UDS Narwhal – Monday

Keynote

Mark Shuttleworth kicked off this week’s UDS with a couple of interesting messages.

First was the focus on quality now that we’ve got a fair way through both the cadence and design pushes which Mark has been keenly interested in. We’re told to be super attentive to little issues and to demonstrate this Mark got together all of the best Canonical people involved in the Maverick release and gave them ice cream as a special treat. He then revealed that one of the bowels of ice cream had a fly in it. “This sweet ice cream doesn’t look so sweet now” he said. We need to pay attention to all the little flies like flickering screens and slow shell use because no matter how sweet we make Ubuntu, it won’t be attractive if there is even one fly in there. “we can do much much more, and be much much better”

The Unity interface will be coming to the default desktop. Thanks to demand and feedback the unity interface will be enabled for all users who have the hardware support and it’s being promoted as an easy to use interface. I agree with this, I’ve had the netbook launcher on my mum’s desktop for years now.

There was a note about Ubuntu’s relationship with the Gnome project. Part of this was the emphasise that Unity is a shell on Gtk/Gnome just as much as gnome shell will be, everything is the same Gnome in all other regards. The second part was a short clip of Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the Judians People’s Front is raving about how their not any of the other groups. This is trying to show us that groups that are trying to change the world too often focus on the very small differences between themselves instead of the main goals. The main message is: “We’re here to fight the Romans”

I was personally very happy with the mention of Ubuntu economics. Mark affirmed that the Ubuntu Software Center will support Free and Open Source software sponsorship where anyone can push money into projects and programs in order to move development forward. Improving the position of Free Software projects in the software center and allowing non contributing members to still contribute to projects. I know this is a bit of a dirty subject to a lot of people, but economics is _really_ important for Free Software and we ignore it at our peril.

Content Media Library

A really interesting project to create a multimedia sharing and collaboration platform which involves sharing and streaming your content around. It’s early days but it’s looking like Shotwell, Ubuntu One and PiTiVi are all excited about the possibilities presented here.

Development Learning Events

We’re discussing the organisation of further events to teach people development skills and introduce them to key technologies in the FOSS ecosystem. Brought up was linking up more of the existing documentation, making screencasts and having the information available on the project pages. Having development sessions which focus on how to get involved with projects rather than the basics on some technology was also brought up.

What the Market Can Bear

I was listening to an interesting video of the rather flamboyant Jimmy McMillan of the rent is too damn high party campaigning for the New York Governor’s office and he brought to mind the recent insistent views of Katie Hopkins on last week’s Young Voter’s Question Time on BBC Three. I should say that I don’t agree with either person as the first seems to lack rationality and the second both compassion and ironically economic understanding.

These two are rather far a part I admit, but something in their radical and disagreeable views created a new idea for me. That perhaps “rent is too high” because “the market will bear” much more when the goods are a requirement to productive living and increase with the degree to which people are able to not buy and even exit out of agreements easily.

So the main economic factor needed to reduce the amount of rent (because it is too damn high) being paid on average is to provide sensible, comfortable and easily accessible alternative housing to as many people as possible from either the government directly or non-profit chartered organisations at a stretch.

My conjecture is that lowering the tolerance of customers (that’s renters) by providing alternatives to private rented accommodation will reduce the rent burden by reducing the amount the market will bear. After all the amount the market will bear is only the amount to which people will/need to pay in order to get the services.

Ironically it means the people who are right wing poor and middle class are inadvertently increasing their own rent by virtue of being indignant about government provided housing. I know plenty of normally sensible people who would like government housing to be as horrid and uncomfortable as possible in order to encourage people’s independence form the state. Of course economics bites them in the arse on that one.

Never let it be said that doing the right wing doesn’t move you left and doing the left wing doesn’t make you right. This is complex man.

