Archive for the 'Open Source' Category

Published by Kenneth on 09 Sep 2009

Windows 7 Sins – Creation vs. Evolution meets the software industry

Recently the Free Software Foundation created a website called “Windows 7 Sins” in which it details seven “sins” that Microsoft is allegedly committing. I’m going to respond to them because they detail clearly how narrow-minded the FSF has become (or has always been).

Note: Their new site makes heavy use of yellow coloring in images and text blocks. This may make the site difficult on your eyes and/or cause eye strain or headaches.

Before they even get to their first “sin”, they already state their obvious bias by stating that Windows 7 is proprietary software, the “same problem that Vista, XP, and all previous versions have had”. Is this really an issue?

The Free Software Foundation seems to think that computer owners care if their operating system is proprietary or open source. Here’s a news flash: they don’t. And much to the FSF’s frustrations, that won’t change any time soon. Do they think that we’ll just become a world of software engineers? I highly, highly doubt it.

Most who shop around for software also don’t care if what they select is open source, otherwise there would’ve been thousands of calls for me to open source digestIT 2004 (guess what, there hasn’t been a single one, and the software has been downloaded hundreds of thousands to over a million times over the course of approaching 6 years).

Jack Wallen at Tech Republic recently commented on this web site as well, in which he, predictably, stated that he agrees with the Free Software Foundation’s claims, though he did correctly state that the majority of users couldn’t care less (he says “could care less”) whether they can share, modify, or study what they’re using. Someone should send a memo to the FSF saying the same thing.

But let’s look at each of the 7 claims individually, something that most religious FSF proponents won’t.

1. Poisoning education

Okay this argument is similar to the creation versus evolution debacle. Students aren’t presented with any other options than Microsoft, apparently, and the FSF is screaming like the Discovery Institute was screaming prior to and even after the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in 2005.

In this instance, the Free Software Foundation is complaining about how Microsoft seems to hold a monopoly over public education like the theory of evolution holds a monopoly over public school biology classrooms. Tough luck.

The point to make here is that open source has never been a major part of primary or secondary academia. Apple used to hold the torch there, but Microsoft in the early 90s managed to take the torch away by doing 2 things in primary and secondary schools: lowering computing costs and preparing students for more real-world applications.

The reason Microsoft still dominates education is because they’ve been the primary provider of computing to public education for almost 20 years. You’re not going to break that hold without one hell of a fight trying to convince those making the decisions in public schools that the change is worth it.

And to that I say, “Good luck”.

2. Invading privacy

Windows Genuine Advantage was problematic, I will agree. But to say that it “inspects the contents of users’ hard drives” is absurd without evidence backing it up. And the Free Software Foundation so far has presented none.

Windows Genuine Advantage is an anti-piracy tool. Microsoft does have a right under the law to enforce their copyrights, and while I disagree with WGA, it doesn’t scan a person’s hard drive. Instead it is very limited in how it determines whether the copy of Windows or Office you are running is legitimate – which is why it also originally produced a lot of problems.

Microsoft is not invading anyone’s privacy. If anything they are trying to enforce their copyright, not steal information about those using their software. I welcome evidence that Microsoft is, in fact, stealing personal or demographic information without the knowledge or consent of their customers and user base.

3. Monopoly behavior

What the FSF claims used to be true. The monopoly that Microsoft still enjoys is one of brand familiarity. Many are familiar with Microsoft, Office, and Windows, so they stick with it, even when presented with other options (like Macs, for example).

They also say that “even computers available with other operating systems…often had Windows on them first”. Generic statement with no evidence. Jack Wallen is right: the FSF is slipping here.

4. Lock-in

“Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements.”

Hate to say this, but this isn’t Microsoft driving this. It’s consumers. Consumers are always wanting more features, and the bigger and badder, the better. And show me a company in their right mind who still actively supports software they put out years ago. I’m one of few – I still provide support for MD5 for Win32, which was released in 2002. And Microsoft is trying to sunset support for XP, which was first released in 2001.

Even Sun Microsystems removes support for older products (Java 5 goes EOL at the end of October), as do Linux vendors.

