Saturday, September 1, 2007

FSF Brand Ambassador

I remember seeing a quotation on the red hat installer splash screen; I don't remember who quoted it though. The quotation goes like this "Would you buy a car with hood welded shut?". The quote emphasized the importance of open source software. It implied the user power; power to fully control the computer they have payed for.

There are two applications that I would like to call the Brand Ambassador of the Free Software Foundation. They are GCC and Linux Source. GCC stands for GNU Compiler Collection, and Linux source includes the Linux headers and source files. These are the tools that pop open the hood. Without these, a distribution behaves like a welded hood car; removing the user power.

Earlier, all the distributions had these packages as part of default installation. A successful Linux distribution installation meant that you have a working compiler. The next step was kernel source and headers. User had the compiler, thus could compile the latest kernel or extra module to customize the Linux installation. Then Linux kernel matured; driver support was good, so people forgot about compiling their own kernels and just used the distribution provided kernel. As a result GCC and kernel headers were dropped in the package priority.

Now we see a lot of distributions that have neither of these two brand ambassadors. I feel sad about the current state. Has the open source community become what they were fighting against? Or making a distribution is so easy everyone is making a distribution without even knowing the core principles? Or users only know pre-packaged software distribution mechanism?

The latest and greatest package of your choice is released by the developer in source code format. And if you are not having the brand ambassdors, you have to wait for the distribution maintainer to release a packaged binary.

Some distributions don't provide these packages on the installation CD and have them in the repositories. They argue that additional package installation is just a matter of few clicks or one command. Consider the car analogy here. Would you like to go a few extra miles to fetch the tools (for opening the car hood) for your car? Majority of them will prefer to stay clear from the tools if such a situation arises. A toolkit is a vital component of any automobile. You just cannot keep the ambassadors away from the distributions.

We need to realize the importance of FSF brand ambassadors. We need to create awareness amongst various distribution maintainers about these ambassadors. The community should raise its voice and make sure that these brand ambassadors are always included in their distribution of choice. Only then we will be able to see FSF prosper.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Why is it hard for people to understand that there is nothing called "Free Lunch"?

Somebody was concerned, that adblock is ruining their revenue by blocking the ads (shown on the website). And at the same time, not providing the website owners, the ability to block adblock users. They created a site (if you are using Firefox you will not be able to see the website; use IE tab extension or any other browser to see the site.) The site tried to put up a genuine concern. They were targeting Firefox because it abetted adblock.

Now today I see a childish blog. David Peterson tries to counter the points put forward by He tries to give some apple and orange comparisons as well.

Now, how hard is it for people to ponder on "Free Lunch". Basically there is nothing called a free lunch. You have to pay for it. What you pay or how you pay is a different ball game all together. Its because of people like David Peterson, Richard M. Stallman came up with the phrase "Free as in Freedom and not as in Free Beer". I have a little advice for people who believe in Free Lunch and Free Beer. Why don't you guys open up a small place and provide Free Lunch and Beer to everyone? Or coming to more technical terms; why don't you guys open a site which boasts about ad free internet? I even dare Mr Peterson to open a website, and maintain it without serving any ads and without charging any subscription fees. Mr Peterson, does not himself serve an ad free blog, then how come he objects to something that he himself believes in?

Put your efforts where your mouth is. If you believe in ad free internet, stop serving ads on your blog. And even further, people who say that quality content generation, without incentive, can be sustained in the long term; I would like to point out safari. Safari is the ultimate resource, but with its own set of limitations. Safari does not include all the books published by O'Reilly, it also has a high subscription fees and after all this there is a limited set of books to keep in your shelf. Why doesn't O'Rielly allow free unlimited download of all the books?

How charming the concept of Robin hood might seem, but the concept is not everlasting. Robin hood was there to bring a balance amongst people, once the balance is restored, there is no room for Robin hood. People will make fun of one, who wants to be a Robinhood in a balanced society.

