Check out this video below. Its basically an animation about an MIT social experiment, where sociologist found a bizarre pattern when it came to work and incentives. When the task at hand was a mundane and a repetitive task, money was found as perfect incentive. However, when the task required “rudimentary cognitive” skills, money, it turns out, wasn’t the best incentive. This makes perfect sense when we look at the amazing open source projects out there. From Linux to Wikipedia to Open Street Map, all these project tap into this basic human behavior.
Google has its 20% rule, which fostered many of the companies top products. Apple is a one man show, this video can explain the company’s success to some extent. While Microsoft has grown into a huge behemoth, its no wonder we don’t see much innovation from them lately.
“Linux is subversive”: so begins “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric Raymond's analysis of the open source way. The subversion there was mainly applied to the world of software, but how much more subversive are the ideas that lie behind open source when applied to politics.
That is precisely what the increasingly-important open government movement aims to do, an area I've been covering in this blog partly because of its close kinship with open source, but also because of the major implications it has for the use of open source – not least because open government tends to promote its deployment. But what exactly is open government, and how does it flow from open source?
Key characteristics of the latter are its open, modular code that allows Net-based collaboration driven by users' needs.
In the sphere of open government, I think the open, modular code maps onto open public data, available in open formats, through open APIs. It's in this area where most of the open government initiatives have been announced, usually under the slightly more generic banner of “transparency”. Here's the latest UK move:
Central government spending transparency Historic COINS spending data to be published online in June 2010. All new central government ICT contracts to be published online from July 2010. All new central government lender documents for contracts over £10,000 to be published on a single website from September 2010, with this information to be made available to the public free of charge.
New items of central government spending over £25,000 to be published online from November 2010.
All new central government contracts to be published in full from January 2011. Full information on all DFID international development projects over £500 to be published online from January 2011, including financial information and project documentation.
Local government spending transparency New items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011. New local government contracts and tender documents for expenditure over £500 to be published in full from January 2011.
Other key government datasets Crime data to be published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets from January 2011.
Names, grades, job titles and annual pay rates for most Senior Civil Servants with salaries above £150,000 to be published in June 2010. Names, grades, job titles and annual pay rates for most Senior Civil Servants and NDPB officials with salaries higher than the lowest permissible in Pay Band 1 of the Senior Civil Service pay scale to be published from September 2010. Organograms for central government departments and agencies that include all staff positions to be published in a common format from October 2010.
What's interesting here is the highly political nature of these moves: this turning inside-out of the governmental machine represents a sea-change from the previous UK administration, with its love of massive, centralised databases that allowed the centre to exercise power over the rest of us.
Radical though this may be, opening up data in this way is relatively straightforward (not the same as easy); the second part of the open source equation - Net-based collaboration driven by users' needs – is much harder to achieve. That's not because the technology isn't there – obviously the Internet is pretty pervasive in Western societies (although not ubiquitous, which is important to remember.) It's also clear that to promote collaboration you need to release data under open licences, and government-owned code under open source ones. But perhaps more fundamental than either of these is the need for an open architecture – not so much in terms of computing, as in terms of culture.
As the word suggests, “government” is about governing, and for millennia this has often translated into telling people what to do. The democratic process may mean that the latter get to choose (at least nominally) who gives the orders, but generally only at election time. This is not, obviously, how open source works: there, the whole project is guided by and responding to the needs of the “electorate” - the users – at all times. For truly open government, we need to enable something similar to occur.
Fortunately, this does not require a massive, all-or-nothing project: it can be achieved through myriad baby steps, each one of which helps engage the electorate on an ongoing, even daily basis. That's not easy, given the traditional cynicism that many people now have towards the democratic process; and it's made harder by the existing culture of command and control – what in software is the “proprietary” way – that has encouraged politicians and civil servants to cling on to power and to hide the inner workings of government as much as possible. If you want to explore these ideas in more depth, I strongly recommend reading the Centre for Technology Policy's new report “Open Government: Some Next Steps for the UK”. It is quite simply the best analysis I have come across of what open government means, how much has been achieved so far and how we can realise its full potential through practical actions. Everyone interested in open government should read it: it's pretty subversive stuff – and that's good.
If the idea of using Linux in your business is one that makes you nervous, chances are you've fallen prey to one or more of the many myths out there that are frequently disseminated by competing vendors such as Microsoft. After all, each Linux user means one less sale for such companies, so they have a powerful motivation to spread such FUD.
In fact, the ranks of businesses and government organizations using Linux grows every day, and for good reason: it's simply a good business choice. Let's take a look, then, at some of the top anxiety-causing myths and dispel them once and for all.
