcius in the past; the only one I can remember was from someone who was hostile to begin with. So this seems like an anomalous case. I don't understand why it happened.

You said that you "heard it echoed, over and over", but how many people actually had this reaction? Maybe it was a few people who started a lot of conversations.
My second email:
Dear Dr. Stallman:

I'm honestly a little surprised--amazed, really--that you managed to completely ignore the three central paragraphs which I identified as being the core of my concerns, choosing instead to focus on the side issue of the anti-religious bent of your "St. IGNUcius" routine.

Let me reiterate, without the distractions:

> The more significant problem was your comments
> regarding “EMAC virgins”, which you defined as being
> specifically “_women_ who had never used EMACS”,
> and for whom being “relieved” of this “virginity” was a “holy
> duty”. My reaction, and the reaction of a large number of
> members of the audience with whom I’ve spoken was
> one of great dismay.
> Your remarks gave the distinct impression that you view
> women as being in particular need of technical assistance
> (presumably by men, since there's apparently no such
> thing as a _male_ "EMACS virgin"); additionally, women
> are quite capable of making their own decisions about
> who might relieve them of whatever sort of “virginity”. I
> (and many others) viewed these remarks as denigrating
> and demeaning to women, as well as completely out
> of place at what is, in essence, a technical conference.
> As a member of the GNOME Foundation Advisory
> Board, I engage in regular discussions about the relatively
> small number of women involved in open source. I feel
> that it is thoughtless comments like your remarks on
> “EMACS virgins” which contribute, quite heavily, to this
> situation. Given your position with respect to the free
> software community, I feel you did your audience a great
> disservice. If those remarks were intended as a joke, the
> joke was, frankly, not at all a funny one. I’d strongly
> encourage you to refrain from such comments in the future.

Perhaps you can respond to _these_ concerns rather than the more tangential ones.

> I am concerned about this reported hostile reaction.

I would hope so.

> But I am not sure what to make of it, since it goes
> against nearly all the rest of my experience. I have
> had very few negative reactions to St IGNUcius
> in the past; the only one I can remember was from
> someone who was hostile to begin with. So this seems
> like an anomalous case. I don't understand why it
> happened.

I understand exactly why it "happened": as I said, your remarks were sexist, thoughtless, dismissive and denigrating.

> You said that you "heard it echoed, over and over",
> but how many people actually had this reaction?
> Maybe it was a few people who started a lot of
> conversations.

I would estimate that I've spoken to well in excess of a hundred people at the conference about this; most of them initiated the conversation with me, rather than the other way around. The virtually universal reaction has been exactly what I described to you: dismay, unhappiness and concern over the view of women which your idea of "gentle fun" implied.

Again, you did your audience a serious disservice with these remarks. I stand by my statement that you owe all of us an apology.


David "Lefty" Schlesinger
Dr. Stallman's reply:
> I'm honestly a little surprised--amazed, really--that
> you managed to completely ignore the three central
> paragraphs which I identified as being the core of my
> concerns, choosing instead to focus on the side issue of
> the anti-religious bent of your "St. IGNUcius" routine.

I did respond to the other points, just more briefly.

>> The remarks came across as thoughtless, inconsiderate
>> and sexist--again, this is not simply my own opinion, but
>> one which I've heard echoed...
> I do not believe I owe anyone an apology. I did not insult or
> attack them, but it is clear some people are attacking me....

Thus, I think your criticism of my response is inaccurate. However, my response naturally reflected my own priorities.

> Your remarks gave the distinct impression that you
> view women as being in particular need of technical
> assistance (presumably by men, since there's
> apparently no such thing as a _male_ "EMACS virgin");
> additionally, women are quite capable of making their
> own decisions about who might relieve them of whatever
> sort of "virginity". I (and many others) viewed these
> remarks as denigrating and demeaning to women,

The cult of the Virgin of Emacs is simply intended as a joke about the cult of the Virgin Mary. I assure anyone who perceived derogatory meanings in it that I did not intend them.
Wow. Just wow. In anyone can find the point in his first message where he responded, "albeit more briefly", to the issue I raised, can you point it out to me? I sure don't see it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Good GCDS Beginning (with a significant disappointment)

[UPDATE: I've had an email exchange with Richard Stallman over this. I found it...less than satisfying.]