5. Abusing standards

I don’t buy the arguments they present. They say that Microsoft has also bribed officials – evidence please? Who was bribed? There is the suggestion that Microsoft bribed officials in Nigeria (not that it’s a difficult task), and from what I can see it is Linux vendors making the claim.

But on top of this, Microsoft is free to dictate what standards their software will or will not support. One thing we can honestly say is that certain standards Microsoft has little choice but to follow, such as the many standards that are in wide use on the Internet. But when it comes to data storage formats, open source vendors are just as bad as Microsoft.

Look at GnuCash. Sure it can import data in several different formats common in financial software, but as for export… your options are limited.

6. Enforcing DRM

The FSF calls it digital restrictions management instead of its real name, digital rights management. Here they are talking about access to media on the Internet. The FSF also incorrectly states that users have the “right” to record what they see online. Not always the case, and access agreements on web sites dictate what you can and cannot do while there.

But with Windows Media Player, Microsoft added support for DRM to ensure wide availability. If they didn’t support it, but say Apple’s QuickTime player did, Microsoft would lose out big time. It was a strategic move that Microsoft made to help maintain their market share if not take more of it.

7. Threatening user security

Yes Windows has security issues. Guess what? Linux ain’t immune. But part of the security issues with Windows is that Microsoft was catering to usability instead of security. A balance is needed, but Microsoft originally wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices needed for fear of user complaints – like on the order of what they received with UAC in Vista.

And Microsoft’s software became a big target for hackers purely because of market share. If you’re a hacker looking to steal personal information, you don’t cast your malware into a stream where few fish seem to be biting. Oh no, you cast your malware into the largest pond with the most fish, and that pond is Windows.

Concluding…

It is really becoming obvious that the Free Software Foundation is becoming nothing more than a bunch of whining babies. Microsoft got into academia early before Linux was even a thought in Linus Torvalds’ head, and the FSF is upset that they’re not getting their turn. I mean, Apple had their turn, Microsoft has had theirs for about 20 years, and now the FSF feels that it’s their turn but Microsoft isn’t relenting and bowing down like the FSF seems to think should happen.

The Free Software Foundation, hate to say it, is less about open source than most other open source vendors. The FSF is about one thing and one thing only: GNU. Not Linux, not anything else, only the GNU project. They feel it’s superior to Microsoft’s offerings, yet they haven’t been able to gain market share like RMS probably thought would magically happen, and they’re fuming about it.

So instead of actually trying to compete in the same arenas as Microsoft, they’re pulling the same punches that creationist organizations tried to pull with education: get a few people in there to try to form a “resistance” and see what happens. And when the majority shout back, scream persecution, demonize the majority, and hope that helps when you cannot compete on merit.

And hate to say this, but Jack Wallen has kind of become the Kent Hovind of the open source movement.

Published by Kenneth on 09 Sep 2009

Open source hardware? Not quite…

Article: “Open source camera could pave the way for open source hardware

Another article by Jack Wallen. Let’s see, is he full of himself again, or is he actually saying something coherent and thought out? Sorry to disappoint, folks, but he’s full of himself again.

The problem is how over the top he takes this new idea, so let’s start with the idea, which, in actuality, isn’t anything new.

According to Science Daily, at Stanford University, some photography students have created a camera with a firmware that they are releasing as open source. The idea of open sourcing firmware isn’t new, but the application to photography equipment is, and could prove to be rather interesting. I am certainly interested in how far this could go.

But let’s get back to Jack’s response to this. He goes very over the top here. Perhaps Jack’s brain is operating at Internet pace, because he’s not slowing down to think.

And how is it he’s not slowing down to think? He talks about the Android operating system for mobile phones as if it’s something that hasn’t come to fruition yet:

Phone developers releases next smart phone as open source and open source developers go crazy making apps to outshine iPhone app store.

But from here, his lack of thinking goes even further, just not in order:

Auto maker creates open source car and some hobbiest (sic) discovers a means to double the gas mileage.