As a System of Social Rules

Thanks to Sirrus for providing an interesting comment for me to respond to. I’m making a new blog entry because the original one wasn’t as seriously intellectual and I want a space to talk about this more:

Any machine-based redistribution is bound to fail just like the human-based one, because it does not take the human nature into account. Real world economics work because of human greed; communism failed because of it as well.

I think the best way of going about it is having market economics with constraints, which is more or less what many capitalist economics of today are using.

Coming back to your pretzel economic theory on capitalism vs communism. Human greed is a very interesting psychological mechanism which isn’t as absolute or as pervasive as the capitalism culture tends to teach. In fact this this is an inside, outside box problem. Greed is generally split between gluttony and selfishness and from what I’ve been able to gather we are wired to be in a constant state of contention between consuming as much as possible and doing whatever suites our own self interest (in the way _we_ think it’s best served) and taking care of our social obligations, collaborating and dare I say it: caring about other people.

So what do I mean by an inside, outside box problem? If greed is counter weighted internally by social obligation then a culture that teaches both the virtues and naturality of personal greed removes all those pesky social obligations. The culture becomes self fulfilling through a quirk in human social mechanics.

Mechanisation isn’t actually a big scary thing to me. Capitalism is mechanisation and it basically, mostly, sort-of works because it does fit the majority of resource exchange interaction psychology. It’s not a _machine_ in the same way a printing press is a machine, it’s a systematic rule based software which runs upon an existing machine; that of course being society in general.

Having software that works on this machine requires that it take account of the way the social machine is organised, how it self assembles and how new mechanics can be run on it without error. Capitalism mostly works, but at the same time it doesn’t. It’s at a loss for 2/3rds of the economy, and that’s a lot of work to be done that isn’t recorded anywhere and doesn’t involve money. It’s probably a good thing that doing your chores isn’t run like a business to be honest; I’d rather prioritise teaching children the importance of looking after each other then the art of business making.

At the same time as not coving a lot of interaction; capitalism as a system of rules is failing to keep itself internally consistent, in check, in balance and not attempting suicide every 8 years. If as a social system it was so good at matching the nature of human interaction then these things would not happen, or would not happen nearly so much.

Thoughts?

Trickle Down My Money

The folk that follow my blog will be aware that’s I’m fairly politically active and tend towards a left leaning consensus on political thinking.

One of the capitalist notions that always struck me as odd was this whole notion of trickle down economics. (leave aside that it’s been disproven for a second).

The idea is that we as the lower-class, down trodden masses, shouldn’t fear or resent our richer and more superior peers. Instead we should congratulate them on their good fortune and reward their fortitude in gaining so much wealth in the first place. Because what is good for the rich is good for the poor. The rich, they say, are consumers just like everyone else and will spend their wealth on consuming things and who those things will be mostly made by is the lower classes and thus the money will trickle down to the lower classes.

When I looked at this I thought: Well that’s a fascinating children’s story and one of those idealistic happy-and-know-your-place ideals that was such fun in the Victoria era. But what does it look like systematically?

1) If you get a rich section of the community spending all of their money, which is say 20% of total wealth, on non-essential goods which benefit the very few. Then 20% of the economy will be dedicated towards making non-essential goods for the benefit of the very few. The worse the gap between the rich and the poor and the more of the economy is busy making extravagances and less of it is doing real work, working on essentials and making that more efficient.

2) That assumes the rich spend all their money, which so rarely happens. One of the things wealthy people do is invest, they own. And so what tends to trickle down isn’t money, but landlord ownership over everything. Investing is spending, unless you count bad investing.

3) The companies that these goods and services are made by (and most goods are made by) generally have a policy of paying the owners as much as possible and the workers as less as possible. So where economic inequality exists, there is an abuse of resources by owners to exert a lower trickle down and an increase in up-flow.

Conclusion: Trickle down is a fairy story invested as an excuse to abuse capitalist economic mechanics for the benefit of the few. the up-suck is a far too strong a current and the gravitational like effect of masses of money in one pocket is surely a warning to any economy that it’s better to have lots of people with some money then a few with most of it.