Well, I'm in Gran Canaria for the first combined GUADEC/AKaDEmy Desktop Summit, and it's great to be here (although quite hot and humid). Last night, things got started with a very nice party sponsored by our friends at Canonical, excellent turnout! I bailed at midnight (although apparently some stayed until 3:00 am), but not before I saw a number of my friends, which was great.

Things kicked off this morning with a welcome from the local government (I'm taking part in a breakfast with them to discuss open source this coming Monday), followed by an excellent keynote, mostly on how the classical liberal arts related to free software (or "liberal software" as he called it) by Richard "r0ml" Lefowitz. Walter Bender talked about TurtleArt, and was followed by a keynote I found quite disappointing from Richard Stallman.

It got off to a bad start when the organizers had to call a break so they could locate Richard--that shows great disrespect for the audience, I'd say. This was only made worse by Richard's observation, a few minutes into his talk, that "there were a lot of people still coming in" and that he should, perhaps, start over again. (They would have already been there if you'd been there when you were supposed to be, Richard.)

The talk started out with a rehash of open source history--much of which is, I'm certain, quite well-known to the audience, and then lapsed into a fairly undirected rant about C# and how no one should be using it (with a completely incomprehensible comment that it was "good" that there were free C# implementations... huh?), before Richard donned his "Saint Ignotius" get-up. For me, things went rapidly and drastically downhill from that point.

The nadir for me was Richard's explanation of "EMACS virgins" as "women who had not been introduced to EMACS" along with the advice that "relieving them of their virginity" was some sort of sacred duty for members of "The Church of EMACS".

What the hell is that, Richard? If it was intended to be humorous, it only reached the point of being offensive. We talk about how we can work better to involve more women in a meaningful way in open source development--where they're clearly under-represented--but this sort of nonsense, stuff which would have been preposterous even ten or twenty years ago, can only work to drive women away from such involvement.

Richard certainly provided a valuable service with some of the first open source efforts, and the first free software license, but that doesn't give him, as far as I'm concerned, a free ride to regale audiences with his evidently mediæval views about women. I was very unhappy with his keynote for a number of reasons--something that was probably reflected in my questions--but the question I really wish I'd asked is the following.

Haven't we gotten past the point where we need to view women as a) technically incompetent, and in need of "us guys" to explain this stuff to them, and b) as objects to be "relieved" (presumably by "us guys") of whatever sort of virginity? If we want to encourage greater participation from women in open source efforts, do you really believe that sort of blatantly condescending, sexist, outdated nonsense is the way to go about it?

I honestly thought it was shameful.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Zeal Becomes Zealotry: A Tawdry Tale

I love zeal. Zeal is enthusiasm, it's zest, it's drive, it's initiative. Zeal builds communities. Unfortunately, in some individuals, zeal turns to zealotry, and zealotry does just the opposite. This a long posting, but it provides an excellent example of what I'm talking about, and I hope you'll take the time to read it.

I've been on sabbatical in Japan for the past two weeks, with one of them spent wandering the countryside of Shikoku, in Western Japan across the Inland Sea from Osaka and Kyoto, visiting Buddhist temples, wandering through bamboo forests, documenting things on-the-fly from my cellphone, when service was available.

Sadly, my Buddhistic mellow was harshed by my inbox filling with a lot of nonsense thanks to a moronic flamewar which broke out on the ubuntu-devel list, instigated by one Mark Fink, who has a serious hate on for Mono and anything associated with it.

We've seen Mark before, more than a year ago, similarly stirring up the GNOME desktop-devel list. At that point, he was planning to write "a replacement for Tomboy" because "because Tomboy is poisoning GNOME distributions like Red Hat and Ubuntu with it's Microsoft patented MONO dependency crap". In support of his position, he pointed to articles on Roy Schestowitz's site, Roy seems to have a similar dislike for Mono, although I have to say he's a lot more careful in his phrasing of things.

This time, Mark took things up several notches, with a posting to ubuntu-devel titled, "shameful censoring of mono opposition"; in it, he essentially complains that the moderators of the Ubuntu Forums and the maintainers of Ubuntu are all corrupt for not simply agreeing to pull Mono out, as a few people have demanded. He went further and expressed outrage than Canaonical would hire Dave Siegel. None of which really has anything to do with the list.