Given that Jack is a stylist with a degree in theatre, I won’t fault him for not thinking on this one. So here’s a little science lesson: you can only get so much energy out of combusting gasoline, and we can only optimize the internal combustion engine so much. And there are laws of physics that say that it takes so much energy to move a particular object of  certain mass at such a speed for a certain distance. This is why there are concerns that the only way to improve gas mileage further than what we’ve done, aside from substituting every car for hybrids or making them so aerodynamic they’re useless for hauling cargo, is to cut weight.

So it’s highly, highly unlikely that a hobbyist will discover a way to double the gas mileage of a vehicle by modifying software. Sorry Jack, but just some more wishful thinking. But it, unfortunately, doesn’t stop here. His next statement is absolutely absurd.

Cancer center releases their current drug research under the GPL and retired chemist discovers cure for cancer.

Here he puts his ignorance out there for everyone to see. But given that creationism still consumes the US, I can probably assume that Jack doesn’t understand the scientific process either.

Science has been nothing but open for centuries. So if a cure for cancer is going to be discovered, it’ll happen in the open and very peer-reviewed world of science. And if someone claims to have a “cure for cancer”, you can imagine it will be hotly debated for years, if not decades, to ensure the claim has merit.

Some “retired chemist” isn’t going to take a cancer center’s drug research and turn it around into a cancer cure.

And here’s a question leading from this quote:

I want:

  1. To be able to go to a site.
  2. Search through a listing of firmware for my hardware that matches my exact needs.
  3. Download that firmware.
  4. Install that firmware.
  5. Use my hardware in the exact why I want to.

Okay you want to be able to find “firmware for [your] hardware that matches [your] exact needs”?

Since you keep boasting about open source and that users can become developers and “rework it so it’s exactly the application you need”, how about learning to do that yourself? You talk on and on about software development, implicitly proclaiming yourself to be an expert with regard to open source, when you’re nothing more than a bastion of assumptions that haven’t seen a drop of reality since RedHat 4.2 was released.

If you want the exact software you need, practice what you preach and become a software engineer. Then you’ll get that dose of reality you so obviously need.

I want my hardware to have an “app store” so I could just download new functions and features instantly.

Will you be contributing to said “app store”?

Others have pointed out where you’ve gone wrong in your statements, yet you’re still spouting the same stuff. You do not understand software development, you’ve never been involved in software development according to every profile I’ve seen about you on the Internet, and yet you keep spouting off like you’re an expert.

Now I could be wrong and you could be a great software engineer. So if you’ve tailored all your software to suit your needs (something I highly doubt), then by all means publish the source code for all of us to see your brilliance, or lack thereof.

Oh and one last thing: separate in your mind the difference between open source and an open design. You can’t “open source” a car, but you can openly publish the designs and engineering drawings. You can also openly publish the hardware designs to, say, a mobile phone, but you open source the firmware.

But in a way your car is kind of “open source”. If you want to dissect your car to study how it works, be my guest.

Published by Kenneth on 16 Aug 2009

A non-developer makes assumptions about software development

Just found another blog post by TechRepublic’s open source and Linux advocate and assumption king Jack Wallen.

Article: “Five reasons why your company should hire open source developers

Given some of the things that Jack says in this blog post, you’d think he’s become RMS 2.0… Before going into the five reasons, he makes some very bold, and incorrect statements.

Many larger companies do not place any value on open source applications, therefore they do not place any value in those who code the applications.

This is absurd. Any software company looking to save money will look at the open source community, so they will place a lot of value in open source applications and libraries as they are now apart of the product they are making available. And by placing value in the code employed, they will also place value in the developers who wrote it. But value also comes from quality, and open source does not automatically mean greater quality.

Some companies are afraid that hiring an open source developer would be a liability – possibly reverse engineering their proprietary software and then releasing forked versions into the community.

Again, absurd. He does not back this statement up at all, either. Which companies are afraid of hiring open source developers? If you’re gonna say something, be ready to back it up.

Any person hired as a software developer or engineer at a company will also have access to source code, so there will be no need to reverse engineer anything. I have full access to quite a bit of source code with the company with whom I am currently employed. Now can I take it an release a forked version into the community? Absolutely not.

If I tried to do this, my employer would not only fire me, they would sue me so hard that I’d be living on breadcrumbs and water drops till I die. I would be homeless in a heartbeat with virtually nothing to my name, wandering the streets. My employment agreement and applicable copyright and trade secret laws ensure this.

