Thursday, December 31, 2009

A standard Windows desktop is useless

As a consultant I've been working on a lot of different desktops. Well, different? Not quite. Almost everywhere I go I find MS-Outlook, MS-Office, MS-IExplorer and Adobe Acrobat reader. Some of these installations even lack MS-Project, MS-Visio and in some cases even MS-Access. If those really were the only tools at my disposal, I would call it working with "stone axes and bear skins". Fortunately, I always carry my laptop with me, which is equipped with the tools that really make a difference like Graphviz, Dia, Kjots, LyX, MySQL, Apache, PHP, Pegasus Mail, OpenProj and my own 4tH compiler. And no, I did not install Linux on this laptop for the simple reason it is not my laptop. I have a cute EeePC 701 running - yes, you guessed it - Xandros.

So what's your problem, you say. Well, first the desktop freezes every now and then, showing an incredible 0% CPU utilization. I hate that, especially if you have to get some work done. If I'm overloading the beast, OK, I understand that. But why is it sitting there doing nothing? Even a few generations ago I was surfing the Internet, burning a CD while compiling some program. 128 MB RAM, PIII. No sweat.

But the fun already begins when you turn on the thing. Ok, it may be getting stuff from the LAN, but why does it boot so terribly slow? I've waited up to t-w-e-n-t-y minutes until I saw the desktop appear! We're not home free yet, we still have to start Outlook. Even KMail on my poor 32 MB, PII didn't take that long. That's all nice when you come in, slightly late, and want to look up the name of that conference room.. A really nice feature of Outlook is that it can't export its messages to a decent format, it only supports .PST instead of mbox. Of course, there is a solution to that. You can abuse Thunderbirds import utility to do that for you - it's a very dirty hack - or readpst. Unfortunately, I can only use the latter one on.. Linux! I can't get it to compile on Windows - my working hours are restricted to useful work.

I have to admit, MS-Excel is a pretty decent program, the trouble is that I only use it to distribute database reports. So, that one is out of the equation. MS-Word is a useless pile of wasted bytes. I'm there to provide content, I'm not a layout artist and I don't want it to be. Every time you change something, the layout changes for some inexplicable reason - and you have to spend valuable time to correct it. I don't have that time. Of course, there are "styles", endless lists of styles that keep on accumulating. Another fun thing is when you embed pictures. They look fine, you save them and when you reload your document they are all over the place. The real fun part begins when your file exceeds a certain size: MS-Word becomes instable and bombs out. Less computer-savvy users have had a cardiac arrest because of that - nobody makes backups anymore. You can often solve the problem by importing it in.. OpenOffice! But I'm not done yet. Often I want to publish a document on the web and behold what horrible HTML MS-Word produces. Lots of it!

No, I prefer LyX. I type, LyX does the layout. Creating a PDF is painless. With eLyXer HTML creation is easy - and boy, does it look good. With LaTeX2RTF I can create those @#$% Word documents the whole world seems to be craving for. I written my entire 4tH manual with LyX, which is over 450 densely written letter-size pages - with graphics. No problem. Making references, bibliographies or a simple table of contents, it's just a few quick clicks away. I fire LyX up, adjust the document properties and I'm away. I type the title, my name, indicate this is the "title" and "author" and begin my first section. Highlight the section title, indicate this is a "section" and off we go. That's how you produce content. Needless to say that once you've put an image somewhere that it doesn't move anymore - and certainly isn't overlaid.

Now let's move to the pictures themselves. In most cases I don't even enter a graphics program. I write some simple Graphviz code - or let the database generate it - and Graphviz does the rest. Most formats are supported, including SVG, JPG, PDF and EPS. When Graphviz can't help me, I turn to Dia. Dia is a classical diagram program with one little difference: it supports many different formats. When was the last time you successfully converted an MS-Visio file you got over the email to anything useful? Yes, it's always the tedious job of sending an email back - with Outlook <snif> - with the request to send an SVG. Pleeeeaaazzee..

The most useful part of the standard desktop is MS-Access. If you do a lot of data crunching - like me - it is a useful workhorse. Buggy, yes. Useful, yes. Unless you start making applications with it. That is not something I recommend. Importing an MS-Excel sheet or CSV and produce a quick join, OK, but don't use it to make applications! Believe me, I learned this the hard way. Your MS-Access database will corrupt at some point in time, giving rise to data loss or bugs that are impossible to trace or fix. Use a simple WAMP installation with a good framework. That works like magic and you can always install your application on a web server if your client likes it - even if it runs IIS.

Finally, the lack of a decent programming environment. No it doesn't have to be big and complicated. My own 4tH compiler only needs 64K. Why do I need a compiler? Simply because some data conversions or extractions cannot be made with a standard desktop. Unless you do it by hand - something I'm not prepared to do. I recently had to convert a text file with full names to a CSV with first and last names. It took only five lines of 4tH and three minutes. Convinced?

The next fun thing is the lack of a decent editor on a standard desktop. MS-Notepad is unable to read Unix text files. End of story. MS-Wordpad does that for you, no problem. But it lacks a very useful and simple feature. No, I'm not talking about source highlighting. It's the lack of a line number display. So when your PHP bombs out with an error, try to find line 83. Good luck! 1, 2, 3, 4 ..

Finally, the horror of MS-IExplorer. OK, it's half usable as a browser, no problems there. The real fun starts when you're a web developer. Although you're writing perfectly acceptable W3C compliant code, it's not rendered as it should be. And according to the users, you're at fault. Now let's start wasting some serious time by trying to fix it. Yes, there's always a fix. Whether your PNG is not transparent or your SELECT list obscures some DHTML popup, believe me, there is always a fix. And like I said, it may take some time to fix it. You're very proud of yourself when it finally works. Until somebody opens up another browser. Or you get a browser update from Microsoft. You think Microsoft is doing much better now? Don't make me laugh. Even Dillo is doing better.

So, welcome to wonderful world of the standard desktop. How much time do you want to waste today?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Guys and dolls

Carla Schroder recently published an article called "Hug your favorite FOSS contributors today". I have a problem with both that title and the intention. I don't feel like hugging some bearded nerd and if they're anything like me, I don't think they really want to be hugged anyway. Some of them are really grumpy old geeks..

Sure, there are several projects I like and use every day. I even cooperate with some of these projects, but I feel awkward sending a message "I love you, please don't stop". I think the people who run these projects already know I find their products indispensable, because I write about them with every occassion I have. Some of them even publish links to my blog, which is fine. But telling them "I love you". Man, I don't know..

I know my girlfriend thinks it's very important I tell her every day that I love her - which I do - but I'm your average bloke and I feel that if she doesn't run away, I must be doing something good. At least, that's what I've been telling myself every day for the last five years.

I've been in the FOSS business for about fifteen odd years. First I wanted to distribute my software as shareware, but since all these folks gave me all this software for free, that didn't seem right somehow. So, I became a FOSS developer.

Why? Well, I didn't like the way Forth compilers integrated with Linux, so I wrote my own. That's how it is. I had an itch, so I scratched it. Nobody ever thought it was possible, but I did it. And now it was possible, it was blasphemy. Because almost all Forth compilers follow the same architecture which allows instant interpretation. Mine didn't. According to the ANS-Forth standard, it wasn't even a Forth compiler. I was flamed to hell. I couldn't care less.

Up to now, the hardcore Forth sites don't even list it as a Forth compiler, although it is able to compile certain ANS-Forth programs. You think that stopped me? No. It was what I wanted. I wasn't in the business to be liked or wanted, I just wanted to do my thing and nothing was gonna stop me.

Nowadays things are very different and people contemplate about 4tH and accept it as being another player in the field. I rejoice every time a new user joins the newsgroup (all sexes welcome) or examines the possibilities of this tool. But that wasn't why I started it. I'm not here to be loved, I'm here to share an former itch.

