Source Escrow for Proprietary Software

British taxpayers are paying for extra support for Windows XP due to a lack of planning by the UK government [1]. While the cost of this is trivial compared to other government stupidity (such as starting wars of aggression) this sort of thing should be stopped.

The best way to solve such problems is for governments to only use free software. If the UK government used Red Hat Enterprise Linux then when Red Hat dropped support for old versions they would have the option of providing their own support for old versions, hiring any other company to support old versions, or paying Red Hat for supporting it. In that case the Red Hat offer would probably be quite reasonable as competition drives the prices down.

It doesn’t seem likely that the UK government will start using only free software in the near future. It’s not impossible to do so, there are organisations dedicated to this task such as Free-gov.org which aims to develop e-government software that is under GPL licenses [2]. The Wikipedia page List of Linux Adopters [3] has a large section on government use, while not all entries are positive (some have reverted) it shows that it’s possible to use Linux for all areas of government. But governments often move slowly and in the case of wealthy countries such as the UK it can be easier to just tax the citizens a little more than to go to the effort of saving money.

But when governments use proprietary software they shouldn’t be restricted in support. It seems that the only way to ensure that the government can do what it needs is to have a source escrow system. Then if the company that owned the software ceased supporting it anyone who wanted to offer support would be able to do so. This would probably require that software which is out of support be released to the public domain so that anyone who wanted to tender for such support work could first inspect the code to determine if they were capable of doing the work.

People who believe the myths about secret source software claim that allowing the source code to be released would damage the company that owns it. This has been proved incorrect by the occasions when source code for software such as MS-Windows has been released on the Internet with no apparent harm. Also Microsoft have a long history of licensing their source code to universities, governments, and other companies for various purposes (including porting Windows to other CPUs). It’s most likely that some part of the UK government already has the full source code to Windows XP, and it’s also quite likely that computer criminals have obtained copies of the source by now for the purpose of exploiting security flaws. Also they stop supporting software when they can’t make money from providing the usual support, so by definition the value to a company of the copyright is approaching zero by the time they decide to cease support.

Given the lack of success experienced by companies that specialise in security (for example the attack on RSA to steal the SecurID data [4]) it doesn’t seem plausible that Microsoft has had much success in keeping the source to Windows XP (or any other widely used product) secret over the course of 12 years.

In summary source code to major proprietary software products is probably available to criminals long before support expires and is of little value to the copyright owners. But access to it can provide value to governments and other users of the software.

The only possible down-side to the software vendor is if the new version doesn’t provide any benefits to the user. This could be a problem for Microsoft who seem to have the users hate every second version of Windows enough to pay extra for the old version. The solution is to just develop quality software that satisfies the needs of the users. Providing a legal incentive for this would be a good idea.

The Movie Experience

Phandroid has one of many articles about a man being detained for wearing Google Glass in a cinema [1]. The article states as a “fact” that “it’s probably not smart to bring a recording device into a movie theater” which is totally bogus. I’ve visited a government office where recording devices were prohibited, they provided a locker for me to store everything that could be used for electronic storage outside their main security zone, that’s what you do when you ban recording devices. Any place that doesn’t have such facilities really isn’t banning recording. The Gadgeteer has the original story with more detail with an update showing that the Department of Homeland Security were responsible for detaining the victim [2].

There are lots of issues here with DHS continuing to do nothing good and more bad things than most people suspect and with the music and film industry organisations attacking innocent people. But one thing that seems to be ignored is that movies are a recreational activity, so it’s an experience that they are selling not just a movie.

Any organisation that wants to make money out of movies really should be trying to make movies fun. The movie experience has always involved queuing, paying a lot of money for tickets ($20 per seat seems common), buying expensive drinks/snacks, and having to waste time on anti-piracy adverts. Now they are adding the risk of assault, false-arrest, and harassment under color of law to the down-sides of watching a movie. Downloading a movie via Bittorrent takes between 20 minutes and a few hours (depending on size and internet connectivity). Sometimes it can be quicker to download a movie than to drive to a cinema and if you are organising a group to watch a movie it will definitely be easier to download it. When you watch a movie at home you can pause it for a toilet break and consume alcoholic drinks while watching (I miss the Dutch cinemas where an intermission and a bar were standard features). It’s just a better experience to download a movie via Bittorrent. I’ve previously written about the way that downloading movies is better than buying a DVD [3], now they are making the cinema a worse experience too.

