Windows7sins Launches

Free Software 17 Comments »

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Yesterday I posted about the launch announcement from the FSF for the Windows7sins campaign. The site is up now, and it’s underwhelming even with the low expectations I’ve had.



Firstly, the homepage greets you with a picture of an OLPC XO-1. With Negreponte saying that Windows is key to the OLPC’s success and that the Sugar interface was a mistake, is that really such a good idea? Perhaps they chose it because it originally shipped as a complete hardware platform, or perhaps with its strong identity with education. I guess I could let it slide.



I don’t know if this is how most people would see it, but for me personally, I’d get horribly annoyed if Microsoft, Apple, Symantec, Google, etc started spamming me telling me why I should be using their software with letters in the post. I can imagine that a corporate that receives a letter saying something about free software, they’d probably just throw it in the bin.

Perhaps I’m a bit na├»ve and I just don’t get it? This is not how I learned to promote free software, and quite frankly, I think the Free Software Foundation could use some lessons in how to promote Free Software properly. It’s not that I want to criticise them or focus on the negative, but Free Software has so much to offer and as I said yesterday, I think that focussing on what it can do is much better than focussing on what the competitors can’t do. I’ll leave it at that.

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Free Software, Jonathan, Politics 15 Comments »

Today is George W. Bush’s last day as president of the United States of America. *sigh of relief*

Not only that, be we’re getting a U.S. president that actually promotes things like hope and volunteerism. Some sceptical people have said things like “he’s just a politician, he’ll say anything that will get him into office!”. Even if that was the case, I can’t remember when last I heard a politician talk that could even pretend to care as much as he does. I’m really happy about his inauguration.

Barack Obama

Aparently you’ll need Silverlight to view the inauguration online, although Paul Sladen has posted what could be used as a possible workaround for Linux users. I think I’ll just stick to good old T.V.

UPATE: You can now watch it using Moonlight

Apparently there are already bets going around on which words Obama might be using during the inauguration.

I’m a bit bet-shy at the moment, I lost a bet to Morgan Collett last month, I said Debian Lenny would be released before the end of December 2008. I knew it was a bit of a risky bet though :)

Today also happens to be Martin Luther King Jr Day, a public holiday in the US. In about 20 minutes from now (17:00 UTC), CNN will be broadcasting his famous “I have a Dream” speach.

(Images from Wikipedia)

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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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OLPC Sadness

Free Software 8 Comments »

I like the OLPC XO-1. It’s a quite little machine, it doesn’t have venting holes, and is quite resistant to dust and water. It’s also strong, and handles small falls (like falling from a desk to a floor) very well. I also like the amount of effort they have put into creating the custom Sugar interface, and all the other things around it like the mesh networking support and the way that a user can find other users close to them.

I think the project has taken a turn for the worse though. Nicolas Negreponte, founder of the OLPC project, is pushing the project for the XO-1 to use Microsoft Windows, and they have lost top staff like Walter Bender, who was also one of the top open source guys in the company. Negreponte claims that his interest is to get the machines in as many children’s hands as possible, this article also says:

He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar “grew amorphously” and “didn’t have a software architect who did it in a crisp way.” For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web.

“There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,” he said. “One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.”

Personally, I think that getting the laptops in the hands of kids in an irresponsable manner can do more harm than good. I previously blogged about Microsoft trying to force their old software on users, and this isn’t too much different. Microsoft is already reportedly releasing the next version of Windows next year. This means that by the time many of these XO laptops running Windows get to their target users, it would be an 8 year old operating system that’s already two releases behind the newest. I think this is terribly cruel, and shouldn’t be allowed. If I was a project donor, I would rather pay a bit more for decent hardware like the ASUS Eee or Intel Classmate PC (or even a Classmate 2) and run a modern, supported, localised operating system that truly benefits the users, instead of providing a legacy operating system on slow hardware.

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Minister slams software patents, Microsoft spreads ignorance

Free Software, Politics 2 Comments »

From Slashdot, Karl and Tectonic: The South African minister of public service and administration, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, said that software patents pose a considerable threat to the growth of the African software sector at the Idlelo 3 conference in Dakar, Senegal. She also said that it is “unfortunate” that the leading office suite provider (which would imply Microsoft by market share) have not adopted the ODF standard.

Paulo Ferreira, platform strategy manager for Microsoft South Africa, then spread ignorance on the matter by saying “There is no such thing as free software. Nobody develops software for charity“. He also said “For innovation to continue, there needs to be value – and even open-source applications have some form of market model, which incentivises them to continue innovating”. You would expect that someone who works for Microsoft would at least do a bit of research on the subject before attending a large FOSS conference such as Idlelo. I think that the average staff at Microsoft simply do not understand free software, or the economics behind it.

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Class Action against Microsoft

Free Software 8 Comments »

A lawsuit against Microsoft for classifying hardware as Vista Capable, when it is in fact only capable of running the simplistic Windows Vista Home Basic version, has been granted by a judge as a class-action lawsuit (man, we really need one of those against Telkom for their pathetic service). Microsoft will probably attempt to blame their resellers for this, biting the hands that help feed it, but in my opinion, it should be Microsoft’s responsibility to educate their partners on the exact system requirements of their upcoming products. A computer manufacturer cannot in any way predict the exact specifications of Microsoft’s upcoming systems, not even when testing pre-release versions, since they are often in debug mode which would make it run somewhat slower.

I also think that the industry is wising up to Microsoft quickly, consumers are also learning that Microsoft isn’t the angel software house that many people previously believed, and as a result, I think we will see many more class action lawsuits against them in the next few years.

Maybe Microsoft will finally learn to play nicely. Not because they want to, but because they have to.

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