Making Money from Software

following my previous post exploring Ubuntu insurance:

Sirrus Submitted on 2010/09/10 at 2:27pm:

1. If users insure themselves for release X, then given distribution’s architecture, it is likely things will work in X+N if the user does not change his hardware (as I am assuming driver stability in the kernel – sure, there are other things that can go wrong). Hence the user pays a one-time fee and is done with it.

Even better, if the user is able to observe an insured user’s working configuration, he can freeload immediately.

Otherwise, he or she simply sits with the current configuration for as long as it is supported and waits for a working release. In the worst case, he only has to pay once again and repeat this cycle.

2. I am not sure this is economically viable for the producing company, as I assume some bugs might require a piece of the concerned hardware in particular configurations to test it out. Aside from this, there simply may not be enough developers available, because you have to pay them for the job in the first place, and the insurance inflow might not be enough to cover it.

3. This model does not take innovation into account. I am not familiar with the internal assembly of new versions of Ubuntu at Cannonical, but I would assume it is more than just pulling upstream versions at particular time and putting it all together. So, when you spend all your money on fixing things just putting it all together, you won’t have money for adding new features in. If the product (Ubuntu) then does not provide a satisfactory experience, users lose the incentive to pay for support, since they won’t be using it.

4. The biggest problem in general is that the income stream is simply unreliable (partly because of 1., but mostly because people don’t pay when they don’t have to), as is the case with donations. And as R wrote – no target demographic.

In a more general case – as much as I like FOSS, we’re into software for making money. In cases where you have to pay for software beforehand, the developer has some income guarantee and security, and thus can work on supporting the product/developing a new one. In this case, the income fluctuates and as has been indicated above, would not be big enough. This would result in situations where the developer might be needed only for a month or two, and then become essentially redundant.

I wonder – if Ubuntu introduced an upfront fee prior to downloading, how much would the income increase, and how much would the people be willing to actually pay for it. Because that would serve as a much better indicator of value than reliance on their goodwill. I am not familiar with GPL in all its details, but it is it possible to restrict access to Ubuntu and not make it available for free, and freely redistributable? Because the individual parts are (mostly) FOSS, and are already available on the internet free of charge on different websites. Of course, this would break the Ubuntu promise of always being free of charge, but if it’s possible, I think this is worth investigating.

Just my 0.02.

I’m in the business of making money so that I can make software. Money is just a tool and what we choose to do with it counts more to me than how you accumulate. Stability of position requires a certain amount of pre-investment into personal situational elements and I understand that necessitates the earning of money beyond immediate requirements in order to make such investments possible. But I fear some people go too far and let the earning of money become the goal.

Charging for Ubuntu would be a situational irony, even if Canonical gained $10m per year in sales (and about $1 billion in liabilities) they’d be cutting off about $100 million in production from the community and at the same time decapitating the actual point: To make good software, morally, responsibility and sustainably. Proprietary software isn’t sustainable in technical terms and the problem we’re trying to solve is making FOSS sustainable in economic terms.

Of course anything we can do to make things economic shouldn’t require us to deny the principles of foss, we’d be loosing a lot more than gaining there.

Ubuntu Insurance?

This idea popped up in a completely different conversation and I haven’t explored the full dynamics of the idea and how it would play out legally but:

What if Ubuntu users paid into an insurance fund. The fund’s aim would be to record the primary software and hardware used by the customer and to employ programmers and QA people to ensure that this software and hardware works in the next release and with critical updates?

Payout would essentially be getting people in to fix problems if they cropped up.

This would be in contrast to the idea of paying individually for bugs to be fixed. Such as having bounties or pay only bug trackers.

The goal of course would be to collectively take responsibility for maintaining the code we have that makes our computers do amazing things. Make sure that this is sustainable and reduce the requirement for guides and “toxic workarounds” for sets of problems that crop up in releases.