I sometimes wonder if groups like the MPAA are actually trying to make money from movies or whether they just want to oppress their audiences for fun or psychological research. I could imagine someone like the young Phillip Zimbardo working for the MPAA and doing experiments to determine how badly movie industry employees can treat their customers before the customers revolt.

Anyone who watches a Jack Ryan movie (or any movie with a Marty-Stu/Gary-Stu character) obviously doesn’t even want to experience the stress of an unhappy ending to a movie. It seems obvious that such people won’t want the stress of potentially being assaulted in the cinema.

In terms of economics it seems a bad idea to do anything about recording in the cinema. When I was 11 I was offered the opportunity to watch a movie that had been recorded by a video camera in the US before it was released in Australia, I wasn’t interested because watching a low quality recording wouldn’t be fun. It seems to me that if The Pirate Bay (the main site for Bittorrent downloads of movies) [4] was filled with awful camera recordings of movies then it would discourage people from using it. A quick search shows some camera recordings on The Pirate Bay, it seems that if you want to download a movie of reasonable quality then you have to read the Wikipedia page about Pirated Movie Release Types [5] to make sure that you get a good quality download. But if you buy a DVD in a store or visit a cinema then you are assured of image and sound quality. If the movie industry were smarter they would start uploading camera recordings of movies described as Blue-Ray rips to mess with Bittorrent users and put newbies off downloading movies.

Some Proprietary Platform Issues

Android vs iPad

I’m currently in discussions with a client about a potential future project which involves a tablet computer talking to some electronic equipment. The options are an Android tablet and an iPad. One advantage of Android is that it runs on devices of all shapes and sizes, so we can choose a device that fits the need rather than designing everything around the iPad.

But the real problem with iPad is Apple. To run an app on an iPad you need to submit it to Apple, hopefully get it accepted into the App Market, then install it. This process causes some delay, a minor fee, and has the potential to derail the project if Apple doesn’t accept the app on the first try. With Android there is no need to even deal with Google, the app can be installed directly without the Google Play store.

I may end up working with an iPad (which admittedly is really nice hardware), but it seems most likely that the project in question will run on Android only.

Windows vs Linux and Apple OS/X

One of my clients recently paid a web development company to redevelop his web site. I turned out that the web developers in question only knew how to develop for Windows and my client didn’t discover this until too late. Now a site that’s currently using a small fraction of the resources on a $80 per month Linode instance will run on a Windows virtual server costing $300 per month (which includes SQL server license).

The Windows virtual server will probably be managed (because my client uses only Apple and Linux systems and doesn’t employ anyone with Windows skills) which adds an extra $100 per month. If the server isn’t managed then they will have to hire someone to apply patches and that won’t necessarily be cheaper.

So using Windows is going to cost my client an extra $400 per month when compared to the possibility of running a Linux system on the existing virtual server. Even if my client had someone with Windows skills to run the server it would still be an extra $300 per month. If the NBN was available then my client could run a Windows server in their office, but it’s not yet available in their area.

Even for a company that employs people with more Windows skills than Linux skills there are still economic factors in favor of Linux due to smaller hardware requirements and the lack of license fees for all the core software (OS, database server, web server, etc).

Summary

These anecdotes aren’t unusual, it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time. Sometimes the result is good (EG avoiding the iPad), sometimes it isn’t (being stuck with a proprietary web service).

I think I’ll have to suggest to my clients that every contract have a “no proprietary software” clause. Contracts can be amended if there is a reason, but it seems best to make a preemptive strike against companies that sneak proprietary software in and cause significant unexpected expense and difficulty.

Book Company Bankruptcy

In February Borders went bankrupt [1], since then they have been in the slow process of closing down. Now Borders is trying to clear the last of their stock and offering 80% discounts off the marked price.

I bought a book by Stephen Baxter and one by Peter F. Hamilton and those appeared to be the last two books worth buying (IMHO) on the almost empty sci-fi shelves, the books were a little tattered but at 80% discount I’m not complaining.

It’s been almost four years since I last bought books, and I still haven’t read all the free sci-fi stories and watched all the free sci-fi movies from the net which interest me [2]. So I’m not planning to buy many more books unless I see something better than a 50% discount.

