Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Monthly Archives / June 2010

  • Jun 30 / 2010
  • 0

Old Tales

People still do not realize that The Year of GNU/Linux on the Desktop has already happened. In 2009 almost everyone in the world had seen or heard about GNU/Linux on the desktop. The netbooks made sure of that. Now it is only a matter of time. The smart-thingies also are introducing GNU/Linux to the masses but it is almost superfluous. People see great performance at a good price and recognize it.

I read this article which has the thesis that the smart-thingies may eventually lead to GNU/Linux on the desktop but not otherwise. The truth is GNU/Linux is already on many millions of desktop, notebooks, netbooks, smart-thingies and it is growing much faster than that other OS which has already bored most of the planet to tears. That other OS is losing share and GNU/Linux is taking it. It’s just a matter of time before you will find it everywhere.

Between now and when XP finally dies GNU/Linux will have a decent share of the desktop as well as the other spaces. I don’t know what that share will be. There is no telling the choices people will make. Some will like the price, flexibility, freedom, efficiency, configurabilty of it but they will know they have a choice and make it in the next few years. Soon the retail dam will crack wide open and there will be a flood of products running GNU/Linux on everything in retail. That could happen any time now. It is happening now in emerging markets in Asia, Africa and South America. North America is no longer a leader in IT and will take a year or two more to make the changes needed to give consumers wide access.

One other force that could cause rapid exposure at retail is anti-trust/anti-competition law. GNU/Linux is so successful that there are businesses whose growth is stifled not by product acceptance by consumers but by the retail road-block. There is already such a suit in British Columbia.

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 0
Linux in Education, technology

Rescuing Yet Another PC From That Other OS

It is the end of the school year and I am nearly done. I am waiting for some documents to finish up files for a teacher who left early. Along comes the security guard wanting a PC fixed… It’s slowing down, apparently. I talk to the end-user on the telephone and clarify symptoms and options. We decide to install GNU/Linux after backing up certain files. They have been doing dial-up but have ordered high-speed service so the modem is no issue.

After finding most surfaces clogged with dust, I take it outside for dusting and fire up SystemRescueCD. It is a newer PC from Dell, a P4 with 1.6gHz clock, 64bit processor, 1gB RAM and gigabit/s NIC. I can work with this.

  1. This is the first PC I have ever seen without a PS/2 connector. Almost all of our keyboards are PS/2 but I remember a model with USB and it works.
  2. I use tar cz files|ssh myserver "cat >> /home/backup_user_2010-6-29.tgz" to make a backup of the files in question (My Documents for two users)
  3. Debian GNU/Linux – Lenny Netinstall works like a charm.
  4. I add a selection of apps in addition to defaults that might suit the style of these users.
  5. I restore the backed-up files and test various application.
  6. Another satisfied customer.

And so it goes on. That other OS keeps messing up and I show no mercy, installing Debian GNU/Linux left, right and centre, wherever I go. I used to struggle tuning up those systems to keep them going but it was way more work than migrating. I have lost count of the kills but it must be close to 100 PCs and I will be another school year in this community. Perhaps I will run out of machines to convert.

Now, I am off for the summer planning next year’s campaign both teaching and IT. The outline of the IT plan is fairly simple: increase the number of PCs for students, inform teachers and students of resources and extend the network wired and wireless. It is actually quite doable with this year’s work as a basis.

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 5

Freer Trade Agreement Between Taiwan and China

This affects more than $100billion in trade annually and could increase the power of China+Taiwan in IT. Taiwan may get access to cheaper labour as well as a larger market. China may make political points as well as getting more and better IT. It is all good.

Taiwan is pretty tight with M$. Mainland China is less so. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I expect China will be a huge market for netbooks and the lower the price, the better so ARM and GNU/Linux should do well. If netbooks drop in price, perhaps smartphones will too. Demand will increase which has the opposite effect but the Chinese can rapidly increase the number of consumers at lower prices. That is, cutting prices can multiply the volume and yield larger profits if the cost is less.

I hope this reduces tension in region, too. Korea, are you listenting?

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Google Apps Work in Schools

There is news that hundreds of schools are adopting Google Apps with or in place of conventional local applications. This is a great advantage to schools because there is less maintenance of software required for the cloudy solution.

In my school Gmail is popular and the Google Toolbar is a wonderful local search tool. The ability to do e-mail, find stuff, create/edit/present stuff without leaving the browser is cool. The Toolbar was distributed on the disc image put on all new PCs recently. These machines will be Debian GNU/Linux terminal servers in each classroom making the Toolbar available to all students’ PCs.

The widespread acceptance of this technology is one more nail in the coffin of the monopoly. If you can do what you need with any OS, there is no need to use that other OS and GNU/Linux is as good as it gets.

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 18

Reflections on Bilski

Now that the matter is decided and we have slept on it… I feel that the supremes pulled a trick on us. On difficult issues before society, they tend to come down 5-4 and give society a decade or more to figure things out before the issues raise their ugly heads again. This time they came out 4-4-1 on the issue of software patents. They dodged the issue even though in the 21st century almost all business methods involve software and a lot of patents have been issued on software. Surely they knew this issue could not wait ten years.

