Linux Foundation to build new community

Education No Comments »


The new site will transform in the months ahead from solely being a news source to a collaborative site that will be “for the community, by the community.” Much like Linux itself, will rely on the community to create and drive the content and conversation. While the Linux Foundation will host the collaboration forum, the site will feature the real Linux experts – users and developers – and give them the tools needed to connect with each other and with Linux. will also extend the Linux Foundation’s existing content and community programs available on will provide crucial content, tools and community services to galvanize the power of this group. It will also showcase information for business users of Linux.

Now if only someone could do something about (and tell them about no-www)

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“More Linux Distributions” Isn’t Necessarily the Answer

Free Software 9 Comments »

AJ Venter writes that we need more, not less Linux distributions. We’ve discussed it to a degree on the #clug IRC channel, where AJ Venter also sometimes hangs out as silentcoder. I wanted to discuss it with him, but he said that he doesn’t want to discuss it over IRC and also blogged that he doesn’t want to. He says that he really wants to discuss it over comments on the post instead.  Since he has disabled comments on the blog post in question, I decided to write this blog-reply.

I’m not convinced that we need more distributions. More distributions would result in huge duplication of work:

  • Additional bug trackers
  • More packaging work
  • Relationships between maintainers and upstream projects
  • Documentation
  • Additional installer work
  • … and there’s probably a lot more

There’s also very little benefit from doing a whole new distribution from scratch. Doing a custom installation from an existing distribution has plenty of benefits:

  • Existing installers
  • Lots of existing packages
  • Most common issues are known and can be tracked in the distribution’s bug tracker

Distributions such as Debian and Ubuntu are super-easy to adapt, and there are very few use-cases that could warrant doing a distribution from scratch as apposed to doing a custom install disc of those two systems. Ubuntu’s parent company, Canonical, even goes a step further by offering free hosting for free software packages via the Launchpad PPA service.

I don’t think AJ’s “diversity” “arguement” is solid or even makes a proper case for the need for more distributions. You can have diversity and satisfy a wide array of unique use cases by leveraging the work of  the existing distributions, without being wasteful and duplicating effort unnecesarily.

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Android Progress Upsetting to the Old Gaurd

Free Software 11 Comments »

David and Goliath

Recently Engadget reported that Steve Ballmer were taking shots at Google’s Android platform during his UK media tour. He said that it looked very “version 1″ and that it only has 1 handset maker and 1 provider, while Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS is supported on 55 manufacturer’s devices over 175 networks. He also aparently called Microsoft a David compared to Google’s goliath. That’s actually quite a big complement to the Android product, even if it wasn’t meant so. Ballmer said that because the software is version 1, and looks and feels that way, other handset manufacturers won’t be interested in it.

Android Adoption

Motorola, currently ranking 3rd in terms of global market share in handset makers, have announced that they are seeking to hire 300 developers to work inside Motorola developing on Android. That’s quite a big announcement, and a big bet for Motorola considering that their market share has been slipping in recent years. Motorola’s current high-end phones are already running a Linux kernel, so hopefully there will be a new range of consumer phones from them soon that are much more open than their older ones.

Android is not Microsoft’s only threat

Nokia, who is currently the world’s biggest handset manufacturer, has acquired the Symbian operating system (which currently runs on most of the high-end Nokia handsets) and have announced that they will be releasing the code under a free license. Not only will Nokia be selling Symbian as an open source operating system on their phones, but they are also develop a platform called Maemo which is a Linux system they sell with their tablet phones.

Samsung, currently second in terms of global market share, and LG who is currently 4th have also made big bets on Linux using the Access Linux Platform on 18 different phones.

Maybe Steve has a point?

When I first read the about Ballmer making the David and Goliath anology, I thought that it was just a little melodramatic, but with the 4 biggest handset manufacturers showing such a large interest in Linux and Free Software, I would be worried too if I were him. Google has a big opportunity here to make Android more attractive to more handset manufacturers, I hope they don’t mess it up.

And the iPhone?