Paul Wayper writes about the difficulty of buying ebooks [3]. It’s ironic that some people have claimed that ebooks were part of the cause of Borders financial troubles given that they really aren’t working well, not even for the most dedicated buyers. In related news Kobo (the company that runs the Borders ebook store) has assured customers that they won’t lose the books that they own [4]. There are very few situations in which a company needs to assure customers that they won’t lose property that they have paid for and received due to a corporate bankruptcy.

As further evidence that Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is a bad thing, Apple have shut down the iFlow Reader [5] so that they can monopolise ebook sales on the iPhone and iPad. This is a good reason to avoid restricted platforms (such as anything from Apple) and encrypted content.

It seems to me that Cory Doctorow’s scheme for giving copies of his books to libraries is a more effective way of donating in return for a free ebook [6] (which is rather similar to the “buy one get one” scheme that they used to run for OLPC). Hopefully Charles Stross will end up doing something similar to make Paul Wayper happy.

On Burning Platforms

Nokia is in the news for it’s CEO announcing that they have a “Burning Platform”, Jeff Waugh gives an interesting analysis of the situation [1].

What is a Platform for Phones?

This whole scenario makes me wonder about what a platform should mean in terms of mobile devices. Wikipedia says “A computing platform is some sort of hardware architecture and software framework (including application frameworks) that allows software to run. Typical platforms include a computer’s architecture, operating system, programming languages and related user interface (run-time system libraries or graphical user interface). [2]

I think that Nokia’s problem was that it didn’t leverage it’s strength in making great phone hardware. Nokia used to have a commanding share of the market due to simply making better phones. They had phones that were upwardly compatible (the same UI and used the same chargers), their phones were always very solidly constructed, and they had some good design features such as having the battery comprise part of the case – which allowed a replacement battery to be physically larger for longer battery life. Even now they have hardware features which are better than the rest – such as the N8 which is widely regarded as having the best camera of any phone. Nokia also did some smart things like releasing their N800 series of phones with more open software than most companies used, they supported running arbitrary Linux applications.

While they kept the platform as the API interface on a phone OS and maintained several different OSs (with multiple versions in production at any time) they made a less desirable platform for developers and a lot more development work for themselves.

Nokia fragmented their own market. There is no technical reason why they couldn’t manufacture a phone that is capable of running a choice of their own OS as well as Android (or alternatively their own OS or the Windows Phone OS). There may be technical issues that prevent designing a phone to run either Android or Windows phone, but they could have got two out of three options available.

On top of a hardware phone platform we could have multiple software platforms, Android, Windows, Meego, etc. The users could then decide which one to use.

A Hardware Platform for Phones

I think that it would be ideal if a phone company offered phones with a choice of OS and allowed the user to change the OS. The N8 is a great phone and the hardware is really appealing, I would have definitely bought one for my wife if it ran Android. Also the resale value of phones can be improved if they can be re-purposed. If someone knew that people on ebay were paying good rates for an old phone because it could be re-programmed then they would be more likely to buy it. As phones are essentially free for most people due to telco deals, a phone that has a resale value of $200 is a lot more desirable than one with a resale value of $100 if all other things are equal.

I would like to see the mobile phone as a platform just as the IBM PC compatible was a platform. Imagine if IBM had sued Compaq into oblivion when they first cloned the PC, if that had happened I don’t think that I would be using an IBM PC (Thinkpad) right now. The early IBM PCs really weren’t great systems for home use, for pretty much anything you might want to do the early PCs didn’t compete well with CP/M systems and systems from Commodore and Apple. It was only when cheap clones flooded the market that the “PC” platform took off. Modern PCs can boot from disks that were created 20 years ago. At every time during the PC’s history there has been a choice of OSs available that work with the standard BIOS boot loader and expect certain essential hardware (such as a BIOS interface for video, keyboard, and storage). This choice increased the market allowing economies of scale in production. It also allowed competition between vendors which forced the margins to be low and resulted in PCs becoming cheap – over the last 20 years every aspect of a PC apart from Intel CPUs and Microsoft Software has steadily dropped in price.

I would like to see phones designed with a common boot loader, a common core set of CPU functions (I believe that with ARM CPUs a lot is optional), and common interfaces to the touch-screen and the GSM system. The boot loader would ideally have support for booting multiple OSs, in a typical end-user case the store would provide the phone configured to quietly only boot one of the available OSs – but it would be trivial to offer the user a choice of OS at boot time for advanced users. The process of installing a custom ROM image in a phone is regarded as dangerous at the moment and most people who would like to do such things are hesitant due to the risk of “bricking” their phone. If booting the last good OS was an option then more people would try new OSs. With the current situation I am a little hesitant to re-program my new phones (and I’m braver about such things than most people).