I loved the moment a user passed by and told me he had ported a floating point library to 4tH. We spend hours designing a "square root" function and in the end we boosted performance tenfold. I was delighted when a user ported 4tH to FreeGEM and painted some amazing pictures on the screen. I wrote a preprocessor in 4tH, not that I really needed it, but because it was such a neat thing to do. I was really fascinated when I ported Herbert Schildt's "Small Basic" interpreter to 4tH and was able to enhance it beyond Tiny Basic. I really don't need to be hugged, the project in itself is reward enough.

Sometimes I lay down on my bed in the evening and skim the source code I wrote lately. It's beautiful 4tH, it functions perfectly and whether someone uses it of even finds it practical doesn't interest me in the least. It's just my thing and it is well done, so I can go to sleep quietly, knowing that no one will be able to find a single bug.

I know I'll be able to depend on this code, even in a work environment and that's all I need. I don't need the praise of strangers to tell me I've done well. I know. Maybe that is where guys and dolls differ. My father told me this years ago. Men love things. Women love people.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The best helmsmen stand on shore

Let me make this perfectly clear: I've been in FOSS for over fifteen years. In 1994 I created my 4tH compiler and released it under an LGPL license. Furthermore, I've provided code, documentation and translations to about a dozen FOSS projects. Whether these are important contributions or projects I leave to you, but I think it has been enough to consider myself to be part of the FOSS community. If you're insulting or simply "criticizing" the community, you're insulting or criticizing me.

Bruce Byfield is a technical writer turned journalist and I have to admit his technical articles are very good. As a matter of fact, every time he publicizes one, I wholeheartedly agree with him. But every time he roams away from that path he achieves nothing, but damage to his credibility as a technical journalist.

What most people are still unable to understand is that the FOSS community is the FOSS community. There is no central body that governs it. You can "criticize" it, but most people can and will simply shrug their shoulders and get on with what they're doing. Every time a wildfire breaks out, fierce comments are written, many blogs get updated and nothing really changes. Few people will start using Emacs instead of vi. Few people will wipe GNOME from their machine and start using KDE. The community is much more than just Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds and Miguel de Icaza. It consists of many thousands of tiny, small, medium, abandoned, forked, major and corporate projects.

Bruce Byfield is completely unaware of this too. In his latest misguided rambling 'Open Source Projects and the Meritocracy Myth' he lists a number of major projects with paid developers. As if meritocracy is and should only be applied there.

First, he obviously doesn't understand the full concept of meritocracy. Meritocracy in FOSS is about merits, not just "who is the best". If a paid developer can spend eight straight hours per day and provides most of the code he will obviously rise in the ranks, a fact that is clearly supported by the findings of the FLOSS polls, that infamous report that everybody likes to quote and nobody obviously read. Furthermore, in our capitalist world those who pay call the shots. The privilege that the community has is that if it doesn't like it, it can fork. Something that Eben Moglen recently confirmed.

Second, reducing the community to a few major projects simply doesn't cut it. Thousands of projects are not depending on paid developers. Are those projects not part of the community? Is there proof that meritocracy doesn't work there? "Yes", Bruce says, "talking about some of the barriers to women's participation in FOSS."

Ok, now it's becoming clear what this is all about: it's the whole feminist thing again! I know this trick, Bruce. As a matter of fact, I applied it as well during the previous discussion we had. Simply attack the fundamentals of an ideology and you're home free. Well, not this time, Bruce. You have to be better than that - and frankly: you're not.

Meritocracy is not the guiding principle of the FOSS ideology. It simply works best for these thousands of unpaid volunteers you're so eager to insult and attack on each and every opportunity you get. Proof? Here you got it. Source? FLOSS polls!

So Bruce, what will be your answer? Whine again that Sam Varghese and me "don't like you"? Like Sam said, we never met! I'm merely criticizing you. But before you criticize the community, note you're not part of it. You never contributed anything to it. It's like we Dutch say: "The best helmsmen stand on shore", meaning that those who have the most criticism on how to do better actually don't have anything to do with it.

We tend to use it in situations where some "advise" can better be ignored. Like yours, Bruce.

Update: Recently Bruce published an article titled "When people say it’s not personal, it usually is" on his private blog. It quickly turned out I was one of the people he meant. He accused me of being "obsessive".

The truth is I commented six times on four of his articles on three different subjects in the span of three years - with a pause of one-and-a-half year. Bruce produced about twenty-five articles on the last half year on Datamation alone. I have published about sixty on this blog in the course of three years.

Consistent disagreement? I don't think so. It is obsession or that you can't stand any criticism, Bruce? When I published these figures on his site, he conveniently closed the comments.. Nuff said.

Update: Obviously, Bruce monitors my blog as well. Shortly after I published this update, Bruce conveniently produced this post. No problem Bruce, after Caitlyn's posts concerning this subject I already had my answer ready. I didn't publish it, because I don't want to stir things up in the community. I feel bloggers have a responsibility as well - and they should be more aware of it.

Since I'm not afraid of a discussion, I also offered Bruce's post to LXer (boy, these guys are good!) and LT. Of course, since I'm unofficially banned from LT, Bruce didn't get any airtime either. <snif>! The snapshots keep piling up, Carla.. Don't say you didn't know.

Update: Although I have left Bruce alone for some time now, he continues to think "people are out to get him". Ok, it can't be me this time. I really had to bite my tongue sometimes, but it worked, I did it. Still, when he published this piece - obviously aimed at his other nemesis, Sam Varghese - couldn't remain silent, so I published this comment at his site. I'm not quite sure it will surface there, but here it is:
Well, when you choose sides (and despite your claims you're always "balanced", you do) you divide the world in two parts: those who agree with you and those who don't.

When you take sides, you're bound to have criticism - which may be on the spot or completely beside the point. Apart from some rational arguments, which is which is up to anybody.

However, those people who criticize you are not out to "get you". If you continue to think that, you're showing signs of paranoia and I advise you to get some professional help.

Making yourself into a "victim" all the time will not get you more sympathy or more people who agree with you - because the issues simply remain.

Stop whining and grow up!

Agree with me or not - that is a choice I leave to you.

Update: My comment didn't surface. Why am I not surprised..

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Successful women in FOSS and IT

Education is a powerful way to shape people. I have had the privilege to study for several years and the things they taught me still are the foundation of my actions. One of the things burned in my memory is a lesson I had one beautiful summer day. My professor - who I didn't particularly like - had just explained some theory to us and one wiseguy decided to have a crack at it. He explained in great length he knew somebody that didn't fit the profile. "Well," my professor said "I know somebody too." Since then, individual examples have very little relevance to me. Even the expression "real experiences of real women" is just another emotional outbreak to me.

Sure, it desensitizes a person up to the point that personal suffering doesn't touch him anymore, but it places individual problems in a much larger picture, which - in my humble opinion - is a much better way to solve big problems. And keep track of the long term consequences.

Nobody denies that sexism in FOSS exists. If not, Carla Schroder wouldn't be able to list a set of incidents. The problem I have with this statement is, that now it seems to be exclusively a FOSS problem - how long to you think it will take for Microsofts astroturfers to pick this up and use it against us, it suggests that it is widespread like a malignant cancer, affecting each and every level of our community, it is claimed to be the most important reason that there are very few women who participate in FOSS and - most importantly - after vi vs. Emacs, Gnome vs. KDE and Mono vs. everything else it forms another crack in our community.

Carla Schroder has done anything possible to keep deviant opinions from reaching the outside world. I offered my article to LT too, but obviously, it was refused. Carla Schroder not only violates the ethical guidelines for journalists with this, she also shows she is not interested in a discussion about this subject with the community as well.

Another thing I learned during my study was that in every debate you always reach a point where further discussion appears to be useless. That point is reached when you start to discuss the foundation of an ideology, which is their dogmas. Therefore, attacking the dogmas of any ideology is a fun way to get your opponents red hot. Which happened. Modern feminism has long left the ideas which are still advocated by Carla Schroder. As a matter of fact, I can happily agree with them. A philosophy friend of mine always says: "It takes ten to fifteen years for the general population to pick up new ideas and another ten to twenty years for the politicians and the media to understand the world has changed."

