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Linuxcare: Are you already working on the fourth edition?
Matt: They want to rev them more quickly these days. It took us like two or three years to get the third edition out --that is too long.
Linuxcare: How does O'Reilly decide when to do a new edition?
Matt: It is based on when they realize that the book is getting out of date and that material needs to be added. We always wrote Running Linux to be very resilient to the future. It always says "Here's how things are done today. It might change; check this HOWTO if it seems to be out of date." I always had philosophy when writing the book. So amazingly there's a lot of things in the first edition of Running Linux that are still true. It's amazing how backwards-compatable Linux is. So the book isn't wrong in some sense, it's just not giving you the best way to do things if it goes out of date.
Linuxcare: So then why should I buy the third edition?
Matt: In the third edition we have added GNOME, KDE, and Samba. We've updated all the Web-server stuff to talk about Apache, and have pretty much revised all the rest of the material to make sure that it is up to date. We talk about SuSE and Red Hat, just to provide two different points of reference.
Linuxcare: You make various references to Debian throughout the book.
Matt: I was a member of the original Debian team. I invented dpkg, or the first version of it, which looked nothing like what it looks like now. But one of the reasons that I didn't continue working on Debian was because at the time there was so-much infighting between the members of the team that it was impossible to make any progress. There was no Linus Torvalds saying "this is bad, this is bad, this is good." There was no dictator. I don't know if they ever solved that problem or not, but that is part of my experience with the Debian project. They are great idealists, but pragmatism sometimes has to step in. But I don't want to start a flame war between the distributions because I think that they are all good. I was checking out Debian.org
the other day and I was pretty amazed at how organized it was. It was a far cry from its earlier days.
Linuxcare: What do you feel about the corporate rise of Linux?
Matt: I think that there is no problem. However, companies like Red Hat need to remember that it only hurts Linux if they were to do something like channel a lot of development energy and not release things back into the public. Red Hat claimed that they have a commitment to continue doing that, which I think is great, but it is easy to get corrupted.
Linuxcare: Is Red Hat in touch with the needs of the Linux community?
Matt: I wouldn't say that Red Hat is the Linux community. If Red Hat says "we're going to be selective about what we put in our distribution based on what is going to sell," good for them. That's why projects like Debian exist. There is always an alternative, and that's what you don't get with Microsoft. You can fragment off if you need to. However I don't think that there is any reason to fragment. It would be nice if the LSB went through and if there were a common package format. I think that it is great that I can download RPM's, install them, and that they aren't really Red Hat specific.
Linuxcare: What do you see for the future of the LDP?
Matt: In recent months there has been a lot of turmoil within the LDP. A lot of it I think was caused by a lack of communication. I have heard a lot of stories about how the current maintainers of the LDP were not doing their job very well. Turns out that they were doing a lot of things, it's just that they weren't doing a good job communicating these things back to the people that were interested. Another thing that's common is that it is very easy to misunderstand people that you have never meet in person when you are talking over e-mail. One person might do something and read it as hostile when they never intended it to be so. This happens a lot. I think that right now the LDP has lost it's focus --it never had a lot of focus. But that I think that it is facing a new challenge where people expect it to have more focus than it did in the beginning because Linux is so popular. Originally it was just anarchy --anybody could write a document, send it in, and we'd put it up on the website and post it to the news-groups. That's all that was really required. Now people are saying that we need to make sure that these documents work for multiple distributions. But the way to get that stuff done really isn't to sit down and write down a list of what needs to get done and tell people to do it. That never works. You can't organize volunteers like employees. What happens is that somebody goes "I'll take up this project and I'll do it," and three months later you haven't heard from them. What happens? "Oh, I'm working on it, I'm really busy right now." So nobody does anything because they think that somebody else is taking care of it. That happens a lot. I think that is a general problem with open source projects --that you have to be careful in allowing people to claim a piece of the problem to solve. There needs to be a lease. There needs to be some way to tell the person "sorry, your time has expired, somebody else is going to do it now."
Linuxcare: So what does the LDP need?
Matt: I think that all the problems are getting solved, so what it needs is a re-structuring of how people communicate. The other thing that it needs is web-site and HOWTO maintainers that are actually going to do the job and think about what needs to be done for the future. There also needs to be a streamlined process for people to contribute changes. What I suggest is that the LDP maintainers keep their own internal CVS tree that only a small number of people have rights to. This would make it a lot easier for changes to be made.
Linuxcare: What is your relation to the LDP now?
Matt: What I kind of did was step in a little bit brutally at one point. Since Greg Hankins, the original website maintainer, was stepping down and there was nobody left to maintain it, I volunteered until they found a replacement. I also wanted to give the maintainers of the LDP a kick in the ass and make them realize that they will have to get their work done or we will just sidestep them and go our own way. After that I didn't have to do anything. In the aftermath a bunch of other people came on who wanted to help maintain the web pages. So I'm not doing anything other than acting in an advisory role. I helped start the LDP and I would really hate to see it die because of a small group of people who aren't doing their jobs very well.
Linuxcare: Where do you see the LDP a year from now?
Matt: My hope is that they will get their act together. Someday I hope that as a visitor to Linuxdoc.org
you'll be able to get more up-to-date documentation, be able to search across it, mailing list archives, and a more unified way of getting access to the information. I think that there are a lot of opportunities for some companies to come in and provide value add in terms of better documentation, better indexing of online information. Not just of LDP documents, but anything else you can find on the web. There is tons of stuff -- if you could just get through a unified interface it would help a lot.
Linuxcare: With so many new Linux books coming out, is there really a need for the LDP?
Matt: Yes, I think that there is. Originally there were no Linux books and so the HOWTO's were the only source of documentation. Now the HOWTO's serve a specific purpose, where you can assume that the reader knows how to install and run Linux. When this person buys a new sound card and they don't know if it is supported or how to install it, that is where the LDP comes in. The HOWTO's are an online source of tutorials that are pretty much in flux all the time. Books generally cannot get to that level of detail.
Linuxcare: They are out of date before they are printed.
Matt: Yes, and on top of that there is a space limitation. Books are good for a general purpose. The HOWTO's should be supplementing all those printed materials out there, saying "here's where you find the specifics about your hardware, your configuration, or your situation."
Linuxcare: Is that your plug for Running Linux?
Matt: Sure. In Running Linux I don't get into too many details about particular hardware, but I point to all the how-to's.
Linuxcare: So where do you see Linux a year from now?
Matt: My hope is that a year from now we will be able to convince more people that Linux is very good for running on servers, and that it is a lot better for desktops. KDE and GNOME are both going gangbusters. I was at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference and they had KDE on all the systems that were doing the display. You look at the desktop --there's folders, there's icons, there's a little menu bar at the bottom. Who cares about the shell? Who cares about vi? This really makes it possible to use a Linux system on the desktop. There is a lot of media hype with Linux right now. I think that a lot of it is well deserved, though. In a year from now we're going to convert more and more of the skeptics.
[Sept 30, 1999] OS-2 e-Zine! - Why OpenSource -- interesting argument about not opening source
I have been talking about this to a number of developers recently. Many times I hear, "Well, I do appreciate the OpenSource idea, but my sources are just too ugly to be released. I haven't commented anything."
This is the "diary objection." I admit that I had the same feeling with XFolder V0.80. See, I only started C and PM/WPS programming with XFolder; before that, I used Borland Pascal 7.0 for DOS/Windows and REXX only. Last year, I feared too that some C++-SOM-OO-WPS-Smalltalk guru would come up and laugh at me.