One of the many problems with the current situation is that the phone vendor has to officially support every phone OS. One example of the problems with this is the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 which is a fine piece of hardware that has been saddled with an older version of Android for it’s entire life, Sony has stated that they won’t produce any more updates and thus the demand for this phone is a lot lower than it might be. I believe that this is why the Xperia X10 is significantly cheaper than any other phone with similar features. Sony is losing money because they have a closed hardware platform and don’t support the recent versions of Android!

Ways of Booting the OS

It shouldn’t be a technical challenge to have support for basic touch-screen IO and 3G Internet access in the boot loader of the phone. Then an OS such as Android could be loaded from the network before being booted without needing an older version of Android running. 80386 systems with a few megs of RAM used to be able to boot from a LAN, a modern phone has much more powerful hardware and a network connection that’s at least as good as 10base2 networking so it should be able to do the same.

Modern phones have micro-SD cards for local storage. There’s no reason why the OS couldn’t be loaded on micro-SD card. Fixing the OS on a phone that was “bricked” could be achieved by putting the micro-SD card in a PC and then copying the files across – just as I often fix PC OS problems by installing the hard drive in a working system.

Changing the OS of a phone should be easier than changing a PC between Ubuntu and Fedora (the Linux distributions that seem to have the most usage by less technical users).

Conclusion

If Sony had made their platform the hardware then they could have spent their effort on what they do well (making great phone hardware) and delegated almost all of the work related to creating the OS to other companies (Google, MS, telcos, etc).

If the entire industry moved to a hardware platform for phones then the result would be lower prices and some thin margins for manufacturers. This would be good for users and OK for manufacturers. The current situation however is quite bad for users who can never get phones to do exactly what they want and not so good for phone manufacturers such as Nokia (and everyone else who does business with Microsoft) who find themselves on the wrong side of market forces. The phone as a hardware platform shouldn’t be too bad for Microsoft either, they did OK on the PC hardware platform.

LCA2011, Harassment, etc

The conference LCA 2011 had an anti-harassment policy [1] which was violated by a keynote speech. The speaker and the conference organisers apologised, but of course the matter didn’t end there.

Discussion continued on the lca-chat list (for conference delegates) [2], on the Linux-aus list (for members of Linux Australia – the parent body of the LCA conference) [3], and in some blog posts.

There is also some discussion on an LWN article that is linked from an ITWire article [4].

I think that the policy was reasonable and from all the descriptions it seems to have worked reasonably well. With such things there are always possibilities to tweak things, so probably there will be future policies which are better in some ways, but it seemed to do the job. The way that the LCA organisers handled the situation was appropriate. In the discussion there were some comments with logical failures that I think need further analysis, I’ll summarise them one per paragraph with the heading being a para-phrase of the claim.

Is it Offensive?

A particularly relevant blog post is Skud’s post about avoiding the use of the word “offense” [5]. In the various discussions about the speech in question most of the people who disapprove of the erotic images don’t use the word “offense“, this is presumably due in part to the influence of Skud’s post. This hasn’t stopped people claiming that the debate is about whether the images are offensive, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate straw-man attack or just cluelessness.

The anti-harassment policy does use the word “offensive” in two places, I think that this was a mistake but it doesn’t detract from the overall meaning of the document.

Is it Harassment?

There was some discussion about whether the actions in question were harassment. Wordnet’s definition of harassment includes “the act of tormenting by continued persistent attacks and criticism“. It seems unlikely that any of the people in the audience who objected to the erotic content in the lecture slides had never seen unwanted erotic material before. So I think that it’s worth considering this incident as just another entry in a list of similar incidents that some of the delegates have experienced, and thus as a continuation of persistent attacks – IE harassment. Melissa McEwan’s post about the variety of harassment that she has received from men is worth reading in this regard [6].

I think that a reasonable analogy here is the school bullying campaigns that were experienced by many members of the Linux community when they were younger. School bullying in most cases is not about a small number of extreme incidents, but about a large number of small incidents each of which when considered independently can be rationalised as something that isn’t significant (excusing such incidents independently is what allows bullying to be rife in most schools). In many cases of high school bullying the victim is blamed for supposedly over-reacting after a reaction is compared to some small incident at the end of a long harassment campaign, some of the criticism of the Geek Feminists seems to echo this pattern.