But that is not what I wanted to discuss with you. I wanted to show you some real world examples of how successful women in IT and FOSS in particular think about this issue. These women are not some gray, anonymous, unsubstantiated array of possible FOSS participants, but real life women who have their own ideas and ideals. Was what Richard Stallman did really sexist? Not everyone agrees here:
This blogpost is completely ridiculous! I am woman and I don’t see anything bad in Stallmans comment. It was just a joke, for Christ’s sake. And I can’t see anything sexist in it. But what is really bad is this crazy denouncement of RMS, this wave of pseudo-feminism and political correctness. I really hate these would-be feminists with wacky world-view, their disgusting political correctness and false moralism. They are disgrace for all women.

True feminism had sense in the past, when there were really disproportions between men and women rights. But I can’t see any signs of women discrimination in my surroundings anymore (for a long long time). Of course we must take care to not let that happen again, but not like this! This "new" pseudo-feminism is completely bogus and it hurts us.

It started with Debian developer expelled for joke in mailing-list because of some stupid pseudo-feminists (again, I didn’t see anything sexist in it, it was just parody of spam, a tasteful and funny parody IMHO). And now this unjustified bashing of RMS. I am ashamed that women in FOSS are like that :-(

And what about women considering FOSS to be a "hostile” environment?
Get over it already!

I'm a woman, FOSS user and aspiring to learn software development. The only constraint in my way is time: I have a life to live that includes raising and home-educating a child and running a business.

This and not "sexism" is the same reason why women are proportionately "under-represented" in many professions and why on average they get paid less in most of those professions - the work simply has to compete for time and dedication with other interests.

Girls can do ANYTHING...anything they care about doing that is. Yes, there will be obstacles. That's life. Life is tough.

And even this woman, who took the time to comment my blog is somebody I actually admire and applaud, for the simple reason that she does where so many others do not:
Do you contribute code to free software projects? I do. That's not the only type of contributions needed, though. There is work that matches every skillset out there, we are not only looking for developers.

By the way, I started my geek journey almost 30 years ago, too, slinging COBOL and holding on to Grace Hopper as a source of inspiration. It is still largely a "man's world" but I never minded working ten times as hard for opportunity. It made me stronger and smarter and better at what I do.

Of course, I saved the best for last. This one almost shocked me for the simple reason that she so eloquently said what I wanted to say.. If only I had been a woman.
As I’ve read through a slew of posts and articles on women and IT in the past few months, I’ve discovered two things: First, that they are almost always written by women, and second, they are all just as sexist as they claim the IT environment to be.

You heard me correctly. I said they’re sexist and offensive. And not just sexist and offense toward men, but to women as well: (..) "Engineers have their 'hard-hat culture', while biological and chemical scientists find themselves in the 'lab-coat' culture and computer experts inhabit a 'geek culture.' What they all have in common is that they are 'at best unsupportive and at worst downright hostile to women.'"

This seems to imply that women live outside the geek culture. I know more than a few women who are likely offended by that implication, and I'm certainly one of them. I'm not even sure what that means, and the authors of the report don't seem to elaborate at all on what it is that makes "geek culture" hostile and unsupportive or why this is problematic for women.

It’s a mighty broad brush being used to paint a fairly dismal picture of IT and computer science in general. At best unsupportive? Downright hostile?

Have I been subjected to hostile, demeaning attitudes and behavior from men in the workplace? Yes. But I've been subjected to similar attitudes and behavior elsewhere. It's a fact of life: Some people are jerks. Walk around any public venue for a while and you’re bound to discover that this is true of a certain percentage of the population. It stands to reason, then, that you'd find a similar percentage of jerks working in IT.

Have I met one or two individuals with dismissive, sexist attitudes? Absolutely. But an entire "culture of dismissal"? Never.

That's hardly a reason to condemn an entire profession, nor an entire gender. What’s even more annoying about these reports and articles is that they imply and sometimes outright demand that IT change to suit women. (..)

The premise of these articles and studies is that there is something wrong with IT in the first place. It assumes that because some women chose to pursue other careers along the way that they were driven (probably with pitchforks) out of IT by men and into a pitiful existence as a business analyst or stay-at-home mother.

But a large piece of the story is missing from these articles and research: Are the women who have left IT happier? Do they enjoy what they are doing now more than they enjoyed IT? Are they satisfied?

If they are, then maybe it isn't IT and men that are wrong, but rather those particular women’s choice of career in the first place.

You wanted "real women, real experiences", Carla? Here you got 'em.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Feminism's dirty little secret

Feminism is an ideology and like any ideology it has three major flaws:
  1. It assumes that we have an unlimited free will;
  2. It assumes that nature is inherently just, it's just us humans who mess up;
  3. It assumes that the world will become just when all people participate, but at the same time it is unable to cope with the people who do not.
Unfortunately, all these assumptions are wrong.

Free will
The battle between nature and nurture has been raging since ages and is still not fully resolved. In the darkest days of "political correctness" scientists were even unable to properly research their hypotheses. Opponents thought it was unethical to even think there might be a link between crime and genetical disposition or that the root cause of homosexuality was completely physical.

Of course, this was not the first time that science and ideology clashed. The Catholic church has particular long and bad track record, the most notorious incident being Galileo who was forced to denounce that the earth moved around the sun. But mankind has moved on and now we are all illuminated, aren't we?

No, we're not. "Political correctness" is the dogma of our time and it may still not be questioned. We have a free will. Our decisions are not influenced by mere hormones and genetical layout. We are all able to freely make our choices, have our own special talents and any differences we perceive in the real world must be attributed to external factors. Well, say hello to behaviorism.

Behaviorism assumes that all we are can be attributed to our past experiences. If boys are taught to play with dolls, they will play with dolls. If girls are taught to play with computers, they will become great FOSS contributors. Behaviorism was very influential in the sixties and it was in those days that they conducted their most gruesome experiments. The most notorious case was the case of David Reimer. Reimer was mutilated shortly after birth and John Money decided it was best if the young boy had a complete sex change and was brought up as a girl. Of course, it didn't work and after desperately trying to assume a male lifestyle, David committed suicide at the age of 38.

Nature is just
Another assumption is that nature has distributed all talents evenly between the sexes. Therefore, any differences can only be attributed to external factors. As much as feminists like to deny it, it is nowadays accepted that there are differences between the sexes.

Let me elaborate on this a little. We're talking averages here. Although on average men tend to be longer than women, it is possible that you meet a certain man that is shorter than a certain woman. Prejudice comes in when you say that all women are shorter than all man and apply this principle to every woman you meet.

Are there any differences between men and women that go beyond the mere physical level? Well, yes there are and it has been known for a long time. Of course, this knowledge is not in the interest of feminists and this movement has done anything and everything to deny it, debunk it or make it known to the general public.

The simple truth is, that an area of the brain called the inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) is typically significantly larger in men, especially on the left side, than in women. This section of the brain is thought to control mental mathematical ability, and probably explains why men frequently perform higher in mathematical tasks than do women. Interestingly, this is the same area of Einstein’s brain that was discovered to be abnormally large. This may very well explain why on average more men are inclined to sit down and crank out FOSS programs than women. That would mean that Bruce Byfield and Carla Schroder are fighting an uphill battle, since the averages will never significantly change. Well, at least not in our lifetime.. Evolution tends to be a rather tedious process.

Sam Varghese mentioned one significant issue that is important when comparing FOSS and commercial software. ICT covers a very wide range of professions nowadays, it's not limited to mere programmers. I don't even have to resort to just "marketing and sales people, administrators in proprietary software companies and the like". There are also female project leaders, female consultants and female ITIL implementers. All these jobs require little or no programming skills. I can easily confirm this since I'm an ITIL consultant myself.

