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Open your mind to Open Software

by Luis de Sousa Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 05:25:18 AM EST

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a forum entitled "Open Software on Public Administration" organized by the Portuguese Geographic Institute, the Portuguese Order of Engineers and the National Laboratory of Civil Engineering, taking place at the Laboratory's congress centre. It happens that I spend two days every week working at the Concrete Dams department of the Laboratory, and having the forum a high geographic content I couldn't miss it.

I have been using free/open source software in one form or another for more than ten years, and it now comprises the largest slice of applications I use. But at his forum I became conscious of a something relatively new: open source is not a computer geek curiosity any more, it is being used widely in many areas of engineering and natural sciences by folk without any sort of informatics background. A revolution may be on the brink.


An audio version of this log entry can be downloaded here.

This log entry is a simple list of applications that today permit doing pretty much what one expects to do with a computer, but all being open software. Starting with the basics, it is heavy on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, but also points to applications on other areas like education and management. At the end I leave a few notes on how to experiment these applications and environments without compromising your present  system.


Start up

  • Ubuntu - well, first of all you need that application that runs when you press the "on" button, gets you in contact with the hardware and presents a pleasant and friendly graphical interface. Without disregarding other Linux distributions, Ubuntu is today possibly the easiest to install and use open source operating system, and it comes on a series of flavours to better fit your needs. More on this chapter later.

  • Thunderbird - ok, now you can interact nicely with your computer, but such machine is only fun when you can use it to interact with other people, so you may start by installing an e-mail client. My favourite is Thunderbird, easy to configure, effective in dealing with spam. Some folk have issues with disk space, but you can command it to use less.

  • Evolution - a suite integrating an e-mail client, address book and a calendar. Never tried it but it is getting famous and comes by default with Ubuntu Desktop. Since I'm pretty happy with Thunderbird I don't feel the need to try, but I should do it some day.

  • Sunbird - this is the Calendar I use, simple, no complications.

  • Pidgin - the open source chat client of the day. I quitted this sort of applications some time ago because they can be quite time consuming (ok, not the applications, all the folk at the other end of the line), but the  outstanding number of networks Pidgin can connect to make it quite appealing. Also included with Ubuntu.

  • Google Chrome - but e-mail and instant messaging are just two of the ways with which you can connect to that knowledge monster called the internet, to take broader advantage of it you need a web browser. I strongly recommend Google Chrome; have been using it for a week and half and I'm already surrendered to it, everything's pretty clean and easy to use. This is, I think, the first open source application ever produced by this giant software house, they are starting well.

  • Firefox - well, there isn't much else to be said about it, the first open source application to reach serious market penetration, I used it for a long time until I found Chrome. It is also included with Ubuntu.

  • OpenOffice - but alas, some people actually use their computer to work. The first application connected to work most folk think about is the office suite. I started using OpenOffice with version 1.1 when the problems where probably more than the benefits, although by then Writer was already an acceptable application. With version 2 both Writer and Calc were already fully usable applications that I gladly embraced; at this time graphs at Calc were limited and I got the impression that Impress didn't really work. With version 3 graphs reached a very satisfactory level and I can now actually make my presentations with Impress; some difficulties persist with this last application but I wonder if they are now more on the user's side than at the application's. OpenOffice is also having another important impact by complying to the OpenDocument format it is freeing users from proprietary closed formats, that in the case of Public Administration is much more than a simple inconvenience. The full suite (including also Base, Draw and Math) is also included with the Ubuntu package.

Before moving on I must note here that a fresh Ubuntu installation contains all the applications needed by most folk. Even many engineers with whom I interact, don't go much beyond using a spreadsheet. Naturally there are applications and databases built ad hoc for the business/organization in question, but these invariably provide web based interfaces, for which a simple web browser is enough.


Data Base Management

  • PostgreSQL - the momentum this Data Base Management System (DBMS) is picking up is quite staggering, possibly getting stronger than what Firefox made in its hey day. At the forum we had Olivier Dorie from the French Geographic Institute presenting how on a several year project they managed to gather all of the country's topography on a single database managed by PostgreSQL (and its spacial component PostGIS) now comprising more than 100 million data entries. This is an example of the state of maturity PostgreSQL has reached. The case is so serious that proprietary DBMS vendors were forced to release light-weight free-of-charge versions of their products. Still, PostgreSQL remains a superior option for two reasons: it is open source and includes the spatial extension. I have been using PostgreSQL for some time, but only to keep a few personal databases, so far I'm pretty happy with it, although interacting with a DBMS without using a command line interface leaves me a bit nervous.

  • PG Admin - this is the secret being the success of PostgreSQL, a simple and friendly graphical management interface for this DBMS. It relieves the user of many technicalities in interacting with the "monster" a DBMS can be, making PostgreSQL useful from the tiniest personal database to the monolithic enterprise data warehouse.

  • Firebird - before knowing PostgreSQL I used this DBMS and recommended it to my database students, together with Squirrel (see following). It still is a system to consider (especially for high performance applications, although here you have to pay) but the inclusion of PostGIS with PostgreSQL pretty much obliterated it.

  • Squirrel - this is a fine graphical DBMS interface I used for a long time and also recommended it to my students. Up until 6 months ago it still wasn't able to present triggers associated views which is quite annoying and eventually made me trade it for PG Admin and Oracle's sqldeveloper. As a final note on databases, when I started teaching the databases course I immediately decided for open source software but was worried that my students (who didn't have any computer science background) would struggle with it; to help I made available on the internet a small document in Portuguese explaining the basic steps of installing Firebird and Squirrel on a Windows system. To my surprise not a single student had problems installing and running the software, my first real life example of free software reaching maturity.