It seems to me that some of the more dismissive comments which demonstrated a lack of regard for the experiences of other people can reasonably be considered as harassment too (which is also something that Melissa McEwan mentions). Note that I am specifically not advocating that the discussion be shut down, merely that the people who claim that it’s only the (supposed) opinion of the majority that matters are part of the problem. However the fact that the apology for the talk received applause from the majority of the audience seems to indicate that the majority is in fact in favor of the anti-harassment policy.

Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. and David P. Rivera (a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology) have written a couple of interesting short articles about this for Psychology Today. “Bullying and Microaggressions” describes bullying as more than physical violence and also discusses adult bullies [7]. “The Power to Define Reality” describes the way that the experiences of people who lack power can have the reality of their experiences denied [8] – this one really relates to some of the discussions about harassment.

But it’s Legal!

It has been claimed that the legal system works well in Australia and that Australian law should be the only necessary guide to content. A trivial counter-case that was noted in the discussion is the fact that pure sales presentations are not accepted at LCA – and such presentations are certainly legal! There is a good precedent for prohibiting things that are legal as part of the conference speaker agreement.

More generally the legal system changes slowly and still infringes on what many people in our community regard as basic human rights. There is no reason why an Australian conference should have as it’s standards the bare minimum that is required by Australian law.

It was pointed out that workplace social norms translate well between cultures, they are usually more stringent than Australian law requires – and Australian workplace law is a lot more stringent than the laws relating to conferences and other public events. It seems to me that a presentation which would result in a visit from HR if given at the office shouldn’t be regarded as suitable for a conference such as LCA.

But there is a Balance of Men and Women in Erotic Pictures!

The complaints are not about a lack of balance in the erotic material, but it’s presence there at all. Defending the slides on the basis that there was a supposed balance of male and female misses the point that most people just want no erotic material in presentations at conferences.

Also it seems to me that if there are pictures which aren’t offensive then the way to demonstrate this would be to publish them and say “look, they aren’t offensive”. If it takes 600 words in a blog post to justify the use of some images then that alone seems to be evidence that the images were poorly chosen.

But the talk was Effective

Some of the people who have commented on this issue mentioned that they couldn’t remember what was said when the images in question were displayed. When images from the talk are remembered and the main content of the talk isn’t that seems to be a failure of the talk.

When a major sponsor of the conference complains and requests that the talk video never be published that also seems like a major failure of the talk.

I think that the effective talks are ones that educate people and inspire them to do something positive and useful. A talk that inspires a discussion about whether the speaker deserves censure doesn’t seem effective.

There are claims that there is no way the talk could have made the point as well if it wasn’t for the images in question. But I can’t believe that someone who is capable enough to get awarded a keynote speaking position at a conference such as LCA is incapable of finding other images to make the same point.

But Similar Images are on MTV

When people want MTV content they can watch MTV.

Why Can’t we just try Educating Men?

It was claimed that education works in dealing with such issues in corporate environments and sporting clubs. My observation of the corporate environment is that such training must be extremely rare in Australia, the Netherlands, and probably the UK due to the fact that none of my employers have done it. I have heard first-hand reports of “diversity training” from people who work in the US. I expect that the fact that people who fail diversity training in a corporate environment get a meeting with HR is a major factor in it’s effectiveness.

The long email discussions and blog comment threads when these incidents happen could theoretically be used as training. But when you have some men using multiple mailing lists and dozens of posts arguing without appearing to learn it seems clear that they are not about to learn anything no matter what education is offered. It seems to me that you could broadly divide the free software community into two groups, those who want to learn how to do things better (but who are unlikely to make gross errors anyway), and those who won’t learn.

Besides, having a keynote speaker at a major conference apologise should be educational.

But Clueless Nerds Hit on Girls

I don’t know why every discussion about the treatment of women ends up getting a mention of this supposed issue.

But Women Could make False Accusations

In any classification system you have to make some sort of balance between false-positives and false-negatives. If the aim is to get zero false-positives then the incidence of false-negatives will increase. So if the aim was to never ever have a false accusation brought against a man for sexual harassment then the vast majority of real harassment cases would result in no action at all.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that most women who are mistreated should suffer in silence just to reduce the possibility that men might be falsely accused.