It was a pretty pointless message, again referencing, and it got the expected reaction. Mark continued to escalate things even further, claiming that "the MONO camp has infiltrated canonical", and that people were "slandering roy schestowitz", Mark roundlt abused Miguel de Icaza, accusing him of "worship[ing] M$", of only starting GNOME because "because he couldn't get hired by M$" and of "splitting the Linux community", before going on to suggest that someone who expressed rational disagreement with this nonsense was a "typical M$ appologist [sic]", that "only stupid people who can't think for themselves fawn over MONO and follow it like a religion", that the forum moderators were "novell employees (or people who drink they're [sic] koolaid)", and so on.

None of this is unusual, we've all seen the September Effect, we've all seen dopey flame wars over silly points; what is a little unusual is what happened next.

As I said, I've been on sabbatical, and accordingly, I had an autorespond message up advising people that if they had a matter that required an immediate response, they should contact my manager, with his email address. After I expressed some unhappiness with Mark's attempts to stir up things, mostly in terms of having to plow through pointless emails on my phone from Japan at rather high international data roaming rates, my manager received some exceedingly odd email.

Most people have enough good sense not to resort to this sort of transparent attempt at intimidation, and my manager is smart enough not to take that sort of thing with much seriousness. I mentioned on the list that this was happening and that I thought it, while laughable, entirely out of line. There was general agreement, some of it in much stronger terms, but Mark's response was "no wonder you got reported to your boss, david. you are not very resptful [sic] of your users and customers." Some folks expressed (reasonable) outrage at this, but the reaction which really disturbed me was that a number of people began to post under pseudonyms for fear of finding themselves on the receiving end this kind of cheap attack at them and their livelihoods.

This sort of "chilling effect", in my view, can be a community killer. The open source model thrives on disagreement, and it lives on reputation. If people are afraid to disagree, and if they can't maintain reputation out of fear of off-list attacks, where are we?

But wait. It gets worse.

As I noted, Mark consistently points back to, trumpeting the cause espoused there by Roy Schestowitz, and in fact demanding at one point that Roy be made a moderator of ubuntu-devel to ensure "fairness". Mark gives every impression of being closely associated with Roy's cause and site.

I expressed some dismay over these shenanigans in comments over on Roy was contrite, but equivocally so, I felt. He claimed he'd never heard of Mark Fink before that very day. He apologized, but refused to post a specific disclaimer about the site not being associated with Mr. Fink or his actions.

Then things got really weird. I got a private message from Mark Fink, claiming that he was scared that he'd gotten in over his head, and that Roy had in fact put him up to the whole thing. He included as evidence a digitally signed message from Roy--and I've verified the signature as being authentic--in which Roy tells Mark the following:

Hash: SHA1
Hi Roy,

I'm sorry. it just makes me so mad when people are pro-MONO. also it
was not me who tried to get david fired so its unfair that they are
pinning it on me.

I liked what you do, but try to distance yourself from the site to give
it credibility. Make it look like a personal gripe while the site keeps
it polite.

- --
~~ Best of wishes

Roy S. Schestowitz | GNU/Linux | PGP-Key: 0x74572E8E
Freelance journalist @
Editor @
GPL-licensed 3-D Othello @
Open Source, non-profit search engine proposal @
Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (GNU/Linux)

The signature checks, this message is definitely authentically from Roy. The tone doesn't strike me as someone who's talking to someone who's done something he thinks is damaging to his cause, just the contrary. Nor does he express displeasure with Mark's actions, but outright approval, only a wish that a "credibly deniable" sort of distance be kept.

Now, I grew up in a family of lawyers, and I learned that there's no such thing as facts, only evidence. And--even though if Mark were to tell me that he had five fingers on his right hand and an ear on each side of his head, I'd want to verify it visually, in person--this seems like pretty clear evidence to me that Roy is at least supportive of, if not the driving force behind, this sort of cheap attack on someone who disagrees with him, but doesn't want to be tarred by the backlash.

This is the kind of zealotry I mentioned at the outset: the kind that places a "cause" above the real lives of real people. Zealots will try to get you fired; if they consider their "cause" important enough (i.e. more important than you are), they'll do even worse if they can. That kind of thing can only destroy community, it can't build it or sustain it.

