Debian Moves in, Servlets, and Usability

I’ve moved the server here at work to Debian Stable with Tomcat Jakarta installed. I’m currently experimenting with servlets from various corners of the web. I have only one problem with many CMS’s though….there is a hugely steep learning curve.

I count myself as pretty experienced when it comes to content management systems. I picked up on Zope/Plone within a few weeks. I picked up joomla! in days. I work pretty well inside wiki’s and have no trouble with forge software. So I find it completely baffling that some content management systems (even the free ones) do things so odd.

One of the CMSs I’m working with currently is Mesh CMS. They’re better than others I’ve looked at (Alfresco, Contenido) but why, oh why, does every single java servlet CMS have to have a directory tree with collapseable trees? This is so annoying! Take this for example…when someone opens ‘My Computer’ in Linux OR Windows…they’re presented with a list of folders. Now unless you set it up to show you the directory tree in your viewing options…you’re seeing folders on the top level. That’s not the way many servlet CMS’s do business. It may be good to see how deep things go and it may be good for admins who control ALL their content…but when you want to setup 10 users with write access and have to train them on how to use the CMS…IT’S NOT GOOD.

Most users have never seen the folder tree style menu and get confused quickly. Perhaps there is a setting that can remedy this that I’m not aware of. Please be advised that I’m taking a high level look at these things and I’m not diving in so deep that I’m examining the code yet…so I could be overlooking something. I just figure that things make more sense if you do things in the comfort zone of the standard user.

It’s odd how software companies, programmers, and coders try to re-invent the wheel on many projects. They toss out simple usability to do things more complex. The problem is that with each successive version of their software, things normally get harder and harder to operate. This is fine for someone who has used the previous version and is comfortable with its operation…but not so fine for new users.

This is often my point when discussing Linux as well. Usability should be key when a distro is popular…and Ubuntu has made VAST strides in making Linux usable for new users…but it’s not the best out there which is a complete mystery to me as to why it is THE most popular on the planet.

All of this talk on usability in software systems puts me in the mind of an article I read a few years ago: Ronco Spray-on Usability. It was a funny article about ESR not being able to configure his printer in Linux…which is kinda laughable when you think about it. But the author brings up a valid point…that is, that Joe Schmoe (referred to in the article as Aunt Tillie or A.T.) who is a common user can’t be the intended target for usable systems until the ESR’s are able to accomplish the task. You can’t spray on Usability with a handy spray can…it has to be reached successively. Not to mention that the UI for a program should be the last part developed after the program is in place…but seldom is. Hence all the usability problems.

Although I don’t agree with EVERYTHING the author of that article states, I do agree with many of the parts on usability. I definately don’t think you have to have proprietary, paid software to have good usability…because usability is an art form as the author states…and if it is, some of the best artwork comes from starving artists right? So money is irrelevant…it matters not. What matters is that not everyone who is a programmer is a UI developer and UI developers can’t always be the best programmers. The idea is to marry both into something. That’s what I’m looking for in a CMS. Something that has usability for standard users and something that can do the whiz bang things I need it to. It’s probably a pipe dream…but its a good dream to have. Not just in CMS software…in all software. Maybe someday right?

Cipherfunk.org, the GPL, and Ubuntu Contributors


Why oh why do people jump to conclusions without properly investigating things? I haven’t ranted in a while because, well, there’s really nothing to rant about as of late. However, this morning, I read this news article on violation of the GPL by a site called Cipherfunk.org. If you take a look at the article, it goes on to explain that Cipherfunk was offering patches to various bug reports in Ubuntu because Ubuntu hadn’t fixed the bugs (bugs listed: #36596, #38802…possible fixes for: #16873, #38181, #47775) quick enough for the likes of Cipherfunk. Interestingly enough, this is the beauty of Open Source right? If you don’t like how something works, you have the right to get the source code and fix it yourself! In this case, that is just what Cipherfunk.org did. So what’s the big stink about? Source Code and $$$.

The problem is that two Ubuntu contributors asked for Cipherfunk.org to comply with the GPL by removing cost associated with distribution of source code. This is harmless in itself and applauded by many in the community. However, it’s not the why they did it that is wrong…it’s the HOW they did it. How they did it is by first informing the Cipherfunk.org that it was wrong to charge $$ for the source, and second by touting various sections of the GPL where they believed Cipherfunk was in violation. Why is this wrong? Let’s examine things a bit.

The big stink everyone brought up is not that Cipherfunk WASN’T distributing the source code…but that Cipherfunk WAS CHARGING for the source code which they believed was in violation. However, having seen this same case (where Warren Woodford and MEPIS distribute their sourced code for a cost) I know for a fact that the GPL allows one to do this. But let’s take a look at the GPL shall we?


Does the GPL allow me to charge a fee for downloading the program from my site?
Yes. You can charge any fee you wish for distributing a copy of the program. If you distribute binaries by download, you must provide equivalent access to download the source–therefore, the fee to download source may not be greater than the fee to download the binary.

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5 Unique Tips for New Ubuntu Users

Update! Before you read the article, please note that an inaccuracy of Point Number 3 has been pointed out in comments by cafeina. Thanks for pointing this out…there are downloadable guides for Ubuntu Dapper Drake available at http://help.ubuntu.com. These guides could be much more user friendly (they don’t have pics included) but that they get the job done quite nicely. Thanks for pointing this out Cafeina!

With the popularity of Ubuntu swelling these days, one can hardly visit digg or other tech news sites without seeing a Dapper Drake or Breezy Badger (both recent titles of Ubuntu releases). Another strong indicator that Linux in general, dapper drake aside, may be seeing an influx of users is the news that Microsoft receives a call back from Windows computers daily. Many users expressed deep concern about false positives where Microsoft receives reports that you are using a pirate copy of Windows when you are running a licensed version. Also, why not examine why WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) fits the bill for Spyware? So, what’s a ticked off user to do? Give Linux the old college try, that’s what!

I’ve seen an influx of people dusting off Mandrake (that’s right, Mandrake not Mandriva…we’re talking pre-name change) and Red Hat 7.2 disks and firing off questions in forums about how to do various things in Linux. Renewed interest in alterntives to Microsoft coupled with big headlines for Ubuntu means many new users are examining Ubuntu when they evaluate (or re-evaluate) the state of Linux. This being said, I have 5 Tips for New Ubuntu Users that you won’t hear anywhere else.

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Why Ubuntu isn’t for New Linux Users

I was getting a bit tired of saying the same things over and over to friends on the net. I was getting tired of repetitiously posting in forums the same sentiment over and over. Yet, just like getting a second wind in a long and tiring race…my tiredness melts away and I find myself feeling refreshed and anew. What the subject of this rant has to say and what I have to say in the paragraphs below are NOT written to start a flame war. I am a user of Ubuntu and a strong supporter of all Debian based distros. This article is written to allow insight into where I believe Linux needs to go to succeed. I’m not out to win any popularity contests…I’m not out to garner a bunch of page hits to generate ad revenue. I’m just out to help the Linux community and rant a bit when I find a subject that strikes a nerve. The subject at hand is Why Ubuntu is NOT New Linux Users.

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