Virtual Environment

  • GISVM - some time back Ricardo Pinho, a GIS guru, was facing a problem that you might be now experiencing: how to test all these new systems and applications without quitting the primary operating system? Fortunately, microprocessors since the Intel 80386 generation allow for the creation of virtual environments - something like a virtual computer running inside your computer. This feature never worked quite well until the latest generations of microprocessors, that physically include more than one processor in a single chip and since then software to create and run these environments proliferated. So Ricardo had the idea of creating such environment with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu) and complete it with a collection of GIS software for experimentation. He went on the web to search for similar things and found none, then decided to create a website making his virtual environment available for everyone and it became a success. This is an extremely useful tool, and since Ubuntu includes a paraphernalia of other free software it can be a simple way to get to know Linux and the open world in general.

GIS

  • QuantumGIS - possibly the most recognizable name in open source GIS, it evolved as a user friendly graphical interface for GRASS, an old open source GIS system from the command line times, becoming an official project of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) . It provides a wide range of features to visualize, manage, edit, analyse data, and compose printable maps comprising a very complete package that is extensible by additional plug-ins.  

  • gvSIG - this is a multilingual GIS that can handle both vector and raster data, including a variety of useful editing tools; it reads a wide range of different file formats and is prepared to use geo-spatial data stored at a database or at remote sources. This project is a little different from similar ones in that it is being developed by a private company (IVER Tecnologías) and the Juame I University of Castellón, under commission by the Government of the Valencian Community, employing monies from the European Regional Development Fund. The multilingual features allied with its interoperability with a wide range of file formats made it rapidly successful among open source communities outside Valencia, being now the GIS desktop application of choice for many folk in the field.

  • KOSMO - another open source desktop GIS developed in Spain and coded in Java. Light weight and with a clean graphical interface it is starting to get popular among some GIS operators.

  • uDig - a user friendly desktop GIS developed in Canada on the Eclipse Framework. It is extendible and can itself be used as an extension to other Eclipse based applications. Its easy of use (powered by Flash walk-throughs) is making it quite popular.

  • GeoServer - this application is one of several that forced the open source revolution on GIS software, providing a service that proprietary vendors neglected for a long time. GeoServer is a web server of maps and geo-spatial features, allowing the construction of web based applications that include geographic information. This field of application was ground-broken by MapServer some years ago, when commercial vendors struggled to provide a functional alternative. GeoServer is today the leading option in the field due to its superior performance.

  • OpenLayers - this is not exactly an application, but a code library that allows programmers to include map data in the web pages they develop. It is a tool that provides the client side support for the data served by applications like  GeoServer.

Other end-specific software

  • Modellus - this is an educational software developed in Portugal for teaching Mathematics and Physics to high-school and college students. It provided for one of the funniest presentations at the forum: the speaker opened the program and chose a dinosaur cartoon figure among a list and dragged it to the centre of the screen - the subject - and then opened a small window called mathematical model and typed in x = t * 10 , then he clicked run and the dinosaur walked away out of the screen. Then he changed the model to x = t ^ 2 and the dinosaur disappeared on an accelerating run. Modellus has been adopted in many schools around the world and seems to be in the process of becoming mandatory for some curricula in the UK. This is indispensable software for anyone raising children, embodying a new teaching paradigm were children do not spend most of their time executing mechanical exercises anymore and spend more time actually understanding mathematics.

  • OpenProj - described by its developer institution "as a complete desktop replacement for Microsoft Project", has reached maturity and is used today by many engineering professionals.

  • QCAD - Computer Assisted Design (CAD) is an area where open source struggled to reach maturity. QCAD is part of a set of new applications set to change that, offering a workbench for two-dimensional design providing much of the functionality available in commercial software. For now three-dimensional design isn't possible, but what QCAD provides so far seems to be enough for many of the tasks engineers and architects do daily.

  • Octave - this is the open source version of numerical computation software like MathLab or Mathematica. It provides a command line interface for solving linear and non linear problems numerically, and for performing other numerical experiments using a language that is similar to that used by Matlab. It may also be used as a batch-oriented language.

  • Code_Aster - one of the most complex open source applications available, it was developed by EDF for finite element analysis and numeric simulation in structural mechanics and was made publicly available in 2001. Because it is employed by EDF in the Nuclear Industry most of its code has been subject to independent validation and benchmarking. It has been employed in many areas of engineering and a considerable community evolved around it.

  • AlFresco - is an open source Enterprise Content Manager (ECM) providing many features like Document Management, Collaboration, Records Management, Knowledge Management, Web Content Management and Imaging.  Its modularity and interoperability with other systems and applications has granted it wide acceptance.

Many more applications exist in other or similar fields of usage; finding an open source application to perform a specific task is many times a matter of searching and rarely an open source package goes without alternative. This ends up being another advantage of open source software: its modularity, fitting closer to the users needs.


Experimenting

Most of the applications cites above run on commercial operating systems, but to free your self entirely from proprietary software you should use a free operating system. Many folk still think that to use open software (or at least operating system) they have to quit their current system overnight, recurring to the fatal format c: or fdisk. That's not the case and there are several ways to start using all these new programs while keeping your current base system:

  • Live CD - many Linux distributions provide an installation CD that runs the system from the CD itself, you reboot the PC with the CD and have a test run. As usually many applications are included with the operating system, it is also an easy way to get the first contact with them.

  • Dual boot - it is also possible to have two operating systems in the same computer, when installing a Linux distribution there's usually an option to install a boot program that allows to choose which operating system to run at start up. To have both systems installed one need either a free secondary hard drive or a chunk of free space on the primary hard drive into which the second system goes. This option is more for advanced users (even though it can be really easy if you have a free hard drive), but provides an experience closer to the real thing.

  • Virtual machine - this is the option provided by the GISVM package. There are a few software packages that allow you to build your own virtual environment fitting your needs. This option provides an environment close to real usage without any risk of compromising the main system.

After making certain that you are able to do all your work and other activities on an open source platform you are ready to migrate without pain to the world of free code.