The heretics
Frequent readers of my blog know I'm particularly fond of "labeling" and the label of this week is "anti-feminism".

Well, for the record: I'm not an anti-feminist. I consider myself to be a FOSS proponent and there is only one thing that counts to me: great code. I don't care whether you are black or white, atheist or Christian, male or female. I don't check the "About" boxes before I give my judgment. Great code is just great code. It's what FOSS is all about: meritocracy. Because I'm convinced that is the real driving force of FOSS, not "sexism" as some are trying to make us believe.

As Sam Varghese already noted in his recent blog, there is one significant flaw in the reasoning of my opponents: sexism is the root cause of driving women away from FOSS. Well, if there is any causality between the low number of women participating in FOSS on one hand and sexism on the other hand, simply punch up the numbers. BTW, for the scientifically challenged: examples are statistically insignificant. If you don't, I'll consider it unproven and won't subscribe to this point of view.

I've been earning my living for over twenty five years in this line of work and consequently, I've worked with a lot of women. Some of them were brilliant and I've learned a lot from them. They are strong, talented people who I got to know very well in the course of time. I know they would shrug their shoulders if they read what has been written lately. They just did their thing and no one was gonna hold them back, certainly not an immature youngster or a single sound bite of a cute, old hippie.

No, they have quite some other issues to deal with. Dilbert like management decisions, for instance - which I regret to say, happen only too frequently. Those are particularly hard to swallow - not only for women. Dear editors and journalists, that is the real world. That is what people - including women - have to cope with every day when they try to do their job. That is what stresses them, sometimes to the point that they quit their job or their profession. Write about that, you $%&*!

Nobody denies people the right to pursue their dreams. I have no problem to think of "women" as "people" as some feminists would like us to believe. I'd love to see my girlfriend use my compiler. As a matter of fact: I taught her, but she wasn't really interested. But it has to be her choice, not mine. If she, as an adult, decides to choose another career or hobby who am I to deny her that privilege?

Women nowadays enjoy a freedom that their great grandmothers didn't have. And even in those days there were women like Marie Curie and Aletta Jacobs who just did their thing. Treating women like feeble creatures who are ignorant and cannot make their own choices is a 19th century mentality. Modern women can have a good education, in some western countries female university students outnumber the males. That is what the feminist movement has been able to achieve.

What it doesn't and probably will never be able to achieve is an equal distribution of males and females in all faculties. The thing is: do we really need to? And if so, why? And if that is so important to women they should take an example to their predecessors like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and just do their thing. Write code. Impress me. Just do it! Stop making excuses!

The cause of the low number of women who participate in FOSS is the low number of women that are participating in FOSS! Unless a huge number of males quit making FOSS software, that ratio is not going to change - no matter what.

Just stop bothering and blaming the people who do. Call me sexist if you want (see how much I care), but let me do my thing. We're people too, you know.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Russia with Linux

I came across two seemingly unrelated reports, one from the Register, stating that Microsoft will offer a choice of browsers in the EU version of Windows 7 and one from FAS Russia, which began proceedings in a case against several major hardware manufacturers. If this is the shape of things to come, it could mean the OS landscape is about to change.

First, if the EU started similar proceedings, that could mean the end of the Microsoft Tax, which is a good thing in itself. It can simply not be maintained that computer hardware is specifically designed for Windows. If it were, we wouldn't be able to run Linux and since we are, it isn't. If such a policy were adopted, we would get our money back for every piece of unused Microsoft software. No hassle!

But then again, Microsoft would still have an advantage, because it comes preinstalled, which is an unfair business practice. This is where the browser choice comes in. Isn't it much neater to let the customer choose which OS he wants to have by having two Operating Systems preinstalled? It can't be done? Of course it can! I once bought a laptop and could choose between Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. I ran a dual boot system for four years. Don't tell me it can't be done! It has been done.

Surely, hardware manufacturers don't like to do business with a bunch of hackers. From all the possible Linux contenders (Red Hat, Novell, Canonical, Google) I feel that Google has the best chances, simply because it obviously already has had contact with several OEMs following its Android adventure. And it is not afraid to attack Microsoft head on.

We're not there yet, though. The customer has to follow some procedure to get his money back, money for something he never bought. It's like you go to the supermarket, get a cart full of groceries and then have to fill in several forms in order to get back the stuff you never wanted. That's odd, don't you think so?

The easiest way is to let the customer decide when he buys the system. If he accepts Windows he gets a DVD, a license and he can activate it from the privacy of his own home. WGA should prevent any piracy - if it is any good. The licensing costs are added to the bill and that's it. If he takes Chrome - for example - it's free. It's as simple as that.

Be sure Microsoft will put up a fight, because it will:
  1. Make clear to the customer what he pays for and how much he pays for it;
  2. Make it virtually impossible to impose its terms to hardware manufacturers;
  3. Give customers a real alternative, backed by a major company;
  4. Expose the vulnerability of its business model in the 21st century to the shareholders in a way that cannot be misunderstood;
  5. Create a dangerous precedent - if here, why not in the US?
But is this scenario completely unrealistic? I don't think so...

If you are living in the EU, please forward this link ( to your EU representative in the EU parliament. It might help to give 'em a few ideas.

It might also help to get several translations online. You can be assured that this blog is at your disposal!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Free Open Source Software Evangelist

We humans are socials creatures that tend to flock together in groups, bound by a common set of ideas, believes and values. Sometimes there are tensions between groups, just because their ideas, believes or values differ. As long as they are able to settle their differences in a civilized way, nothing much happens, apart from the exchange of a few insults and the flinging of a few stones and sticks.

But as soon as someone starts to claim that he is the real thing and the others in the group are just phonies and wannabes, you're bound to have trouble. History is full of these examples. Catholics called them "heretics", Hitler called them "Untermenschen", Stalin called them "Trotskists" and McCarthy called them "communists". Being one of these unfortunates was enough reason to be burned, gassed, shot, exiled or imprisoned. Sometimes people could save their necks by denouncing the very thing they believed in.

And now it has happened here. Nobody is safe, not even Richard Stallman. Evidence has been found in his very home that he is a sexist and thus not worthy to lead the Free Software World. New leaders have emerged and we're all about to be excommunicated unless we repent our sins and start installing Mono. Because let's get real, that's what it's all about. It's not because we all wear tin foil hats or that we're harmful to the community and should be expelled. It's because we don't like Mono. And we don't like Mono, because we don't trust Microsoft. And we don't trust Microsoft, because.. Well, do I really have to repeat the whole story again? TomTom, is that good enough reason? Viral licenses? DoJ? Billion dollar fines? Hundreds of patent violations? OOXML? Years of FUD? Being paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

The last months we've seen that Mono is still a controversial development environment, despite its technical merits. The main problem is not its license, because Mono is licensed under the GPL. The main problem is that it is still unclear whether Microsoft is able (or willing) to destroy the FOSS ecosystem by pulling the plug out of Mono. If substantial parts of the FOSS ecosystem depended on Mono, it would be a devastating blow. Mono proponents went out of their heads to show us the various benefits of Mono, how beautiful a world would be if it were build with Mono and - to a lesser extent - how unlikely it was that Microsoft would nuke us with their patent portfolio. And then - oh heavenly bliss! - Microsoft promised that it would not sue you if you fully implemented ECMA standards 334 and 335. Rejoice! Miguel praised the gods on Mount Redmond for their gift. We are delivered!

Well, always beware of Microsofties bearing gifts. Only a tiny part of Mono was covered by this promise and the controversy remained. That was the end of it. It was time for a new tactic. If you can't kill the message, maybe you can kill the messenger.

Victim one: Richard Stallman
Richard gave a speech of over an hour and dared to pull in the Virgin Emacs for ten seconds. If he had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church I wouldn't have blinked an eye, but I was quite surprised when I heard he was attacked for being sexist, simply because he had used the word "women". That should have been "persons". Most women start up Emacs first thing in the morning, that's why women make up a staggering 1.5% in FOSS software.