But believe me, this won't happen.
Obviously, clean, commented sources are better than ugly, uncommented ones. But then: ugly, uncommented sources are better than no sources at all. And maybe someone will take a look at your code and try to understand what's going on by commenting out things. That's what I have done with some of the sources I found on the Net and which are now part of XFolder.
Besides, if you look at the sources of XFolder V0.80 and compare it to the current ones (V0.84 at the time of writing), you'll see that I've cleaned up a lot of things during the last half year. Lots more comments have been added, and the structure of the code has been straightened out a great deal, mostly because the code has been split into many more files to make its function more lucid. What I'm trying to say is that the publicity of your source code is also a motivation to clean things up. In this process, I have found quite a number of bugs and memory leaks in XFolder, which maybe I wouldn't have found without this motivation. Trying to re-understand your own code sometimes does help.
[Sept 30, 1999] OS-2 e-Zine! - Making Money with OS-2 -- how to bypass the question "Why Linux" (the paper talks about OS/2) but actually the trick is not OS dependent...
[Sept 22, 1999] PC Week Slashdot opens itself up for Wall Street -- slashdot.org de-facto became slashdot.com -- commercial open-source portal site owned by Andover.net. Andover.net plans to go public in near future. Now it needs to be kind to the top advertisers (IBM, Compaq Computer Corp., SGI, HP and Intel Corp). And Malda (Rich Malda, not Rob Malda :-) will probably became a clone of ZDNet anchors ;-)
...The prospectus is 105 pages of standard Wall Street fare, including about 15 pages devoted to the risks associated with going public. After those risks are laid out, the company's business plan, including an e-commerce strategy, dominates the text. (Financial performance charts -- which demonstrate how little founder Rob Malda, aka CmdrTaco, worked for to keep Slashdot.org running - fill the remaining pages.)
...In outline, Andover.net wants to become the Amazon.com of the open-source world, but with editorial content and community forums to boot.
...The business plan also calls for continued acquisitions of open-source Web sites. A couple of targets could include Linuxtoday.com and Linux.com, the latter operated by hardware vendor VA Linux Inc. The prospectus does not mention selling Linux software.
..."If our e-commerce strategy does not generate a significant amount of revenue, then we expect to depend primarily on advertising revenues for the foreseeable future," Andover.net states.
... Andover.net's top 10 advertisers accounted for 65 percent of its revenue in the first half of this year. During that same period, its top advertiser, IBM, accounted for 17 percent of its revenue. Andover.net's top five advertisers are IBM, Compaq Computer Corp., SGI, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp.
...In the nine months ending June 30, advertising revenues totaled about $1.1 million, according to the document.
...Profit, for now, doesn't seem to be an imperative.
...Andover.net paid $1.5 million to acquire Slashdot.org and $367,000 to acquire another Linux/open source site, Freshmeat.net. Both will receive further cash and stock considerations if the founders, notably Malda and a couple of others, remain with Andover.net for two years. Malda will receive an additional $3.5 million plus stock over the next two years should he remain with Andover.net.
That's a far cry from the out-of-his-house operation Malda was running before Slashdot was acquired. Slashdot had revenues of $18,000 and a net loss of $10,000 in 1998, according to the prospectus. Malda's salary is now $90,000.
But Andover.net clearly thinks Malda is worth the price. E-commerce may become the revenue generator, but the content at Slashdot, mostly chosen and moderated by Malda and his partner Jeff "Hemos" Bates, is what Andover.net is counting on to bring visitors to the site in the first place.
The prospectus plays up Slashdot more as a news source than a community site that caters to its audience's interests -- a slant that "Slashdotters" themselves might argue.
"We provide an independent, unbiased source for content," the prospectus states, "much of which comes from the candid Linux/Open Source community itself . . . Through broad, unbiased coverage in editorials, community comments and comprehensive software listings, Andover.net is the largest independent intermediary for Linux/Open Source."
But many Slashdotters, Malda himself included, celebrate the biases of Slashdot.org and contend they are integral to the site's success.
In a recent Wired News story about online journalism, Malda was quoted as saying, "We're just not journalists." Later in the article he said, "Sometimes Slashdot is reporting. . . . Sometimes we're news. But mostly it's more like, 'There's something cool over here, what do you guys think?' and then the gang . . . tries to have a rational -- or not so rational -- discussion."
...Andover.net also did its homework for Wall Street by showing that the people reading Slashdot will buy from Andover.net.
A study cited in the prospectus outlines who visits the Andover.net sites. The study, by the Laredo Group, was commissioned by Andover.net.
The average Andover.net user spends 15.8 hours online per week, not including e-mail, according to the study. Of that, 2 hours are spent at Andover.net sites. The average household income of visitors is $61,000, and 60 percent of visitors come to Andover.net sites at least once a week.
The study goes on to say 68 percent of visitors are responsible for buying computer products for an average of 150 clients; 74 percent have made online purchases (nationally, the average is 22 percent, according to Jupiter Communications); and 77 percent say they will make an online purchase in the next year.
..."It is with feelings of profound ambivalence that I read this press release...What happens if traffic on Slashdot decreases? Will shareholders insist on a format change to drive ad impressions up? If stock price plummets, shareholders will eventually hold the company accountable. I do not see any way to avoid ramifications to [Slashdot] itself. Moreover, neo-fascistic legislation has yet to run its course on the Net. What happens when a 12-year-old's mother sees him reading Anonymous Coward flame-drivel, and sues Andover for child endangerment? (Could this bring even more moderation changes?)"
Many readers noted the irony in Andover.net's claim that it would use "WR Hambrecht & Co.'s proprietary OpenIPO system" for the filing. Another venture capitalist's press release announcing an investment in Andover.net quotes Andover.net CEO Bruce Twickler. "Our proprietary database-driven site creation tools, data collection tools, Web tracking and reporting systems, and other technologies allow us to get to a breakeven point on a new site quickly."
Under the heading "Intellectual Property," the prospectus states, "We generally seek to control access to and distribution of our technology, documentation and other proprietary information. . . . Content created or acquired by us is protected by copyright. The proprietary software that we use to run our business is protected generally by restricting third-party access, entering into confidentiality agreements with third parties who do have access and relying on copyright law."...
[Sept 22, 1999] CNET.com Why open standards are a myth -- who is the puppet master
The rhetoric behind the technological control
over instant messaging is beginning to resemble campaign speeches on family
values in an election year--and is inspiring similar cynicism.
Talk of an "open standard"--an industry blueprint meant to
ensure that competing products work together--imbues the debate over the
messaging technology at the heart of a standoff between America Online and
Microsoft. And because this particular communications software has hit the
mainstream, the relatively obscure phrase has become familiar to even the
newest of Internet newbies.
But what they are hearing is a
rallying cry that has lost much of its meaning within the high-tech industry
in recent years. While open standards still play an important role in
disciplining Internet software development, public discussion of standards
has largely evolved--or degenerated--into a corporate tool, where a firm can
maneuver itself on either side of an issue depending on its position in a
It boils down to this: If your company is a leader in its field, an open
standard is not in your best interest because it could allow others to get a
piece of the business. If your company is not a leader, this is exactly why
you want to level the field.
Witness the battle over Java. Sun Microsystems wishes to retain the
dual-mantle of Java inventor and Java standard bearer. Microsoft, and other
companies hoping to gain Java market share, favor a
third-party organization to maintain the standard.
But in this war of words, who's listening?