Through time I have experimented several Linux distributions: Suse, Red Hat (now Fedora), Debian, Xandros, Mepis, Ubuntu, but most of the times I end up approaching it as a normal user and not on a technical perspective; after some time I just want it to function, providing a proper platform for my work. If you have a bit more of curiosity you should try more than one distribution and several graphical interfaces (like KDE, GNOME, Xfce) to find the one that suites your needs better. If you just want something that works and doesn't give you trouble setting up, simply go with Ubuntu.

It is possible that you run into some difficulty or another in your open source endeavours, but don't give up at the first try, remember the strongest advantage of these solutions: the Community. There are millions of folk using and developing open source software around the world, you will always be able to find a forum or mail list where you can ask for help or share your experience.


Final thoughts

My professional activity obliges me to use commercial software, so I need a commercial operating system in my computer. During the last few years I've tried to change my primary system into something open source, but there seemed to be always something missing for that change to unfold. Things started to change with Mepis and its easy of use; unfortunately it had some difficulties with the hardware of my laptop at the time. The first distribution that really became a platform I used for something more than programming was Ubuntu; I kept an installation with dual boot for a long time and was able to do a good chunk of my work with it. It had became my primary system if it wasn't for a single problem: I never managed to replicate the desktop to the video output, this had the annoying consequence of preventing me from using it in classes.

Right now I'm using Windows Vista as my primary system, it is less user friendly than XP but much more stable. I only use three commercial applications (imposed by work) and all the rest is open source. As parallel free platform I'm using GISVM. Although I'm pretty happy with the improvements Vista brought me these last months, this year won't end without me changing my primary system to open source, especially now that I'm not teaching any more. The commercial software will simply be stuffed into a virtual machine.

Open source software is gaining considerable momentum, reaching many fields of application and providing straightforward solutions for non-expert users. The present economic crisis will force many organizations to contemplate the hypothesis of abandoning commercial software. Instead of simply laying off personal, companies cutting costs by migrating to free applications might find that narrow competitive advantage that makes the difference from going down with the crisis or surviving it.

It seems to me that conditions are at the moment quite propitious for an en masse migration to open source software. Open your mind and ride the wave!  

 

Display:
An excellent review, Luis.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 05:31:52 AM EST
Last I heard, Apache was the choice for webservers, running some 70% of them worldwide. (Including my own) This open source app has become the webserver of choice.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire
by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:15:31 AM EST
Plus in networking a vast majority of the nameserving (converting www.eurotrib.com for example to its IP adress equivalent) is done with an open source program called Bind which has in excess of 75% market penetration.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:28:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So did mysql fall out of fashion finally?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:35:55 AM EST
Now there's a war thats still ongoing.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:39:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah. I went Postgresql many years ago, and at time it was the databases for stick-in-the-mud computer science types who cared about boring crap like database consistency and silly stuff like that. Mysql was where all the cool kids went.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:41:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and it was GPLed. I don't like GPL infrastructure any more than I like proprietary infrastructure.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:42:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As usual, too many legacy machines with too many different standards got passed over to us in my last job.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 07:59:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I used mySQL once, at college. I sworn I would never use it again. Today, PostgreSQL with PostGIS and PG Admin is pretty unbeatable.

Vencit omnia veritas.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:02:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll put in a small defense of the Finn, Uffa Widenius, as one of the founders of mysql.

At the time and in context, it was fairly bold. But maybe a couple of years too early and unable to take advantage of later developments and thinking. This happens a lot - timing is crucial. Or rather luck is crucial. I've had my share of luck, but all too often I have been working too far ahead of the curve to make money, only to see people set up businesses later. But this is what I enjoy, so I haven't changed ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:31:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I don't understand that comment at all. Do you mean technical or business developments and thinking?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:44:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
got to be business developement, after all the tabloids keep telling us who could actually enjoy thinking?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:56:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both. I'm not the person to argue on technical developments since the 1995 release of mysql, but I am sometimes in meetings with coders and get to know their preferences, and some background. So I am repeating what they said.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:09:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Still not entirely convinced. OS seems to play well in geekspace, where some assembly is required, but - aside from Firefox - it's not a win on the desktop yet. And considering the amount of time it's been promising to be a win on the desktop, it's looking unlikely that it ever will be.

I haven't seen an OS project which matches any of the content creation tools I use regularly - Adobe CS, Cubase/Logic, Sony Vegas, Max/MSP, Cinema 4D. All of the OS attempts to produce competing products look amateurish and very limited in comparison to the professional versions. The one possible exception is Processing, which is a very nice but rather minimal creative app that's smart enough to be used commercially.

There's always been an academic corner of computing and OS is part of a tradition which began long before anyone had named the concept. You could find tapes being swapped at DEC user conferences in the early 70s, and IBM has been bouncing between extremes of proprietary lock-down and user openness since the 60s. The people who played with their Altairs and SWTPCS in the 70s spent a lot of time swapping sources.

So 'Open Source' really isn't new as a concept. What's happened in the last decade is that it's been formalised and politicised - not a bad thing, but not inherently revolutionary either.

In any case, the advantages of having source code only apply when you have a culture of expert-level users who know what to do with it. It's actually a very limited value of 'open' by the standard of most users, who don't have code ninja skills and have no interest in acquiring them.

And genuine innovation remains rare. OS could be producing competing metaphors rather than competing applications, but most OS projects seem averse to trying to be adventurous. That makes OS less than interesting for most (non-academic) users.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 08:44:56 AM EST
I don't think that kind of backward thinking applies any more. I invite you to attend and open source forum or conference to see for your self. Just open your mind.

Vencit omnia veritas.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:06:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd need more evidence that 'backward thinking' doesn't exist before I could be persuaded to attend a conference. It's not about 'opening my mind' but about being clear-minded about what is and isn't on offer.

