If it sounds mad

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Philosophies, Science, Ubuntu on January 18th, 2011 by doctormo

I’ve just been reading Glyn Moody’s article on the defence of hackers and open source. And no doubt I fully disagree with any notion that Free and Open Source is as relatable to some mass anarchistic insensible process.

I thought to myself that there probably is a quick test to see if what someone is saying about open source makes sense. A quick and dirty litmus test for checking if the author understands open source in principle and in practice.

If you replace “Open Source” with the word “Science” and set the date of the article or book back to 1650, does it sound like it’s totally mad?1 If you replace “Open Content” with “Free Speech”, does it sound like the author is grasping for a way to put people back in their nice Aristotelian place?

What I see when I read articles and books that attack free culture, is a mind on the other end of the text trying to work a messy and human process into an authoritarian view of the world (nice, ordered, predicable systems). I actually boil this down to a lack of trust in humanity and messiness. Which is a shame, because biological evolution is a messy system with lots of “waste”2 and human dialectics is a messy system with a lot of “waste” (what some call a long tail of content quality) and yet they’ve both produced amazing results3.

This is why it’s right that new ideas in Ubuntu should be tried, but at the same time a critical eye be placed over the results. Because it’s only through trying things out that we learn if they work at all. Even in design, where most designers would claim to be self supporting machines of innovation, I believe it’s natural to have a certain amount of trial and error. Of course having the space and energy to carry out the chaotic research is important, something we work on to improve in the open source design world.

But trying things does take a lot of energy and this is where the efficiency gains of open source are most important. We don’t know which of the thousands of programs are going to be the best, but we do know that at every stage there is the opportunity to share gains and pick up where others have left off. Truly standing on the shoulders of giants that came before us allows us to be usefully “wasteful”.

Far from Free and Open Source being a constraint on innovation, I find more and more that it is the source of innovation and what we really need more of is a way to execute on good ideas rather than the old tired thinking that we just don’t have any good ideas.

What are your thoughts?

1 I admit that this does require some association of the method of creating practical mechanical designs (software) with the methods of creating testable theoretical models as in science. I’ve had very long emails in this discussion, but I’m still fairly confident that it’s equatable in it’s requirement for open sharing of ideas and designs.
2 The waste is not waste in my view, it’s navigation.
3 I’m a big fan of the idea that the classic view of innovation is rubbish and the only truly new ideas are just convenient mistakes. All other ideas are dialectic compositions and so “innovation” in my view is more about mixing existing ideas and good innovators are good mixers.

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Why we need Free Software ‘holes’

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Philosophies, Ubuntu on January 4th, 2011 by doctormo

Rachel Botsman made a really impressive TedTalk where she talks about consumption, more importantly about how as a society we should use our ’stuff’ more effectively by sharing it or bartering it more.

What really stuck in my mind was the phrase “What you need isn’t a drill that you buy and use once or twice, what you need is a hole”

And it’s true, what we don’t need is software, what we need is the product that software gives us. But if that’s the case and the product is the most important part, why should anyone care about Free Software? After all, Free Software doesn’t always get you the better result, it certainly didn’t 10 years ago.

I rationalise Free and Open Source as a forward thinking politic. One where governments neglected their duty to protect the commons and the products of the public sphere. Instead FOSS is where clever people, have created legal strategies in order to artificially create an environment, where sharing and collaboration can really take place with the required legal protection they need to not be abused.

The worst thing that you can do if you need a hole, is to hire out the same drill from the one and only drill making company that charges you $300 a time, never sells their product, bribes and have the law protect their monopoly from users making their own. The better long term strategy is to always have a drill in common with others (or other hole making device) and to have it set up in such a way as to allow unfettered access as well as shared responsibility to it’s upkeep.

The lessons I learned are as a developer, I need to keep the user’s requirement (hole) in mind, and not what amazing software I can build (drill). That’s a design focus which I will try and hold close and I’m glad is becoming more accepted in the admittedly drill focused culture in foss.

As a user I’m made more aware of my responsibility as a participant in the greater commons to help maintain and grow the bank of software we have available to all and not just my opportunity.

What are your thoughts?

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Promote Free Culture

Posted in Art and Creation, Doctor's Art, Free and Open Source Software, Guides and HowTos, Multimedia Entry, Ubuntu on December 9th, 2010 by doctormo

This poster has been in the works for a while, but I’m happy enough to finally publish it today:

It’s available in source form from Spread Ubuntu here and on the deviantArt page you can order a print if you can’t make your own prints.