Now, Roy's claimed privately that he had nothing to do with any of this, and after I asked him to explain this email, he (finally) posted something disassociating Mark Fink from any connection with his site. I frankly find this hard to believe, and for one simple reason.

I'm sure Roy considers to be an "important" web site. Its traffic rank on Alexa is in the neighborhood of 55,000 over the past three months. I've got a site that isn't anywhere near the top 100,000, and I certainly track where traffic comes from pretty assiduously. It beggars my imagination to think that Roy has absolutely no idea where his traffic is coming from; Mark's messages to ubuntu-devel (and his prior messages to desktop-devel), which included regular references to, must have driven some fairly significant amount of traffic there.

So, my conclusion is that Roy is either a complete idiot or is being, shall we say, less than candid with me about not ever having heard of Mark, as the email I received also clearly suggests. The tone of Roy's email doesn't strike me as someone who's talking to someone he a) doesn't know and is b) unhappy with. It sounds like someone working behind the scenes with someone he knows rather well. As I say, no facts, only evidence, and based on the evidence, the good news for Roy is that I don't think he's a complete idiot.

If you don't like Mono, don't use it, and if you don't like the fact that a distribution includes Mono, find another distribution. But don't take the position Mark and Roy and their friends are staking out, that someone who disagrees with you is fair game for victimization: that goes against everything that community means. When you start attempting to disrupt people's lives over a disagreement regarding a piece of software, you've lost all sense of perspective, integrity and rationality. You've set yourself in opposition to actual community.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts."*

In response to my most recent posting, "Shivan" writes,
yadda yadda
look at the middleware, between "Database" and "Multimedia Framework".
There, you got it, I'm out.
What Shivan is slyly referring to here is the box labeled "DRM Framework", and he's evidently expressing his displeasure that such a thing might be included as part of a cell phone platform. I initially began to respond in a comment, but ultimately decided that this deserved a posting all of its own.

Shivan is well within his rights to "opt out" of anything which includes DRM in it, but I'm afraid it's likely to limit his activities a little. The fact is that—to the very best of my knowledge, anyway—there isn't a mobile network operator on the planet which doesn't mandate the inclusion of at least some form of DRM in every single phone it provides. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a phone which doesn't include some form of DRM, "OMA Type 1" at the very least. And as much as I hate to be the one to tell you this, Android has DRM. Qtopia has DRM.

So Shivan is (unless he gets, perhaps, an OpenMoko phone and a long extension cord) going to have to do without a cell phone. He's likewise going to have to do without any MP3 player that supports protected AAC, WMA, and other DRM-enabled media. I'm pretty sure that excludes the bulk of the devices out there, so he's going to have to probably listen to his music (FLAC encoded? Better get a big hard disk, too...) on his laptop (and another extension cord, maybe).

(Oh, and for sure don't ever watch any DVDs!)

One nice thing about having been around as long as I have is that I'm a pragmatist. Another nice thing about it is that I understand very well that half a loaf is better than none, and ninety-nine one-hundredths of a loaf is even better than that.

It's not a perfect world, Shivan. I don't like DRM, so I don't use it—most of my music was ripped (to MP3s, sorry, even with a 160GB iPod, I've got a lot of music) from my CD collection and the rest was purchased as downloads (without DRM) from Amazon. With one exception, which I did as an experiment, I've never bought protected media from the iTunes Store, or much of anything else. So DRM never impacts me. But I'm realistic enough to understand that it's going to be there, in at least some metaphysical sense, for the foreseeable future, and I get on with life.

When the MNOs decide there's no need for DRM, cell phone platforms will stop including it. That'll be fine by me. In the meantime, I don't see that I'm improving my life by refusing to use a cell phone until they do. Your Mileage May Vary. Sorry For The Incovenience.

* Brian Glover as "Harold Andrews" in Alien3

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The New Walled Gardens

(This post was originally published on the LiMo Foundation blog...)

Consumers’ first exposure to the internet came via walled gardens for most people: America Online, Prodigy and Compuserve all offered a degree of access to the network, but at the cost of a variety of limitations to access and a great deal of control. In time, those walled gardens withered away, replaced by unmediated access. Similarly, mobile data services have, for years, been similar walled gardens, and in the same way, those efforts to “rope in” users are becoming untenable. Today, we see other walled gardens springing up as the old ones wither away.