Academic users are not the same as the general public. Their needs are different and the approach is different - but I'm not sure how many academic users appreciate the differences.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:43:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... users, is it? There are more corporate users of GIS than academic users.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:04:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Corporate users aren't the general public either... They have SysAdmins to take care of the computers...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:09:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but unlike the general public, corporate users are a big part of determining what the de facto standard is for productivity application document files. Small businesses with corporate clients or suppliers have to be able to handle the file formats (and, of course, fonts) of the files their clients and suppliers attach to emails, and have to get people with the skills to use those applications, where the use of Microsoft Office products is taught in community colleges and business colleges all across the country.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:32:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good comment.

Until a software system - application or OS - provides overwhelmingly superior advantages for a user it's not worth it for them to spend the time required to learn a new system.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 01:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well said

Thats always the biggest factor. For most users the most important thing to do is what they want to do, not learn a new piece of software that is 'better' in termes of a vague philosophy that someone else is trying to persade them of.

The MAC/PC/Linux argument is in a lot of ways irrelevent to the user.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 02:18:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, this is why there is much more plasticity in an application domain that is rapidly gaining new users, since they do not have the investment in the status quo, and a much smaller advantage is required to gain user share.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 02:45:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a mac user, I agree, but pragmatically. Most of the production companies, facilities and agencies I work with, and share files with, use a standardized software set. If we were sharing completed files it would be possible, but we are often sharing project in progress, and it's so much easier if everyone is using the same software.

Processing works on intel Macs.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:20:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... a monolithic thing. The fact that the example you give of the limitations of Open Source software:
I haven't seen an OS project which matches any of the content creation tools I use regularly - Adobe CS, Cubase/Logic, Sony Vegas, Max/MSP, Cinema 4D.
... is precisely the same kind of stuff as the example in the diary of the success story of Open Source software in Graphical Information Systems, a complement of tools to permit doing top shelf professional work in a particular area.

OpenOffice is far more central to the question. In terms of most capabilities, OpenOffice on top of a usable OpenSource operating system and desktop is there or thereabouts. However, if it is necessary to produce an editable document with embedded images and graphics that will load and print reliably without editing on a Microsoft Office application, its not there.

And of course its not there because Microsoft has invested substantial effort to ensure that a competing product has difficulty producing polished documents that conform to its de facto standard.

On the one hand, there's no guarantee that OpenOffice or some other Open Source office productivity suite will ever supplant Microsoft Office. On the other hand, we can be certain that if Microsoft Office is supplanted sometime in the next decade, it will be by Open Source software.

Of course, that de facto standard could itself be overturned, eliminating the Microsoft Office advantage, but that would take some entities big and powerful enough adopting OpenDocument as a standard for all newly produced internal and external files. Maybe the Pentagon family of public and private organizations. A large enough set of corporations that "have to have OpenOffice" because Microsoft Office does not produce polished, professional OpenDocument format documents, and OpenOffice will quickly acquire the Microsoft Office document creation capabilities it presently lacks.

Anytime you have network economies dominate as strongly as they do in Open Source software, then you will have an area that has very high path dependence. As in the example of GIS, where an Open Source capability is leveraged by Open Source software to increase the size of their niche, which drives the creation of more Open Source solutions, until it snowballs to a full suite of professional level tools.

At present, here in the US you can buy a simply webbook for $350+, with Linux and OpenOffice, or for $400+ for Vista and able to run Microsoft Office. At that price point, that's only a market niche for the Linux and OpenOffice option.

Slide that price point down to $100 and $150, and a separate Linux / OpenOffice only market emerges. That would seem to be likely price points for commercial versions of the next generation of the OLPC machine.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:24:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the advantages of having source code only apply when you have a culture of expert-level users who know what to do with it. It's actually a very limited value of 'open' by the standard of most users, who don't have code ninja skills

Not the point, it seems to me. OS has never been touted as "the software you can tweak" (where you = a dope like me). The point (in principle) is that those at expert level have access to the code and can improve it, to the benefit of all users.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:30:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Open source also has the great advantage that the code has been seen by multiple independent coders. Therefore it is less likely to include spyware modules designed to allow governmental or other agencies a view into your machine. This is I think a much more important point than the ability to tweak the code myself.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:49:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No that's very much the point, because what happens is that the experts tweak it for their own benefit and entertainment. Sometimes they're even condescending and dismissive of users who aren't part of the community of experts who understand how to compile and edit the software for their own use.

So development becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end.

There are historical counter-examples which prove the point. When Windows 95 it was a disaster from the point of stability, but it still was stable and standard enough to create the proverbial level playing for developers.

This meant there was an explosion of commercial user oriented products developed by back-bedroom one man band start-ups. This is not a small thing - it's part of what persuaded ordinary people that PCs were worth buying.

That's also how Photoshop and some of the other commercial apps started - from an earlier wave of development which happened once the Mac environment stabilised.

After ten years there has no been no equivalent development in the OS world at the user level. It's happened to some extent at the commercial level, but not on the desktop.

Because OS is a developer free for all, there's no stable environment. There's no guarantee that any piece of software will work with any particular Linux variant. And even if you do your own compilation, you can waste hours in development hell trying to track down dependencies and essential libraries.

So OS doesn't work in user space for two reasons - it's not actually open in any practical sense, and it's primarily designed by developers for developers as a developer exercise, not as a product which end users can work with. This means stability and consistency don't happen, and there's no real interest in keeping non-geek users on board.

I don't think the OS people understand how essential this is for development. Most people would rather pay a credit card fee for a product they know they can use than try to fight their way through a user-hostile developer environment like Source Forge to download it for nothing.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 10:55:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No that's very much the point, because what happens is that the experts tweak it for their own benefit and entertainment.

Unlike a physical craft, where the typical piece of hand made furniture is not much different from the piece of hand made furniture turned out by the typical home workshop hobbyist ... in Open Source programming, all of the most widely used open source programs are very much atypical ... because there is a very strong power law distribution, and the typical program produced is a far cry from the programs most commonly used.

Sometimes they're even condescending and dismissive of users who aren't part of the community of experts who understand how to compile and edit the software for their own use.