The Rape Statistics cited in the discussion may be Inaccurate

There is no possible way of interpreting rape statistics to make it not be a serious problem, now matter how you analyse the available information it happens far too often and has a significant impact on the victim. Also the suggested reinterpretation of the statistics didn’t contradict the claim that it is likely that there are multiple rape victims attending LCA. So interpreting the statistics in a different way to get different numbers doesn’t change anything. Trying to diminish the significance of rape generally doesn’t support any other arguments that you might make.

There are things that you can just discuss for the heck of it and things which should be discussed with care (if at all) to avoid needlessly hurting people. In these sorts of discussions the right thing to do is to avoid debating the numbers as much as possible.

I think that the numbers produced by RAINN [9] are as good as we can get.

But I am very supportive of women in our community

If you spend all your time arguing with women and don’t listen to what they have to say then you really aren’t supporting them.

Conclusion

After publishing this post I’ll email the URL to a few of the men who helped inspire it, I will explain how disappointed I am and how I expect better from them. I encourage others to do the same.

Also when such discussions happen I encourage men to vote in favor of the positions advocated by women. Writing a message that addresses points in the debate can be difficult and if the debate is rapid then you may find that every point that you might make has been made by someone else. But in that case just posting to agree with the women can really mean a lot.

Egypt

Gunnar Wolf has written an interesting post about the current situation in Egypt, which includes references to Israel (where he lived for a few years) and Mexico (where he has spent most of his life) [1].

Gunnar included a copy of Mohammed Sameer’s blog post on the topic [2], which is a good idea as we can’t rely on Mohammed’s post remaining online.

The Reid Report has an interesting summary of various news sources [3].

I hope that the end result of this is a democratically elected government that respects human rights and offers fair trials to people accused of crimes and humane punishments those found guilty. It would be ideal if the transition could happen in a way that involves little violence and no interruptions to the food supply etc.

Update: Chris Samuel provided some information on free PPP access in other countries for people in Egypt [4]. This will probably be of short-term use as the Egypten regime will probably cut International phone access too.

Update2: Lars has written some interesting comments including links to articles about the US government wanting the power to cut off Internet access in the same way as the Egyptian government [5].

Flash, Apple, and Linux

Steve Jobs has published an interesting article about Flash [1]. He criticises Flash for being proprietary, this seems a little hypocritical coming from Apple (who’s the only competitor for Microsoft in terms of being the most proprietary computer company) but is in fact correct. Steve advocates HTML5 which is a better technical solution to a lot of the things that Flash does. He claims that Apple users aren’t missing out on much, but I think that sites such as Physics Games [2] demonstrate the benefits of Flash.

I think that Apple’s attack on Flash is generally a good thing. HTML5 web sites will work everywhere which will be a good incentive for web designers to fix their sites. I also think that we want to deprecate it, but as it’s unfortunately popular it’s useful to have tools such as GNASH to use Flash based web sites with free software. Microsoft has belatedly tried to compete with flash, but it’s Silverlight system and the free but patent encumbered Linux equivalent Moonlight have very little content to play and will probably disappear soon. As an aside the relentless determination of GNOME people to force the MONO project (including Moonlight) on it’s users convinced me to remove GNOME from all systems that I run.

OS News has a good analysis of the MPEG-LA patents [3] which are designed to prevent anyone making any commercial use of H.264 – which includes putting such videos on sites that contain Google advertising! These patent terms are so horrible that they want to control video streams that were ever encoded with them, so you can’t even transcode a H.264 stream to an open format without potentially having the scum at MPEG-LA going after you. This is worth noting when examining Apple’s actions, they support MPEG patents and therefore seem happy to do anything that reduces the freedom of their customers. Apple’s 1984 commercial has been proven to be a lie, it’s Apple that wants to control our freedom.

Charles Stross makes some good points about the issues related to Apple and Flash [4]. He believes that it’s all part of an Apple push to cloud computing and that Apple wants to own all our data at the back-end while providing a relatively reliable front-end (IE without all the anti-virus nonsense that is needed on the MS-Windows platform. Cloud computing is a good thing and I can’t wait for the Linux support for it to improve, I support a number of relatives who run Linux and it would be a lot easier for me if they could have the primary storage for everything be on the cloud so that I can do central backups of user data and they can use their own data while visiting each other. I think that a network filesystem that is similar in concept to offline-IMAP would be a really good thing, I know that there are some filesystems such as AFS and CODA that are designed for wide area network use with client-side caching but as far as I am aware they aren’t designed for the type of operation that offline/caching IMAP supports.

