One month with the Wii

Free Software, Gadgets, Games 7 Comments »

I have my Wii console for about a month now (bought it the moment it was launched in South Africa), and I’m very impressed with the system. Even when unpacking it, I could feel that the materials are high quality. The console and the controller feels solid and there’s nothing cheap or plasticky about it. This is the kind of quality I first expected when I first bought an iPod. It comes in very decent packaging, and with high quality full-colour manuals.

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The Wii challenges some of the elements of the traditional console metaphor. All the features and tools you would want to use on the Wii, are split into channels. Initially, the Wii has very few channels. The Disc channel is where you can load games via the optical drive, and the Mii channel is where you can create characters that you can use in your games. With the Wii, instead of playing with pre-defined characters (like Mario and Luigi), you can play many of the games as your Mii. Your Mii can also travel to other Wii’s over the Internet and mingle with them. The controllers have built-in flash memory, and you can store your Mii on your controller, so that when you play at a friends house, your Mii will go with you.

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The console ships with the Wii Sports pack. It’s a collection of sports games, of which some remind me of the old Track & Field game that was available for the NES. The boxing game left me with sore arms by the second day I had the console. The controllers are wireless and motion sensitive. Some games you play without even touching a button. I bought a second wiimote which includes the Wii Play Pack, and I quite like the crazy game where you destroy scare crows with a raging stuffed cow – also, without pressing a single button.

When I got the Wii, I wanted to add more channels, and connected it to the Internet. The problem is, it didn’t want to connect to the Wii services, and displayed a message that Wii Internet services aren’t available in this country yet. I e-mailed the local Nintendo representatives, and they said that the local Wii services will only be available in the second half of 2008- which is very disappointing. I lied to my Wii and told it that I live in the UK, and connected to the UK version of Nintendo24 and the Wii Shop. I then downloaded Super Mario Brothers 2, which got added to my Console channel. The Wii is backwards compatible with every other Nintendo console made, including the NES, SNES, Nintendo64 and the GameCube. I also added the News channel, which works almost like an RSS reader (except that you can’t define the feeds :/) and the Weather channel, which has a Google-Earth feel to it.

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I also downloaded the Internet Channel, which is basically a full-screen Opera browser with a Wii interface. It displayed all the web sites I could find fine, and YouTube (uses Flash) and GMail (uses AJAX) worked completely fine.

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I read today that China and South Korea are only getting Wii consoles officially next year. So we’re not the only market that left behind compared to Europe and the U.S.A.

It seems quite clear at least that Nintendo has a long-term strategy for the Wii, and we’ll probably see lots of cool add-ons for the console in the following years. I’d like to see a dedicated RSS channel that can be customised more. It would also be a huge improvement if they allowed 3rd party channels. I think the demand (from users and development houses) for that will grow tremendously. If you consider the success of third party applications in utilities such as Facebook, I think that it is inevitable. I’d also like to have an SSH client channel, with support for Xorg, so that I could log in to remote machines using the Wii. Even nicer (although I could understand that technical limitations could prevent it), would be to have a Linux channel, where you could boot from a system stored on CD, SD card, or USB (the Wii has a built-in SD card reader and USB ports too) and boot Ubuntu or Debian or your favourite distribution. There are several projects that have started to get Linux running on the Wii, but they are mostly stalled or are making slow progress.

Overall, it’s an impressive combination of hardware and software, typing on the on-screen keyboard with the Wiimote is surprisingly effective, and it’s clear that a lot of design and thought went into this console, it’s something that I’d certainly recommend for any family who wants a fun and safe home entertainment machine. On top of that, there’s a lot of non-games things you can do on the console, so in many ways it replaces some functions of a personal computer.

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SA Government to standardise on ODF

Free Software, Politics 2 Comments »

From Tectonic, the South African government accepts ODF as the document standard. The adoption of ODF (Open Document Format) in our government is indeed great news, and hopefully it will have an effect on other developing countries when decisions like these are made.

What disturbs me though, is the criteria for what qualifies as an open standard, according to the MIOS document:

  • It should be maintained by a non-commercial organization
  • Participation in the ongoing development work is based on decision- making processes that are open to all interested parties.
  • Open access: all may access committee documents, drafts and completed standards free of cost or for a negligible fee.
  • It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost.
  • The intellectual rights required to implement the standard (e.g. essential patent claims) are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached.
  • There are no reservations regarding reuse of the standard.
  • There are multiple implementations of the standard

Firstly, why should a standard have to be maintained by a non-commercial organisation in order to be considered a standard? (And why does this document use American spelling everywhere? Doesn’t our government know that South African English is derived from the English?). I am quite sure that an open standard doesn’t need to be any less open if it’s maintained by a commercial organisation. Some might say that commercial companies may have vested interests, but this is true for many non-profit organisations, especially those funded by big commercial funders. Whether it’s a non-profit or for-profit organistaion, in my opinion, shouldn’t make a difference at all.