The new walled gardens are different, however: they’re about the ability to write software for, and to add software to, devices that are much more capable than older cell phones (and even many of the computers we used when we were using AOL to get to the network). The walls around these gardens are defined by programming models, by application distribution (and the policies around it) and most importantly, by platforms.

Apple’s iTunes App Store, and the entire ecosystem associated with the iPhone, is an excellent example of one of these new gardens. The walls consist of an idiosyncratic programming model, one which uses non-standard languages and its own set of programming paradigms, as well as the store itself. Writing an application for the iPhone involves an investment in learning how to program for the device in Objective C—knowledge which is non-transferable to other contexts—as well as a fairly large “leap of faith” that Apple will actually accept the application and place it in the App Store for distribution.

Android, similarly, attempts to lock in developers via similar means. Applications for Android can only be written in Java, and not even standard Java, and must be created to fit within the Android application framework. Again, this involves a fairly steep learning curve, and the learning is essentially unusable anywhere other than in the context of Android.

What’s the attraction for these platform purveyors? Mostly—as with the early attempts at facilitiating internet access—it’s an attempt at a mechanism of control: control of the users, but this time at second-hand. Control is exerted via the development community associated with the device, and the expectation is that the availability of applications on a given platform (and their presumed unavailablity on others) will act as an incentive to coax users to stay with the device they have.

Experience shows that these efforts are generally failures. AOL and the like had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the point of allowing unmediated access to the net as opposed to their little Disneyland-ified portion of it. People want freedom, and people don’t like to have stumbling blocks put in their path. Developers, on the other hand, want to write programs the way that they’re used to doing, and they want their work to be as widely available as it can be. Both of these factors conspire against the success over time of the current batch of walled gardens.

We can see some of this beginning to happen in the area of MID devices: mainstream Linux is getting to be a popular choice there, and there are increasingly impressive efforts to adapt the basic Linux desktop user experience to these smaller devices. There’s a well understood programming model for these devices—it’s the same model used on the Linux desktop and on pretty much all devices based on mainstream Linux distros. This is the same programming model that will be exposed on the next wave of
“open phones” coming from LiMo Foundation members.

This is a core difference between the efforts of organizations like LiMo and others: LiMo is not reinventing a new wheel in order to “lock in” developers—and by extension users—to a particular device. The programming model, architecture and components used in a phone based on LiMo platform software is largely identical—in the open source portions, certainly—with any Linux-based desktop. Programs are developed and tested in the same ways, and programmers aren’t asked to face a learning curve that only enables them to program for a single device.

One answer, and one which will be popular in some areas, is the idea of web-based applications, using Ruby or AJAX or any of the various “Web 2.0” development models. This is attractive in that there’s a lot less risk of being locked into a single platform but again it comes at a cost: not all applications can be readily adapted to running out “in the cloud”, and not all should. But in the meantime, efforts like BONDI, etc., offer some short term relief for at least a class of developers.

In a free market, “open” generally wins over “closed” in time. Closed systems—and a walled garden is simply a somewhat larger “closed system”--ultimately frustrate both their developers and their users: the developers because they can’t do what they want, whether because they’re trammeled by programming models of by distribution models, and the users because they find they can’t get access to the programs and facilities that they want. Open will eventually win over closed in the mobile development marketplace and for the same reasons: people won’t stand for any more control exerted on them than they have to. And that goes for both developers as well as for end users.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Something for the Whiner (Actual GNOME Content!)

I presented at Open Source in Mobile USA in San Francisco last week on different approaches to mobile device development--pretty successfully, I guess, from the reaction, although maybe people were applauding because they were just happy that they were finally getting to go to lunch.

At any rate, one of the more interesting things I saw at OSiM was a selection of netbooks running to 1.0.1 version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix, courtesy of Canonical. On the strength of that, I ran over to the Best Buy in Capitola and picked up an HP Mini 1030NR for a little over $300. It came with "Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition for Ultra Low Cost PCs" (no kidding) pre-installed, and I booted XP exactly once before I slammed UNR into it. It works flawlessly: installation was smooth as silk, WiFi, Bluetooth, trackpad, etc., all work perfectly, no tweaking needed. It's a pretty impressive device, given the price, and--for the part of my day that consists of email and web stuff, i.e. a fair amount of it--it's just fine. I guess if I had an immediate critique it's that the "remix" seems to mainly consist of a different desktop launcher and a patch that maximizes all app windows and changes the tab structure. I'm going to give it a few weeks and a fuller review; I also plan to try the Moblin v2 alpha on it as well, and will report back on that, too.

