Archive for the ‘freedom’ Category

Five years of Ubuntu

Whoa, what a time. It seems like yesterday that the first release of Ubuntu (4.10, “Warty Warthog”) escaped into the wild. There was quite some buzz about that first release of the ‘Desktop Debian’ and I remember being very sceptical. Similar projects – Corel Linux OS, Lindows/Linspire – never lived up to the expectations and were quickly forgotten. But Ubuntu promised to be different. Ubuntu promised to be about Community and Participation, about End-Users and The Desktop.  No closed-door development like with Redhat Linux or SuSE Linux, no, a real community distribution. Five years late, Ubuntu has lived up to that probmise.

Yeah, right. It’s still not perfect. Yeah, Bug#1 is still open. And yeah, there are still a lot of lose ends to be tied up and some warts to be removed. Ubuntu is getting there. We are getting there.

As I wrote last year; 2008 was the Year of the Linux Desktop. And this was – to a big part – thanks to Ubuntu (and therefore Debian).

What an amazing five years. And what amazing times to come.

Here is to another five years!

Why 2008 Will Be The Year Of The GNU/Linux Desktop – seriously. I mean it. Really.

Don’t take this article too serious. I had a lot of fun writing it. I do believe that GNU/Linux is coming to the desktop in 2008, however.

When I first started to work with GNU/Linux, now almost eleven years ago, I’d never would have guessed that it would become such a large part of my life one day.  I liked the idea; communal developed software. Collaboration on a whole new level. Software not developed by a company, but by enthusiasts. It had something rebellious and subversive. I just fell in love with it.

Back than, GNU/Linux (and the BSDs also) was merely a toy for me. Something fresh, something new. Something completely different. But after I had set up my first servers, had started using October Gnome as my desktop environment, I started digging deeper. Into the internals of the system. Into the Source.

I always considered myself to be a fairly good coder. Not excelling, but competent. And because of that I recognised the quality of that code. I realized that that those little pieces of code were the works of mad genious artists. Pure, elegant C, honed to perfection.

I was convinced that it would – one time – rule the world.

Yet I always fooled myself about GNU/Linux’ problems. Back then, getting X to run was a task of days, at least on the hardware at my disposal. The desktop environments were clumsy and counter-intuitive, the applications limited and ugly, for they were written with either CDE or Tcl/Tk. Most didn’t even have a graphical user interface and were limited to the console. XMMS was okay for playing MP3 files, but even watching a move was a daunting task. Those were the dark ages, when the Knights of the Light only had started their quest for freedom and equality.

Even back then there have always been Prophets of The Dawn. Reiterating the old prophecy that this, yes, this very year would come to be known as the Year Of The Linux Desktop. I always used to simile at them and give ’em cookies. They were cute, somehow. Breaking the Mighty Power of the Forces Of Evil would be the task of a generations. The desktop market was fixed in the hands of Microsoft, a convicted monopolist. An unpleasant necessity. Breaking that power would be a task for giants.

While I was promoting GNU/Linux in my surroundings, providing installation setup, first private, than commercial, the Amazing Power Coders were out there. Doing good wherever they could. And one by one, Linux’ weaknesses were being addressed, scrutinized, judged and attacked with the fury befitting a wildcat.

Things have changed. GNU/Linux has changed., KDE, GNOME, Linux and all the other pieces of software composing the free software desktop have ripen well. It’s functional software, mostly slim and elegant, sometimes even beautiful.

Today I saw an advertisement for the Asus EEE PC, printed by a large consumer electronic store (Mediamarkt). This is the first time, that a GNU/Linux product has been advertised by that company. A company that has no ideology whatsoever. Besides making money. In the last few month no week passed by without the announcement of yet another GNU/Linux desktop/consumer product. Mostly ultra-lowcost ultraportable. Because these are the areas where GNU/Linux shines like a twinkling star.

And there is more. In two weeks there will be an anniversary. The anniversary of “GNU/Linux preinstalled on the desktop machines of a major hardware vendor”. It’s almost been a year since Dell announced to ship desktop and consumer products with Ubuntu pre-installed. HP followed shortly thereafter. And although neither Dell nor HP are making huge profits by selling GNU/Linux machines, both still provide the option. Even after a year.