Would you pay into such a scheme? Do you know users who would? Is there enough money in our ecosystem to really pay people to do a good job on fixing problems or are we just not big enough yet?

What are your thoughts?

What Happens

I wanted to play with brush lines and I was thinking back to a chat I had with my good friend David about Free Software and lack of User attachment to sticking with Free products when their only desire is practicality. This of course can make a very transient user base who will leave at the first sign of trouble.

Of course any time spent with a particular piece of machinery like software will develop an educational and brand familiarity attachment. I want to put those to one side because I believe they are useful over long time periods but not the short term.

Contributors (and if you reading this then your more than likely a contributor) are of course different, they’re invested in time, philosophically and socially and so are much more likely to stick it out and may actually know how to not only work around problems but we hope through training programs like UDW and UW that we can train people to know how to deal with problems in a more sustainable way. Treating bugs as problems for everyone and not just the individual.

Of course what the mainstream pattern looks like is different, they don’t have contributors or contributing developers, everyone is locked into working around problems. The key difference is that because users are customers, they’re invested in the product. They feel like they own it (even when they don’t) and feel like they ort to stick out problems so that they can get their money’s worth. Of course what do you do in both this and the above case when you have a major headache that you don’t know how to work around or even if you manage to work around? You complain like crazy on your blog, to your friends and to anyone that will hear your pain.

Your complaining is a direct reflection of your ties to a particular product, even to it’s defects.

In the most ideal case and one I was trying to make the case for a few days ago, we’d be able to either turn users into contributors or if that’s not possible then into paying customers that pay for real solutions and code patches, not just work-arounds.

The training that’s going on is a great start, but with better training materials in the community we could be making more contributors aware of the ability of solving problems more permanently and thus improve their input into progress (blogs showing you how to work around a problem are not progress in code terms).

Software isn’t perfect and we need to get lots of people with lots of energy (or money) to invest that energy into the community and to the community collaboration that so effectively benefits everyone. And in my mind the best way to get people quickly attached to FOSS and Ubuntu is to get them to invest into it sooner rather than later, then we have time to get people familiar with the brand and educate them.

Your thoughts?

Free at the Point of Download

Yesterday I posted an entry about how I felt that commercial economics should be more widely employed in the FOSS world and that it’s our failure as a community to engaged appropriately with non-material-contributing users in such a way as to make our material contributions more economically sustainable.

Some took this to mean that I was a dangerous capitalist (ironic for those who know my as the dangerous socialist).

OK let’s make one thing clear, I do _not_ advocate for the sale of something that is already paid for. And by that I mean that someone else already put the money or time into making something FOSS and has graciously licensed it for download.

If you need to spend full time on a project to make it a success then you have no choice but to find a way to make money. My proposals so far have been more about promoting the idea of paying for the _creation_ of software than about the rather more impossible _distribution_ of software. To do that would be to make something artificially scarce.

There must be a way to see users in different lights, they are: users, potential contributors, potential inverters and a source of problems. If you can turn every Ubuntu user into a contributor then that’s great, it’s healthy for the ecosystem and it’s growth and I know it’s great for the education of the contributors. On the other hand if you don’t have time to contribute then the next best thing to invest is damned money. Paying for someone else’s time can get you that contribution and it can even be more meaningful since the people who your paying can be highly skilled and your simply saving them from a life of non-foss development.

I’ve not yet given up the hope that we _can_ find a way to have fair Free Software development that pays the bills and delivers freedom.

Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

I was reading the comments on the interesting Mint blog about Mint testing a Debian derivative so they can take advantage of rolling releases and get away from Ubuntu’s instability. Some of the comments allude to a different sentiment:

Ubuntu is so commercially driven, whereas mint is such a nice community effort, I’d be so much happier to use mint.

– fred

Ubuntu started to annoy me a bit with all this commercially oriented development of the distro.

– Miro Hadzhiev

But above all I believe that Ubuntu will change direction and become increasingly turned to a more commercial aspect. At the same time they will lose the * community * Exchange.