Poor Richard should know that women have been brainwashed since their early youth and are now completely unable to make responsible, mature decisions concerning their life, unless carefully guided by enlightened people and protected from horrible persons like RMS that scare them away for life from a future in software development with one single, well aimed, ten second soundbite. Sexism by any objective standards? Since when are there any objective standards in ethics?

I'm Dutch, I can do that. The only things here that are hotter than political correctness are MC Hammer's trousers.

Victim two: Roy Schestowitz
Roy is being accused of spreading FUD, calling certain Microsoft employees "zealots for hire" and should consequently be sued. And the guy knows what he's talking about, because his daddy is a lawyer.

If you're Microsoft and spend a lot of money on phony research reports for the sole reason of spreading FUD, that's alright because that are normal business practices. If you're Microsoft and you're crying for developers because nobody has any fun developing software for that pile of digital junk they call an Operating System, so you're forced to hire your own community, that's alright because that are normal business practices. If you're Microsoft and wait for the right time to fire your legal equivalent of nuclear missiles - aka patents - that's alright because that are normal business practices.

The problem is when you start doing the very same thing and you're neither a company nor a hired gun. Then you are a zealot, harmful to the community and should be hanged or - even better - lynched by the "real" FOSS mob. You're a backseat driver anyway, so that's no big loss! Praise the lord, the great purge has begun. I love show trials, Volksgerichte, Committees for Unamerican Activities and public executions on Friday!

Well, what other notorious Mono opponents can you think of? Who will be next? Fallen by the hands of people who have no problem at all to publish private emails in order to reach their goal. That have curious allies with questionable job descriptions. If these are the moral standards of real FOSS proponents I prefer not to be one at all. I prefer to stand under the shower until that label comes off.

I'll be a Free Open Source Software Evangelist, a man who may freely exercise his right on free speech, which is protected by any civilized constitution in the free world. Yes, that's what I'll be: a FREE Open Source Software Evangelist. By conviction – and unpaid. And I'll be proud of it.

Update: Mono proponents are now frantically quoting Torvalds to prove their point. Well, Torvalds uttered that statement in response to a question on the recent Microsoft contribution to the kernel, not on Mono and not on Microsoft critics in general. This is the quote in its entire context.

"We put this question to Linus, asking whether this patch was something he would be happy to include, even though it’s from Microsoft. He replied:
Oh, I'm a big believer in "technology over politics". I don't care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don't have to worry about licensing, etc. issues.

In fact, to some degree, I’d be more likely to include it because it's from a new member of the community rather than less (again, I’d like to point out that drivers are special. They don't impact other things, so they get merged much more easily than some core changes).

I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

There are 'extremists' in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don't call what I do 'free software' any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.

So it’s highly likely that this code will be merged into the mainline kernel and that’s a good thing. Who knows, Microsoft might even see the light! Linus is dead right. We shouldn’t deny contributions from anyone based on who they are. It should be the quality of the contribution that matters."

Does anybody dare to ask Torvalds if he would allow Mono code in his kernel? Just to settle this matter once and for all?

Update: It seems I'm not the only one connecting the dots here. Note the numerous trolling comments at the end of the article by someone called "Lefty", repeating over and over his favorite quote from Torvalds. It seems we may have victim number three: Sam Varghese.
These are a couple of reasons why the activities of the online terrorists--and I use that term with all due consideration and care--are totally destructive of the real community they pretend to be a part of, but in reality only wish to bend to their will.

Enough is enough. You've demonstrated yourself to be part of the problem here, Sam: you're aligned with the bad guys, not with the folks in the real community who are actually doing the heavy lifting on the software you claim to support so strongly. I'd like to see you seriously think about that as well.

So what, Lefty. Is systematically defaming people no online terrorism or is it the real online terrorism? All three names are conveniently combined in a single quote from "Lefty":
When I talk about the "faux FLOSS community", I'm talking about the folks voicing the most strident complaints over my actions--people like Sam here, people like Roy Schestowitz over on Boycott Novell, all the folks who all but insist that Mono is the Antichrist and Steve Ballmer actually has horns and a tail; folks who, if you disagree with them, seem decide you're demonically possessed in some way, nothing but a "Microsoft shill".

The people who apparently think that Mr. Stallman is completely above any criticism. As I've said, I'm starting to really believe they view what I've done as a sort of heresy. People who will take the low road to try to take care of the folks who run afoul of them--as Sam here has done--in their zealotry for their "cause".

Update: A few posts related to this subject. As usual, Glyn Moody hits the spot and states that the "ad hominem/ad feminam attacks are not just irrelevant, they are harmful". Note his obvious sarcasm by applying over-the-top "political correctness". As far as I know there were no female parties involved.

Update: The plot thickens. Note how "Lefty" lines up with a confessed Microsoft Technical Evangelist. BTW, -1 for Roy for disabling comments on the follow up. "Lefty" also confesses, that Roy's Mono opinion is a major reason for bashing the site and its most active blogger. Matthew Garrett, who recently posted on this blog, is also involved in the defamation of Sam Varghese, who is accused of being a racist after discrediting a known Mono proponent. Note that the post of the Mono proponent Sam criticized was so harmful to the Mono cause that even the guys from "Mono-nono" felt obliged to erase it.

Update: "Boycott Novell" proudly posts that there is one site that comes to its defense. Roy, you may be mistaking. If there is any evidence that you were involved in any of the accusations that were posed against you, you may find me on the other side of the fence. I certainly don't like it when you disable comments.

Update: "Lefty" suggests on his website that Chani published the following text on her blog:
..talking about relieving women of their virginity casts women in a submissive role, with men in a dominant role, and brings up thoughts of oppression and (indirectly) rape. (Yes, thinking about a roomful of guys thinking about taking womens' virginity does eventually lead me to wondering how many of them would take it by force.) It becomes less about the non-sexual meaning of "virgin" and more about all the crazy ideas societies have had about virgin women. And thinking about that stuff would make any woman uncomfortable.

That really looks like something a hysterical feminist could have written, which is certainly not the impression Chani makes. So I decided to dig a little deeper. A week before. A month before. Still could find that darn R-word. Finally, I tried Chani's search feature. Still nothing. That leaves three possiblities:
  1. Chani did write it, but removed the post afterwards.
  2. Chani did write it, but not on her blog, but in e.g. a private email.
  3. Chani never wrote it.
Still, what Chani does say on her blog on July 14th is:
I didn’t comment on this little incident, even though I knew I should. I mean, it’s RMS, I don’t really expect him to change. And it's easier to just ignore it and pretend it didn't happen. Thankfully, Lefty tackled the issue for us. Ok, publishing private mail is rude, but I'm glad he did.

I would be obliged if Chani would clear this up. I promise to add her comments to this blog.

Update: Well, Chani did obviously write it, but in her comments. I suggest "Lefty" to update the link so it points to the right place. Still Chani, isn't it a bit over the top? Obviously, not every woman shares your viewpoint. Thanks to an anonymous reader for clearing this up.

Update: Although he comes from "a family of lawyers", "Lefty" admits breaking the law by publishing Richard Stallman's emails. In short, his daddy might have some pro deo work on his hands in the near future if RMS decides to sue him. Go get 'em, Dick!

Update: I've researched some of the comments on "Lefty" and since I have not found substantial proof for the things he was accused of, I've taken the comments offline. I also found a pretty well documented timeline article on the "Lefty-BN" controversy for those wanting to make up their own mind.

Update: Boycott Novell posted a rectification on behalf of "Lefty".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Windows 7 makes me laugh

I happen to be Dutch and if you're into Linux that is a major disadvantage. If countries were shops, The Netherlands would be a Windows-only shop. There are very few Linux magazines (err.. one!) and even that one I gave up reading, because even the columnists were on Microsofts hands. I happen to do a lot of writing and once offered a major magazine to write Linux articles. "Well," they said "Not many people are using Linux.. We'll call you." I'm still waiting. Consequently, even now there are people who still think Linux is a toy. Fortunately, I read German. If you happen to drive a Mercedes or a BMW, you know these guys know what engineering is. Linux is big over there. You know that SuSE was a German firm?