1. "It's Hard to Install"
Today, installing Linux is actually easier than installing Windows. Of course, most people don't install Windows themselves--rather, it comes preinstalled on their hardware, and that's an option with Linux too, if you're in the market for a new machine anyway.
If not, however, the best thing to do is first try out the distribution you're interested in via a Live CD or Live USB. Then, once you decide you like it, you can either install it in dual-boot fashion, so that both Linux and Windows are available to you all the time, or you can install Linux instead of Windows.
Either way, installation has become extremely simple over the years, particularly on distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint and openSUSE. Most include a step-by-step wizard and very easy-to-understand graphical tools; they also typically offer a way to automate the process. A full installation will probably take no more than 30 minutes, including basic apps.
2. "It's Just for Experts"
That Linux is more difficult to use than Windows and Macs is probably one of the most enduring and yet unjustified myths in existence today. It certainly used to be true--say, 10 years ago. Today, however, the inclusion of attractive graphical user interfaces and other usability improvements in many distributions means that even elementary school children can use Linux easily.
Now, server usage is a different story--just as it is under Windows, for example. And Linux won't be exactly the same as a Mac or Windows. But on the desktop, if you're used to the GUI of Windows or Mac OS X, you should have no trouble getting used to Linux. It's that simple.
3. "It's Free, So It Must Be Pirated"
Despite the growing use of free and open source software in governments and other organizations, some people still believe that any software that's free must be illegally copied. Fortunately, that's completely false. The notion of "taking" software off the Internet and then "tampering with it" for your own ends can strike litigation fears into the hearts of those unfamiliar with the concept, but fear not! Free and open source software is designed from the start to be free in cost as well as open to modification and improvement. That's how it works and gets better.
4. "There's No Support"
Vendors of proprietary software love to strike more fear into business users' hearts by painting a picture of the Linux user alone at sea, without anyone to ask for help. Once again, completely false!
First of all, every Linux distribution has an online community with excellent forums for getting help. There are also forums dedicated to small businesses and for newcomers in need of extra explanation. For those who want even more assurance, commercial Linux versions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop come with vendor support. It's entirely up to you which route to choose.
5. "It's Not Compatible"
There are very few instances of hardware and software remaining that can't be used with Linux. One of the operating system's many advantages, in fact, is that it's designed not to hog resources, and so doesn't require the latest, cutting-edge hardware. Most peripherals are compatible as well, particularly in distributions such as Ubuntu.
On the application side, it's also rare to find a problem. If there is something your business needs that can be run only on Windows, however, there are packages like Wine and Crossover Linux to make that happen. There are also countless comparable and Linux-friendly alternatives that can be easily installed, including all basic productivity packages.
6. "It's Less Secure"
Of all the myths perpetuated about Linux, I'd say this is the one with the least merit. The reality, in fact, is quite the reverse: Linux is far *more* secure than either Windows or Macs, as countless examples and security researchers such as Secunia have confirmed. In a nutshell, Linux's superior security derives from the way privileges are assigned, the fact that it's open to scrutiny by countless developers the world over, and the diversity of distributions in use.
Ever wonder why you've never heard of the Linux equivalent of Microsoft's "Patch Tuesday"? That's because there isn't one--it's not necessary. Neither is antivirus software. Strange but true.
7. "It's Not Reliable"
If you're using a Mac or Windows, it goes without saying that you are intimately familiar with crashes and downtime. Part of that is due to those systems' vulnerability to malware, but part is also simply inherent in the software. That's a big reason why Linux is used so heavily on servers--it almost never goes down. Imagine a day in the life of your business with no downtime!
8. "Its TCO Is Higher"
Last, but not least, proprietary vendors are notorious for trying to counter Linux's free price tag with vague fears about its "higher" total cost of operation in the long run. All I can say is, if that were true, why are so many governments and organizations around the globe turning to it in droves, particularly during the tough economic times we've had over the past few years?
There are also numerous studies confirming the financial benefits of Linux in a business setting, even with paid support. It's worth noting, too, that TCO doesn't explicitly capture the future costs that will be incurred by being locked in with a particular vendor.
Is Linux perfect? Of course not; no operating system is. Nor is it necessarily the best choice for every business. But don't let the myths hold you back.
Linux is all around us. From phones to firewalls, from Macs to PCs, it’s getting hard to find electronics that don’t run Linux. Over the years, there have been many distributions (normally called distros) of Linux. Some are full-featured, others are very small, some are general purpose, and others are designed for specific tasks. Love it or hate it, Linux is here to stay.
Below is a list of 6 distros that were milestones for Linux adoption. Enjoy.