"There's no question that it's a little ridiculous that all
companies--not just Microsoft--fly the flag of open standards when it suits
them and clearly pursue their own advantage when it doesn't," said Lucas
Graves, analyst with Jupiter Communications. "It's ridiculous because
the consumer doesn't care. Let's not pretend that when we worship at the
altar of open standards millions of average consumers are lined up behind
In the more cooperative days of the Internet, it was hoped that the World
Wide Web Consortium and other industry standards bodies would ensure equal
rights in the development of technology behind the medium, free of government
In today's Wintel-dominated computing world, however, many believe that
such equality is impossible to achieve. That would require leaders like
Microsoft to resist using their formidable resources and alliances over
Talk of an "open standard"--an industry blueprint meant to ensure that competing products work together--imbues the debate over the messaging technology at the heart of a standoff between America Online and Microsoft. And because this particular communications software has hit the mainstream, the relatively obscure phrase has become familiar to even the newest of Internet newbies.
But what they are hearing is a rallying cry that has lost much of its meaning within the high-tech industry in recent years. While open standards still play an important role in disciplining Internet software development, public discussion of standards has largely evolved--or degenerated--into a corporate tool, where a firm can maneuver itself on either side of an issue depending on its position in a particular market.
It boils down to this: If your company is a leader in its field, an open standard is not in your best interest because it could allow others to get a piece of the business. If your company is not a leader, this is exactly why you want to level the field.
Witness the battle over Java. Sun Microsystems wishes to retain the dual-mantle of Java inventor and Java standard bearer. Microsoft, and other companies hoping to gain Java market share, favor a third-party organization to maintain the standard.
But in this war of words, who's listening?
"There's no question that it's a little ridiculous that all companies--not just Microsoft--fly the flag of open standards when it suits them and clearly pursue their own advantage when it doesn't," said Lucas Graves, analyst with Jupiter Communications. "It's ridiculous because the consumer doesn't care. Let's not pretend that when we worship at the altar of open standards millions of average consumers are lined up behind us."
In the more cooperative days of the Internet, it was hoped that the World Wide Web Consortium and other industry standards bodies would ensure equal rights in the development of technology behind the medium, free of government control.
In today's Wintel-dominated computing world, however, many believe that such equality is impossible to achieve. That would require leaders like Microsoft to resist using their formidable resources and alliances over smaller competitors.
Extropia.com: A Case Study in Open Source Software It is hard to pick up an industry rag these days without reading about the "Open Source" business and software development revolution. Following the funding of RED HAT by Netscape and Sun, the creation of Scriptix (out of TCL), and the Microsoft "Halloween" document, this article hopes to explain what the Open Source model is all about by reviewing the development of one Open Source Software Shop, Extropia
[Sept. 5, 1999] SCO statements on Linux -- an interesting evaluation of Linux from a competitor -- SCO and IBM Monterey initiative can be considered as a threat to Linux. the Links provided includes commentary that is absent in a quote below. Here is a direct SCO link (objective opinions are opinions about people we don't like ;-)
Along with UNIX, Internet Standards, Java, and the open systems approach, Linux and Open Source are two important factors in making Network Computing a reality. To support SCO's UnixWare server and Tarantella Application Broker, SCO actively encourages and leverages the developments in Linux and Open Source to help provide the software solution builders choose for Network Computing.
The heritage of UNIX is one of collaboration, open communication, and easy access to source code to foster innovation. Since taking control of the UNIX source code, SCO has restored much of that early spirit, supporting the Open Source movement, and making the UNIX source code more easily available. For several years now, SCO made most of its commercial products usable without license fees for personal or non-commercial use.
In 1998, SCO joined Linux International as a corporate sponsor, the first UNIX vendor to show such support. Since then, SCO has contributed source code, such as the UDI source, and done many other things to help innovation and forward movement in the industry. In 1998, SCO also hosted the UniForum conference under the SCO Forum umbrella.
SCO's Tarantella product supports Linux clients and the Mozilla browser, and web-enables Linux applications. SCO's Free UNIX and University Seeding programs have achieved widespread -- free -- access to commercial grade UNIX systems. Recently SCO announced support for Linux applications on the UnixWare7 platform, free membership in SCO's commercial developer and marketing program program for Linux developers, support for Linux platforms in SCO's Vision Family of UNIX/Windows integration products.
We discuss with Open Source advocates many new ideas and opportunities, and many other new initiatives are in the planning stages. SCO believes that Open Source development will help reduce the cost and improve the quality of many software projects, and has already contributed to and benefitted from several such projects.
While SCO supports the Open Source movement, we do of course compete with product offerings based on Linux and other Open Source products. UnixWare Server Software is a better choice than today's Linux based systems for most business applications.
We use Open Source technologies directly or as a basis for creating our own technology. Whether we use them or not comes down to quality and suitability, but also knowing whether we and our customers have rights to use them. We are creative and flexible, but we have to be careful. We deliver our customers excellent products with assurances, warranties and commitments -- they take risks in running their businesses, not in running their servers.
[Aug 25, 1999] Some thoughts on the Linux Documentation Project -- weak -- it does not address the project problem -- and the main one is that authors were just unable to publish results of their hard work for several months, and maintainer did not respond to any inquiries. It is mainly interesting as (partially wrong -- see for example his simplistic advocacy of SGML tools -- the decision that probably contributed to the problem) views of the one of originator on the project:
To: [email protected]
Subject: Some thoughts on the Linux Documentation Project
From: Matt Welsh <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 12:09:10 -0700
In the last few months, the Linux Documentation Project has been in a bit of a rough spot, and it seems that things have not been moving along as smoothly as they were for the last 5 years. I have seen the latest "LDP Proposal" (http://www.linuxports.com/ldp.htm) on the Open Source Writer's Group website (http://www.thepuffingroup.com/oswg/), and I have a few thoughts on the current state of the LDP and what should be done to fix it.
As the original co-founder and coordinator of the LDP, I did a lot of work to make the project a popular source of Linux documentation. I started the LDP website, moderated the newsgroups, ran the mailing lists, acted as the liason between LDP writers and CD-ROM vendors and paper publishers. So I'd like to share my thoughts about what the LDP needs to get back on track.
In a nutshell, my approach would be minimalistic. I have always found that when organizing a group of volunteers on the Internet, doing less is always better than doing more.
Here's what I mean: The LDP is primarily a vehicle for Linux enthusiasts and developers to share their knowledge about the system with other Linux users. People are motivated to contribute to the LDP because they know that by having their docs on the LDP website, and on many CD-ROM distributions, and even in printed books, that many Linux users are likely to read what they have written. This is much better than burying the docs on a website somewhere and relying on a search engine. The LDP is the de facto standard place for people to go to find out about Linux -- first.
As such, it is *vital* that it is as easy as possible for people to contribute to the LDP. Participation in complex standards processes, voting organizations, or high-traffic mailing lists should never be a requirement. Likewise, the tools used to write LDP docs should be easy to use, widely-available, free, and well-supported.
Ideally, we should allow people to write LDP docs in any format they wish -- but I have found that this makes it quite difficult for the LDP maintainers to publish the docs in a common format. My compromise was to always allow people to contribute docs in plain ASCII, but the preferred tool was Linuxdoc-SGML (now SGML-Tools). SGML-Tools is very easy to use and automatically generates HTML, ASCII, TeX, DVI, PostScript, and texinfo from a single source file. Also, it works with any text editor. Any system which imposes additional responsibilities on authors makes the barrier of entry too high, and people will be less likely to contribute.