For the desktop ready applications described in this diary, this matters no more than the attitude that Microsoft programmers have at work ... the Open Source community of the most commonly used applications is quite different from this, which is a typical Open Source community, and includes a substantial number of contributers that specifically contribute to ease of use.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:40:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing is, for ease of use you do not just need developers. You need user testing. And that is something you can only do when you are a big corp (which is committed to usability). So, that's where google or sun come in.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:08:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... user testing depends of course on the complexity of the toolkit being tested.

There's no peer to peer network at present that can on its own cope with the usability testing demands of the Open Source toolkits at the level of complexity of OpenOffice or Chrome. On the other hand, there is Sun and Google, looking to leverage Open Source contributions by making those toolkits Open Source. A need for corporate contributions to user testing of large scale applications would be a hurdle if there were not the corporations with an incentive to make those contributions.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:38:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No that's very much the point

Aha! Well, I'll be obstinate and say that it's not. You'll notice I said (in principle), and I stand by that. What you are describing is what you claim (rightly or wrongly) to be practical deviations from the principle: "what happens".

One could say as much of a great deal of commercially locked-down software: the principle is that the profit motive leads to the creation of an efficient team of highly-competent developers who must respond to market demand, but "what happens" is that Gates & Co take ordinary end users for cash cows, condescend to them, do not care about their needs, bring out fake "updates", etc.

Your point about the development of a range of specialised applications is taken. But most ordinary end users don't need them. A stable, secure OS, browser, e-mail client, and office apps is enough for most people. Should they pay for (Ford help us!) Vista? Or M$ Office, on which most of the development work in years has gone into chaining users to an inescapable standard?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 12:19:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
MS doesn't actually try hard to make end users pay for Windows or Office, does it ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:00:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean, individual users

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:00:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, they work very hard to ensure that there are no large numbers of computers sold in Target or Wal-Mart with pirated copies of Windows or Office installed.

They of course do not put a lot of effort into the dribs and drabs of end user cash flows, but for the main end user cash flow, the license payments for software installed on a new machine, they are quite vigilant.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:05:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean that people actually buy ODM'ed machines? I thought that "factory installed OS" was very high up on the Go Somewhere Else checklist...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 02:45:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Theres a BBC interview with Bill Gates somewhere, with him saying that he'd much rather that people pirate his software, than use a competitors.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:12:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He definitely said that (oh dear no link!). But his business plan from the start was that the software game is about imposing and maintaining a standard.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:27:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They would if they could.

And on new PCs (especially for the mass market), they can and do.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:30:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, they don't, actually. Copy protection for Windows isn't that tough, and could be much, much tougher. Yes, if you buy your PC in the supermarket, it'll come with a paid copy of Windows. But Office is widely pirated. And let's not talk about China.

If Linux really made inroads into the end user market, Microsoft would not balk one second as making its OS as free as it was in the 90's...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 11:31:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, if you buy your PC in the supermarket, it'll come with a paid copy of Windows

That's what I said. This is a discussion here between people who wouldn't buy a Dell or a supermarket PC, but that's no reason to ignore the mass market of those who do.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 04:42:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The real money comes from corporate purchases, not end users, and MS is ready ready to drop the OEM license cost to zero if it was at risk of losing significant end user market share. It is already very, very low as it is...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 04:08:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
One could say as much of a great deal of commercially locked-down software: the principle is that the profit motive leads to the creation of an efficient team of highly-competent developers who must respond to market demand, but "what happens" is that Gates & Co take ordinary end users for cash cows, condescend to them, do not care about their needs, bring out fake "updates", etc.

One could say that, but it would a trite caricature of how the market has developed.

One obvious problem with OS discussions is that they inevitably start from an evangelical and tribal position - i.e. Microsoft is bad, OS is good, and that's all there is to know.

There isn't a great deal room for nuance in an approach like that, and certainly once you start arguing that what happens in practice is less important than principle you may be running headlong into one or two minor consistency issues.

But still - let's try again.

What happened in practice in PC space - as I said - is that even though Microsoft brought out a string of shabby operating system products, they still created enough stability that developers were able to work in that space successfully.

These developers were not big or corporate. In fact the opposite happened - MS ate the corporate developers or forced them out of the user area. The interesting action happened lower down, in areas like music, graphics, photography, and utilities, which MS wasn't much interested in.

Almost exclusively, viable products for those spaces were produced by small developers working with tiny budgets. Because developers had to sell their products, they put a lot of effort into meeting actual user requirements. And people really do use them. Almost everyone takes photos now and does some basic editing, almost everyone has a music collection, more and more people are making videos or doing basic web editing.

Aside from the fact that MS's need to create a monopoly created this space, this has nothing to do with MS itself.

The point is that standardisation, even on a crappy standard, and an interest in meeting real user needs both turned out to be a very good thing.

It's a shame it couldn't have been standardisation on a much more robust standard, but in the end it almost didn't matter - developers made products that people wanted, and peopled paid for them.

That hasn't happened with open source. MS has certainly tried to lock down Office, but this isn't just about Office - it's about the fact that when you buy a Windows PC, you can buy or download a truckload of software for it, and most of that software will meet a direct need after a very simple installation process.

OS actually offers little or no benefit to users who want their computers to work like that.

It's the Monster Truck racing of software design - just because you can fit giant wheels to your SUV, doesn't mean that most people are going to want to.

For that minority of people who enjoy assembling things from components, it's fine. For people who want something that Just Works in a standardised way, the Windows experience isn't perfect, but it still saves so much time and overall effort that the 'free' part of open source becomes irrelevant.

The corporate experience is something different, and there's more to be said for creating clean installations which meet limited but specific needs. If I ran a large business I'd certainly look at OS seriously as an alternative to Windows.

But what OS people don't seem to get is that 'Use it! It's Open Source!' is a non-argument. While there are a lot of sheep in corporate IT, anyone who does IT properly is going to be breaking down a big installation into support and training, legacy data access, compatibility and interoperability, workflow, stability, and so on.