The iPhone is a good piece of hardware, and even though the software is proprietary, it’s quite good too. A big limiting factor for the iPhone is that its software only runs on Apple hardware, while many of the next-generation systems can run on pretty much anything. This compares to the situation in the 80’s where you could only buy Apple software with Apple computers, and Microsoft operating systems with just about any other x86 PC hardware you could find.

Exciting times ahead

I lost track of my original thoughts in this post, but the next few years in the handset arena will be interesting and will continue to define how we use technology in our day-to-day lives. There will probably be many shake-ups in the years to come, and the industry will probably not be recognisable when we compare it today. I’m glad that the platforms that are used in the phones will become more standardised and use more and more open platforms. It’s a shame that in 2008, users still can’t just send contact details by sms withought having to wonder if the person on the other side will be able to open it. I think that in 5 years from now, we’ll be able to sync our devices and make them talk to each other in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible with the old proprietary systems that we used to use.

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Wine project announces first release candidate

Free Software 7 Comments »

The Wine project has announced the first release candidate for Wine, the free Windows API for Unix/Unix-like systems (and even non-unix systems like MS Windows itself and ReactOS). The Wine project started in 1993, which makes this release candidate 15 years in the making.

With so many excellent software for Linux systems these days, and the combination of powerful desktop hardware with great free virtualisation suites such as Virtualbox, people often ask me what the actual benefit of having a complete and stable free Windows API is. The ones I could think of is:

  • Gaining the benefits of free software. This comes down to having the ability to fix bugs yourself, or getting someone else to fix them for you. A company might have to run some legacy software under Windows, and Microsoft itself might not find it financially beneficial to fix a certain bug in their system. You could then switch to a free API and if the bug is present there as well, have it fixed. Since Wine does not run Windows under an emulator (or run Microsoft Windows at all), you do not need a Windows license, which you would need if you would run Windows under KVM/Virtualbox/VMWare/etc.
  • Beneficial to ReactOS (and similar projects). ReactOS is an attempt to completely re-write the entire Windows operating system, including boot loader, registry. kernel and user interface. ReactOS uses Wine for its Windows API. ReactOS is currently in early alpha state, and plans to release an alpha that is roughly 70% of a Windows NT 5 (Windows XP) kernel by the end of 2008.
  • Allows software vendors to dip their toes into cross-platform support. Software vendors such as Google have ported software such as Picassa and GoogleEarth to Linux-based systems using Winelib. Using Winelib, a software vendor can package their software to run on non-Windows systems at a fraction of the cost of what a rewrite or proper port would cost. While this may be a short-term solution for some providers, it may give them a market lead boost by being able to provide to a large audience rather sooner than later.
  • Commercial Wine support providers such as Crossover or Transgaming (see Tom’s comment below). These companies patch Wine to provide additional support for certain software and also provide user interfaces to allow easy installation and configuration of Windows software. The software released by these type of companies are usually proprietary software.
  • Performance and integration. Even though desktop hardware has become cheaper, and virtualisation software offers more and more nice features such as ’seamless’ window mode, running a complete additional operating system does come at a performance hit. At the very least, it will typically consume a dedicated amount of memory. Unless you do fancy tricks with shared directories between the host and guest systems, you also don’t get tight desktop integration with the software running in the guest. Running your legacy software under Wine allows you to get past some of these problems.

That’s the immediate benefits I could think of from having a free, stable Windows API available. There are probably more, and while I think that we probably won’t care about this anymore 10-15 years from now, considering all the next-generation cross-platform programming tools that are available now, I do think that the coming of age of the Wine project will be welcomed by many, and will provide many companies and individuals plenty of short-term benefits while the computing landscape transforms.

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I love my Mac!

Free Software 16 Comments »

And why not!? It runs Ubuntu beautifully!

PS: I bought this machine so that I can edit video, nothing I could find for Windows or Linux really did it for me. However, OSX is really terrible for me. It’s really way too oversimplified (and then some people complain about Gnome being too simple, really!). It’s default terminal font also hurt my eyes. When I have some spare time, I’ll run some things in Ubuntu and some in OSX and sees which performs better. Ubuntu certainly flies on this machine. Pity you can’t buy them without OSX tax. That would be awesome.

PPS: Any idea of platform independent benchmarks I could try?

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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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