Another important aspect of the LDP is that it is vendor-neutral and run by volunteers. For the LDP to be a mouthpiece of a large (or small) Linux distributor or other company would defeat its purpose. I am not suggesting that for The Puffin Group to "take over" the management of the LDP would be a bad thing -- but it is important to make it clear that the LDP is open to contribution by anyone, and is not a closed, privately-run organization motivated by corporate profit concerns. Otherwise, the LDP loses its identity as an open organization which exists to serve the Linux community as a whole.
My strong conviction is that the LDP exists for only two purposes: First, to provide widely-distributed, online publication of Linux documentation (through the website, USENET, and other means). This frees authors from having to concern themselves with making docs available: they simply send the materials to the LDP maintainer and the rest is taken care of. The second purpose is to act as liason between authors and organizations which wish to publish LDP materials on CD-ROM or in print. It is important that LDP authors are represented to publishers in this way -- publishers rarely want to deal with authors individually, but would rather deal with the LDP "as a whole".
There are some pitfalls which I think the LDP needs to be careful of when moving forward:
- Too much bureaucracy. Turning the LDP into a complex organization with offices, roles, voting procedures, and standards does nothing to further the goal of Linux documentation; all it really does is feed the egoes of the people involved. No other successful Linux project requires this level of bureaucratic organization. Keeping things informal makes it easier to move forward and to be flexible in light of change. I have seen too many Linux projects die (or take too long to get any useful work done) because of political infighting based on organizational procedures rather than meaningful technical details.
- Changing tools. Unless there is a compelling, immediate, and inevitable reason why some new documentation format is required, don't waste your time trying to convert all of the docs and educate all of the authors about how to use the new tools. Adopting Linuxdoc-SGML was hard enough in the beginning; it only happened because it was so easy to use and we provided a lot of examples and documentation for the tools themselves. I haven't seen any compelling reasons why DocBook (or any other tool) will make Linux documentation any better. At the very least, accept LDP docs in *both* Linuxdoc-SGML and DocBook indefinitely. Forcing authors to adopt a new tool is the best way to scare people off. The LDP isn't about tools; it's about documentation. Don't let the tools weenies take over.
- Too much -- or too little -- leadership. Leadership in the LDP is really an oxymoron, because the group doesn't need any real leadership. All it needs is someone to work hard maintaining the documentation archives, running mailing lists, posting to USENET, and working with the various paper and electronic publishers who want to redistribute LDP materials. What it also needs is someone who is communicative, open-minded, and clear-headed enough to direct the group's energy towards productive means, rather than endless political discussions. What the LDP doesn't mean is a group of people to overlay a complex organizational structure over something which is essentially a loose-knit collection of enthusiastic writers.
- Using the wrong copyright. My feeling is that the LDP should adopt a *class* a copyright licenses which it will accept for LDP docs, similar to the Open Source Definition. This will allow individuals to select their own preferred copyright license for LDP materials, within a certain range of allowable licenses. Forcing authors to adopt a single license simply means you will have fewer contributors. Some people distrust the GPL, others distrust the BSD license, and still others prefer to craft their own. You need to be flexible enough to accept a range of copyrights from authors.
- Too much planning. Setting out a roadmap for a collection of documents that need to be written is the best way to ensure that nobody will ever write them. Writing docs gets done in bits and spurts, and can look like a pretty big job if someone draws up a big outline for a mega-tome which the LDP plans to work on. The HOWTO project was so successful because people could write as much -- or as little -- as they wanted to on a topic of particular interest to them. So what if it's not organized into a coherent whole? With the aid of indices and search engines, people will eventually find what they're looking for. Also remember that ownership of LDP documents is a lease: if someone fails to maintain or update their document over time, it's perfectly acceptable for someone else to revise it or rewrite it altogether. This happened several times with documents that I originally authored.
In short, I think that the only thing the LDP needs to do to get on track is to retain the essential structure it has had for the last five years. Making things any more complicated will only raise the barrier of entry to new authors, which will eventually cause the project to die out. The LDP worked so well because it took almost no effort for someone to contribute: all they had to do was e-mail me the source for a new HOWTO. As soon as you become embroiled in discussions about new tools and bureaucracies, the LDP stops getting useful work done and starts becoming "yet another overburdened Linux project". My advice is to keep it simple.
I appreciate any comments.
Matt Welsh, [email protected]
[August 17, 1999] Red Hat IPO
[Aug 12, 1999] Panelists Describe Open Source Dictatorships
Open source may sound democratic, but it isn't. At the LinuxWorld Expo on Wednesday, leaders of some of the best-known open source development efforts said they function as dictators.
The ultimate example is Linux itself. Creator Linus Torvalds has final say over all changes to the kernel of the popular open source clone of Unix. Because the Linux development community has grown so large, most software patches are reviewed by many different people before they reach him, Torvalds said.
If he rejects a patch, it can mean a lot of other people threw a lot of effort down the drain, he said. However, it enables him to keep Linux organized without spending all of his time on it, he added.
"My workload is lower because I don't have to see the crazy ideas," Torvalds said. "I see the end point of work done for a few months or even a year by other people."
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Apache, the open source Web server, which is as close to a democracy as one is likely to find in software development. There are about two dozen people on the core development team of Apache, said Brian Behlendorf, co-creator of the software and president of the Apache Software Foundation. Any one of those people can block an addition to the software
"The right of any core developer to veto has kept us very conservative," Behelndorf said.
In the middle of the spectrum would be development of the Perl scripting language, which maintainer Chip Salzenberg calls "a constitutional monarchy."
Perl was created by another programmer, Larry Wall. Wall no longer coordinates development on a day to day basis. Instead, Wall functions as a Supreme Court, Salzenberg said, with ultimate decision power when a dispute arises. Salzenberg said he now functions as the president, making most large-scale development decisions. The community of over 160 active Perl contributors acts as the legislature, he said, proposing and debating the direction of code.
All the panelists agreed on having some kind of definite chain of command because it allows development to continue even when some developers drop out. Many contributors to open source projects actually make their living writing code for companies that create proprietary software, Apaches's Behlendorf said. Thus, they sometimes have to take a few months off to concentrate on their paying jobs.
Jordan Hubbard, co-founder of the FreeBSD Linux project and CEO of FreeBSD, said that open source development efforts actually have better retention rates than the private software industry. The caveat is that developers won't stick around for the money if people stop getting along, he said.
"Interpersonal conflict is what drives people away," Hubbard said. "Somebody's ego gets caught in the door and suddenly you have a week's worth of flame mail."
[Aug 11, 1999] Linux -- Not Just for Communists
But there's something deeper at stake. For Bob, the Open Source movement resembles communism and he sees it headed for the same, final meltdown at the hands of capitalism. Admittedly, if you listen to Richard Stallman long enough, you start hearing John Lennon's "Imagine". But I don't see any resemblance between open source and communism. Open source reminds me of the university, or more to the point, of the long-standing traditions of open knowledge-creating and sharing that are responsible for the impressive successes of Western science.
When you become a scientist, you give up the quest for great worldly wealth. You get a decent wage, to be sure. But you don't capitalize on your discoveries--you give them away. You publish, and reveal all. You don't get a penny from the journals, either. In fact, some of them make the author pay the typesetting charges!