– F.Dionne

My response to this anti-commercial sentiment is this quote:

You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Simply that users and members of the community are confused by what commercial actually means. Commercial is not against the community, the community is commercial, people are employed to work on Ubuntu, work with Ubuntu and to be a part of the community. A varied commercial community would actually be kinda nice, imagine if we had a Dell community manager, or a system76 guy in IRC who was chatting away to the rest of the community of users *and* business people. Take a look at Organisations Learning to contribute to FOSS the right way.

I don’t think *making money* is the real fear of these people, I think the fear is Canonical with their often over bearing unfair influence with Ubuntu that often seems like they are on one side inviting development of their features that they decide are cool and on the other side ignoring and diminishing the features that others who are not Canonical want to work on or would like Canonical to help with.

There is also a fear that Canonical will only really want to work on what makes Ubuntu attractive to OEMs and other large organisations that they have a commercial relationship with. I know that aint true and lots of Canonical people continue to work on things which are good for the whole platform, but sometimes Ubuntu’s certainly had the flavour of feature stuffing and Mark hasn’t helped with the way he words his posts about new features in the past makes it seem like they distrust users opinions.

My personal concern is the lack of commercial involvement of Ubuntu’s users, basically it goes like this: Canonical is a business and is interested in making enough money to pay it’s developers a wage. What they work on is based around what makes money. The money comes from Dell and HP. The developers work on what Dell and HP want. Users never get a direct say in the development of Ubuntu because A) They have no commercial relationship with Canonical and B) Canonical doesn’t co-operate wonderfully on DX with other programmers (commercial or non) preferring instead to announce features at the last minute and rail-road decisions and opinions of others.

OK I’m not on a rant against Canonical, both of these might actually be solved/able:

B) We’ve seen a turn around in Caonical’s DX team shenanigans, announcing Unity at UDS was a very good thing and shows leadership instead of authority. Hopefully the flavour of the team has shifted from assuming all users are idiots and need to be told what’s good for them, to something a little more progressive.
A) If the continued redesign of the Software Center can include the ability to pay for FOSS, then we can introduce the commercial relationship with Canonical _and_ App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.

All signs point to common sense and progress, mistakes were made but I don’t see more on the horizon. So lets make sure Ubuntu isn’t considered “too commercial” let’s consider FOSS “not commercial enough”, because only through demanding the right commercial terms in our transactions can we make sure that developers get to eat and users get rights to the software they use and we’re not forced to accept traditional locked down software because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.

Your thoughts?

FOSS is Commercial

OMG Ubuntu recently posted an entry on their blog about the new paid for Ubuntu Software Center.

I like the guys at OMG, they’re doing some interesting stuff, but d0od you’ve got a mistake and the article needs fixing.

Commercial software is not software that is closed source, commercial software is just software that you pay for. I’d love to see Free Software for sale in the Ubuntu software center, but of course because everyone is conflating proprietary with commercial and FOSS with free beer it’s frustrating efforts to monetise Free Software and make this whole gig sustaining.

This is doing a dis-service to the real power of FOSS as a peer reviewed, stakeholder and user empowered development by suggesting the only defining point to it is it’s free cost. It isn’t, the free cost is incidental, this community isn’t a charity and we shouldn’t be expected to behave like one all the time.

I’m asking you to stop explaining FOSS as free beer and commercial as proprietary. For the livelihood of programmers who want to make FOSS their job. Stop forcing software developers to close code up in order to make a living or force them to donate their time to make Free Software. Just pay a fair price for Free Software development and open access to market places and complain about markets that help promote the confusion by only selling proprietary software while giving away FOSS.

I don’t know if the Ubuntu Software Center will, I hope that since Ubuntu is an open community we can make some progress and get Canonical to support FOSS by allowing their marketplace to sell our services.

Three cheers for commercial free and open source software!

Three rotten tomatoes for proprietary software of any kind!