Coming to the freedom part, Freedom is not selective. Freedom is freedom for everyone, for every single human being, for every single living form. If Freedom was selective, i.e. freedom for some and not others, then what is the difference in freedom and tyranny? Adblock provide users, the freedom to see ad free pages, and robs the website owner with his/her freedom. Doesn't it sound like dictatorship?

The problem is not with Firefox, but the problem is with its promotion of adblock. If Firefox and adblock both existed independently there was no problem. And let me remind you, that if M$, instead of arm twisting OEMs, had promoted netscape, the web would have been a completely different place; there would have been no internet explorer as well as no Firefox. We are seeing these things happen because M$ chose to promote internet explorer.

Lets look at the scenario from Firefox's perspective. The default web page for firefox is google. This is because google pays Firefox; what google is actually paying is revenue generated through ads. Why doesn't Firefox make wikipedia as its homepage? It seems to me like Firefox pockets the ad generated revenue and then asks adblock to stop revenue generation for other small players.

The internet is fueled and made interesting be actual living people. And humans have a family to support, they have bills to pay, how can these people live without any incentive. I would call it even, if with the ad revenue I am able to pay the net connection bill, but adblock is not even allowing me to do this. The current status of Artificial Intelligence is not so good that it can keep generating quality contents without human intervention. Even if it was, computer hardware needs to be bought, and somebody needs to pay to the net connectivity and electricity consumed!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Road of Open Source success - III

This is the third installment for this topic. Here you can find first and second posts.

OoBE is as abbreviation for Out Of Box experience. I would like to quote "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression". I don't remember who said this but this is something that I firmly believe in.

OEM is a key player in this field. What goes inside the system is dictated by an OEM, and there are a lot of people who don't bother to look for alternatives and just stick to what the OEM has provided.

If you take windows as an example, Vanila install can not play flash, does not have a JRE installed, can't read pdf files, can't play DVD, can't play formats other that mp3, wma & wmv. Only with windows XP, users were able to view compressed files, and the compression format was limited to ZIP. If you give this vanila installed system to a new user, s/he will certainly say that M$ is worthless.

The problem is not only for home desktop users, its also prominent for corporate users. Corporate users try to avoid this problem with the use of custom images. Someone from the IT department is given the responsibility to install windows along with all the required applications, on a single machine. Once this installation is complete, a full image of hard disk is extracted. This image is then copied to the rest of the machines.

Now coming to the open source world, the same issue comes up. The reason for this is not technical but political. Almost all the major distributions, in order to avoid litigations, stay clear from proprietary code. In order to attract more users towards open source, a better out of box experience is required. And nowadays it means that a user should be able to browse the internet without any issues.

I remember my first encounter with Linux, It was with Redhat 5. It really gave me a hard time to bring up the GUI. This was long ago though, and things have changed since then. But the automatic GUI configuration is still important. All the new displays are LCD and there are more coming in the form of a wide screen. Some advanced users have already started using dual monitors. But, still no distribution correctly configures wide screen or dual screen monitors correctly, even after enabling DPMS .Moreover, in case the installer automatically create an xorg.conf, a lot of distributions tend to prefer 16 bit depth instead of the better 24 bit.

The next point is the network connectivity. For majority of the computer population, it means wireless. iPhone comes with Wifi, even the nikon S6 that I purchased 2 years ago had Wifi. Giving complete driver support for wireless cards is a daunting task as manufacturers do not release the required specifications. Even then, distributions should make sure that users get their WiFi up and running without any hassles. I am not a big fan of Ubuntu, but it really excels in this field. Slackware along with zenwalk, on some machines, are the worst; they even have problems with ethernet.

Last but not the least are applications. Firefox solved a big problem in terms of "easy and robust platform" required to access the wild wild web. There are a lot of good addons and users feel at home with it. Next problem comes with plug ins. JRE, flash, acrobat reader, quicktime are required to provide a flawless surfing experience. A lot of of distributions still have some problems with this.

One more aspect comes to my mind and that concerns aesthetics and ergonomics. Some distribution dont provide a custom theme and when some do provide, your eyes pay the price. Distributions have to also consider themes as part of the initial install.

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