For most people in The Netherlands, an Operating System means Windows. If it's not Windows, it can't be a computer. So if a new version of Windows comes out, it is major news. I got this video from the site of a major Dutch commercial news show.

Yes, it is Windows 7 for sure. But listen to the background music.. it seems we're presented the best invention of sliced bread! Are you impressed? I'm not!

This is a Linux Compiz video. It has been on YouTube for two years. I don't think it has had many hits since then. Technology has improved, new and better effects are available. It's quite a lengthy video without any loud trumpets, so I guess you'll all be asleep before it ends. But it's neat, flashy and has very subtle background music.

In many ways it's like Linux itself. Humble, inconspicuous, fast and silently doing its job. I like it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cross compilers, the new wave

When my faithful Linux machine silently died under my fingers, I knew I had a lot of work to do. I need a lot of different software and installing and configuring it takes quite some time. A job I'm particularly "fond" of is installing the cross compilers I need for my 4tH compiler. Yes, although I'm a dedicated Linux user, I create MS-DOS and MS-Windows packages as well.

Even if you're using a Debian-based distro this may apply to you, because although several people pointed out to me that cross compilers can be installed easily with apt-get, you're still left with a barebone cross compiler. The fun starts when you want to add a library. But since I use OpenSuSE 11.0 I have no such luck whatsoever. There are several cross compilers available from the repository for a host of different systems, but the ones I need are lacking.

So yesterday I took a deep breath and started installing. First I gave Volker Grabsch's MinGW cross compiling environment 2.5 a go. I had some very good results with his previous version, so I didn't worry too much about that one. The previous version consisted of a shell script, but this one was completely different. The documentation is very terse, so I felt a bit apprehensive anyway.

The first thing you should do is save any previous installation of the MinGW cross compiling environment. Assuming you've installed it under /opt/mingw (any other directory will do as well), you should execute the following commands:
mv /opt/mingw /opt/mingw.old

Now download and unpack the tarball:
tar -xzvf mingw_cross_env-2.5.tar.gz

Then we need to transfer the entire directory to its definitive location. I will assume again you use /opt/mingw, but feel free to use any other directory if you like.
mv mingw_cross_env-2.5 /opt/mingw

We're almost done. Just change to your newly created directory and get going:
cd /opt/mingw

Now it depends on what you actually want - or need. If you choose to enter:

You're in for a long wait, because Volker's tool compiles a lot of stuff. Almost seventy packages, including a whopping 58 libraries. On the other hand it doesn't require any intervention, so you're free to do whatever you like - like watch a movie or go for a night on the town. When it's done you'll find that you've installed a very capable Win32 cross compiler onto your system. Vanilla Debian packages won't provide you with a cross compiler environment as rich as this one.

Volker told me that if you only need the most basic tools you can also use:
make gcc

And add any additional packages you need later on. However, this has not been documented yet, but it will certainly be included in the next version. You can also supply a host of packages on the commandline, e.g.:
make gtk lua libidn

He assured me that you'll always end up with a consistent cross compiler environment. After you're done it just needs a little post-installation. Edit your .bashrc script in order to change $PATH:
export PATH=/opt/mingw/usr/bin:$PATH

BTW, note that any compiler related environment variables (like $CC, $LDFLAGS, etc.) may spoil your compiling pleasure, so be sure to delete or disable those. You probably will have to make a few adjustments to your Makefile:

You may have to add a few others, depending on your project. All you have to do is type this:
make CROSS="i386-mingw32msvc-"

If you're using configure, all you have to do is:
./configure --host="i386-mingw32msvc"

That's it! Don't let any warnings put you off:
configure: WARNING: If you wanted to set the --build type, don't use --host.
If a cross compiler is detected then cross compile mode will be used.

Everything will be just fine. All in all, Volker's MinGW cross compiling environment is a painless road to Win32 cross compilation. Highly recommended.

Now the really scary thing was on: the compilation of the MS-DOS cross compiler DJGPP. You may remember that the last time installation was far from flawless. Well, not much has changed. If you use a reasonably recent distro, this may help you. If not, refer to my previous post on cross compilers.

First download binutils, crx and gcc. Then execute the following commands:
rpm -Uvh djcrx-2.04pre-5.src.rpm

Now change to the SPECS directory, which is usually located at /usr/src/packages/SPECS. If not, you will have to find it for yourself. Then continue as root:
rpmbuild -bb djcrx.spec

After that you'll find a neat package in the RPMS directory. Install it:
cd ../RPMS/noarch
rpm -Uvh djcrx-2.04pre-5.noarch.rpm

Now return to the directory where you downloaded the files and install the next one:
rpm -Uvh djcross-binutils-2.19-9ap.src.rpm
cd /usr/src/packages/SPECS
rpmbuild -bb djcross-binutils-2.19.spec
cd ../RPMS/i586
rpm -Uvh djcross-binutils-2.19-9ap.i586.rpm

Return again to the directory where you downloaded the files and install the final one:
rpm -Uvh djcross-gcc-4.3.2-8ap.i686.rpm

Done. That wasn't too hard was it? Well, I tried to compile the source RPM and after four attempts I simply gave up. I couldn't do it. I did a few simple tests and DJGPP seemed to work fine, although I have to stress I still have to test it properly. IMHO it is this kind of installs that give Linux its bad rap in certain circles and I hope the maintainers will get their act together in the future.

The bottom line? By using cross compilers I can create an entire Win32 installation package in the comfort of my Linux machine without resorting to virtual machines or proprietary software. So next time you install the 4tH compiler on your Windows machine, you know it is the first time it dwells in this environment.

Update: I've used the cross compilers in order to produce the release of 4tH v3.5d and they did the job. The MS-DOS cross compiler produced relatively large binaries, but they worked just fine. It was pointed out to me that there is a nice alternative to the MinGW cross compiler environment that also produces an OS/X cross compiler. I haven't tested this one, but since it might be interesting to others, I'm happy to list it as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Introducing pointy-haired bosses to FOSS

Mike Dailey tries to convince us gave me the impression that moving to Linux is an all-or-nothing proposal. That's plain ridiculous. An undertaking of that scale is a gigantic project, which no CIO will endorse. What you can do is introduce FOSS technology in the enterprise, step by step. Once it has proven itself you may take the next step. Since mixing Microsoft and FOSS is a viable scenario you have a multitude of options at your disposal.

Warranty and support
The plain truth is that although most managers may have heard of Open Source, they don't have a clue what it is or how it works. Most of them think it is something like public domain software, stuff you can get for free, without warranty and without support. So the first thing you have to do is to tell them you can get support from reputable parties like Oracle, IBM, Novell and RedHat. If you're not happy with their support, you can change with more ease than you could with closed source software.

Some CIOs are completely unaware that these parties provide updates. They think you have to monitor a multitude of websites or CVSes, search for the newest versions, download a tarball and recompile it. I always tell them jokingly: "Well, I don't know what I've been getting all these months, but it seemed like patches".

Note that very few CIOs know that Microsofts warranty is rather limited. In fact, it is limited to the smallest extent that law will allow.

Code quality
Most CIOs think that Open Source is produced by amateurs, hacking away in their attics and garages, so they have concerns about the code quality. Of course, you can tell them that reputable companies produce a vast amount of FOSS as well, but that doesn't make them any happier. May be this will help. Okay Mike, I got the message: anybody can come up with some stray links. So especially for your reading pleasure I have delved a little deeper into this subject.

According to Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab Sustainable Computing Consortium closed source software contains 20 to 30 defects per thousand lines of code (KLOC). According to Steve McConnell, the best a software company could achieve is 0.1 defect/KLOC. That is, if you apply the highest standards known to man to the software engineering process, which is equivalent to CMMI level 5. And how many companies have achieved this walhalla of software engineering? 21. Yes, you're reading it correctly: 21. Over 99% of the software companies in the world are still in what SEI calls "the anarchy and folklore" stage.