What's the payoff? There are probably as many motivations as there are scientists. Some are curious; they just can't stop thinking about why the edge of a waterfall curls, or why the Milky Way's arms form those big, elegant spirals. Others are big kids who can't wait to get into the lab for another rewarding day of exquisite, exploratory fun. Still others care very deeply about the value and meaning of science. In a recent series of lectures, physicist Freeman Dyson reveals the source of his commitment to science: a quest for ways that science and technology can contribute to social justice, the elimination of poverty, and the preservation of the Earth's environment.
I've never heard anyone call science communism. It has absolutely nothing to do with communism. In fact, communists don't like scientists very much. Scientists are too hard to control. They care too much about truth.
University scientists aren't the only people doing research, of course. For-profit corporations engage in research and development. But the consequences illustrate precisely whats at stake. Proprietary knowledge doesn't get disseminated unless doing so enhances the corporation's bottom line. That's understandable, but we need an alternative. In that most capitalist of all countries, the U.S., a bipartisan Congressional consensus supports public investment in university research and the creation of knowledge for everyone, including for-profit companies. This isn't communism; it's common sense.
So what's at stake with computer software? Plenty. Computer technology is partly responsible for the longest sustained economic boom in U.S. history. It has helped establish U.S. economic, technological, and political dominance in a fractious and dangerous world. It promises to help solve the most vexing problems now facing us: the demand to create efficient, non-polluting energy sources, to deal with the ravages of world hunger, to unlock the mysteries of cancer. It's vital that computer knowledge remains an open public possession, but that's not what's happening. Right now, for-profit computer firms are falling all over themselves trying to patent even the silliest snippets of code, and an unbelievably myopic U.S. Patent Office is giving away the store. (You'll learn more about the software patent crisis in an upcoming column.) Computer systems that are vital to public safety and welfare are operating with closed, commercial code, which is loaded with unknown (and unknowable) bugs. Consider the USS Norfolk lying dead in the water for two hours after the failure of its onboard NT systems, and you'll get the idea.
The Open Source movement won't wipe out commercial software, any more than it will create an important and valuable alternative. Computer software is too important to leave to for-profit corporations. There needs to be a balance between publicly accessible knowledge and proprietary, for-profit knowledge, and the Open Source movement is lighting the way.
If you still think this is pie-in-the-sky utopianism, maybe you should go talk to kids in a Mexican school. Without computer literacy, they don't stand a chance in today's global economy. Thanks to GNOME, an open source desktop system for Linux, the Mexican government is saving $124 million that would have otherwise lined Microsoft's coffers, and it's spending the money on computers instead. Call it communism, if you like. I call it progress.
[Aug 11, 1999] Will Linux Fizzle
Bob is right in that we need big, multinational corporations to create today's computer software. But that's because today's computer software is designed to make corporations rich, rather than serve users' needs. Users don't want huge, complex programs -- especially when they come with the sting of incompatible file formats and costly, repeated upgrades.
Will Linux fizzle? Bob isn't hesitant to make predictions, so here's one in reply. Linux isn't 30-year-old technology; it is carrying a 30-year-old battle to the heart of Microsoft's market. Who wins will depend on whether Microsoft manages to deliver a stable, reliable product -- and as I've explained, the odds are against it. Even so, the outcome may have more to do with the pocketbook than with the principles of operating system design.
I believe Linux will do to Windows 2000 what Windows 3.1 did to the Mac OS in the early 1990s. Back then, we all knew that Mac OS was the best technology around, but the fact remained that you could set up a Wintel system for about half as much money. Just as soon as there's a full suite of high-quality, standards-conformant, open source applications for Linux, people are going to start considering whether it's worth shelling out $500 for the latest Windows bug fix, the latest Office upgrade, and yet another file format. Bottom line, folks: I'd rather keep my $500. Wouldn't you?
[Aug 10, 1999] ZDNet Linux News Story
Intel Corp. Chairman Andy Grove said Tuesday that Intel's first 64-bit processor, code-named Merced, will yield silicon "in a few weeks time" and that "we will know then whether it works or it doesn't."
In a surprise appearance at LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose, Calif., Grove and Intel senior vice president Sean Maloney demonstrated the Linux kernel running top of the Merced simulator generating a transaction.
Maloney announced that IBM Corp. has joined the Trillian group, which is porting Linux to IA-64, along with SGI, Hewlett-Packard Co., Cygnus Solutions Inc. and Intel. Trillian will release the source for the Linux IA-64 kernel in the first quarter of next year.
Intel, meanwhile, will allow access to "application solution centers" that is building around the world for developers to build Linux applications and run and test code. Intel will also make available Merced servers to prominent Linux development hotbeds, such as SUSE, TurboLinux, Caldera, RedHat and VA Research Inc., Maloney said.
[Aug 10, 1999] Sun Asks IBM To Preload Solaris on Intel Boxes -- Fear of open-source success creates strange bedfellows in operating-system world.
[Aug 10, 1999] PC Week IPOs pose challenge to Linux community
Although the Linux operating system kernel will remain open, developers are not required to give away Linux application code. As a result, publicly traded Linux vendors could be under intense pressure from shareholders to distinguish themselves from the competition by creating and selling proprietary Linux applications.
Because the operating system is being continually upgraded, Linux vendors that go public will face unique challenges. Government rules mandate public companies must always consider shareholders' needs first -- needs that may conflict with those of the open-source community.
"Once you start a company ... it's hard to stick to your ideals because you have a fiduciary responsibility to your shareholders," said open-source expert Tim O'Reilly, president of O'Reilly & Associates Inc., in Sebastopol, Calif. "That makes it difficult to take the long view that open source requires."
[August 7, 1999] Op-Ed July 20, 1999 The Negotiator
Like a fledgling political party celebrating its first victories in the national elections, the Linux community must now decide how to best exploit its limited success in the mainstream market. The most obvious danger is that this new challenge to the existing power structure will encourage Microsoft and its allies to fight Linux and attempt to erase those modest gains. (If the stories about Microsoft having formed an "anti-Linux" team are true, then the battle's already been joined.) The more subtle, but also more serious, problem is that Linux's open-source license and the lure of profits will entice IBM, Corel, HP, or even Microsoft, to co-opt Linux by producing a version that more closely meets their needs in the mainstream, as opposed to those of the current community.
The Linux community has a choice: It can change tactics (much as Microsoft did when it realized it almost missed the Internet boat) and keep Linux's essence, its soul, if you will, in place even as it fights for the mainstream market. Or it can decide that it's fine for Microsoft to own 90% of the desktop operating system market, sit on the sidelines, and watch as derivative versions of Linux do battle with Windows, possibly fragmenting Linux in the process and leaving Microsoft in control.
Based on everything I've seen the Linux community do over the years, I'm optimistic. They're a wickedly smart, scrappy bunch, and I'm convinced they can do what's needed to succeed brilliantly, both on their own terms and in the marketplace. But it's time for them to stop talking about revolutions, and start acting like would-be rulers in the New Computing Order.
[August 7, 1999] Why open standards are a myth -- the rhetoric behind the technological control over instant messaging is beginning to resemble campaign speeches on family values in an election year -- and is inspiring similar cynicism.
[August 3, 1999] Salon 21st The dumbing-down of programming
[August 3, 1999] Seybold Reports
[July 26, 1999] PC Week The way of Linux -- will Red Hat be the one and only true Linux ?
Could the fragmented history of Unix be repeating itself with Linux? There are signs: Variations in ideology as well as cash--lots of it--are pushing Linux to the brink of fragmentation as the threads of the open-source model--its only stabilizing force--are weakening.