With the rise of those consumer machines GNU/Linux got a lot of advertisement. And suddenly people I never talked to before about GNU/Linux start asking questions. They ask for support, for guidance and help. Some even offer to pay. Finally.

And the disbeliever, the skeptic inside, is falling silent.

So, now hear my prophecy, as I am joining the ranks of the Enlightened; The GNU/Linux desktop is coming. 2007 saw the end of the beginning. 2008 will feel the torrent.

The wind of change?

Lessing ist einfach unglaublich.

Als Lessing bekannt gab, dass er sein bisheriges Streben, die fundamentale Neuinterpretation des Urheberrechtes, aufgeben werde, da er sich zu Grösserem berufen fühle, war ich ein wenig skeptisch. Lessing sagte, er habe erkannt, dass das Urheberrecht zwar ein zwichtiges Thema unserer Zeit sei, dass es aber Probleme gebe, die behoben werden müssen, damit es überhaupt erst Wandel geben kann. Was Lessing damit genau meinte, war mir nicht wirklich klar. Um so erstaunter bin ich nun, da ich weiss, was in den vergangenen Monaten in seinem Kopf vorgegangen ist.

Lessing plant nichts anderes als die fundamentale Neuerfindung der amerikanischen Demokratie. Zum ersten Mal in der amerikanischen Geschichte soll die Politik vom Einfluss des Geldes abgeschottet werden. Der “Sanfte Korruption”, die in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika so zum alltäglichen Geschäft gehört, soll mit Hilfe von Moral und Ethos Einhalt geboten werden. Lessing präsentiert eine “Change Congress”-Kampagne, in der sich, die teilnehmenden Kongressleute sich unter Anderem dazu verpflichten, kein Geld von Lobbys anzunehmen.

Wenn man daran denkt, dass einer der verprechensten Präsidentschaftskandidaten, Barack Obama, den Einfluss von Lobbys ebenfalls negativ einschätzt, so ergibt sich daraus eine Interessante Aufstellung; sowohl im  Kongress, wie auch im “Oval Office” könnten innerhalb von sechs bis acht Jahren Leute sitzen, die sich aus moralischen Überlegungen  gegen den Einfluss von Wirtschaftsverbänden in der Politik vorgehen.

Wäre es möglich? Wenn ja, so könnte dies Amerika tatsächlich in ein neues Zeitalter bringen. Undwahrscheinlich, aber nicht unmöglich. Ob das auch in Europa geht?

The end of proprietary software?

Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, called it a “cancer”. Other have outfitted it with “viral” attributes, destroying the software business as it was formerly known. And while Free Software advocates are very fast to dismiss these accusations as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), there is a grain of truth in them.

If we take a look at the Free/Open Source Software landscape, its advantages become quite evident; wherever there is a need for a certain tool, users gather, start to plan and develop a piece of software to satisfy that need. This works surprisingly good, as any Linux user can tell you; the Linux desktop has been a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems for quite a while now and I dare to say that the rate of progress is equal (if not higher) to that of any competitor. Indeed; this is not only limited to the desktop, but is true for almost every corner of the software landscape. However; there are to very distinct exceptions to that rule; games and specialist software.

The community based development approach of Free/OpenSource software has some very impressive advantages. First of all, the burden of the cost of the development is (ideally) not shouldered by one entity, but by a legion of contributors, be it enthusiast developers or hired programmers. Second; while the cost is divided, the advantages of the software is not. And third; abandoned software projects can be picked up again. For proprietary software, this is a no-go if you don’t own the copyrights.

However; since the development process is so utterly dependent on the community, Free/OpenSource software will only prevail where there are enough enthusiasts with the right skills. And this, unfortunately, does neither include specialist software nor games.

It is my expectation that Free/OpenSource software will increasingly dominate the software landscape. Utility software, office software, multimedia and productivity suites; these are categories that attract a huge crowd of people, some of them apt enough to contribute, in code, in documentation, in testing. I doubt that proprietary piece of software stands a chance against an Free/OpenSource product, at least in the long run, say; 10 to 15 years.

Games and specialist software however are something different. Their target audience is limited, the fields require a huge amount of expertise and thus the number of experts is limited. Creating a community in this kind of environment is a very difficult task. I expect proprietary software to flourish in this parts of the software landscape for quite some time to come.