The only way this issue can be settled promptly now is by legislation. M$ and its buddies will be lobbying fiercely to have the patent laws explicitly accept software. Unfortunately for them, all software, except perhaps in a controller where the software cannot possibly have multiple uses, is abstract. That is to say, programmes written in a high-level language do not even deal with bits let alone reality. They deal in variables and data-structures, abstractions in themselves. If the legislators allow software patents, they will have to allow patents on abstractions, something they will not do or cannot. That would throw our thoughts and all freedom under the bus. Indeed, one brief they did not reference was about freedom of speech as software. Patents cannot be allowed to restrict freedom of speech.

So the situation has changed quite a bit. As of yesterday business methods patents are still viable but the the tests of viability have shifted slightly. There is still a rule against abstraction and that cuts out almost all software as I know it. M$ and friends can try to patent “use of a computer controlled by software to do X” but they should not fool anyone. Doing X is still an abstraction. There are no patents on each of the 13245 uses of a screwdriver and there should be no patents on the billions of things we can do with a computer. Doing things may be patentable but doing them with a computer is out.

It is a dirty trick that the supremes were supposed to explain the law to us and yet could not agree amongst themselves what the law it, so they dodged the major issues by stating that previous rules were sufficient to deal with Bilski. Stevens knew that and he told us by criticizing the details of the 3 justices who concurred with Justice Kennedy. They decided Bilski was abstract without explaining how they knew that. There’s the rub. Stevens reasoned that business methods are not patentable because they are not processes.

  • Jun 27 / 2010
  • 10

A Million New GNU/Linux Users Each Week

This is it, apparently. Last year was the year GNU/Linux opened the door. This year, people are walking through, into the light.

160000 Android-y smartphones are being sold daily.

They will like to use GNU/Linux on their desktop/notebook and netbook PCs as well. You can count on it. What OS is in their hands, at body temperature? What OS is with them between stops? What OS just works and does what they need doing instead of letting in malware and spam? What OS lowers their cost of ownership?

GNU/Linux is beating unit sales of that other OS by far now. M$ has a head start, but GNU/Linux will have decent share by next year. Maybe, I should buy a smartphone. I likely will not even open an account, but I could still keep the thing warm and use it to view what I transfer to my gadget from my PCs. Anyone know how to install a Debian GNU/Linux repository on a smartphone? A virtual machine? I will figure it out.

I am enjoying this

I am enjoying this

  • Jun 27 / 2010
  • 0

Spam is Us

M$ has a new business model. If they cannot make a good OS, they will make an OS designed to welcome spam. Crazy, eh? To avoid this phenomenon, avoid their OS. Avoid “7 phone” and you will be safer.

On a 1600×900 monitor, I can ignore ads. Would I want them on a tiny cell-phone? No way. Good luck selling those, M$.

TFA:“Toast allows advertisers to push ads onto your Windows Phone 7 smartphone whether you have an associated app running or not. The advertiser sends your phone an ad, your phone receives and displays it, you view it, and presumably you tap ‘n’ buy whatever…”

Is nothing sacred? It’s a phone for pity’s sake! Leave it alone, M$! I don’t get cell-phones, let alone smart ones, but I see no value in mobility in IT if it is used to keep in touch with advertisers. One of the joys of teaching in the North is that, if I want to be alone, the bush is a minute’s walk away. Who would want an ad-machine at such a time?

  • Jun 26 / 2010
  • 0

Pot (M$) Calls Kettle (SalesForce) Black

M$ sued over software patents and Salesforce is retaliating over software patents, showing how utterly useless these things are for promoting innovation. Read Mary Jo Foley’s take on this.

Perusing the list of things M$ says were infringed include the who’s who of computer science 101. I teach data structures to high school students and they obtain patents on these things because the USPTO is full of people who never took that course.

M$ is a patent-troll and it is time someone stood up to them.

  • Jun 26 / 2010
  • 5

Premonitions of Bilski

Tom Goldstein on SCOTUSBlog has written his best estimate of who will write the decision on Bilski:

  • Justice Stevens will write it
  • the scope of patents will be narrowed, probably restricting software patents
  • the court will be unanimous but possibly split on the scope of the ruling…

He bases this on the history and involvement of Stevens on law of patents. He has a history of narrowing patent rights. The court has a history of spreading the written decisions around and Justice Stevens has yet to write one this term. I think this view is consistent with the engagement of Stevens in the oral hearing last year.

That supports my belief that software patents will get the boot but courts often surprise. They could find a way to dodge the issue by deciding only on this Bilski case very narrowly. I hope we will know two days from now. The suspense is killing me. Cleared of software-patents, M$ is powerless to stop GNU/Linux by any legal means. I expect the stock price will drop on the news. If somehow the software-patents are allowed to live but with narrower rules, it depends exactly on what those rules are. M$’s patent portfolio could be shrunk. We shall see.