Linux's problem stems from its popularity and a booming economy. As vendors and investors hurl money at anything with a penguin, Linux vendors are scrambling to add differentiating value to the operating system. Red Hat has an application packager and a user interface. Caldera has a different installer. Both have struck agreements with big-name vendors, with products only certified on one version of Linux or another, but not all. Right now, the field is somewhat level. But how long will investors be satisfied with products that more or less cannot be differentiated?
There are more clouds on the horizon. The leaders of the Linux community have begun to bicker publicly. Open-source stalwart Richard Stallman has gotten into public arguments with anyone who says people should be paid for writing software. Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, a voice of moderation, says people should be paid for their work. Red Hat's Bob Young, meanwhile, is doing everything to ensure that if anyone adopts Linux, it will be the Red Hat flavor. He's on a mission, after all, since Red Hat will soon be a public company responsible to shareholders.
Sooner or later, a hard line will be drawn, and corporate IT will be asked to pick one version of Linux. Then they'll be forced to spend money to evaluate the differing options. Application developers, on the other hand, won't know which flavor to commit to, limiting the number of available applications and raising costs.
[July 25, 1999] The Puffin Group -- announced that it will be fully sponsoring the Open Source Writers Group , a growing organization of volunteer writers, editors, proofreaders, and translators who donate their time toward non-commercial open-source projects. The Puffin Group will provide the Open Source Writers Group with a combination of technical resources and financial compensation in order to ensure its continued existence and growth. See also slashdot coverage SlashdotThe Puffin Group Sponsors Open Source Writers in one of the remarks Bruce Perens noted that major publishers like IDG and Macmillan are bringing out books under Open Source licenses. If you are an author who would like to write one, he can put you in touch with their editors. Here is a critical note:
Company with little enough resources (manpower, money, etc) of its own will be "sponsoring" another vapororganization? Is it just me, or are there more and more of these things today -- a linux organization, or company, or whatever, that has done nothing except gain publicity just by existing? What have they ever produced? (I know Saturday's are slow, but really..) I would like to formally announce a strategic partnership with my neighbor. Every other week, I'll mow his yard, and in the between weeks, he'll mow my lawn. Oh, and, uh, we'll also do linux consulting on our free weekends, and work to port Linux to the Lawnmower Architecture.
[July 21, 1999] The Net’s stealth operating system
An open-source operating system like Linux, BSD was developed in the 1970s at the University of California-Berkeley, well before Linus Torvalds ever took a computer course. So why was it Linux that captured mindshare and public imagination?
... Web sites that use BSD is impressive. Yahoo, UUNet, Mindspring and Compuserve are on the list — in fact, perhaps 70 percent of all Internet service providers use BSD. Also on the list — Walnut Creek CDROM Inc. and its CD-ROM FTP download site, which the company says delivers more than 1 terabyte of data to visitors every day.
...So why is Linux on everyone’s lips, and why are there about 10 times as many Linux users as BSD users? After all, they are both free operating systems that offer free source code — and BSD had quite a head start. Legal troubles tell part of the story. Right as the Internal began to reach critical mass, in 1993, the BSD movement was hit by a copyright lawsuit from AT&T, which still owned the rights to Unix. At the same time, Torvalds was welcoming help from all comers, mainly young computer science students enamored of with the coming information explosion.
There are other reasons — much effort has been put into making Linux user-friendly enough for use as a desktop operating system. BSD groups have focused on servers, never putting much work into appealing to a mass market.
... “In late 1991 there were 100 programmers on UseNet producing improvements for (BSD),” said Wes Peters, a BSD user from the beginning. “If not for the AT&T lawsuit at the worst moment.... Because of that, people said, ‘I don’t want to go with BSD now.’ That was the time Linux was gaining functionality.”
...BSD users, they say, tend to have computer science degrees, hold management positions and have 10 years or more experience in the field. Linux users, on the other hand, are young hackers doing impressive work but motivated in part by having too much free time. “BSD has been where it’s happening in computer science research for 20 years,” Peters said. “It still hasn’t lost that cachet.”
... BSD was already a mature operating system with four different flavors when Linus Torvalds wrote the first line of Linux code. A direct descendant of the Unix operating system, BSD (also called Berkeley Unix) dates back to work done by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy to create the first free version of Unix when he was at Berkeley in the late 1970s. Later a group of Berkeley computer scientists added to his work, eventually beginning a project called 386BSD designed to rewrite Unix so it could be used on a PC with Intel chips. After Berkeley stopped funding the effort, BSD split off in several directions. The NetBSD group, which focused on creating an OS that could run on any hardware — PCs, Macs, HP servers, Ataris, etc. The FreeBSD group, which optimizes BSD for Intel chips. The OpenBSD group, which did a line-by-line security audit of BSD code, and now has what is widely regarded as the most secure OS available. And BSDi, the Red Hat of BSD. It’s a commercial venture started by some of the original Berkeley crowd that sells BSD and supports the product.
...Despite its dominance in the niche ISP market and its attractiveness as a server product, BSD remains a silent member of the Internet’s moving forces. Major PC vendors such as Dell will sell you a laptop with Linux; they won’t sell you any PC with BSD. There are also precious few applications for BSD. All that will soon change, some say. “Your readers will hear about it,” said Stephen Diercouff, who publishes BSD.org. “The emphasis has been on servers, but BSDi is moving into desktops.... And if one of the database vendors released a database that ran on BSD, you’d see a huge market share jump. I know there have been discussions with Oracle, Informix and Sybase.”
There is one significant difference between Linux and the flavors of BSD, according to BSDi spokesman Kevin Rose. Linux development is restrained by the so-called “copyleft” general public license (GPL). Any programmer who modifies the Linux kernel must make the source code available to the Linux community. BSD is not bound by the agreement — therefore, entrepreneurial-minded developers will stay away from Linux, he predicts. “You have to give up your intellectual property to your competitors,” he said. “The OS itself is not going to see a great deal of innovation because there’s just no economic incentive to do so.”
All that makes FreeBSD user Matthew Fuller shrug at the religious argument. “There’s a lot of things that Linux is ‘better’ at, and a lot of things FreeBSD is ‘better’ at, and a lot of those things can easily fluctuate on a daily or weekly basis,” said Fuller, who maintains a Linux vs. BSD Web page. “Thus, any definitive narrow statement that can be made is usually obsolete before anyone hears it.”
[July 19, 1999] ENT Article Archive: Linux Linux Enough Already -- Sun can suffer from Linux success
Ultimately, despite the quasi-religious fervor of its supporters, Linux is fundamentally another Unix. Why should it be any more of a threat to NT than is, say, Solaris? One potential answer, obviously, is that Linux boxes are cheaper than Solaris systems. Linux runs on commodity hardware -- hardware that was commoditized by the popularity of Microsoft systems, which is a nice irony -- and the OS is free. But for enterprises, unlike college students, the price of the system itself is a small part of the longer-term cost. Ultimately, Linux systems are only a little bit cheaper, and for an enterprise, who cares? I don’t know any serious organization that, to save a small amount of money, is willing to bet its future on an operating system written and maintained by a bunch of self-selected volunteers.
I don’t doubt the dedication or the talent of those volunteers. What I, on occasion, do doubt is their sanity. They are producing a valuable thing, and they’re just giving it away. This is certainly their right, but what troubles me is that someone, somewhere, is absorbing the value that’s being created. I have something close to an ethical problem here: These enthusiastic Linux developers seem in some ways exploited, in that someone else is deriving the economic value produced by their work.