But let's focus on this 0.1 defect/KLOC figure. It is very hard to find how well Microsoft is doing. I've spent hours trying to find any figures and I finally found them: it's between 0.5 and 1.8 defects/KLOC, depending on the methods used.

During a training at SEI, Microsoft engineers managed to get their defects rate down from (hold on to your hats) 25 defects/KLOC to 7 defects/KLOC. At the end of the training, they brought their defects rate down to an incredible 0.06 defects/KLOC. But that was during a training. Not a death march.

But for arguments sake, let's hold on to this incredibly low 0.06 defects/KLOC figure, which even baffles the most sophisticated software companies in the world and turn to FOSS. Coverity, a company specialized in software integrity products, has been evaluating FOSS projects for several years. Here you can see their figures. All Rung 2 projects surpass this 0.06 defects/KLOC standard easily and about 40% of the Rung 1 projects match or surpass the 0.06 defects/KLOC mark. The highest defect rate still matches a CMMI level 3, a standard which 99% of the closed source software companies have not been able to achieve.

So yes, I'm fairly confident about the quality of FOSS software.

Vendor lock-in
Closed source companies have a commercial interest in limiting your choices. They will only allow interoperability if it doesn't affect their sales. Consequently, applying their solutions often results in silos, repositories that function very well in their own right, but don't communicate very well with the outside world.

Mike Dailey can't know this, because it is not his line of expertise, but the information architecture of most companies is abysmal. Too much information is locked up in documents and spreadsheets, information that would better be served by being stored in repositories. The truth is that it requires expertise and a vision that most CIOs simply do not have. It requires an Enterprise Architecture, something I have rarely found in the companies I worked for.

Since the dependence of office suites is so great, replacing them is no walk in the park. Entire applications are built on top of office suites, applications that enterprises are depending on. This gives you very little leverage when negotiating your next deal with Microsoft. You're stuck. And the more software you buy to relieve your problems, the harder it gets to turn around and get away.

Another disadvantage may not be so evident, but I've seen it happen. Some of these applications depend on a certain version of Microsoft Office. They were written by some employee at some moment in time and badly documented, so modifying it is not a viable option. However, if you want to have the next version of Sharepoint you need the newest version of that very same office suite. It's a nightmare: you cannot upgrade and you cannot downgrade. What are you going to do?

Even in a scenario like this FOSS offers a solution. You can always compile an application for your current platform and run it along with your new version. Sure, you may not have any support for it, but your business will continue. The same applies if a FOSS company goes belly-up. With closed source software you need complex escrow procedures to accomplish the same feat.

Finally, FOSS is open by definition. If you want to achieve interoperability, you can do just that, since there is nothing going to stop you. Most closed source software prohibits you to even read the repository. No more silos!

When you choose Windows, you have the choice of Intel, AMD and.. that's it! When you choose Linux you have a clear upgrade and downgrade path, from the tiniest netbook and cellphone up to the mightiest mainframe and supercomputer. Just name any platform, Linux runs on it.

Did your boss know that 85% of the worlds supercomputers run on Linux? Did he know that she runs on Linux? Did he know his TomTom (still) runs on Linux? Did he know even his Android cellphone is in fact running Linux?

Steve Ballmer has done a good job. Microsoft has always been good when it comes to marketing and spreading FUD. Most managers are afraid to use FOSS, because they fear their custom applications will automatically have to be released under an Open Source license. Of course, this is not true, but you may have to deal with this issue.

It hasn't been done
Most CIOs are unaware that they already use FOSS. The IBM HTTP server for instance is a direct descendant of Apache. There are various successful projects in Europe you can refer to. Recently, French police switched from Windows to Linux. Several German cities have switched from Windows to Linux.

It's just as expensive
Even if that were true, there are various advantages to FOSS which make a perfect business case. Like better interoperability, scalability, no vendor lock-in, which will make FOSS an attractive option. And next time your local Microsoft representative comes along, your position in the negotiations has significantly improved.

Most companies pay too much for their closed source applications, because their Configuration Management is not up to par and collecting data on actual installations is expensive and cumbersome. FOSS licensing is usually much more transparent. And you don't have to be afraid of the BSA anymore.

FOSS in a Windows world
Don't try to transform your Microsoft shop all at once. You won't succeed. A new project utilizing PHP (which is also supported by Microsoft) may be a good start. Some SQL-Server sites can easily be replaced with MySQL. Replacing IIS with Apache and Windows with Linux becomes much easier after that.

Another scenario is replacing Microsoft Office with StarOffice or OpenOffice, without resorting to a completely FOSS workstation. Visio and MS-Project are notoriously expensive applications, but Dia and OpenProj will do just as well. You can easily exchange data by using SVG or XML formats. Again, when most closed source applications have been replaced with FOSS equivalents, moving to a full fledged FOSS platform becomes much easier.

There may remain pockets of closed source and frankly, I don't think you will be able to remove those very easily. The point is, do you really need to. SAP for instance, is an application that runs very well in a FOSS environment, and so does Oracle. The point is you have given the enterprise more choices and tipped the balance in favor of FOSS.

So what do you think, Mike, is the Linux debate really dead? I don't think so. Thank you for proving this.

Update: The rumours of the death of the debate have been greatly exaggerated: a new article has been published by John Buswell, giving an entirely new view on the subject.

Update: Mike Dailey has truly given a worthy closing to this debate. Although I cannot undo my previous post, I cannot honestly maintain that Mike Dailey fits this profile.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beware of so-called Linux proponents

Every now and then you stumble across a blog that is run by a so-called Linux enthusiast. Some of them claim to have been using both Linux and Windows for years, so they have balanced and objective view on the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. But when you start to look a little closer, you will see that they spread the SOFUD. Some have a real gift for writing and are so credible that you see no need to investigate their claims.

Mike Dailey, a Cisco engineer, is one of these bloggers. Although he has been blogging for only three months, you will find some very interesting articles here, like "Why Enterprise Adoption of Linux Is Slow", "Why You Shouldn’t Use Linux" and "The Need for Linux, Microsoft and Open Source".

His love for Linux is well known. He tells us over and over again he is a real Linux proponent and wishes Linux and FOSS all the best in the future, which he has well drawn out.
We need Microsoft leading the way because of their market share in so many software technologies, but we need them to stop trying to take over the world and begin to show technical leadership of the industry. Microsoft could easily take Linux and Open Source under their wing, to help this alternative mature and to help guide them down an avenue that is best for everyone.

After j00p34 published his "10+1 things to tell your boss why you should migrate to Linux" he could help himself and had to give poor j00p34 some advise.
Here the author supports the well-known “Linux is more secure” argument. There is no real basis for the opinionated argument as stated by the author, with no quantifiable facts or data to support the notion that Linux is superior in terms of security.

I was eager to find any links in his blog substantiating this, but unfortunately I found none. He continues with:
Any Linux distro, given to an inept admin with lacking security skills, will be far less secure than an out-of-the-box Windows server platform.

Again, I expected him to come up with any significant figures. Nothing. Now have read quite some German magazines and I happen to remember several articles on the subject when Vista came out. Verdict: OS/X was best out of the box, Linux came next and both Vista and XP were last.

His argument "the user is to blame" is a well known piece of SOFUD. It goes like this: even if your house is a fortress, it won't do you any good if you leave the door open. So since people tend to leave the door open, it won't matter whether you use paper or steel doors. Thus, paper doors are sufficient.