Matt Brubeck has given a good status report of the work porting Firefox to Android [5]. He notes that the next version of Fennec (mobile Firefox) will have Electrolysis – the Firefox one process per tab feature that was first implemented in Google Chrome [6]. I think that the development of Fennec and the one process per tab feature are both great developments. Matt also says “One of my personal goals is to make Firefox compatible with more mobile sites, and to give web developers the tools and information they need to make their sites work great in mobile Firefox. I’ll write much more about this in future articles“, that sounds great, I look forward to the results of his coding and to reading his blog posts about it!

How to Choose a Free Software Mission

Jane McGoningal gave an interesting TED talk about how Online Gaming can Make a Better World [1]. One of her points is that there is no unemployment in games such as World of Warcraft, there is always a “world saving” mission available to you which is just within reach of your skill level – and no-one is assigned a mission that they can’t possibly do. It seems to me that the free software development community has a similar issue, there are always “missions” available at all skill levels. Our challenge is to find ways to encourage people to accept the missions and to provide them appropriate levels of support to encourage them on their path to an “epic win“. Choosing a suitable mission is a particularly difficult problem as you often don’t know how difficult a task will be until you are more than half complete.

Jane makes points about humans being happier when working hard and a desire for “epic meaning“. She says that it’s a problem that gamers believe that they can change a virtual world but not the “real world“. If you change the “virtual world” of software development then that changes the “real-world“.

Jane cites Herodotus as reporting a kingdom that was gripped in a famine for 18 years where the king instituted a policy of playing games and eating on alternate days with the aim being that the games would distract people from their hunger. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who’s gone without food or water for a day because of being too busy coding…

She has a lot of other interesting points and I recommend that you read the Institute For The Future [2] web site for more background information.

Now my question is, how can we encourage programmers to start doing Free Software and Open Source development and achieving some Epic Wins? I don’t claim to have good answers and I would appreciate any suggestions. If you blog about this please leave a comment on this post to direct readers to your blog.

Hacker Spaces

When in California last year I visited the NoiseBridge [1] Hackerspace. I was very impressed with what I saw, good equipment and very friendly people. The general concept of a “HackerSpace” is that it is an environment to support random creative projects. The first picture is a sign near the door which is clearly visible to anyone who is leaving, it encourages people to be “AWESOME” and “EXCELLENT” by cleaning up after themselves (and maybe others). I think that this demonstrates the core of what is needed to get such a community project going.

Generosity towards others was on display everywhere, there was some free fruit on a table as well as a bottle of Port for anyone to drink. Someone had written a note saying that it’s “not an insecure Port” (a computer security joke). Someone had created an artwork that resembled an advert which some idiots had mistaken for a terrorist bomb (the creature displaying the Impudent Finger).

The main (only?) phone in NoiseBridge is apparently a VOIP phone, it is located next to an old pay-phone along with some Magnetix and other toys that can be used by curious people of any age. Magnetix have had repeated safety problems that caused recalls so maybe such things are best placed in an 18+ environment.

When I visited about 10 people were working on electronics projects. There were a number of soldering irons in use and some serious test equipment (including a couple of CROs) was available. The people doing the soldering were eager to teach other people about their work. Other equipment that was available included some serious industrial sewing machines and some drill presses. A lot of that equipment is unreasonably expensive to buy for personal use and is also rather bulky to store, having it available in a central location is a great service for the community.

Finally Noisebridge has a lot of space. There are rooms that could be used for giving small lectures and couches in the central area for people to relax and have impromptu meetings. Of course they had wireless net access too.

Australian Hacker Spaces

Kylie Willison has written about the Adelaide Hackerspace which sounds promising [2].

The Connected Community Hackerspace is a new one in Melbourne [3]. It operates out of the homes of members so it’s not nearly as big as Noisebridge (which has a substantial property rented for 24*7 operation). I hope that we can get something running permanently in the Melbourne city area in the near future. The Noisebridge membership dues are $80 per month (or $40 for starving hackers). I would pay that for a comfortable chair in a convenient city location with net access surrounded by cool people!

Poster telling people that they are AWESOME and EXCELLENT if they clean upFree bottle of port with sign saying - this is not an insecure portVOIP phone in use, pay-phone for decoration, and MagnetixDrill presses and other heavy equipmentParts and CROs for electronic workRecreation of an advert that some idiots thought was a bombIndustrial sewing machineShelves full of random spare parts