Furthermore, I would never be hired as a software engineer again. Ever. The lawsuit would ensure all details were public, meaning my reputation as an engineer would be irreparably tarnished.

Now has this ever happened? It probably has. Developers have probably stolen source code from their employers in the past. But I highly doubt it is as large a fear or problem as Jack seems to imply.

After making these two baseless assumptions, he makes his reasons. Let’s look at each of them.

You can see more than their resumes. Because the applications they work on are open, you can get a first-hand look at the code they write even before you do that first interview. Try to do that with a developer for a proprietary software developer. This will give you a fairly instant grasp of your interviewee’s understanding of programming. You will know right away how well they write their code, if they use comments well, what tools they use, etc.

This one is more common sense than a benefit. Any person who contributes to open source projects should have that on their resume. Anyone who writes their own should definitely have it on their resume. But he overlooks something here.

When you submit a contribution to an open source project, as opposed to writing your own, your contribution is “massaged” into the rest of the code. What I mean is that the contribution may be changed or adapted to conform to any published or implied coding standards and practices behind the project. There will very likely be comments in the code denoting your contribution, but it won’t necessarily be an indicator to the kind of code quality an employer can expect from you.

Now certainly anyone looking to be a professional developer (namely college students) should get involved in an open source project. I recommend it to the interns at work, and I’ve recommended it to others as well. It’s a great way to gain some instant experience you can put on your resume.

His second point is just full of assumptions and obvious bias:

Open source developers have had to think on their toes and patch the programs that Microsoft has (often times) intentionally broken. Think about the Samba team. For the longest time they would take a step forward and Microsoft would change something that would push them a couple of steps back. The Samba team had to be on their toes all the time to make changes so their software would continue to work with the latest version of Windows.

He shows is obvious and well-published bias against Microsoft here, and makes a lot of assumptions. First, he’s implying that open source developers (aka, the community) are fixing Microsoft’s problems. This isn’t the case. Microsoft’s software is mostly proprietary, so there isn’t any way this can happen.

But he shows how little he understands the “big picture” with his mention of Samba.

Samba is an open source service for Unix/Linux operating systems to allow them to masquerade as Windows computers on a network. I use it on my media server, which runs openSUSE 11.1. To accomplish this, Samba implements Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol according to published specifications.

The protocol was not created by Microsoft, but Microsoft uses their own derivation of it on Windows. But given Jack’s statement, one would think that this specification changes often, so the Samba team is constantly changing the software to adapt to Microsoft. This isn’t the case.

If you look at the Samba Bugzilla, you will notice that there are over 1,300 bugs still open, as of August 16, 2009, and they are making maintenance releases on a somewhat regular basis to correct bugs. Are they trying to stay up to date with Microsoft? I doubt it.

Jack, do your research.

On to his third point, which is again laden with assumptions:

Although this is not a universal truth, open source developers are very passionate about what they do. They have to be, otherwise why would they do it? If you hire an open source developer that has a passion for their work on open source projects, it might very well spill over into the work they do for you. Now I understand that many developers are passionate about their work (I’ve read Microserfs ;-) ), but passion in the open source community runs a bit hotter than it does in the non-open source communities.

He’s right that it isn’t a universal truth, so why is he even stating it? Both open and closed-source developers can be passionate about what they do. It depends on the passion.

Writing software is about more than coding something. It’s about helping people. Both open and closed source developers can be passionate about helping people. To say passion runs deeper in the open source community is to draw a baseless assumption clouded in bias and ignorance.

I write proprietary software, both independently and for hire, and I’m likely more passionate than many open source developers I’ve met. Are there others more passionate than me? Certainly.

Along with an open source developer you will enjoy open source support. This is a tricky one for sure. You can’t hire a developer and then expect that developer not only to code but also serve as support for end users. But it is always nice when there is someone there to help support the IT department. That Apache server that someone installed a long time ago and has been running non-stop without upgrades because everyone is afraid to touch it? It could be given the attention it so deserves now.

Developers are partially responsible for helping the support department. After all who knows how a particular feature works better than the person who wrote it? At my previous job with MediNotes, I was being contacted by the support department on a regular basis with questions or concerns.