1. Debian (1993-present): Back in 1993, only hardcore IT geeks knew what Linux was or where to find it. Released alongside distros like Slackware and SuSE, Debian introduced a new concept… a universal OS that YOU customize. The user would install the Debian core OS and then have access to thousands of repositories containing software installation files. Debian is still available today, in fact… there are many other popular distributions which are based on it.
2. Red Hat (1995-2004): Nowadays, the term Red Hat refers to one of two distributions, Fedora or RHEL.Years ago however, the distribution was simply called Red Hat. This was the first distro to have massive adoption on both the enterprise and hobbyist fronts. Marking a major milestone, Red Hat has become almost as iconic as Linux itself. Even Windows System Administrators have heard of it… and most of them have probably used it. Red Hat is everywhere!
3. Yellow Dog (1999-present): As Red Hat gained popularity, more and more people started to notice Linux. There were several distros available, but almost all were written for X86 architecture, leaving Mac users out in the cold. Along came Yellow Dog (YDL), and PowerPC users could finally get a taste of the Linux experience. Ironically… just a few years later, Apple released Free-BSD based Mac OS X, and YDL became scarce. Still, it was an important milestone.
4. SmoothWall GPL (2000-2002): From its inception, Linux was praised for its security features. It wasn’t long until people started using Linux as a firewall/router. SmoothWall GPL was not the only Linux-based firewall distro, but it was certainly one of the most popular. It introduced many people to the idea of using a Linux server as a network appliance, another important milestone. SmoothWall GPL was sunsetted in 2002, but its successor, SmoothWall Express, is still distributed worldwide.
5. Ubuntu (2004-present): During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Linux became widely adopted by server administrators and uber geeks. Linux was seen as a capable server OS, but had much slower adoption as a desktop operating system. Distros like Linux Mandrake (now called Mandriva) were marketed as “Linux for everyday people”, but it was Ubuntu that really brought user-friendly Linux to the desktop. Ubuntu proved Linux was a viable option to Windows.
6. Android (2008-present): In 2005, Google purchased a start-up called Android. The firm was busy creating a mobile OS based on Linux to battle the ever-popular Symbian OS used on most phones. At the time, nobody had heard of Android or knew what it was capable of. Today, Android has become the most popular mobile OS in circulation. It is offered on phones by every major carrier, and has even had limited netbook adoption. It has become the Linux distro of the mobile age.
Most free software accumulates myths. Most people only know about it second hand (if at all), but few are slowed by the fact that they don't know what they are talking about.
As a large desktop application that is also cross-platform, OpenOffice.org (or should I say LibreOffice?) seems to have attracted more myths than most. Here are the top five that I have kept stumbling across in eight years of advocacy:
OpenOffice.org Can't Be Any Good Because It's Free
Most free software has faced this myth at one time or other. And, to be honest, sometimes it's true, in that some free software compares unfavorably with its proprietary counterparts.
But in OpenOffice.org's case, the myth is far too sweeping.
In the main office applications, the only place where OpenOffice.org lags behind MSO is in the presentation software; Impress remains less able to handle should than PowerPoint. Other software does not come bundled with OpenOffice.org, but often you can download free software to make up the difference -- for instance, you can use Mozilla Thunderbird rather than Outlook.
Overall, in almost every instance where you would use MSO for professional purposes, you can easily substitute OpenOffice.org. I know, because -- unlike most of OpenOffice.org's detractors -- I've used it professionally, even when I was a lone user interacting with an office full of MSO users. Once I learned the software, I never had any difficulties.
OpenOffice.org Is Immature Code
"I'd like to use OpenOffice.org," I often hear, "But I need software I can rely on, so I have to stick with with Microsoft Office."
To anyone like me, who can quote chapter and verse about the instability of MSO, or point out what has been broken for over a decade in it, this comment makes me burst out in a fit of giggles. And this reaction isn't anti-Windows or anti-proprietary prejudice; the information is widely known among power users. If I used Windows or proprietary software, I wouldn't be using MSO.
But, my initial reaction aside, this rationale irks me, because the idea that OpenOffice.org code is new simply isn't true. StarDivision, the office suite that is OpenOffice.org's ultimate answer, released its first component -- the word processor -- twenty-five years ago. Within another four years, the word processor had been joined by the rest of the suite.
Almost certainly, none of this original code remains in current versions. But, if anything, OpenOffice.org's coding challenges are exactly the opposite of what most people assume. Its problems are not adding features, but dealing with legacy code while adding new features and trying to minimize code bloat.