Access to source code comes low down on that list. If you don't have in-house developers, it's useless to you.

If Open Source wanted to be more successful it would spend more time touting an integrated approach. Some OS companies do it, but from the outside it can look like 'It's Open Source! You can change it!' is as far as most developers seem to go.

And if open source isn't more popular yet - that's why. It's just a different bunch of people who aren't any more interested in listening to ordinary users than MS is.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:30:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One obvious problem with OS discussions is that they inevitably start from an evangelical and tribal position - i.e. Microsoft is bad, OS is good, and that's all there is to know.

You know, I didn't start this one. Every time I've seen you write about this, it has been to say OS is bad, and sometimes in stronger terms than here (iirc). Now, I'm not saying OS is all good (I didn't say that what happens in practice was less important than the principle, I simply made clear the difference between the two), and do read me again when I said that I took your point about specialised software. M$ is bad? After twenty-five years of "ordinary user" acquaintance with them, I'm not satisfied with their products. Your point about the stable standard permitting development is Microsoft's own; it's possible to look at it in another way as, once there's a single standard installed on the vast majority of the world's machines, there's not much choice for developers but to work with it. And I can remember the complaints of said developers at different times in the past about the difficulty of working with M$'s standards (though I'm not up to date on that).

A lot of what you say may be true (a good deal I'm no judge of), but I did speak of ordinary users' desktop needs, and I get the feeling your notion of what that means is coloured by your own needs and experience.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 03:08:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're caricaturing my point. I certainly don't think OS is bad in some ultimate archetypal sense - overall it's been a win. But I don't think it's been as much of a win as it's wanted to be on the desktop, and there are good reasons for that which the OS community seems to be trying hard to pretend aren't real or relevant.

I was absolutely in favour of MS being dismembered ten years ago because their monopoly wasn't a win for anyone. But that doesn't mean I don't think in hindsight that there wasn't a historical user benefit in a de facto standard, even if it was a broken one.

It's not a black and white issue. If you happen to be interested in the history of computing, not many issues are black and white.

Historically the point stands - whether or not developers enjoyed the experience, the fact is that over the last decade there's been far more useful desktop-level software of higher quality produced for Windows than for Linux.

There are complex reasons for this, and they go a little beyond 'Yay Microsoft!' But apparently it's not possible to make this point without being shouted down by angry people.

Fair enough.

But that's very much the negative user experience I was talking about. 'You're either with us or against us!' isn't usually a position that makes me feel positive about a project.

So this exchange and everyone's comments have proved the point - OS culture seems as sealed to outsiders as large corporations are. You're either in it, as a card carrying evangelist and paid up member, or you're outside it, as one of the evil hordes who want to see MS stamping its jackboot on the face of users forever.

At worst you're 'Just a user' who can't even use a compiler or file a bug report properly.

I don't know about anyone else, but that kind of polarisation doesn't seem like a good thing to me.

What happened to 'On the one hand... on the other hand'?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 06:44:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thou dost protest too much? I fail to see where you're being shouted down by anyone more angry than you are. My comment above is not all black and white, I was simply pointing out that development on the Windows base can be seen from a different perspective than the one you seemed to be offering.

I don't belong to any tribe, I'm just a basic user who doesn't need the specialist stuff you're familiar with. I use both OS and M$ software. OS may well have failed to take sufficient market share. I find that regrettable, because I'm not happy with M$.

So You're either in it, as a card carrying evangelist and paid up member, or you're outside it, as one of the evil hordes who want to see MS stamping its jackboot on the face of users forever feels to me, you know, irrelevant and, frankly, way overstated.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 05:01:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
TBG,

You have some points but you are also missing some stuff. Let me just point two of them:

When an open source application is released it is usually done so in an immature state (version 0.x). And that's when the testing starts. This is a big difference between open and commercial software: while the later has to be released after testing by a selected group of individuals (one more additional cost), the former is released untested and the testing team is the whole world. That's why things like BugZilla exist, an interface between testing and developing teams. This is something I feel you are missing: the power of Community in the  open software process. Beyond having a much larger testing team, there's a further advantage of the communal development/testing process: debugging and improving goes on even after the application has reached maturity. This last characteristic creates a dynamic between user and developer that commercial vendors can't replicate; in my own experience this at the moment is a major advantage of open GIS over commercial GIS: user queries are dealt with much faster.

The word Community leads us to the ideological background that was behind the genesis of Open Source with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto. It is no secret that I and most folk here at ET identify ourselves with this kind of e-Socialism. But commercial software is posing problems today that are beyond any ideological stance. Several companies have acquired monopolistic market positions of a sort possibly never seen before that create user dependency and manage to guarantee it prevails through time. Instead of fighting them (even for the sake of Free Market if for nothing else) Governments have instead joined the lot of dependent users. That's why Public Administration are having fora like that I attended: they understand they are compromising the State by willingly becoming hostages of foreign private corporations. In the long run no ideology will stand that.

But of course, if you're happy with the commercial products you use, let it be, this is a Free Europe after all.

Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 07:02:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
....the points made on all sides. In principle, I advocate Open Source to clients for web projects, because most of the coders we use have been brought up in the use of OS. One particular coding group,  the most brilliant of the ones we use, prefers to modular code ground up because they advocate security and soft capabilities that are unique. They came up through visitor tracking coding and I respect their experience and insight (even though I don't understand a lot of it!).

I've also promoted the concept of transparency to corporate clients, with some success. Business transparency (part of what I would call 'reputation management' which is replacing 'branding') is related to OS.

However, like TBG, and as stated above, for my own work, I cannot find OS software that does what my proprietary software does, as seamlessly, efficiently, user-friendly and so well integrated with other programs, and makes to possible to exchange projects with collaborators.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 07:22:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Luis de Sousa:
And that's when the testing starts.