It’s hard to imagine a happier bunch of exploited workers, which brings us to the real reason for the Linux phenomenon. These developers, like lots and lots of other people, hate Microsoft. There’s no better way to express this today, and even to feel like you’re taking action against Bill Inc., than by joining the Linux movement. I participated in GartnerGroup’s Windows NT conference recently, and the hottest topic at the event was Linux. Red Hat’s CEO attended, too, and people were lining up to have their picture taken with him. The man is a folk hero, as, of course, is Linus Torvalds.
Linux supporters sometimes base their predictions of a glowing future on claims of Linux’s technical superiority over NT in some key areas. Even if these claims are true, which is certainly debatable, they’re irrelevant. As long as two technologies are each good enough to solve the relevant business problems, which one is technically better will have no effect on which gets more widely used. Who wins depends on support, marketing, availability of applications and various other characteristics that are largely independent of the technology itself. Windows 95 didn’t crush OS/2 because it was a better technology, but because it offered a better total solution for the relevant business problems.
My advice is to use Linux where it makes sense, in places where a cheap Unix box is a good fit. For organizations without much Unix installed today, there are few situations where this may apply. If competent Unix administrators are already on hand, Linux boxes can be cheap, reliable platforms for running DNS servers, Apache Web servers and other kinds of single-purpose applications. To even consider Linux, though, an organization must already be Unix-friendly. This means that, in reality, every installed Linux box is more likely to be a lost sale for Sun, HP or IBM than for Microsoft.
In fact, the company that should be most worried about Linux is Sun. Scott McNealy, Sun's chairman and CEO, hasn’t been especially complimentary about Linux in public, which is no surprise. As the Unix community’s guiding light and the owner of today’s best-selling enterprise Unix, the appearance of a serious competitor for both of those titles has got to make Sun nervous. I believe that five years from now Linux will still exist, and I’ll bet it will even be a fairly popular Unix. But its growth will come largely at the expense of Sun, not Microsoft. It’s another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences: Linux fans are driven by Microsoft hatred, but the company they’re really hurting is the one that’s done more than any other to make Unix a successful, mainstream system.
[July 17, 1999] The Anti-Linux-IPO Howto -- good and applies to anti-microsoft camp as well ;-)
[July 15, 1999] SlashdotFeature Conflicting Open Source Developers
[July 15, 1999] Developer Central - SGI Invests in OS Technologies By Tom Mead (continued from the Feature Story)
The functionality and reliability of Linux make it noteworthy to technical professionals in a variety of markets. These markets include:
- File and print servers
- Web servers
- Software developers and engineering
- Manufacturing and Electronic Design Automation
SGI will deliver intellectual property to Open Source Linux to help it move to such markets and toward those areas into which it needs to expand. Such SGI property includes:
- TCP/IP patches to improve the TCP/IP stack performance of Web servers on Linux platforms. They have accelerated the UNIX based HTTP Apache server by about two times, and the SuSE Web server by about four times. The patches are also available on IRIX and produce the same order of Web server improvement.
- Patches that augment Linux security by confronting denial of service attacks.
- A KNFSD upgrade increasing the stability of NFS 2.2.x between Linux systems and UNIX systems.
All the above have been made available to the Open Source community and will be part of the SGI Linux/IA-32 server release in calendar Q3.
XFSTM, recently released to the Open Source community, will bring additional enterprise capability to the Intel based IA-32 server. For more information see the XFS site.
SGI recently introduced support of Samba 2.0 for its SGITM OriginTM server line. The company expects this capability will help meet the platform interoperability requirements of Linux users on Intel based servers. For more information see the Samba article in Developer News.
...IRIX is very strong at the high end, where it supports ccNUMA with up to 256 CPUs and true preemptive, multithreaded kernel scalability. Linux is demonstrably more adroit at the workstation end of the compute spectrum. It is lean and efficient, has a large install base, a steep evolutionary path, multiple architectures, drivers and platform support, an impassioned following, and it is free of autocracy. Significantly, InfoWorld recently gave its Best Technical Support award to "the Linux community."
Thus, support for Linux on the desktop enables the company to offer a stable, reliable operating system on a commodity, Intel based platform. The availability of Linux based systems provides a complementary technical and philosophical solution in concert with the company's three other operating systems-UNICOS, IRIX, and Windows NT. In the near future, when SGI/Linux supports SGI graphics, it will be a viable desktop alternative to IRIX.
Other recent and upcoming developments configuring that future include the following:
In January 1999, Linus Torvalds announced that Linux 2.2 included Silicon Graphics Intel based visual workstation support. The configuration flag is CONFIG_VISWS. Preliminary support for the Windows NT visual workstations is already in the Linux 2.2 kernel. (Note that these patches recognize the hardware and enable one to boot multiple users. They do not yet include serious support for the Cobalt graphics chip used in the Silicon Graphics 320 and Silicon Graphics 540 visual workstations.)
March saw the release of GLX, the glue between OpenGL® and X/Windows, to the Open Source community. OpenGL is the powerful de facto standard for 3D rendering. A dumb frame buffer driver for the Silicon Graphics visual workstations was also released in March.
The spring of 1999 saw the continuation of an ongoing SGI in-house development effort to bring OpenGL and digital media hardware capabilities to the Linux world on an IA-32 platform.
By July 1999, changes to the Linux kernel will have been checked into the Linux 2.2 kernel, which allows Linux to run on IVC visual workstations. Developers can download the working but unsupported kernel at http://www.linux.sgi.com.
Through July 1999 there will also be a continued in-house effort to write a graphics driver and accelerated X drivers to work with visual workstations.
August will see announcements at SIGGRAPH and an accelerated OpenGL graphics environment for Linux.
[July 14, 1999] osOpinion Tech Opinion commentary for the people, by the people.
A system to be usable must satisfy the following criteria:
- Users must be able to accomplish their goal with minimal effort and maximum results.
- The system must not treat the user in a hostile fashion or treat the user as if they do not matter.
- The system can not crash or produce any unexpected results at any point in the process.
- There must be constraints on the users actions.
- Users should not suffer from information overload.
- The system must be consistent at every point in the process.
- The system must always provide feedback to the user so that they know and understand what is happening at every point in the process.
...Microsoft Windows is a good example of a system with a consistent interface. To extend the idea further Microsoft has made a point of attempting to make the interfaces on all their applications consistent. The pull down menus for instance will always have File on the extreme left and Help on the extreme right. Usually there are options like Edit and View after File.
...Information overload is what happens with Microsoft Word. Users are presented with pull down menus, button bars and keyboard short cuts. It is no wonder most users when using commercial mass market software instantly become overwhelmed. If most users can not understand it then they either will not invest the time to learn how to use it or use it with great difficulty.
...A good window manager is only good if the user spends more time working towards their goals and less time managing windows. Managing windows increases the time to accomplish the task and expands the execution and evaluation gulf.
Currently the window managers are being developed from a developer oriented point of view. All one has to do is review the screen shots for any window manager and what each screen shot presents are about ten different windows all at once doing ten different things.
This is an example of information overload. While it may be sexy to the technical savvy user it will scare the non-technical user. What screen shots should be presented are one of a user doing nothing but browsing the web and another of a user writing an e-mail message.
...Another problem Linux currently has is the number of choices available. This includes the number of distributions, window managers and shells users can choose from. Choice works well for developers but is bad for users.