OpenOffice.org Is Just a Microsoft Office Clone
This charge seems part of a double-bind. If OpenOffice.org does not offer features comparable to MSO, or include features that MSO can easily import, then it cannot offer an alternative. MSO is, after all, the world's most popular office suite. Yet, when OpenOffice.org tries to retain compatibility, it is dismissed as a clone. Whichever path of development it chooses, OpenOffice.org can't win.
At any rate, the myth just isn't true. Although always concerned with MSO compatibility, OpenOffice.org has never simply imitated MSO. A handful of its spreadsheet functions have no equivalent in Excel. Nor has OpenOffice.org succumbed to replacing menus and toolbars with a ribbon interface like the one that MSO users are still complaining about several years after it was introduced.
Even more importantly, advanced use of OpenOffice.org depends on the use of styles to a degree that MSO does not. That is especially so in Write, which has five different types of styles where MS Word has only two, but is true of all OpenOffice.org's applications. By contrast, MSO seems to favor manual formatting over styles. For experts especially, OpenOffice.org is the office suite of choice.
OpenOffice.org Lacks Certain Features
Occasionally, this accusation may be true -- but not so often that I can remember a particular instance. Almost inevitably, when someone asserts this claim, it means that they have not spent enough time familiarizing themselves with the interface. They haven't noticed that the feature is in a different menu, or goes by a different name. Sometimes, the allegedly missing feature is one that is not enabled by default, but is one that you can quickly add by creating a macro or customized keyboard shortcut.
I also have to add that the same people who make this claim never seem to know OpenOffice.org well enough to mention the fact that there are some features -- such as page styles or a completely customizable table of contents -- that OpenOffice.org can boast but that MSO completely lacks.
OpenOffice.org Is a Second Choice
Mainstream reviews often start with the assumption that OpenOffice.org is a poor choice compared to MS Office -- that nobody would use it if they could afford to spend money on software.
This assumption ignores the philosophical and political concepts of freedom that makes OpenOffice.org the preferred alternative for some of us.
But, as an analysis, it is incomplete. If you take the time to learn how to use OpenOffice.org, then you quickly find that, in general, it compares very favorably. To be exact, I would say that OpenOffice.org's Impress is inferior to PowerPoint, largely because of its limited capacity to coordinate sound in presentations, while the spreadsheet Calc is roughly equal to Excel in features, capacity, and stability.
However, it is in word processing that OpenOffice.org really outperforms MSO. OpenOffice.org's Writer is as much an intermediate desktop publisher as a word processor, and (as I know from personal experience) can handle 700 page documents full of graphics while MS Word chokes on anything more than 30 pages unless you take extraordinary precautions -- and, even then, you better have regular backups in case of corruption. By contrast, OpenOffice.org is a plausible substitute for FrameMaker -- and you don't get more sophisticated in word processors than that.
Admittedly, OpenOffice.org does not come with some of the extras that MSO includes. But, browsing through the repositories, you can usually find equivalents, starting with Mozilla Thunderbird as a replacement for Outlook.
In short, in some ways it's true that OpenOffice.org does not compare with MSO. But in just as many ways, it's as good or better.
Assigning the Blame
Probably the most irritating aspect of such myths is that they have dogged OpenOffice.org from the first. Yet even in the 1.0 release, first made eight years ago, I could have debunked them in much the same terms as I've done here. The main difference that the intervening years have made is that my answers have become even truer than they were eight years ago.
I suspect that most of these myths are not reasons for avoiding OpenOffice.org, but excuses for laziness. When you have to pay for your software, you are more cautious about changing it than when you can download two or three alternatives in a matter of moments without paying anything. Too often, the perpetrators of these myths are laying the blame on the software when they should actually be blaming their own fear of change instead.
Despite such myths, OpenOffice.org remains a valid alternative for almost everyone -- and whatever Oracle or LibreOffice chooses to do, that is going to remain at least as true in the future as it is now.
[Over the last six years, I have covered most aspects of OpenOffice.org for Linux Journal. In fact, several people have told me that they have arranged my columns to create their own manual. However, while I could squeeze out a few more articles by going into detail about the functions in Calc, I've rapidly running out of ideas for new columns.
I will probably return to OpenOffice.org from time to time, but, starting next month, I'll be writing introductory articles to other major desktop applications instead.]
If you're considering giving Windows the boot here are 10 signs the time is right to give Linux a try.
It's easy to be content with your computer installation as long as it keeps doing what you want it to without too much trouble. When frequent problems arise, however, it's hard to remain faithful for long.
The majority of the computing world "grows up" on Windows, of course, since Microsoft's operating system still holds by far the largest share of the market. Not everyone stays there, however.