If a company hires a contributing developer for an open source project partially because they use that project internally, then expects that developer to become the point of contact for support, they will be disappointed. Being a subject matter expert is one thing, but what Jack thinks will happen likely won’t.

Plus if an organization sets up an Apache server but only one person is trained on how to maintain it, then that is that organization’s fault, and they should’ve brought someone in to take care of the server when that need was identified.

And like adopting any open source project, you will save money. Along with hiring a single open source developer, you now have the “support” of the entire open source community, should you need it. If you are working on an-in house project that ends up going to open source that project has the opportunity to scale in proportion to the size of the community supporting said project. If that project catches the eye of the open source community, who knows, it may wind up being the next Samba or Apache.

What? Jack, you are clearly not thinking. How is that one person bringing with them the support of the entire open source community?

Your statement about an in-house project going open source is also completely unrelated to the rest of the article. And for such a project to become the next Samba or Apache, it needs to have a similarly large user-base. Plus there is one key difference between Samba and Apache: Apache is available for multiple platforms, not just Unix/Linux.

In his article, he also includes a poll question: “Are open source developers good for the company?” As of 339 votes, mine included, 58% answered “Yes”, 25% answered “Depends on the developer”, 11% answered “Depends on the company”, and 5% answered “No”. My vote was “Depends on the developer”, as an open source developer who is unskilled is not better than a skilled proprietary developer. Some direct evidence to one’s skill level is just more readily available.

And now his closing paragraph:

I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think open source developers are better than closed source developers. But they do have different ideologies and they do go about things differently. For a long time companies avoided hiring open source developers for one reason or another, but I have always and will always stand by my claim that open source developers make great additions to your IT staff.

Too late, Jack. It’s clear you think that open source developers are better. They might have differing ideologies, and it is those ideologies that should be queried by anyone conducting an interview. To say that “for a long time companies avoided hiring open source developers” is absurd, and another claim for which I doubt evidence can be provided.

To say that open source developers make great additions to an IT staff is also a little short-sighted. How well of an addition a developer will make will depend on the developer as a whole, not just whether he/she happens to also be an open source developer.

Jack, you need to stop making comments about software development. Your profiles on TechRepublic and LinkedIn say nothing about you being involved in the development of any software, so you’re just spouting assumptions that have little to no basis in reality and that are derived from other assumptions you’ve made.

Published by Kenneth on 16 Aug 2009

Is Linux right for your netbook?

Article: “10 reasons Linux should be your netbook operating system

Linux is relatively fast compared to Windows, making it likely the better choice for netbooks than Windows. My mother’s netbook from Dell runs Ubuntu 8.10, if I remember correctly, and she can use it reasonably well. But in his most recent blog post, it is becoming clear that TechRepublic’s Jack Wallen has a few Linux sound bytes stuck in repeat mode in the back of his mind.

“1: Netbook hardware is the perfect match for Linux”

I will say that Jack is correct in that you won’t really be able to do much with a netbook as far as high-power applications and games are concerned, but he slips when he says that “Linux is the perfect networking operating system”.

This may or may not be the case, and it will depend on your netbook. If it came with Windows pre-installed and you are considering switching to a Linux distribution, check with the manufacturer to find out if all of the built-in hardware is supported, especially the wireless network adapter.

Also check to see what kind of support they will provide if you decide to change to Linux (some may cut off support if you do this, something Jack conveniently forgets to mention).

Jack, you need to seriously stop assuming that Linux “just works”, because as many have pointed out, including recently, that isn’t always the case. Just because you were able to successfully convert one person’s netbook to Linux does not mean everyone’s transition will be as smooth.

“2: Netbooks require a secure OS”

Ugh… Jack, why do you keep saying this, in one variation or another: “Your Linux-based netbook can travel anywhere you want and you won’t have to worry about picking up viruses or spyware like you would with a Windows-based netbook.”

As many security experts have pointed out, this again is not always the case, and it is actually only a matter of time before this may not be the case. Many have speculated that the only reason Linux isn’t a virus hotbed right now is because it is not popular.

As has been pointed out numerous times: No operating system is immune.