Another piece of SOFUD is that there are no figures on this subject. Wrong again. You just have to know where to look. This report from IBM shows that Apache is far more secure than IIS. This report from Google confirms it. It seems to be a common characteristic of FOSS, since this shows that Firefox users are less at risk than IE users. You say this isn't about Linux, Mike? What about this one. Couldn't you come up with something, Mike, or are you just too lazy to research your story properly? Sorry, Mike, please continue..
If you present the “stability” argument to management you must be prepared to present uptime reports and outage root-cause analysis data to back up your argument. If you are experiencing severe outages in Windows servers in the data center your cause likely resides with the skills of your administrative staff, not your server operating system.

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey.. Don't keep on using the same old tricks. First, don't blame it on the admin, and second, don't tell me the data is not available. The whole internet is monitored by Netcraft, showing that your blog is run by Apache and Linux. Fortunately, Nicholas Petreley did the analysis for me, so I don't have to waste any more time debunking your unfounded post:
The average uptime of the Windows web servers that run Microsoft’s own web site ( is roughly 59 days. The maximum uptime for Windows Server 2003 at the same site is 111 days, and the minimum is 5 days. Compare this to (a sample site that runs on Linux), which has had both an average and maximum uptime of 348 days.

Ok, I could go on and waste some more time on TCO or code quality - and if you're not nice to me, I might even do that - but I think, I will leave it at this and just refer to a professional that put up the following testimonial on his site:
Migrated a multitude of Windows NT/2000 systems to Red Hat Linux to lower TCO and enhance system stability and performance. Oracle 9i RAC, Checkpoint firewall, IBM Websphere Commerce are examples of systems migrated to Red Hat Linux.

But hey, this is the resume of Mike Dailey himself! Surprise, surprise. I know, Mike, you didn't like me finding that out. That's why you deleted my comments. Next time, be more careful, will you.

Update: Mike Dailey has written a followup on his article called "The Death of the Linux Debate: A Eulogy". He makes some good points there, which I have addressed in my own followup. I have a good idea of what the concerns of management are involving the application of Open Source, since I have to deal with them professionally in what may be the most FOSS unfriendly country in the world: The Netherlands.

Update: Mike and me might be closer to each other than we thought. Please read his excellent comment here.

Update: I had to change this article slightly, because some so-called FOSS supporters don't seem to know when enough is enough.

Update: Mike Dailey has truly given a worthy closing to this debate. Although I cannot undo this post, I cannot honestly maintain that Mike Dailey fits this profile.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fear and loathing in Holland

With "Linux's dirty little secret: Uninstall" professional journalism has reached another, unprecedented low. Frequent readers of my blog know I've exposed and criticized IT journalists and editors for years. I'm a customer and I expect nothing less than high quality articles of knowledgeable professionals.

For this, I've always liked German magazines, which I consider to be the best in the world. Nothing simply compares to "iX", "c't" or "Linux Magazine". It's sound stuff of people who know their thing and are not afraid to research it. I've learned a lot of neat things reading their work. Most of the articles are signed with the initials of the writer. These guys take pride in their work and are not out to become pop stars.

That is in sharp contrast with David Ramel, who considers himself to be the new Hunter S. Thompson, the man who invented "troll journalism". Mr. Ramel admits he's a newbie where Linux is concerned, but is not afraid at all to write about it in order to educate us idiots.

Mr. Ramel, let me remind you that there is something like ethics. Yes, you have a B.A. in journalism, so you ought to know all about it. I know, you hardly got your degree at Harvard or Yale, but even in Montana the concept must have crept in by now. Mr. Ramel has no degree in computer science, but in 1995 he was even able to start up Wordstar on his CP/M system.

It is clear that Mr. 'newbie' Ramel has a Windows-centric view on the world. To him, the only way to set up a home network is to use SMB/CIFS, you know that proprietary Microsoft framework that kept Samba developers busy for years until a billion dollar fine from the European Union forced Microsoft to open up. Next time, try NFS and CUPS for a change. BTW, Mr. Ramel hates Apple computers as well (and loved them a few months later). You really have to read his interesting article with all those compelling arguments. His love for Windows XP is.. well, touching.

But that is not the only thing. Mr. Ramel proves he is also unable to cope with the greatest invention since sliced bread: the Internet. "Uninstall Linux" (with quotes) gives me 16,700 hits. "Uninstall Ubuntu" gives me even 24,600 hits. That's a lot of hits for a "dirty little secret". Still, Mr. Ramel cannot uninstall Linux.

If Mr. Ramel claims to be a professional journalist, I'm afraid. Very afraid. Although Mr. Ramel admits in his latest article that he is still a Linux newbie, that doesn't stop him to produce SOFUD - a year ago:
"As for Linux, I've been hearing it's "ready for the desktop" for years now. Well, it's not ready. (..) It might be fine if you're the type of person who used to type "debug" in the DOS command line to make hexadecimal changes to standard operating system messages just for fun, like I did long ago."

Sounds familiar? The sad thing is that Mr. Ramels resume is quite short. He knows nothing but "Computerworld", which has so generously provided an income for Mr. Ramel and his family for so many years. Hopefully, the current crisis isn't a reason for "Computerworld" to reconsider its staffing. I'm afraid, that the current quality of his ramblings could be a reason for "Computerworld" to let him go. Let's hope it won't come that far.

Update: It's even worse than I thought. Currently the first sentence of this blog post contains a link labeled "Fedora Project Wiki" but when clicked you are actually taken to Ubuntu's documentation site. Perhaps this is why searching for "uninstall Fedora" and "remove Fedora" returns nothing? I've had it. Just fire the guy.

Update: "Journalism can be truthful without striving for objectivity" Mr. Ramel must have thought when he added this note to his article:
A page titled "How to uninstall Fedora" was added to the project Wiki after this blog was published.

Like magic, the error of the previous update has disappeared as well. Adding an entry to the Fedora Wiki is perfectionism. Covering up a blatant error without admitting it is just sneaky.

Update: David Ramel posted a reaction to the previous update:
If the "blatant error" you accuse me of "covering up" is the incorrect URL for the Fedora project in the original post, you can see in the comments that I replied to the person who informed of the error: "Thanks for pointing out that URL mistake. I fixed it."

It would have suited him if he had added the correction to his post. Comments are easily overlooked. I have posted the same text to his blog.

Update: My promise to Mr. Bernard Swiss has been fulfilled: I added the "I love Macs" link. Twice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The ultimate Windows apologists reference

Every now and then somebody attempts to debunk the usual Linux myths. Having quite some experience in that area I have a good idea of what will happen. If your article is picked up by the Windows community, you will get quite some comments. They usually will repeat the SOFUD and sneer at you and your beloved Operating System.

In order to save them some time and possibly prevent them from causing a devastating BSOD I've decided to collect their comments and publish them here, so they just need to reference this page. Here we go.
1.You will have to waste hours learning a new OS and applications.
(So what is the difference?)
2.I like Windows, it works for me.
(Writing this blog with pins stuck in my face works for me, but I can imagine more comfortable ways to do it.)
3.You can’t play any games on Linux.
(We are not accustomed to use our multihundred dollar equipment for such trivial undertakings. We use it to write kernels, compilers and next generation web deamons. Klondike is all we need for passing the time between compiles.)
4.You’re pathetic, Linux has a 0.00001% marketshare. If it really were this good, there would be more.
(Just too many pointy haired CIOs that believe 'Get the facts' reports).
5.Amateur applications, there is nothing like Photoshop, Premiere etc. etc.
(Most Windows users spend their time cleaning up the skin imperfections of the models on the cover of 'Playboy' and 'Vogue' instead of removing the red eyes on their holiday snapshots. They probably even paid for it. Good point.)
6.Microsoft spends billions on research.
(Which brought us Bob, a talking paperclip and several bad Apple OS imitations.)
7.All Windows problems are due to bad hardware, bad drivers, bad users.
(And you said Linux was a religion?)
8.I’m a Windows user so I’m too dumb to come up with any real arguments; I’d rather repeat the SOFUD and put my fingers in my ears when somebody makes a point. Lalalalala. I'm not hearing you, I'm not hearing you!
Sigh. No wonder Microsoft is turning to FOSS experts in its search for intelligence..