Growing numbers, in fact, are switching to Linux every day, and for good reasons. How do you know when it's time to switch to Linux? Here are just a few (mostly) serious signs.
1. You're Tired of Paying for Software
You wake up one day and realize you're tired of paying for an operating system that's more bogged down with bugs than most alpha builds are. What, exactly, are you paying for here? Then, of course, there's also all the antivirus software you have to buy to keep it running. With Linux, on the other hand, countless developers around the world are working around the clock to keep the 100 percent free operating system at the head of its class.
2. You're Tired of Upgrading Hardware
If you find yourself upgrading perfectly good hardware just because resource-hungry Windows demands it, you might be using the wrong operating system.
3. You're Tired of Malware
Your older hardware probably still is fundamentally pretty good; too bad there's all that malware dragging it down. Thanks for sharing that love, Windows! Note to Microsoft: a stronger permissions system would have been a lot better, just FYI.
4. You've Seen One Too Many Patch Tuesdays
You've experienced your share of Patch Tuesday repair efforts, and they aren't getting any more fun. In fact, they're getting worse. It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't know how long the bugs had been there, flapping in the breeze, before they finally got fixed.
5. You Don't Have the Time
Who among us doesn't enjoy spending hours at a time scanning for viruses and spyware and defragmenting? Well, probably all of us don't enjoy that, actually. Then, too, there's all that unplanned downtime. Don't we have other things to do?
6. You Like Speed
If Windows' boot speed were faster, when would you make your coffee? Right. Sadly, that argument doesn't quite cut it anymore.
7. You Like Sharing
Your business associate in Berlin tried to send you an .ODP file--based on the international standard file format--but PowerPoint wouldn't read it properly. So much for interoperability.
8. You Don't Actually Love Internet Explorer
It's no accident Internet Explorer's market share is slipping, and vulnerabilities are a big part of it. Then, too, there's the monoculture effect making it all worse.
9. You Want to Be in Control
It's no longer fun waiting to see when Microsoft will fix bugs, or what new features it will come out with. You're ready to start driving changes like that yourself.
10. You're One of a Kind
Though it can be altered in very small, superficial ways, Windows can't hold a candle to Linux when it comes to customizability. Are you just another face in the crowd? Of course not, and Linux recognizes that.
Is Linux perfect? Certainly not. But it is a lot better than Windows in so many ways. Isn't it time for you to finally make the switch?
A lot of people are buzzing about Apple's Mac App Store, but I'm nonplussed. I've had the same features on Linux since the late 90's.
Granted, I'm being a little snarky — but only a little. Apple's App Store for the iPhone was a big deal because, before Apple, the application landscape for mobile phones was not that rosy. Apple simplified getting applications on the phone without having to deal directly with the carriers — so some credit is due there. They've also raised the bar in terms of what developers are shooting for for mobile devices, so kudos to Apple for that.
But the buzz over the Apple Mac App Store? Meh. Look at the features that Apple touts:
Install any app with ease
Keep your apps up to date
The app you need. When you need it
Buy, download, and even redownload
Linux folks, sound familiar? We've had all of this, modulo "buy", for a decade at least. The Advanced Package Tool, a.k.a. "APT" for Debian-based systems (that includes Ubuntu), has made all of this possible for years and years. Granted, this has primarily focused on free and open source software, but paid apps are possible too. The Ubuntu folks have had a paid software store since Ubuntu 10.10. (It is, I admit, sparsely populated when it comes to proprietary/paid software.)
But the installation, updating, and such? All very possible with APT — or Yum or Zipper, if you happen to be using an RPM-based distro. (Or APT for RPM, if that's still being maintained.)
Apple brags about having more than 1,000 apps available at launch... Ubuntu users can find 32,000-plus packages in the software repository for Ubuntu 10.10. Now, a bunch of those packages are not end-user applications — this includes things like libraries, system utilities, fonts, and so forth. But you could easily find 5,000 end user apps, many of which are competitive with the proprietary stuff being offered through the Apple Mac App Store. Oh, and free. Free as in cost, and all open source. (Not all Free by definition of the Free Software Foundation, though, but that's another topic entirely.)
Of course, what Apple has done that's unique shows Linux folks what we need to be better at doing: marketing, developer and ISV relations, and standardization. Lest you think I'm only hear to praise Linux or kick Apple, I'm not. Linux has had the raw tools to do this for a decade, but the communities and companies behind Linux have yet to gain enough momentum to pull this off on the desktop. Or the will to chuck tribal differences between desktops, toolkits, etc. and unify on one damn stack to attract the kind of developers that are filling up Apple's App Store. Canonical, bless their hearts, are trying — but it's unclear as of yet whether Canonical has enough pull to rally enough developers and inspire enough ISVs to drive even 100 paid desktop apps to Linux, much less 1,000.