“3: It’s all about the interface”

In this section of his blog post, he’s definitely showing his “fanboy-ism”: “It’s obvious the interface was well thought out and aimed at the new PC user as well as the new netbook user.” Personally, just as I think I am far from qualified from making this kind of assessment, so too is Jack.

Any person who has been using a computer, any computer, for longer than a couple years is removed from qualification on assessing whether an interface is “aimed at the new PC user” for one simple reason: they are not new users. Sure, we can all remember our frustrations with trying to learn how to use a particular application or operating system, or can you?

The only way to know how friendly an interface is to “new PC users” is to observe new PC users, and how many has Jack observed recently? Probably far too few to make the broad assessment he’s made in his blog post. Which is also why you won’t see me making that kind of assessment regarding an operating system.

“4: Your netbook can be more than just a slow laptop”

There’s not much I can say about this section. He’s comparing two Linux distributions I’ve never used, so I can’t really say anything. However, he closes this section by saying that you can install a LAMP server if you wish. About the only individuals for whom such a capability is useful are those needing to demonstrate web applications (sales personnel, for example).

"5: Linux will keep your cost down”

There’s really only one thing to point out here: Jack seems to conveniently forget that there is commercial software for Linux. Sure, you likely won’t be running any of it on a netbook, unless you need it to keep in touch with the corporate office, but it’s out there. He also seems to conveniently forget that there are free security applications for Windows. I use one on all of my Windows machines at home: Avast AntiVirus.

My laptop runs Windows XP. I paid extra to get Microsoft Office Basic installed as well, because I prefer it to OpenOffice. For my laptop, I’ve only ever purchased one other piece of software: Visual C++.NET 2003. Most who buy a desktop or laptop computer, or a netbook, will not pay for any other software they run because what they need is available for free.

In fact, with my fiancée’s desktop computer, which we built a little over two years ago, the only software she runs that we actually purchased was the operating system. And everything on her machine is legal.

“6: Linux offers more flavors to choose from”

Some would say Linux offers “too many” flavors. It’s been pointed out numerous times as one reason why Linux has yet to “take over” in the desktop market. Sure there are only a few that are actually relevant, in my opinion, but there are still way too many out there and it needs to be scaled back.

This has also been demonstrated as one of the major flaws of the GPL model.

“7: You’ll gain speed”

While I will agree that Linux is fast, he points out one important caveat: there are differences between Linux distributions. And whether you see a gain in speed will depend on which one you choose.

Are all better than Windows? This depends on what you want to do and is highly subjective. I doubt Jack has tested every scenario, so he cannot say with absolute confidence that this is the case.

“8: Improvements will come faster and more often”

Again, Jack is continuing with the empty statements. First, he says “Just like any software in the open source community, the Linux netbook operating systems will continue to improve at a much faster rate than the Windows operating systems for netbooks”.

Jack, please, stop making blanket assumptions with Linux. Okay, you’re a huge fan, but stop with the blanket assumptions.

As one responder pointed out in the comments to the blog post: “Microsoft release security updates as frequently as required and in small "chunks". A Service Pack is merely a collection of already released security updates packaged with new OS features.”

How many people really want their operating system to change frequently? Sure you might like new features, but I prefer my applications to change and adapt, not my operating system. I just want my operating system to work, and I’m sure most everyone else out there feels the same.

“9: The next version will work”

Another statement that Jack is just a bastion of assumptions. With all applications you run the risk that an upgrade will break something. The only difference with an operating system is that the break tends to be a little more mission-critical – it is the software running the computer, after all.

Assuming that the next version will “just work” is preposterous. How will you know unless you actually try it? It is impossible to test an application under all possible hardware and software combinations, which is why no one software engineer will every risk his/her career and reputation by saying “it’ll just work”.

“10: Support is better (believe it or not)”

And I don’t believe it. Never have, never will.

The single biggest problem with community-based support models is the community. The community does not have any incentive to provide good support. Paid support techs at Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and the like, do have one hell of an incentive: their paycheck. Now this doesn’t mean that the support you get will automatically be good, but it does mean that are repercussions for those who don’t provide good support.

