Thursday, June 18, 2009

Software Freedom: Sentiment or Cause

So, I just wanted to take a moment to talk about all the issues going on recently in the Open Source community. Warning: this is a rant. If you don't want to read it please skip to the next article in your rss reader, or navigate away now. Last warning.

The most recent stir is Mono based applications, but previous discussions have hovered around binary blobs in Linux distributions, proprietary drivers, and pure free vs. quasi pure free vs. free-as-in-price.

I do have some opinions about this, but no firm convictions. I mean to say that I am moderately educated on both sides of the discussion but that the discussion itself has recently turned into a "pitch fork and torch" kind of affair. I am far more hurt by the conduct from groups talking about these points than the points themselves.

I've been a computer user for many years. Part of my interest in computers as a hobby was the hacking and tweaking to get things just working. It is surprising to me that the tone of voice used by these people is borderline zealot. It feels like most people are missing the forest for the trees because they are hugging them too tight. Let's remember that we can roll with this one of two ways. We ostracize the average user completely or we do what needs to be done to let most folks into the fold if they so choose.

I can honestly say that I don't have the resources to install asterisk boxes on two continents so that my mother and I may speak using home brew voice services. We can both, with relative ease install and use skype. I know that might disappoint a few out there, but if a binary blob in my distro prevents my computer from being an overheated paperweight, then I'll use it. If I rely on an application that is available in the repos of my distro, then I really don't monitor what language the thing is written in, so long as it works when I launch it.

We all have known people in our Linux lifetimes who would be happy to try and switch and give Linux the "old college try", but when they do so much of their hardware was unsupported that they could not justify the loss in functionality for the moral choice of open source software. Why should we condemn our own for something of less importance at the end of the day. I mean really, curse words are the correct way to respond to my choice of note taking application because some programmer used a different language? I know there are issues with this licensing and that, and even further discussions could be had with other programming languages (not mono) if you really wanted to make that such a point.

I would like to make a formal request to the Linux community that if you have an opinion about programming languages or issues with certain licenses, please verbalize your opinion. You can even use words with more than two syllables. But don't make others in the community out to be a villain, or the embodyment of evil just because they don't agree with you. I like to think that we are one of the largest brain trusts on the planet, and it is more than a little disappointing when the best word you use in a debate is "sucks".

I hate to sound like everyone's mother, but grow up. You may be passionate about your cause, but be respectful of those who do not share your view. I think there are many good conversations to be had, as long as they are honorable and mature. In my heart of hearts I feel like we (as a community) come up with the best solutions when we try to solve a problem. But we are also the best at creating problems that aren't really that bad.

Now take a time out, and go sit in the corner while I cool off.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

USB Live install vs. Active Directory

Linux and OSS software is all about scratching itches with creative thinking and slightly different applications of previously created tools. Recent changes in my work space have me considering some creative technology options to separate us from closed source software tools.

Recently my office was severed from the corporate M$ domain server. With it we had some issues that the multiple users on multiple computers. As each user signed on again to another computer they had to create their local account on each machine. Each user had to find their own way to trying to synchronize their application settings and user data across all the machines and accounts. Some individuals were more creative than others, but it was a problem that the computer users should not have had to overcome by themselves.

The roamng profile was the service at the core of this that I feel I need to replace. In addition we are expanding our office to include another that is geographically diverse. As I was first looking at this I was thinking some sort of server deployment using OSS tools might be the solution that I needed. At first I looked at OpenLDAP + NFS mounted shares to create a /home/user that could be mounted on any machine they signed on and then the application settings and data would follow the user. Then I took a look at LTPS (thin client) which for what we do in my office would require high bandwidth connections from user to server.

Then I had a thought, what if the user could have a usb key and then just boot any of the machines available into a live linux distro with persistance. This would offer the user the ability for each to custom add software that they found useful, while keeping all of their application settings like email and bookmarks. Logistically, this seems to make sense also since then at any time you could do a backup image of the usb key that could be restored and with the known sizes of the space on the usb key could make the backup storage space a managable activity.

I have been on a quest for a process that would produce for me a usb key that would have a "live" version of a linux distro (to support the widest range of hardware). I also need to try and pay attention to security since if this key were to get lost, the important data needs to be in a mode/filesystem that protects it to the point that any theif would be faced only with the option to format the key to use it.

I plan on making additional posts on this as I try and try again. I have tried a few tools and how-to guides on how to produce the effects that I desire with no success. I will be back to detail how that goes and to post what is my success story when done.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Podcast Review: The Command Line

The Command Line podcast is one of the most well rounded technology shows I've listened to. It is very well produced, arrives on time and is a very mature show. I have to say that my choice of "mature" is not by accident, let me explain.

This show concerns itself with complex issues such as copyright, tech topics including programing code while still taking some time to address the human side. With reflective episodes that take a step back from programming to look at the programmer himself, this is the first podcast that I have listened to that insists on remembering the humans who participate in the technology of today.

That does not mean that the tech doesn't get covered. The host Thomas Gideon a.k.a cmdln covers tech topics from code writing to the sciences. With a very grown up honest look at not just the need or desire of the tech but also the moral implications. Most impressive is that cmdln seems to be the only podcaster that I've heard who is not afraid to look at the analog version of things with respect enought to consider them relevant. He is one of the first ones who has taught me that I should measure the quality of analog vs. digital before getting into further discussion of which digital is best.

With episodes coming out normally 2 during a week with a duration of about 30 min but some special episodes a bit longer, this is a very sensible clear voice in the noise that is tech coverage.
The Command Line podcast also adds the interjection which is that of a insightful husband, father, person and programmer.

I highly recommend this podcast to your podcatching program if you feel like the news you are receiving could be a comedy show, this should be a refeshing mature view of the topics of the day. I've been listening to The Command Line for about a year and a half, and I've heard cmdln appear on some of my other podcasts and I have nothing but the highest respect for his work and his candid discussions of his family life