Open Source Software and New Users

Community

Open Source Software CommunityFree/Libre and Open Source software versus closed and proprietary software doesn’t matter.  It’s not the answer to solve all our problems.  It’s not the question we need to ask anyone and everyone either.  It simply doesn’t matter.  Well, it might matter to you and I…but it doesn’t matter to most people out there.

No matter what you say and do.  No matter what ideals you preach to people.  No matter what concepts about freedom you tout to them…it just won’t matter at all.  They want what they want and when they want it.  They turn a power button on and a device powers up giving them the functionality they need.  They open up a piece of software that gives them the features they want.  They don’t care whether they pay for it, if someone can alter it, if someone can distribute it, or if it was free.

It sucks that people don’t care about their own freedom with programs/code, but it’s true.

The Great Debate

The debate that rages on is usually one or two camps that support Free Software, Libre Software, or Open Source Software (or a combination of them) and those folks will lecture the end user who doesn’t care.  Have you ever been lectured about something you don’t care about?  Usually, you won’t remember anything about what is said to you when that happens.  The same is true for end users that couldn’t care less about what software they’re using…as long as it works.

Instead of lecturing these folks and talking down to them about the benefits of FOSS/FLOSS/OSS…I say we try a different approach.  I say we identify with them.  Establish a common ground.  Less like a bull in a ceramics shop.  A common proverb here in the US is that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.  Being tactful and pleasant instead of overbearing a sharp is a good way to win people over to view things as you do.  Education is key…if you see someone using a locked in device, you could tactfully let them know of alternatives and why they might choose them.  I’ve seen the untactful approach and it does nothing but push the person farther away from free and open source software.  Less is more in these cases…no one wants to come off as a know it all…but that’s exactly what I’ve seen happen many times.

The Importance of Free and Open Source Software

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Open Source software (Free software or Open Source software) but I am trying to downplay the importance/intensity of the debate between the various beliefs (FLOSS/FOSS/OSS).  I’ve seen people get very livid about the idea that all of their software should be completely open source or that it should be free AND open source or else they won’t use it.  I applaud these people for having a stance and sticking to it and I believe the world would be a much better place if we had more of this type of software that everyone could work on collaboratively.  I think it would spur innovation and bring people together.  But here’s the kicker…the end user DOESN’T CARE about your debate.  While it’s great that it means something to you, 9 times out of 10 it won’t mean anything to the end user.   If they’re completely new to these ideologies try easing them into understanding.  This isn’t sink or swim…everyone starts off in the shallow end first and when they’re ready they move into the deep end.  Don’t expect everyone to care right away.

If you have a user of software who will only use Open Source software…a person who staunchly supports this concept…and that person defends their stance any chance they can get, most people see it as a good thing.  In my opinion, rabid defense of ideology is sometimes not a good thing…because many times people lose the defensive stance and go on the offensive one.  The same is true for those who will only use Free and Open Source software…they become incensed at the idea that anyone would ever use anything else or would want to use.  Both of these camps tout altering the code, collaborative design, vendor lock-in, high prices of upgrades for proprietary software, and other ideological points of contention.  As I said, it’s great that these camps are so invested in their ideals…and there is a point where you do more harm than good.

The Perspective of the Uninformed New User

It’s hard for new users to understand the perspective and ideological camps behind  free and open source software because there is nothing else like it in the world.  Insisting that someone adapt immediately to the ideals put forth by FOSS is, in my opinion, an unrealistic expectation.  When someone is new to a group or community, demanding they adhere to a set of rules they don’t understand can be overwhelming.  In my opinion, a welcoming stance from the community members followed by a path of self discovery is what develops new users into the strongest supporters of free and open source software.