The third point seems to refer to the specifications of the open standards. What in the world does “or for a neglibible fee” mean!? In the next line they do state that everyone must be able to access and distribute it at no cost, so it seems that the intention is to have the specifications available at no cost, so I think they should’ve just dropped the “neglibible fee” part. Paying for distribution of a free standard is fine, in my opinion, but no one should have to pay for access to a standard, not even a so-called “negligible fee”.

I would personally be much more happy if they chose a definition more in line with the W3C Open Standard definition is far superior.

It gets worse though. On page 13 of MIOS, it says that FTP should be used as file transfer method in government intranets. Uhm.. what? Someone should tell the authors that 1985 called and want their file-sharing utilities back. FTP doesn’t even hae encryption or compression, not very good for government departments where security is important. Also, there SO many better ways to tranfer files, that work on all operating systems. Transfering files using the SSH protocol, is one example, and with clients such as GNOME-VFS and WinSCP, it’s easier to use than an FTP client as well. (on Page 16 though, they do make a small mention about SSH for file transport, but SSH should most certainly take precedence over FTP)

Later they say “Web based technology is to be used in applications that previously used Terminal Emulation whenever possible.”. I wonder how they want to do that? An AJAX based web interface? Should it use Java to provide a terminal emulator? That doesn’t sound like e very clever requirement to me. I think someone might have suggested that new software that’s developed for government should be preferably web-based, and then it got mangled along the way.

The rest of Page 13 is quite cool though. Yay RSS!

It goes a bit downhill again in Page 14: “Government information systems will be designed so that as such information as possible can be accessed and manipulated from common commercial browsers through utilisation of functionality freely
supported and available within the browser community.” Why target compatibility with “common commercial browsers”!? They should be targeting compatibility with established Internet standards instead. We seriously don’t want to see more crappy web interfaces “optimised for IE4 or better”! On Page 15, they do say that web services should adhere to standards developed by the W3C and OASIS. I don’t know why they have the contradicting terms though, there are bad people in this world who like to manipulate these contradictions for their own profit.

On Page 20, page 6, I think they could have specified Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora explicitly, especially since they made so much effort spelling out all the MPEG formats.

It’s really, really great to see government make good moves on open standards, but in my opinion, as a document for “Minimum Interoperability Standards”, they could have done better. The good news at least, is that everything required in the document is available and easy in Ubuntu, which is good news for companies who deploy systems and solutions at government sites. Besides the contradictions in the definition and the preference to FTP, I suppose this document is quite ok. I’m a bit tired and might be a bit harsh, so I’d love to see what people like Benjamin “mako” Hill (who really care about definitions) would say about this document.

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Telkom, Rugby and Ubuntu

Free Software, Jonathan, Project Mayhem, Sport 12 Comments »

Telkom Protest

Friday, I attended the protest against Telkom and their appauling service. Telkom, our national telecoms monopoly, have been raping our country and been causing great damage to our economy for decades now, and a local non-profit, IkamvaYouth, organised the protest. People from all over Cape Town who were fed up with Telkom joined in on the protest. It was actually quite fun, and the first protest I ever participated in. The police and traffic department was amazing, there was plenty of police officers to make sure that we stay together and no one got lost along the way, and nothing got stolen/damaged. The traffic officers did a good job of blocking off traffic where we needed to walk through traffic, and it went quite smooth. Phantsi Telkom, Phantsi! (“Down with Telkom”)

Thank you to the city of Cape Town for allowing us to do this.

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Rugby World Cup

Last night I watched the 2007 Rugby world cup final at my father’s place, South Africa vs England, with South Africa winning the cup. The atmosphere here was electrifying. Many high-profile people were there. Amongst others, Nelson Mandela- former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki- current president of South Africa, Jean-Pierre Raffarin- French prime minister, Gordon Brown- English prime minister and Prince William & Prince Harry from the British monarchy. The ceremony after the game was excellent, but what bothered me a lot was the bad manners of the English team. They shook hands with the French and Brittish prime ministers, but when the got to Thabo Mbeki, many just walked passed him and ignored him. I told my friends that I thought that this is incredibly rude, but they said that the English team might not have known that he was the South African president. I don’t want to believe that the English are that stupid. But they’re either that, or very rude.

Ubuntu Gutsy Release Party

Today I attended our very modest Ubuntu-ZA Cape Town release party. There’s lots of overlap in our local community, and many of us in the Ubuntu-ZA community are also together in other communities such as UCT-LEG, CLUG, CT-WUG, CT-PUG and more. We discussed issues in Gutsy, burned some discs, and briefly discussed goals for the next six months.