Netbooks are an interesting kind of interim device; I suspect that they may be displaced by actual "mobile internet device"-style tablets as time goes on, but I guess we'll see. It's definitely a very handy sort of a device to have when I travel, I expect, and I may well leave the MacBook at home on my upcoming trip to London, but we'll see...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Notebook Pr0n

Having spent a year or three experimenting with digitally capturing stuff that would ordinarily be handwritten (on Newtons, via Graffiti on various Garnet OS devices, on various Windows Tablet PCs, etc.), I've always come back to the conclusion that paper and writing implements have been around for millennia because they just work. Digital devices (for capture, as opposed to retention and access) still don't really have it over paper, in my book (so to speak).

I mentioned recently that I'd come across an interesting organizer system from Germany called an "X47". I managed to suffer through the web site's German-only, excruciatingly slow back-end and ordered some stuff from them, which finally arrived this last Monday. In short, it's fabulous stuff.

I got an A6-sized leather notebook, and a number of different inserts. What's unique about this system is that, rather than using a ring binding, this uses a system where the binder has three pairs of pins, one of which is spring-loaded:

The inserts, which come in a variety of styles, have a metal tube stapled into the spine, which fits into the pins:

This arrangement has several happy side-effects: the amount of available writing space is increased to the full page, since there aren't rings and holes taking up space, the width of the spine is reduced to a minimum, and you can use the page opposite your writing hand without having rings in the way. The variety of insert types encourages you to design your own organizer: I've got a one-day-per-page insert for my calendar, a "databank" insert (12 tabbed 6-page sections, good for collecting project-related "next steps"), and a lined insert (which I use for my "Autofocus" list).

Apparently, it's possible to buy this stuff retail in Amsterdam, so I'll be checking that out toward the end of next month while I'm there for a meeting sponsored by FSF-Europe. It's not cheap, but it's really well-made and the design is incredible. The same company makes a more inexpensive line, the X17, which uses rubber bands looped over the spine rather than the pin-and-tube arrangement of the X47.

The system comes in three sizes, A5 (too big), A7 (too small) and A6 (just right!) The A6 binder I got fits quite nicely in the back pocket of a pair of Levi's and has two ribbon markers as well as a number of business-card-sized pockets.

Every once in a while, you come across something that's just perfectly conceived and executed. This product gets my vote.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"It Never Ends!"

I gave a presentation at eComm on "Governance for Mobile OSs" this past week, I think the audience enjoyed it, especially after the droning quality and inability to finish within the timespan allotted shown by some of the previous presentations. One of the issues I pointed out was that developers face, particularly in developing for the iPhone, huge uncertainties that they cannot resolve independently.

The biggest of these has to do with Apple's position as the unappealable gatekeeper for the store. Developers, as shown by quotes last week, are understandably concerned at "keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best" after having sunk considerable design and development time into their application, knowing full well that Apple can give them the "Thumbs-down" for any reason, or none at all, and that--having done so--they won't spare a second's effort to discuss it with them or even tell them what the issue is.

So (as I actually predicted some time ago), extra-curricular "iPhone App Stores" are springing up, according to a story reported initially by the Wall Street Journal. Apple's threatening to play the DMCA card to stop jailbreakers--although reports are that at least one of the non-Apple stores won't require a jailbroken iPhone to install apps--but it remains to be seen how that's likely to play out.

In a story from yesterday, iPhone developers are "tearing their hair out" over the growing delay in getting applications approved for the iPhone App store: the wait has gone from a matter of days to months, even for free applications. And, of course, Apple doesn't return calls. And, not surprisingly, "developers, who are increasingly being discouraged by a process that in many cases prevents them from getting their first real foothold in the App Store. Without clear signs that Apple is addressing the problem, companies and individuals alike are questioning whether they should continue to produce iPhone apps in the first place." (My emphasis)

Like I keep telling people, it's a big world, and "Who's winning the mobile space?" won't be decided for a good, long time. Situations like the one detailed about show the downside of Apple's store model. Developers are clearly looking for a platform that treats them better...