The Linux community should get some credit here, though. What has been hard for the users of arguably the easiest operating system to use, has been easy for Linux users for years. A quick "apt-get update" and my entire system is updated, apps and all. A quick "apt-get install" and I can have everything from the Banshee media player to the latest Chrome release. Typing is not required, of course. Each distribution has GUI tools that make it very easy to install and manage applications.
And, it's important to add — I can do all this without the blessing of any single company. You see, while Apple controls everything that goes into the App store, nobody controls what users add to their APT, Yum, or Zypper repos.
So Linux users have had the tools and freedom, just a severe lack of marketing and developer relations smarts. That includes failing to have a single dominant toolchain (GUI toolkit, etc.) for companies to target. Seems that Nokia (with Qt) might be on to something here, though. It's pretty clear what the overall Linux community and vendors need to address, just a question if they do and if it's not too little and too late for any mainstream traction.
I do hope others in the tech press will at least, in passing, note that Apple has not invented something new with its App Store — merely taken an old idea and run with it better than the competition. Which, come to think of it, seems to be the company's specialty.
Mac OS X's App Store is bust. I own a Mac and I had never created an Apple ID. App Store forced me to do that because I wanted to install Twitter 2.0 (formerly Tweetie) and I was not able to find any DMG for it.
If Apple makes this App Store thing COMPULSORY in Lion, I won't buy it.
Buying a cheap laptop without Windows: Is it worth it?
A cheap laptop with a reasonable level of hardware, but no Windows operating system: bargain hunters can often find offers of this type on the internet. They are definitely worth checking out -- presuming you have the patience to work with alternative operating systems such as Linux and have time to perform installation.
The decision to forego Windows is the reason for the noticeably low prices of these offers. Manufacturers can save themselves the license fees that they otherwise must pay to Microsoft for each installation of Windows.
“The low-end laptop market in particular is so hard fought that manufacturers will grab for any dollars they can save,” explains Elmar Geese, chairman of the Linux association in Berlin. In place of Windows, the laptops come either without an operating system or use a pre-installed variant of the typically no-cost alternative operating system Linux.
For the user, that means a bit of extra work and acclimation.
Simply installing Windows from the old computer is generally not an option. Most Windows installations are tied by license to the computer with which they were sold.
Axel Pols from the German IT industry association Bitkom views devices without operating systems with some skepticism. Laptops have come to be so affordable that there’s no real need to go without an operating system, he says.
It’s important to look at more than just the price. “You should give careful consideration before making a purchase about how big your laptop should be and what it should be able to do,” says Pols.
Those considerations then form the basis of a purchase decision.
Does it absolutely have to be a Windows computer? No, says Geese.
“Mature Linux distributions like Ubuntu can now completely replace Windows.” Given that certain conventions have established themselves in recent years across all operating systems, there’s not even a great deal of acclimation needed. Macs, Windows, computers and even smartphones are all remarkably similar to use in many ways. “Linux distributions aren’t reinventing the wheel in this regard,” Geese says.
The decisive point for Linux laptops is finding the right “distribution.” To say a computer “works with Linux” is a misnomer, since there’s no such thing as a straight Linux version to be installed. Instead you have to opt between different software packages based on Linux, known as distributions.
Popular variants include for example Ubuntu, Open-Suse, Debian and Mandriva. All contain a variety of software to accompany their graphical user interface: a browser, an email program, a multimedia player and office packages are all on board from the start. Many distributions can be downloaded for free off the internet.
Many providers make it difficult for users to determine which distribution is actually installed on the laptop. For Thorsten Leemhuis, editor at Germany’s c’t computer magazine, this is an important weakness in these offers: “Just stating ‘Linux’ doesn’t help you at all,” he says.
Many devices come with a version of the Linux OS that doesn’t work on the device at all. One example is the Linpus distribution, a stripped-down variant that is primarily intended for the Asian market.
Normal users should probably stay away from those offers, Leemhuis recommends. “The interplay between computer and software has grown very complex. If they’re not optimally attuned to one another, you’ll quickly have problem.” Regardless of whether you’re using a Windows or Linux distribution, the key is a stable and sensible installation. If you are just looking for a machine that works, then it’s a better idea to avoid devices that still need a real operating system installed onto them.
I have just over a month left here at LXF Towers, so I'm busy clearing up my inbox, answering reader requests. One such request came in to put online the Linux Contradictionary, a side bar from the administeria section of LXF run by Dr Chris Brown, so here it is, in full:
Linux is full of jargon. Learn to bluff your way in this seemingly confusing universe with this handy guide.