...Choice can only be good for users if changing an aspect of the system can be done easily and the new choice is consistent in the way it is used compared to the other method. If the choice means the user must re-learn several processes then even allowing the user the choice is a bad design decision.
The way to view the contents of a hard drive using My Computer in Windows 95 is the same as Windows NT. The way people in Florida will use the file browser will be the same as the way people in France will use it.
While it could be argued that Microsoft locks users into one file manager the trade off is the constraint creates consistency between systems. The trade off between choice and constraints is a fine line. Where to draw the line will always be open to debate.
...The benefits of a consistent look and feel of Linux will mean that Linux users can use other Linux systems with almost no learning curve. For instance that would mean with only one window manager each desktop would essentially look the same.
The next point is taking the Unix out of Linux. NeXT made a serious attempt at it with the NeXTStep operating system and Apple will try it again with their new operating systems. While NeXTStep does offer a terminal window, knowledge of Unix is only required by system administrators.
...Adding to the CLI problem is the fact that most Unix commands contain cryptic, meaningless names with more command line options then any one person should ever be asked to know.
One good example is mounting filesystems. Users should never need to know how to mount a filesystem. With the NeXT Cube, put a floppy in and it will automatically determine if it a NeXT, Mac or DOS filesystem and mount it.
Mounting filesystems can be a very frustrating task for the novice user (especially if they are not root).
[July 14, 1999] Salon: Is Red Hat becoming Linux's Microsoft
[July 10, 1999]The Sourceware Operating System Proposal -- an interesting paper of Larry McVoy's at least partially written in 1993 (see below). It is essentially a proposal to free the UNIX source code with licensing terms similar to Netscape. See also PDF version The Sourceware Operating System Proposal
But be skeptic. "The following references, which were not part of the November '93 version of this paper, show support for this point of view.....". So it's not clear when the version we are looking at was created and how much it has changed since the original? If much than, suddenly, the paper doesn't seem quite so remarkably "visionary" any more.
[July 5, 1999] Linux Today Linux community vs. Linux industry -- a rather weak article that raise an interesting question -- will Linux community dissappear due to growth of Linux industry. Raising the complexity of environment can do this.
At the recent Linux Expo, I attended a talk given by Ransom Love of Caldera regarding the growing Linux marketplace. During that talk, Mr. Love displayed a slide with a quote from a market analyst. I did not have an opportunity to copy the slide verbatim, but the statement was something to the effect of "If Linux is to compete, the Linux community must transform into the Linux industry."
While responses to questions posed to Mr. Love indicate to me that he understands that you cannot create a Linux industry to the exclusion of the Linux community, the implications began to bother me. Folks like Mr. Love who have been around the Linux community for years can see the Linux community and the Linux industry as being complementary entities. People coming from the outside, however, could easily be misled into the notion that the Linux community must cease being a community and develop into an industry in order to become effective in the business world.
[July 4, 1999] Raymondiana. Stage 5 -- Shut Up And Show Them The Code
ESR knows how to write knee-jerk essays, and he knows how to talk. He is an *evangelist*. But that's all. Great, he maintains fetchmail, but does he in any way compare to RMS who created GNU out of empty space, spit and recycled bytes? I want ESR to shut up and write code. Stop evangelising. It's a brainless corporate attitude to evangelise; not exactly what we need in free software. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, evangelise."
[July 4, 1999] Raymondiana. Stage 4 -- ... The Cathedral and the Bizarre... The Apostle of Open source tries to convert Microsoft... That's a laugh! This is somewhat akin to the Vatican asking Martin Luther to pay a visit in 1517 and chat about the note that he left.
The keynote featured six real-life models for how business can make money with or from open source software. The models are as follows:
- Market positioner/loss leader
- Widget frosting
- Give away recipe/open restaurant
- Free the software/sell the brand
- Free the software/sell the content
Raymond mentioned companies such as Netscape/Mozilla, Red Hat, and O'Reilly & Associates, which are already using these models to make money, and suggested that Sun and AOL should make use of the last two models. He said Sun should sell the Java brand, and that AOL should give away its client and sell the content.
Raymond talked in more detail about the Netscape/Mozilla effort, partly because -- as he said -- so many people view it as a failure for the open source movement. He contends that the effort is far from being a failure.
The software industry is a service-oriented industry which mistakenly believes itself to based on a manufacturing model, he said. He then proceeded to "dynamite" that mistaken view by illustrating that only five percent of the software-developer workforce works on "sale value" product: 19 out of 20 programmers are working on in-house programs that are of "use value," he said.
One result of this misunderstanding, Raymond said, is that it requires a de facto monopoly to actually make a lot of money at it, and that money is made by offering bug fixes and upgrades as new products. When asked if this sounded familiar, the audience responded with almost universal recognition of the firm to which he was referring.
[July 3, 1999] Slashdot has been acquired by Andover.net.
If it works out as planned, the deal should be a good thing for Slashdot - they will get money to pay for help and redundant servers, and absolute creative control is written into their contract. Details can be found in Slashdot's announcement and Andover.net's press release.
NewsAlert - Story --
"Striking it rich at a young age while working a job you love is possible without playing the lottery. Just ask Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda. At 23, the freshly minted college graduate is selling his company Slashdot, the influential and popular Web site for developers of Linux open-source code."
[July 3, 1999] The Free Practice Management Project has been launched.
FreePM seeks to create an open source system to handle most of the information system needs of medical offices and clinics: appointment scheduling, medical records management, insurance claims, etc. If it is successful, this project could well be the biggest one of its kind: a deeply domain-specific system for the needs of a particular industry. For details, see the FreePM announcement.
Whether the project will be successful remains to be seen, however. This project appears to have broken one if the cardinal rules of free software endeavors by starting out with no code base whatsoever. Getting their desired "100 to 1000" volunteers could be hard given that there is very little for them to start hacking on.
We wish FreePM luck. It is, in any case, likely to be the first of many such projects. As free software gains "respectibility," players in many industries will see the advantages of having an industry-specific base of free code. It is certainly a question of "when," and not "if" free software will move into this realm.
[July 3, 1999] www.blackcatlinux.com -- Russian distribution based on RH 6.0
[July 2, 1999] PC Week When worlds collide Andover.net buys open-source site Slashdot
Further proof that the corporate and open-source worlds are colliding: IT software and news site Andover.net today acquired Slashdot.org, the prominent open-source advocacy site.
[July 1, 1999] PC Week In Linus we (have no choice but to) trust -- Torvalds as a benevolent dictator. It's a lot easier chasing the crown than wearing it.
[July 1, 1999] PC Week Open source Innocence lost
But just as quickly as open source ascended, it may now be coming to an end. With the recent rapid success of open source generally--and Linux in particular--corporate interests have begun to loom over the movement, influencing standards, twisting licensing plans and generally co-opting many of the key principles of open source.
As corporate vendor interests begin to claim open source as their own, they are adding an unprecedented level of structure on open-source development circles in an attempt to turn heretofore loose cooperatives into an industry. As that happens, IT managers who have embraced Linux worry that the open-source movement may be losing much of its freewheeling vitality and creativity. If so, they say, the benefits of open-source software may be lost.
KeyLabs' Brisk admits the tsunami of structure around open source hit quite suddenly, but that's proof of its potential, and it's absolutely a prerequisite to open source's enterprise success. "Freedom without constraint is chaos," he said. "If the industry is going to grow, it must have this structure."
But others, including Stallman, say change is happening too fast and that compromises to the open and free models now being made to satisfy business are undermining the models' effectiveness.
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