The attitudes and behavior new users face when initially embarking on their open source journey will stick with them and will shape their opinions for years to come.  A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “A New User Guide to Linux Communities“.  Despite being written in 2008, it is still applicable today.  New users need patience, tolerance, understanding, and empowerment when first trying FOSS.  If we can give them a positive and up-building experience, they’ll definitely come back for more and become more avid supporters.  Leave the politics and ideologies to the wayside.  Try helping the new user without trying to indoctrinate them.  Let them come to the discovery that FOSS is where they should be at.  Let them learn things on their own time and pace.  In the end, if they come to the same conclusions we have as FOSS users on their own, they’ll be more likely to stay that way and more productive community members in the future :)

Would You Like a Native Client for Google Drive?

gdrive

If you’re like me, you think that the more native applications that are available to Linux users, the better.  In the case of Google Drive, there isn’t a native synchronization enabled client for Linux.  This is especially sad if you think about how Google got to where it is today…building its entire search infrastructure on the backs of customized Debian servers.  Not to mention that Android…which is powered by Linux…has a native client available in the Google Play store.

Why would we want a native client for Google Drive when we can just use unofficial software to do it or mount it like a command line commando would?  The answer is simple…uniformity and solidarity.  The experience that is already present for Windows and Mac users should be present in Linux as well…instead, Linux continues to be the ‘red headed stepchild’ of the desktop experience.

There are some people who feel this same way and they have started an online petition asking Google to release a native Drive client for Linux.  You can sign the petition here if you’d like to.  As of the writing of this post, there were 15,648 signatures…let’s see if we can push above 20k shall we?  I think online petitions are sometimes silly but Google might not.  Hopefully, we’ll get that native client and uniform experience for Linux desktops everywhere.

How-To Choose the Right Distribution of Linux

Linux Choices
so many choices
Courtesy of evelynishere

Which distribution is the RIGHT distribution?  Is there such a thing?  When you start your journey with Linux you might here something like this:

– Ubuntu is the best distribution for the desktop
– Linux Mint is the best distribution for a home user and the desktop
– Debian is the best way to go because of its stability and solid base
– Mandriva isn’t as good as Mageia
– Mageia isn’t as good as Mandriva
– Red Hat is for servers only
– Distribution X is better than distribution Y!

Here’s the thing…statements like these are all BLATANTLY FALSE.  Why?  Because they’re opinions..everyone has one and they are all just that…opinions.

When you start your journey with Linux, don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t use.  Go out and find what fits you like a glove and use that.  It doesn’t matter how large of community the distribution has (unless that is what you’re specifically looking for) or how often it updates or how many hits it has on the Distrowatch tracker.  Use what is best FOR YOU.  Only you can decide what distribution scratches whatever itch you have.

If you choose the right one, chances are you’ll be a part of that distribution for a long time.  But don’t worry, it isn’t like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and if you pick the wrong distribution you won’t turn into a dusty exploding skeleton.  In this situation, the RIGHT distribution of Linux is ANY distribution of Linux.  As long as you’re making a conscious effort to choose free software and use Linux, you win.

I’ve been in, around and even leading Linux communities since the late 1990’s and there is one thing I’ve found it is this:  Every single distribution has a place in this world.  Every single distribution has it’s own niche users.  Every single distribution of Linux is important. I’m sure many of you have heard or have said that Linux just needs to simplify more and have only a handful of distributions so we can concentrate on just that handful and make it be fantastic.  Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work very well and would stifle creativity.  To prove my point…what if we didn’t have small distributions at all?  That wouldn’t have a large effect on Linux as a whole right? Let’s take a look at that hypothesis…

If Small Distributions Never Were…

As an example:  Symphony OS.  It used FVWM and Mezzo for the desktop experience and it REVOLUTIONIZED the way we see and interact with files.  If you use Gnome 3, Ubuntu Unity, or KDE 4.X, you’re using concepts that Symphony OS was the first to put onto a Linux desktop.  Symphony never had a huge user base.  It never shot up the charts at Distrowatch.  It did however, push the envelope of what a desktop distribution can and can’t do.  It did push the boundaries of design.  It did push simplicity and usability to a new level.  It also did web apps before webapps were cool.  Somehow it never caught on…but I it influenced people and challenged people to push the envelope of what was possible and impossible with desktop Linux.