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Ubuntu turns 3 – Local celebrations

Free Software No Comments »

Today’s release of Ubuntu 7.10, the very popular Debian-based distribution, marks 3 years since Ubuntu made it’s first release in October 2004… and the Ubuntu world is getting ready to celebrate…

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We have two Ubuntu 7.10 parties scheduled in South Africa:

Be there… or else… or else… we’ll have to think of some way to punish you in a way that doesn’t violate the Ubuntu CoC!

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Microsoft now has 2 Open Source licenses

Free Software 6 Comments »

Via LWN, Microsoft now has 2 approved Open Source licenses. They don’t seem like very Microsoft-like licensed, which tends to be very long winded (then again, the same can be said for some Open Source licenses).

The two licenses are:

They seem like quite straight-forward licenses, except that I’m having a bit of trouble understanding what “If you bring a patent claim against any contributor over patents that you claim are infringed by the software, your patent license from such contributor to the software ends automatically.” means. I wish that lawyers could start using language that is easier to understand for non-native English speakers.

I think it will be interesting to see whether they’ll actually release anything useful under these licenses. I read the announcements from their Open Source portal via their RSS feed, and so far it’s just been marketing speak, and the software they have featured so far is rather dull, unless you are the type of person who would find wiki’s written in .net or IIS extensions exciting ;)

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Got digged

Free Software 4 Comments »

Shew, my post from yesterday got digged, and as a result, it made my hosting server very busy, which caused my account to be suspended. Sorry if you visited recently and got a hostgator-suspend-page!

I’ve dropped down to the default WordPress theme, enabled page caching, turned off gzip compression for pages, and the server’s load average dropped from 6 .53to 1.30 in about a minute!

I’ll be moving this site to Tektonic, they have some real nice price plans and services. The rest of the less-cpu instensive stuff will stay here on Hostgator, they are cheap enough :)

At least my site will now run from a decent Ubuntu 6.06 box, and I can install whatever I want on it. Yay!

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Ubuntu 7.10 lets YOU choose your level of freedom

Free Software 17 Comments »

People seem to have quite high expectations of Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy), and to be honest, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. Gutsy seems to be shaping up to be the best Ubuntu release ever, and it’s due for release next Thursday (18 October).There’s one particular aspect of Gutsy that I think is more important than most, and that is that it allows you to choose your level of freedom. I’d even go as far to say that this is an historic Linux distribution release, because of that.

1. Restricted manager

While not new in Gutsy, it does have a good deal of improvements. Restricted manager educates the user about proprietary drivers, firmware and other software that is required to make their hardware work. In the screenshot below, Restricted Manager warns me that my laptop requires non-free drivers if I’d like to use my modem. I haven’t had a use for a dial-up modem in years, so I just leave it disabled.

Restricted manager

2. Firefox integration for downloading flash plugins

This is a much-needed improvement, users often complain about installing flash plugins. Now, it’s easier to install both free and non-free implementations of flash. When you access a site that requires a flash plugin, and you don’t yet have it installed, Firefox will display a prompt where you can either install the proprietary Adobe Flash plugin, or the bleeding edge technology preview version of the GNU Gnash plugin.

Choose flash plugin

The required packages are then installed using Ubuntu’s own package management system, as opposed to Firefox’s plugin system- excellent!

3. Add/remove software

As the Restricted Manager, this is not new in Gutsy either, but I thought this fits in nicely with the other features. The Ubuntu add/remove program makes it easy for users to distinguish whether they’re installing proprietary or free software, and which of that is officially supported in Ubuntu. It wasn’t always like that, so I’m very glad to see that the Ubuntu team has managed to make and keep it simple for the users.

4. Gobuntu

Gobuntu Logo

Last, but most certainly not least, is Gobuntu. Originally there was going to be an Ubuntu build that was going to be called Gnubuntu, which contains 100% free software, and no proprietary firmware or drivers at all. Richard Stallman objected to the name, and it then became Ubuntu Libre, and was finally released as Gnewsense.

In Gutsy, the original idea behind Gnewsense is taken further. Gobuntu, the latest addition to the Ubuntu family, will not only ship with no restricted drivers by default, but it will also ship with no non-free images or artwork (that’s the ultimate ideal, at least). I’m not 100% sure whether this has actually been achieved for Gutsy yet, looking at the gobuntu-desktop metapackage, it seems that it still uses Firefox instead of Iceweasel. I think that the Hardy release of Gobuntu will be much more pure. If you have the time/energy resources, please join the gobuntu-devel mailing list and contribute to this project!


Whether you want to do the right thing and use free software wherever possible, or whether you need to install additional proprietary software that you require to do your work or have some fun, Ubuntu 7.10 makes it easier for you to choose. Kudos to the Ubuntu team and management for doing such a great job. I don’t think there’s any other distribution that currently makes it this easy to stick with 100% pure free software AND that makes it so easy to optionally install proprietary software.

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