Crack A mind-altering substance that confers upon its user the power to guess weak passwords. Cursor A user expressing an opinion after quitting the editor without saving. Buffer Terminator that’s found at the end of a line, indicating the need for a carriage return. Shell The hardest part of Linux to crack, hence: Bash Popular way to open a shell. Yum What a Red Hat user says on being offered an ice cream. Apt-get What a Debian user says on being offered an ice cream. Aptitude Good skill at installing software packages. Cpio The archiving droid from the first Star Wars movie. Getty A Californian museum housing a vast collection of login programs. Password file A file within Linux that doesn’t contain passwords. Libcurses-devel The library of Hogwarts’ R&D department.
Ifup, ifdown Conditional tests in a shell script to judge the mood of the user.
Man[/B] Mechanism for reading documentation. Use only as a last resort. Woman Mechanism for not reading documentation, even as a last resort. NetworkManager A tool that undermines all efforts to have control over your various Ethernet interfaces. Perl All-time winner of the obfuscated C competition. Script Something you give to an actor before giving a program to the audience. BNF (Backus-Naur Form) Notation for saying simple things in complicated ways. Vi An ancient text editor invented by the Romans, otherwise known as ‘Six’. Ex An even older editor; something you once loved but then went off in a big way.
When Ubuntu first appeared, the free and open source software (FOSS) community was delighted. Suddenly, here was a distribution with the definite goal of usability, headed by a former space tourist who not only understood computer programming but had the money to throw at problems.
The only objections were that Ubuntu was ripping off Debian, the source of most of its packages. For everyone else, Ubuntu and its parent company Canonical seemed everything FOSS had been waiting for.
Now, in 2011, that honeymoon is long past. Although Ubuntu remains the dominant distro, criticisms of its relationship with the rest of FOSS seem to be coming every other month.
What happened? Ubuntu supporters sometimes dismiss the change as jealousy of Ubuntu's success.
But, although that may be an element, the change in attitude is probably due chiefly to the gap between the expectations created by Ubuntu and Canonical in their early days and their increasing tendency to focus on commercial concerns.
Instead of being the model corporate member of the community that it first appeared, today Ubuntu/ Canonical increasingly seems concerned with its own interests rather than those of FOSS as a whole. No doubt there are sound business reasons for the change, but many interpret it as proof of hypocrisy. Added to the suspicion towards the corporate world that lingers in many parts of the FOSS community, the change looks damning, especially when it is so clearly documented in Canonical's corporate history.
A Brief History of Canonical and Ubuntu
After Ubuntu's first release in October 2004, Ubuntu/Canonical seemed in many ways a model FOSS entity. Nor was there much reason to doubt that initial sincerity. Shuttleworth, in particular, who was then the main speaker for both Ubuntu and Canonical, made considerable efforts to express support for other aspects of FOSS.
For example, Shuttleworth emphasized that "we all win, when Red Hat has a win." He made a special point of attending DebConf, Debian's annual conference, and of insisting that "Every Debian developer is also an Ubuntu developer" at a time when relations between Debian and Ubuntu were strained.
However, even in the first years there were signs of isolationism. Ubuntu
Canonical insisted on using the proprietaryLaunchpad for development rather than existing free tools. Launchpad components did not begin to be released under free licenses until 2007, and the entire code was only released under the Affero GNU General Public License in 2009.
Similarly, in November 2006, Shuttleworth himself created controversy when he invited openSUSE developers to join Ubuntu. Although Shuttleworth later claimed that the offer was a response to Microsoft and Novell's cooperative agreements (Novell being openSUSE's corporate sponsor), it was widely condemned as an effort at corporate raiding unprecedented in the FOSS world, and Shuttleworth apologized a few days later.
However, the real turning point in Ubuntu/ Canonical policy appears to have been Shuttleworth's failure to convince other FOSS projects to coordinate their release cycles.
Shuttleworth first made the case in December 2006 that "it would be nice at the beginning of an Ubuntu release cycle to have a really confident picture of which projects will produce stable releases during those few months when we can incorporate new upstream versions. It would be even better if, during the release cycle, we knew immediately if there was a *change* in what was going to be released."
Over the next few years, Shuttleworth continued to stress the advantages of coordinated releases, arguing that it would allow centralized bug tracking, and suggesting that the cooperation might extend to common training materials.
The FOSS response, though, showed a distinct lack of interest. Many, including KDE's Aaron Seigo, saw the suggestion as squeezing projects into a uniformity that might not fit their needs.