Small, Niche Distributions Perform a Function

Often times I have found Linux users looking for a distribution that fills a specific function.  “I just want a file sharing distribution” they’ll say, or perhaps “I just want a nice and simple desktop”, or maybe even “I just want a tight firewall”.  The beauty of open source software and Linux is that you’ll find small, niche distributions that fit the bill for all of those needs and when you use these distributions, you’ll continue to learn about Linux…and perhaps you’ll push the envelope of what is possible and not possible just like Symphony OS did.

Regardless if you choose small or large distributions, you win.  The fact is you CHOSE and weren’t force fed something by system installers and companies who think they know what is best for you.

We CAN All Get Along

Many times when we pick the flavor of Linux we like, we identify with its goals…the direction its heading…maybe even the direction the community champions.  There isn’t anything wrong with this.  The next time you experience passionate supporters of Linux, keep in mind that neither you nor they are the enemy.  If you both use Linux and open source, you both win.  Small, large,  and niche distributions of Linux operate harmoniously together and build off one another…it’s one of the unseen benefits of Linux and open source.  Beauty and power in simplicity through collaboration.  Congratulate yourself every single day for choosing Linux!

A Canonical Controversy

Remember these past few months where Ubuntu/Canonical’s contribution to Gnome (or lack thereof) was called into question and the topic was on the tip of every Linux news website tongue (see closing thoughts for info links)?  Let’s throw some gasoline on that fire for your Friday!!  It’s time for a Barbecue!

Today, Mark Shuttleworth’s blog was added into Planet Gnome after he made a request for it to be added.  Why is this a controversy?  Mainly because some people want blogs that are featured on Planet Gnome to be from authors that are active in the Gnome community and to actually blog about Gnome as a topic.  If Canonical’s contributions to Gnome are being called into question (as evident from the links in closing thoughts below) then what results is a controversial decision for Mark’s blog to be added in.

If you read the comments on the buglist issue, you will see that there are quite a few people in opposition to this move.  According to the Planet Gnome FAQ, there are criteria for being added.  Does Mark’s blog fit the criteria?  A close examination will result in a resounding NO.

Examining the Evidence

The evidence?  Mark has only one, single post on the topic of Gnome on his entire blog.  Is it recent?  If 2008 is recent, then yes, it’s recent.  If that’s not recent enough for you then no, it fails horribly on being recent.

Up next, let’s pull from the Planet Gnome FAQ, “It generally helps to write a few words about you and your contributions to GNOME, or why you think your blog should appear on Planet GNOME”.  Looking at the bug that was filed we find no explanation as to why it should be added other than “I contribute via Canonical”.  This phrase is going to be flogged by those people that were/are irked with Canonicals level of contributions upstream.

Lastly, since Mark is the face of his company, does this mean Gnome supports his company more than say…CEO of Red Hat or Novell since those CEO’s are not added on Planet Gnome?  Does this constitute a conflict of interest?  Does it signal favoritism?  If one person believes it to be this way, everyone loses…because there will be a debate about it and it WILL divide people and not unite them.

To be honest, I can’t believe Mark even asked to be on Planet Gnome as the CEO of Canonical.  He should know right out of the gate that it would look bad if he was added in…if it were me, I’d remove myself immediately.

Closing Thoughts

I said that this would be gasoline on a fire because of the firestorm debate surrounding how much Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth’s company, gives back to upstream projects like Gnome.  For more on that debate [1] [2] [3].

This is just the icing on top of the cake in my opinion.  Whoever decides what goes on Gnome and what doesn’t should really evaluate their processes and stop looking at a persons stature or bling factor and instead on the merit for them to be there.  In this instance, Marks blog provides little to merit its presence on Planet Gnome.

Please note, I’m not saying Mark hasn’t done anything at all for Gnome…just saying he doesn’t blog about it (and the evidence supports me on this claim)…and before a blog is added to Planet Gnome it should have more than one post in the past 7 years (yes, he started blogging in 2003) to be considered as a good candidate to be there.

What do you think?  Should Mark be on Planet Gnome?  Whether you agree or disagree, please state your reasons in a comment below!