No, this is only how OS people think the process works. What happens in the real world is more complicated.

Generally bugs are only fixed sometimes, because fixing bugs is tedious and uninteresting, and a lot less fun than adding Cool New Stuff. So in practice most desktop projects and some of the core Linux variants end up in a kind of homeostatic limbo, caught between half-hearted bug fixing and the constant developer need to hobby-code.

Beyond having a much larger testing team, there's a further advantage of the communal development/testing process: debugging and improving goes on even after the application has reached maturity.

Except that on the desktop, very few projects ever do reach maturity. There is a lot of abandonware where developers simply get bored with maintenance, and a lot of sort-of-not-quite-there coding which works in a limited way.

I'm on a couple of developer lists so I'm not unaware of how the process works.

The word Community leads us to the ideological background that was behind the genesis of Open Source with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto.

Stallman doesn't actually support Open Source - like all good authoritarians he wants other people's freedom to be on his own (virally GPL'd) terms.

It is no secret that I and most folk here at ET identify ourselves with this kind of e-Socialism.

Open Source is not e-Socialism - except in a very limited and dilettante-ish sense.

OS is more like mechanics getting together and telling everyone that because it's possible for anyone to build their own car everyone should, and hey, did we mention that we're not Chrysler and GM but look at our cool car designs anyway because they're at least as good, really they are.

Mechanics can be good and useful, but not everyone needs to be a mechanic.

OS may be anarchist, in a limited way, but it's certainly not socialist - I don't think anyone who understands what socialism is would make that claim.

And in fact, not a few developers seem to be libertarian capitalist types.

I'd be more convinced by this kind of e-socialism if the OS community as a whole spent more time teaching computing skills in low income areas or organising charity PC donations - practical things to help people from other economic demographics.

I'm sure some developers do that, but it doesn't quite seem to be a key feature of the open source project.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 07:43:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
TBG,

I appreciate your comments but I think you are taking this debate to much to the idealogical side.

My own experience with debugging of OS software is in total contrast to your simplistic characterization. I had interaction with folks developing Squirrel, Eclipse and Firebird and it is way beyond anything commercial vendors provide. For instance, with ESRI help comes mostly from other users and rarely from the developing teams.

Stallman an authoritarian ... what's authoritative in developing software for free? And an authoritarian an anarchist? I don't see how do you square Anarchy with Communitarian Development in a process where actor roles are clearly stratified.

But then again, to me this is not at its heart an ideological issue.

Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 11:18:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
One obvious problem with OS discussions is that they inevitably start from an evangelical and tribal position - i.e. Microsoft is bad, OS is good, and that's all there is to know.

And how annoying is it not, that every time there is a discussion on GMOs or financial banking it always degenerates into a tribal fight over the nastiness of Monsanto and Goldman-Sachs. Why can't people see that the important thing is not such trite considerations as power concentration?

As long as the consumers get what they want, it is all good. Food and credit, and in nice packages too.

ThatBritGuy:

That hasn't happened with open source. MS has certainly tried to lock down Office, but this isn't just about Office - it's about the fact that when you buy a Windows PC, you can buy or download a truckload of software for it, and most of that software will meet a direct need after a very simple installation process.

Yes, windows users never get errors that they do not understand which hinders the simple processes. That would be unheard of. And of course there are no programs for Linux users. It is not even commonly distributed with the OS or distributed by way of the internet. And Monsanto products just taste better.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 12:00:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One obvious problem with OS discussions is that they inevitably start from an evangelical and tribal position - i.e. Microsoft is bad, OS is good, and that's all there is to know.

Whereas you are free of such baggage. How refreshing.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 12:04:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Standards for many of the things that MS makes standards for already existed before the MS standard. MS has had a consistent policy of breaking those standards through sheer monopoly power and replacing them with their own standards. From day zero. Their smart move was to team up with IBM to abuse an existing monopoly power before they got big enough to have their own (and then backstabbed IBM... but that's another story).

So it's not that standards don't exist outside MS products. It's just that MS - by virtue of being a (near) monopoly - is able to enforce standards, and for various reasons governments have been unwilling or unable to enforce the original public standards (standards that in many cases made more sense than MS' ones do).

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 04:14:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't use the software you do, so I simply can't comment on that.  I can say, though, that I've used SUSE Linux for over ten years, and it has simply been a better OS than anything Microsoft has cranked out.  The same is true of the Mozilla products.  And I can plug my Corel products (WordPerfect, Quattro) into OpenOffice and generate OpenDocument format.  Further, if there's a glitch, there's instantly an army of geeks racing each other for the cure, and it will be available on the Web in short time.  I don't have to wait for MS to admit that it's a bug, not a "feature", and then come up with a half dozen attempts to patch it.

BTW, loved your diary on Stereophile.

by rifek on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 08:24:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
GNUPLOT and LaTeX are superior to any plotting/fitting and text editing/typesetting functionality I've seen to date in proprietary software for end-users. Both on functionality and on visual appeal.

They take a little getting used to, but once you've learned how to use them, LaTeX will save enormous time and trouble compared to the Word equation editor (and give a much nicer output), while GNUPLOT has the advantage over Excel plotting and fitting algorithms of actually providing readable graphs and a much superior fitting algorithm.

The main problem is that there are two kinds of user-friendliness: You can be friendly to users who are not familiar with the program, or you can be friendly to users who are familiar with the program. Most MS applications go for the former at the expense of the latter: The point-and-click interface with nice little icons is great for the first week or so that you use a new typesetting language. But after that it's quicker to just type the code in manually, instead of going through ten different submenus in search for some elusive functionality.

