On Open Source Dying…

Let me make it clear for you Michael Hickins of Eweek. Your Article “Is Open Source Dying?” doesn’t even make it into the outer ring of the target for facts. If you were trying to shoot an arrow into the air with this article, you’d miss.

I can help you though…I can set you straight. Not that I’m an ALL WISE & KNOWING person, just that I have the ability to do research, ingest said research, digest the research and learn from the research. You stop at ‘do research’. Let us examine where your train derailed (not the physical place…because this obviously is at the beginning…but rather, where in your subject you go wrong).

Open Document does not equal Open Source

Any conclusions you try to draw between adoption or non-adoption of ODF in any state or local government amounts to NOTHING. Whether ODF succeeds in being adopted or not does not mean Open Source will succeed or not. They are not inversely proportional and they are not directly proportional. If ODF get’s thrown out for MS Formats, Open Source will still be there and still be developed. This is like saying that

Disagreeing with Yourself doesn’t Validate your Message

Disagreeing with the title of your article saying “Is Open Source dying? Of course not” does not bring instantaneous credibility or make the reader sigh a collective sight of relief. Instead, it makes you look ridiculous for even writing the article in the first place. Afterall, we know you’re comparing elephants to chickens with the ODF = Open Source thing…and now you’re trying to make up for it. Try is the key word there. You fail because of your closing paragraph (see below)

Sabre Rattling and Finger Shaking Makes you Look Even More Silly

[quote]But the open-source community needs to get over its overweening sense of superiority and messianic inevitability; the alternative is just good enough that if it doesn’t get its act together, open source may find itself the subject of retrospectives like “Remember Unix?[/quote]

Um..ok? The open source community doesn’t need to get over any overweening sense of superiority or that other made up phrase you used. Why? Because the GPL makes it that way. It cannot be snuffed out, bought up, or killed…it will never die…it will never fade away…because the moment someone decides to try, it will replicate itself due to the openness and sharing within that same community you chastise (or did you mean ODF Community? I forget, since they’re so synonymous right?). So, I guess that makes people angry…it’s a smudge that won’t go away. A blemish right? A light that won’t go out. Well, keep trying. Keep giving resistance…please :) Open Source will win without a fight :D

“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence;
supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without
fighting.” Sun-Tzu

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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Guilty by Association

I remember a time in high school when we had a substitute teacher. This teacher was previously retired but still subbed in from time to time. His look on things was of the old school circa 1960…so he ran quite a tight ship and didn’t appreciate any adverse feedback or smart remarks from the students. I never had a problem with him until the day that I chuckled at a fellow classmate who was in a tug of war match with another student over a text book (evidently, one of them stole the other student’s textbook…whatever) and the teacher decided to get in the fray…so here we have 2 students and a teacher pulling on a textbook in three different directions. I laughed aloud…it was silly to see an older teacher and two ‘punks’ as he’d call them pulling on that book.

I was immediately reprimanded and given detention. When I asked what I did, the response was “apparently nothing but you’re going to stay after anyway”. When I pressed harder for an explanation, I was told that since I thought ‘my two buddies’ were funny, I was staying after. I had been caught in a perplexing situation many people, groups and companies find themselves in…I was guilty by association.

I was reading an article at Linux Today earlier and saw this line from the article, which was penned in defense of Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (and rightly so…I have no idea why people would call SJVN a shill…he’s the farthest thing from it). I’m not so much concerned with people attacking SJVN so much as I am with the editor’s (it’s an editor’s note) second item that he’s bugged by:

“The other reaction that bugged me was this guilt-by-association that’s been glommed onto openSUSE. Why does this product and its developers suddenly have to take the fall for the actions of Novell?”

So…people shouldn’t do this. We all know that it isn’t fair…but the main fact is they are doing this and have always done this, just like that teacher of mine in high school. I wanted to understand why people aren’t making the connection that openSuse shouldn’t be held accountable for Novell’s actions…but then it hit me…The technology and code being sunk into openSuse as a test ground will one day make it into the Novell Desktop…which, as part of the now famous deal, will make money for Microsoft.

When you look at it in this logical manner, I don’t blame the people the article is condemning for targeting openSuse and I don’t see how anyone can blame them. How many Linux users out there do you know that want to bankroll Microsoft?

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Clarity on the Linux Desktop

There’s been some confusion as of late via emails and comments on other blogs about YALB that I would like to “dumb down” linux to try to reach the masses. I’d like to take a little time to clarify exactly what I think of the Linux Desktop and the directions it is taking.

I’ve worked in quite a few different IT jobs the past 8 years. My current job allows me to work with many diverse individuals and technology. Diverse backgrounds, diverse ethnicities, diverse cultures, and diverse experience. Whenever the main business system can’t do what the users’ want it to do, they call me. Whenever they need information from that antiquated database (runs on AIX…not current) they call me. However, since we have a small staff being a small agency, I also get to answer some helpdesk calls. The odd part is, I like answering helpdesk calls. Why? Because it tells you more about the users and allows you to help them better. It also gives you a pulse for your users…something to measure them against.

Having done this for quite some time now, I can honestly say that if we rolled out Linux desktops tomorrow to these people in my agency our productivity would be seriously inhibited (for a while…until everyone got used to things). This is despite the standard business system running via telnet to an AIX Box. It’s not because of Linux…but rather because of the people. See, Linux is ready for the average power user…someone who went to college, graduated, and now works happily in department X of your business or someone who went to high school in the last 5-10 years (depending on where you grew up of course…we didn’t even have a computer at my school and I graduated in the early nineties)…and people all agree that government should be pushing Linux first and foremost. Since my current job is for a state agency, one would figure we’d be looking into FOSS, but this isn’t the case. The average power user isn’t the majority in this goverment agency and I’m sure it isn’t in many government agencies so we continue to look to MS for all solutions because they are the defacto standard.

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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?