Faced with this unenthusiastic response, Shuttleworth used a keynote at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in July 2008 to urge a different approach to cooperation, challenging the community to rival and surpass Apple in usability within the next two years.
Given Ubuntu's emphasis on usability and Shuttleworth's own interest in interface design, this challenge was not unexpected. It fit, too, into the growing interest in usability at the time.
However, the FOSS community saw no reason to focus on usability under Shuttleworth's leadership, or within his schedule.
When changes proposed by Ubuntu were slow to be accepted in GNOME -- some say out of hostility -- Shuttleworth began making interface changes to GNOME within Ubuntu. They were accompanied by the announcement of an elaborate new look for Ubuntu that included complicated color codes and a new font.
Then, faced with the choice of supporting these changes in an old version of GNOME or transferring them to GNOME 3.0, Ubuntu announced Unity, a shell for GNOME that was originally designed for netbook computers, would be its new desktop.
This growing tendency to develop in-house has been accompanied by other signs of insularity. As early as April 2006, Ubuntu replaced init, the standard bootup program in GNU/Linux with Upstart, largely to reduce start times. In much the same way, in November 2010, it announced the eventual replacement of Xorg, which provides the graphical interface, with the mostly unproven Wayland.
Since both init and Xorg are flexible enough to provide the sorts of improvements that Shuttleworth advocates, the suspicion is that such decisions are not technical, so much as political. That is, what concerns Ubuntu/ Canonical is not the technical merits of the applications, but its ability to dominate the projects that dominate its software stack.
Other decisions that have negatively affected the perception of Ubuntu/ Canonical include the ending of Gobuntu, an Ubuntu variant that included only free software; a restrictive contributor's agreement; and the question of how affiliate fees for its online music store will be distributed.
The result of all these decisions and actions is an increasingly disillusioned perception of Ubuntu/ Canonical among some FOSS veterans. In 2008, kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman observed that despite its popularity, Ubuntu developers had contributed less than one percent of the patches to the kernel over the previous three years.
In much the same way, in August 2010, former Fedora community architect Greg DeKoenigsberg noted that only 1.3 percent of the code in GNOME 2.30 was attributable to Ubuntu. Currently, there is even a small group of regular critics who are sure to appear in the comments beneath any policy announcement made by Shuttleworth or his senior management. Despite its continued popularity among new users, at times Ubuntu has looked surprisingly like a pariah in the last few years.
The Reason for it All
This summary is enough to establish the change in Ubuntu's approach to FOSS. Yet what is missing is why it happened.
The idea that the changes are due to Jane Silber replacing Mark Shuttleworth as CEO is a tempting but incomplete explanation.
True, Silber is more business than FOSS oriented, and has emphasized projects like Ubuntu One, the cloud storage service, which is aimed more at corporate customers than individuals. But the change in attitude was happening long before Shuttleworth stepped down in December 2009 to focus on usability issues. Anyway, as founder, Shuttleworth remains active in decision-making. At most, the change in CEO only adds to an existing situation.
One possible pressing reason for the change is that, so far as anyone outside the company can tell, after seven years, Canonical remains unprofitable. Any investors other than Shuttleworth may be understandably concerned for their investment, and this pressure is probably a growing influence on Canonical decision-making.
Moreover, even if there are no impatient investors, a company that is unable to show a profit after seven years risks being identified as a failure.
However, another reason may be Shuttleworth's own frustration over his interactions with the FOSS community. In Shuttleworth's first blog entry, he states that "successful open source projects are usually initiated by someone with a clear vision and also the knowledge to set about turning that vision into reality," and mentions his strong interest in interface design.
Could Shuttleworth's calls for uniform release cycles and a focus on usability be not just practical suggestions for improvement, but also a bid to become the dominant leader in FOSS?
That is not a question you can ask anybody without the interview turning immediately hostile, but its answer might help to explain the change in direction.
If this really was part of Shuttleworth's motivation (and I do him the courtesy of assuming that he might also have been idealistic), then the bid for dominance not only failed, but failed specifically in an area that was personally important to him. For most people, such failures would be more than enough to explain an increasing insularity -- if you can't dominate the greater world, why not carry out your plans at home, and prove that they work there?
We will probably never know all the reasons why Ubuntu/ Canonical changed from the embodiment of FOSS hopes to more of a business enterprise. Given the high expectations that Ubuntu initially raised, perhaps the disillusionment is inescapable -- and discourages me and everyone else from sufficiently acknowledging that, in day to day operations, the spirit of FOSS seems very much alive at Ubuntu / Canonical.
However, at the level of strategic planning, the fact that something has shifted is undeniable. For those of us who remember the initial expectations, FOSS can only seem poorer for the fact.