OLPC Mission Has Changed

Has the mission of OLPC changed so much? I say it has. No longer are the five core principals initially employed when the project started valid. The original Five Core Principles were:

  1. Child Ownership
  2. Low Ages
  3. Saturation
  4. Connection
  5. Free and Open Source

It’s important to quote what is under #5 above:

The child with an XO is not just a passive consumer of knowledge,
but an active participant in a learning community. As the children grow and pursue new ideas, the software, content, resources, and tools should be able to grow with them. The very global nature of OLPC demands that growth be driven locally, in large part by the children themselves. Each child with an XO can leverage the learning of every other child. They teach each other, share ideas, and through the social nature of the interface, support each other’s intellectual growth. Children are learners and teachers.

There is no inherent external dependency in being able to localize software into their language, fix the software to remove bugs, and repurpose the software to fit their needs. Nor is there any restriction in regard to redistribution; OLPC cannot know and should not control how the tools we create will be re-purposed in the future.

A world of great software and content is necessary to make this project succeed, both open and proprietary. Children need to be able to choose from all of it. In our context of learning where knowledge must be appropriated in order to be used, it is most appropriate for knowledge to be free. Further, every child has something to contribute; we need a free and open framework that supports and encourages the very
basic human need to express.

Give me a free and open environment and I will learn and teach with joy.

No longer is it about empowering a generation of children from poorer nations and letting them learn with the ability to help improve the platform they operate on…what it’s now about:

“‘The OLPC mission is a great endeavor, but the mission is to get the technology in the hands of as many children as possible. Whether that technology is from one operating system or another, one piece of hardware or another, or supplied or supported by one consulting company or another doesn’t matter. It’s about getting it into kids’ hands. Anything that is contrary to that objective, and limits that objective, is against what the program stands for.'”

…just like a fun toy right? <sarcasm>Let’s drop Nintendo DS gaming systems into their hands…laptops, laptops, laptops…that’s what it is about…because we’re all about getting the technology to the kids. </sarcasm> We’re not about empowering them to learn about computers, networks, and software. We’re not about them learning on a system where there are no limits. As RMS states, “Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it
puts them under the power of the system’s developer.” That developer is Microsoft.

Congratulations go to Microsoft for bringing proprietary lockin to millions of kids worldwide who will no longer be able to take pride in their own contributions the the core OS, who will no longer feel community ownership, and who will no longer be the sole operator of their own open source software based XO.

Our children our the future and what we aren’t teaching them with closed source software is just as important as what we ARE teaching them.

Why Having 500+ Distros is a Good Thing

I just browsed back across some old bookmarks I had made on subjects to blog about. I’ve been playing catch up for the last few days as some of my projects I’ve been working on are slowing down. During this browsing session, I happened upon a blog entry titled “So Many Distros, So Little Time” which originally jumped across the RSS reader during January of this year. I gave it an honest read and was disgusted with the article quite a bit. Let me go point for point on this:

1. “We don’t need to keep reinventing Linux, creating distributions that put critical bits in interesting and inventive if unusual places.”

This couldn’t be more wrong. We DO need to keep reinventing Linux and creating distributions that put critical bits in interesting and inventive if unusual places. Without these multiple distributions and their drive to do what isn’t “normal” or “business as usual” innovation would be left up to a small number of distros and developers. Innovation thrives in the current environment…we have seen how desktop Linux has lept & bounded during the past 3-4 years. This statement is not only false, but it shows how much people (even industry consultants/analysts/journalists with over 25 years in the business) totally miss the mark when it comes to Linux and Open Source Software.

I assume you’d prefer a ‘unified distro’ or at least fewer to choose from…one where everyone can stop spinning their wheels developing for that small time distro and all join hands and work on that larger distro and make it 1000% better right? That’s something that won’t happen and shouldn’t happen.

Perhaps you think new users will be scared of all of these choices? I bet these same new users walk around in circles when picking out a new shirt or shopping for a pair of pants…there is just too many of them isn’t there? Using this as a reason for justification of having fewer distros is silly and stupid.

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