If you get bad support from the community, who do you complain to? The community that gave the bad support.

The choice is yours

Linux is not for everyone. Just like with Windows, there is a learning curve with Linux, though that curve tends to be larger with Linux than with Windows. For me, I prefer Windows, not only because I’ve been using it in its various versions for at least a decade, but also because it works with what I use most. I’m also a Windows software developer, though I’m trying to find ways to break into cross-platform application development.

On my media server, however, I use openSUSE 11.1. Why? MediaTomb. That’s the only reason. I’ve found MediaTomb to be better than the Windows UPnP software I previously used: TVersity. It’s also running MySQL as MediaTomb’s database backend, which is also used as the database for GnuCash, as the latest unstable version can talk to MySQL. I wonder how well GnuCash runs on netbooks?

But the choice is yours as to whether you change over to Linux. Just always make sure that in whatever change you make you have a way to undo what you’ve done.

Published by Kenneth on 08 May 2009

Assumptions of a Linux geek

TechRepublic: “10 ways to sell corporate on Linux

This article was written almost a year ago, but that doesn’t matter much, in my opinion, as its presented as arguments that can be made, regardless of when, and regardless of what may have changed. Many of his arguments have been ripped at in the comments section, especially in the case of this comment, but I’ll give my 2-cents here and voice my opinion. I should also point out that many of his arguments are nothing more than repetitions of countless other articles trying to also “sell” Linux in the corporate world.

Let’s start with this jewel, of which I’ve heard many variations over the years:

But the best thing about Linux applications is that they’re open source. If there’s something about the application that doesn’t suit your needs, you can change it. If you have the developers in house, more than likely they can adapt an application to do something perfectly suited for your company. Imagine taking a free application and reworking it so that it’s exactly the application you need (down to the look and feel).

This argument provides several implications, whether intended by the author or not. First is the implication that there are no open source applications for Windows, and any Windows user who’s browsed around the Internet knows this is not the case. OpenOffice is available for Windows, and so is GIMP. And of course there’s Mozilla as well. But Windows actually provides more freedom for software distribution over Linux because you’re not forced to make your application open source, unless you use a library with that kind of licensing model, but I digress.

Along with this is the implication that all applications for Linux are open source, another item that he’s pointed out in other blog posts is not true. There are plenty of closed-source and proprietary applications for Linux. I wonder what RMS says about that – seeing proprietary software, which he makes no secret about despising, running on what was supposed to be the OS of his open source movement.

Jack also makes the implication that software is easy to change. Yeah right. If so, I’d be making modifications to OpenOffice to make up for what it doesn’t provide. My biggest frustration with OpenOffice is the lack of postal bar code printing for envelopes. That is one reason, among others, I stick with Word. And why do I care about postal bar codes? Because postal bar codes allow for faster processing and sorting of mail, allowing the check for my car payment (I can’t pay it online right now without a hefty fee) to get where it needs to go quicker. If you want a way to save the USPS some money this year, start printing your envelopes with postal bar codes. Oh wait, except if you’re using OpenOffice, you can’t, not without fidgeting with barcode fonts and other pieces of information! But I digress again.

Anyway, changing software requires many things. I am a software engineer, and I’ve written and developed my own software, along with modifying open source software that is available. To change software, you first have to understand its source code. For some projects, this may not be very time consuming, for others (like OpenOffice or anything else large-scale), it’ll be very time consuming. You will require time to study it, and while documentation can help with some details, without engineering diagrams to go with it, time will be required on the part of the person or team that will be modifying the code. This task only becomes more difficult with the larger projects. How many people or companies are going to do this?

I remember one person in a ZDNet comment area say something similar to “Well if you want a feature that’s not in OpenOffice, then add it yourself.” I remember thinking to myself, “He obviously doesn’t write software”. There is not only modification to the code, but possibly modifications to the GUI. It’s a complicated situation that can be saved by finding software with the features you’re looking for.

“Imagine taking a free application and reworking it so it’s exactly the application you need.” Yeah, then imagine trying to justify the time spent to corporate when you sell them on a piece of software that falls short in many ways. This is where cost of ownership can really be offset by buying a package like Microsoft Office. How so?