I think the court will rule that software-patents are a Pandora’s Box that should never have been opened. The mind boggles at the $billions that have been wasted as a result. It will be interesting to see all the repercussions.
Will previous settlements and cross-licensing agreements be rolled back? That would be difficult even if required. Certainly the patent fud from M$ should be toned way down. They must have earned a lot of enmity in the last year or two extorting money from smaller businesses to “settle”. Who will give M$ any respect if software-patents go down in flames?

  • Jun 26 / 2010
  • 4
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

A New Take on FUD

FUD is often used to discourage people from using Free Software but Rex Djere turns it around. His thesis is that the purveyors of non-Free software are the ones in fear about how their control of people will slip their grasp with exposure to Free Software. Nice.

It explains why some people get so riled when I suggest FLOSS is the way to do anything. The idea of people sharing and not being enslaved by their software frightens many. It appears to threaten livelihoods in the monopoly but really only means they need to change. Change is sometimes necessary but people still resist change because it takes some effort.

It is illuminating that few end-users become riled when I suggest FLOSS. It is those in the food-chain of non-Free software who feel threatened, yet they attack me and others as though we are trying to deceive end-users. Cute. Carla Schroder got it right when she wrote, “The first step is figuring out who are your customers? When you’re Microsoft it’s not end-users, but everyone upstream: corporate buyers, resellers, and OEM shops. Actual users are little more than unavoidable nuisances. Microsoft salespeople and marketers cater strictly to the folks who sign the big checks.” Amen.

I had a little exercise in freeing end-users yesterday. We have just finished reports which have been done by editing spreadsheets in .xls format. It means opening and closing files one at a time, printing and proof-reading and printing again, wasting lots of end-users’ time. After finishing the reports, I gathered packages from the Debian repository and it looks like we will be able to generate reports next fall by merging XHTML with a database so the teachers will not have to worry at all about formatting and proof-reading. We will be able to run scripts on the database to check that entries are complete and run the lot assured of consistent formatting. There will also never be a collision because each teacher only makes entries for his/her courses. I put in a day’s work organizing a database and a couple of scripts and our teachers are freed forever from opening and closing files. Sweet. Priceless.

In addition to saving myself and all the teachers in our school from hours of useless labour four times a year forever I had the satisfaction of doing stuff I love with computers and data and I even found a bug in a package in Debian GNU/Linux and submitted a bug-report. With closed software, on the other hand, I would have put in the same effort trying to persuade bean-counters to issue a purchase-order for some grade-book software, waiting for things to arrive or not before the next school year, and being told the salaries of the teachers are paid so labour-saving is extra-cost… What would you do? I will pick FLOSS every time to solve such problems.

FLOSS works.

  • Jun 26 / 2010
  • 0

The Sword

“He who lives by the sword shall die by it” is an old saying and currently applies to M$. They have threatened the world with software patents and now Salesforce is counter-attacking them with claims of violations of “cloud”-related patents on things like .NET, AppFabric, Error Reporting, SharePoint (maybe an injunction will stop the ads!), and Live Delegated Authentication. The usual way that M$ gets out of these jams is to throw some of their ill-gotten gains from the monopoly at the suitor and call it cross-licensing.

I think that is getting tired. Everyone has seen M$ wiggle out of legal problems, dragging them on until they are irrelevant. Let us hope the supremes rule on Bilski on Monday so M$ can go to the dog-house. IT has no use for patent-trolls.

Salesforce claims it has been working on the cloud since 1999 and M$ came to the party late and used the technology without permission and in some cases after reading the patent claims of Salesforce.

Whatever the truth, we see once again what a foolish waste of time software patents are. You cannot patent logic and mathematics which is all digital computer programmes are. We cannot let M$ have it both ways: using software patents as a weapon while ignoring them because it can afford to fight prolonged legal battles. It is time for software patents to go to the waste basket and all the billions corporations have wasted on them, likewise. Shareholders should punish the fools who made the decisions to squander billions on this illusory pot of gold.

  • Jun 25 / 2010
  • 0

Save the Women and Children From That Other OS

This story is not just about security of PCs but that the safety of women and children whom all should protect depends these days on the software on their PCs.

A predator distributed malware to PCs through digital music files. He used the malware to gather information and control PCs which escalated to demanding explicit images and video from the ladies.

While some awareness of personal security would have prevented the attacks, so would using GNU/Linux. GNU/Linux is not laden with “features” that turn out to be security holes, like executing media files. That other OS has been doing this kind of thing for a decade and will not stop, apparently, so stop using it on PCs connected to the web.

  1. 2007 Symantec reports more malware is created for that other OS than legitimate software – no mention of Linux
  2. 2010 – still doesn’t mention Linux in its report but that other OS or Acrobat Reader is mentioned in five of the top attacks
  3. In 2009, Symantec developed more signatures for malware than in the total of all previous years. Patching never caught up.