But if you don't want to spend a week or so learning commands and syntax... well, then you're gonna be stuck with the point-and-click interface. For some applications, that's all you need - you won't be using them often enough to gain enough through the efficiency gain to justify making the up-front time investment. But surely that's not the case for word processing.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 03:14:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Through time I have experimented several Linux distributions: Suse, Red Hat (now Fedora), Debian, Xandros, Mepis, Ubuntu
1) My 4 recommendations :
- Mandriva : a complete desktop OS, easy to install, easy to maintain, easy on the eyes. May be used by non-technical users. That's my main OS. Never failed me. A Mandriva machine I know remained 5 years visible from Internet, never missing a beat, nonstop...
- CentOS : a cost-free clone of Red Hat, mainly used for servers, but can be used on a personal machine. Bullet proof.
- Knoppix or SystemRescueCD : Your Windows system is acting up, and you want to retrieve data from the disk ? Look no further : Hookup a spare USB disk, insert CD, boot from it, get your data back.
- Clonezilla : You want to transfer your current Windows / OSX system onto a larger disk ? That'll do it.
 
Now of course you can try an OS without actually doing multiple installations on your main machine (Windows and others). Through VirtualBox, you can try and use any OS : it'll think it's running alone.
 
2) The real problem an organisation has when running side by side OS and applications is the format of your data. Microsoft is fighting ferociously to keep you from doing whatever you want with your own data.
 
3) This being said, I agree with TBG : there are no acceptable video editors on Linux. The only reason I keep a Windows machine is to run video editors such as Vegas.
For my photos, Gimp does all I want, and more. Free of course.
by balbuz on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:22:43 AM EST
I forgot about Knoppix, that friend of the lost hard drive. Thanks for referencing it, I keep a copy close to me every time :).

On Microsoft and data, NTFS has been dealt with, but if you need to share files without having trouble you can always use the old FAT32. I'm curious to see how Longhorn will change the situation.

I have to check Mandriva...

Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:33:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Add in Ophcrack for those days when A standalone machine user has forgotten their password.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 09:49:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NTFS or Fat32 is not the issue, its file formats like Word .doc current and Word .doc 97 - 2002. Open Source software generates files in those formats that are not formatted correctly in Microsoft Word.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:14:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, I see the point. The thing is legislation is being produced to rule out the hypothesis of folk getting hostage to file formats. This is a big problem for the Public Administration, that in some cases has stranded itself by requiring information from citizens in proprietary formats.

In the long run this is a war commercial vendors will loose, at least in the Public Administration domain. And when the state starts universally requiring information in OpenDocument or other standard everyone will have to comply.

Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 12:15:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
has to be open doc as the default file format too in all software, not just as an option.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:14:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Microsoft cant even get word 2007 to translate to the old format properly.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 01:13:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell me they really wanted it to.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 02:24:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... easy to miss, it reads:
Microsoft cant even get word 2007 to translate to the old format properly.

When obviously you would have meant, "Microsoft can even get word 2007 to fail to translate to the old format properly."

You don't want the new machines with the new Microsoft Office to turn out documents that the old machines can easily read ... Microsoft has had various "features" to make it difficult to easily produce backwardly compatible files since Word 6.0 at least (before then I was using WordPerfect 5.1, but I assume they were doing the same tricks back before that as well).

It does double duty, first in getting organizations to upgrade across the board rather than "only those who need the new features", second, in interrupting the progress made by other applications in being able to both produce and consume Word and other Microsoft Office files.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 03:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oh its worse than that. they appear to have broken the fonts beyond the european character sets between versions.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:06:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... deliberate gamesmanship ... it might be the tremendous usability testing of corporate software development at work.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:08:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Its one thing that you would think was difficult to get wrong. it means that any non european language document becomes broken with the new version. Pretty hard for that to slip past corporate testers. (I know because in my past I was one)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri Jan 30th, 2009 at 11:22:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But of course, assuming a direct relationship between identifying a problem and fixing the problem contradicts the assumption of usability testing being run by a large corporation.

If the change underneath breaking backward compatibility was made early enough (on what that department thought were sound grounds) to be deeply embedded in the new code, and the broken compatibility was uncovered late enough in usability testing, then its a corporate decision regarding the cost of fixing the problem, including slipping release dates, and the cost of retaining the problem.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 08:50:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well the cost of this roblem would be a lack of sales outside much of the non english speaking world, all of your old documents would need major conversion work rather than just something simple that can be done in a couple of minutes. What possible sound grounds can there be for reorganising the layout table for fonts?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 12:07:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am a relatively average computer user, that has periodically been trying out Linux systems since around 1997. I always ended up going back to Windows, because of the lacking "just-working" factor.

The tipping point for me was about three years ago. (Dapper Drake... I was suprised it has been that long.)

Except for a bit of research to get proprietary video and audio formats to work, everything else was easier than in Windows. And no more damn spyware, antivirus programs, instability etc. etc.

Personally I have found Zotero, a reference management extension to Firefox very useful.

by Trond Ove on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 08:07:45 AM EST
Personally I have found Zotero, a reference management extension to Firefox very useful.

I'll second that.  Came across it by accident, and it's so useful I can't imagine not having it anymore.
by Gafrewig on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 12:01:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Info-packed diary.  Thank you.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 01:40:00 PM EST
If my hosting service offers MySQL natively, is there a compelling reason to install and run PostgreSQL? As I am using a Mac and as PG Admin has a binary, I'll give it a try...but with the simple databases I have, what difference is compelling?

I am using Moodle as an online school. It is open source and pretty terrific.

I have started poking around with DimDim as a web conference tool...my Mac misbehaves when I give Adobe Flash too much rein, and DimDim seems to want more than I give, so I can't give a full report...but it seems to do all the right things.

This last month I have been wrangling with OpenOffice. I wonder if it works more like Word on a PC, because it still is not as smooth as Word on a Mac. I hadn't used Word for years actually, since email replaced documents as king in my life, but I needed to make a document which needed to prove for a group that PDF/A files could be made with OpenOffice...I had learned to dance pretty well with Word, and must say that OpenOffice is still relatively kludgy in look and feel in a 2 days of use comparison...I ended up making the final product in Word in fact.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 09:46:41 AM EST


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