Let’s say you have a team of 10 engineers who each make $50K per year. Imagine it takes them approximately 6 months to add a feature to your in-house copy of Open Office, going through the entire engineering process. This means you’ve essentially spent $250K on this one feature. If the engineers already have some understanding of the Open Office source code, then some money is saved, and if they don’t, then more money is probably spent. What if you need more than one feature added? See how it really starts adding up?

Looking at Jack’s profile on TechRepublic, I don’t see any mention of him writing software or being involved with software development, so his fumbling on this idea is not all too surprising, but it’s something he could’ve researched or at least pondered a little more before saying “you can just modify the software if it doesn’t suit your needs.” I’m afraid not, Jack.

And this is true even with other open-source packages. I use Windows Live Writer to write posts for this blog. I could’ve gone with an open-source tool like Zoundry Raven, but I decided on Live Writer because, after trying out a lot of different tools, I felt this one suited me the best. Sure, it’s not open source, but it’s a situation where I bypassed an open-source tool in favor of another freeware application. Sure, I could’ve modified Zoundry to add what I needed, but why when I found something else?

So going back to his first statement, “TCO is bunk”, I think I’ve pretty much shown that it’s more than bunk, depending on what you’re going to do. He is right in that most companies aren’t going to spend money training an IT staff — not when ITT Tech is putting out reasonably-qualified individuals who don’t need training, except in specific procedures relevant to the company and their environment.

Jack also says, “once Linux is up and running, you won’t be wasting precious time fixing, patching, or solving security issues.” Except he seems to forget that the applications running on the system might compromise the security of the system. Open source does not mean “secure by default”, otherwise Mozilla wouldn’t have to patch exploits and release security updates. Same with Apache.

Speaking of security, he also says “Administration is world wide”. Not if the firewall is configured to not allow it — something he doesn’t mention in his article. And why did he use an anecdote of the “Love Bug” virus (which was 7 years old at the time of his posting) to talk about the security of Linux?

First, any server should be properly configured for remote administration, whether it’s Linux, Windows, or whatever the case may be. You never know when you’re going to need to remote log-in to the server to correct a situation. And of course, make sure the remote access is properly secured at all points.

He also says, “Linux is constantly gaining traction.” I believe in politics and marketing this is referred to as “getting on the bandwagon before it rolls away and you’re left behind.” And it’s an argument as atrocious as much of what else he says.

Companies spending money on IT should evaluate their options, and allow time for all reasonable options to be evaluated. Linux might be one of them. Just because “70% of 420 polled business-technology professionals are using Linux” doesn’t mean you should as well. Evaluate your options — you’ll be happier if you did.

Oh and another thing: don’t trust polls, as they’re not scientific.

He also posits WINE as a way to run Windows applications on Linux… Okay he needs to redo his research. WINE is an emulation layer for Windows over the Linux kernel. Is it perfect? Far from, otherwise they wouldn’t maintain a compatibility list on their web site – they’d instead just say “everything works out of the box”. If you’re thinking of implementing WINE, be sure to check out the compatibility list. And the fact the WINE developers appear to be targeting only popular applications means you could be left in the dust for a long time, depending on what you need to run.

Hmm… I wonder how well digestIT 2004 would run under WINE? I’m sure the KCCI project wouldn’t have any issues, but digestIT 2004 might be a much different story.

Well I think that wraps up this post. I’ve used Linux myself, and it has its perks and it has its downfalls, in my opinion. Is it better than Windows? Not for what I do, and that’s the other thing as well. He presents this as “Linux can replace Windows.” Not in all situations, something he also admits in other blog posts.

Plus one place where Windows has always had the edge on Linux is with hardware. Sure Linux can resurrect older hardware, but Windows has always had the edge on the latest and greatest. Why? Because Windows developers can release closed-source drivers, helping to protect their R&D just a while longer.

Now to give Linux some good press in this article, I will say this: I am planning to put up a Linux server running a UPnP media server package on my home network. Onto it will also go Apache, MySQL, and other things. It’ll be no more capable than a Windows server would, but I don’t have any available Windows licenses to put onto the computer, so Linux, I know, will do the job just fine.

What distro will I use? Likely SuSE.