If you think the work I do to make our cultural ideas more easily understood, consider dropping a few sheckles1:


What do you think?

Update: I put in fresher text which should help some of the older stale text be more understood.

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Is open siege under sourced? Let’s not hope!

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Philosophies, Politics, Ubuntu on November 23rd, 2010 by doctormo

An excellent post by txwikinger on his blog called Is open source under siege? Let’s hope not! paints a picture of all the recent movements in the business world which seem to undermine free and open source in economics (withdrawal of support) and in philosophical backing (maybe working together isn’t good?).

When it comes to the ideas surrounding free and open source, the commons and free culture in general we have to remember that our cultural values are subject to dialectic interpretation as much as any set of ideas. Our main mooring has been the sometimes radical and always socially objectionable Free Software community who has been very strong on purpose and clear on what it considers to be for and against the free software ideal.

This I think has allowed us to be protected in a lot of ways from being swept away by dialectic diffusion; where your ideas mix up so much with other people’s that identifying the core values become impossible. The gentle sound of the waves of free culture crashing against the seemingly impossibly immovable shore of commercial reality has over time not changed radically commercial reality, but the shape of commercial advantage and where there is easy and attractive exploitable resources.

It’s not a surprise to me that as the impending beat of market forces in conjunction with the reality of software and all soft media increases in tempo, the fear of the old world companies is leading them to seek even more government protection. Every governmentally supported artificial barrier conceivable is being employed by the biggest and most well resourced organisations to try and keep a status quo that can not be.

To conclude I would say that the free and open source ideas are changing the world, they are as well being changed as you’d expect. Sometimes for the better and sometimes in ill advised ways that should be rejected by everyone who wants to keep their free software ideals. The proprietary companies and people who think as they do that protectionism and government monopolies are better than the free market will struggle something fierce while they either morph or die into something survivable.

Remember your concern over what Microsoft, Apple and Oracle are doing is nothing but a fraction of the fear and dread that they have over a real open free market in software and the work we all do to hasten it.

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Ubuntu One and FOSS Services

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Ubuntu on October 8th, 2010 by doctormo

My good friend S.Gerguri asked me to talk about the nature of the Ubuntu One services offered by Canonical Ltd. and has sent me his thoughts by email, I’ve quoted him here and responded with my own thoughts. Full disclosure: I briefly worked on the team that develops the Ubuntu One service at Canonical and so I’m going to be careful since I’ve seen code and talked about strategy while on the team.

I just saw Martin Albisetti’s post on Ubuntu One Mobile and went to check the service. It appears to be a rather neat way of accessing your music while not having to lug around your whole catalog when you’re away just with your phone. … It is also priced quite fairly, even though I think the cloud capacity could be larger for the asking price.

The amount of space has to be very carefully calculated between the amount offered for free and the amount offered for a price. The servers the files are stored on are Amazon’s cloud, so the money doesn’t all go to Canonical. This is something of a business decision though and it’s really up to the market to decide at what price it thinks the services on offer are worth paying.

The service is also competing against companies for who this service is a loss leader, hoping to attract a large enough user base to sell their companies. This is precisely the opposite of Canonical that wants UO to be self sustaining and ultimately paying for developers to work on Ubuntu.1

The client code is open source, while the server is apparently under full control by Canonical. Apparently though, there are still people that have a problem with this, as evidenced by some of the comments in Martin’s post.

It’s true that the server component is proprietary, actually it’s also not even available in binary form. It might as well just be a magic wall that talks a certain language. My feelings on services is that the user has already made the decision to give their destiny over to the service provider regardless of whether the server code is FOSS or not.

For the client software, this is more interesting because the protocols are documented and well known so creating a server component is a matter of guile and not hard work. Accepting code in the FOSS client so it can connect to other servers using the same protocol and shipping that by default in Ubuntu is perhaps where Canonical’s community and open market principles will be shown either way.

The service in question here is the cloud storage along with _open source_ retrieval mechanisms (I am talking about the app). … So about the only possible super-wild argument against having Canonical complete control over the server side (including source) is code inspection for security issues, and even that one falls short because the storage software is just part of the server stack.

The security of the server side is more likely to be better than the client side anyway. But I don’t think there is any rationale to holding onto the server code, there are bigger sticks and better ways to use them. At the moment the closed server code is used as a weird proxy for user’s unsettling feeling that Canonical is making money from Ubuntu in ways where it doesn’t invite anyone else to make money too2.

Some people are also concerned that it’s a matter of principle. If you don’t as a company _believe_ in free and open source, then why advertise and promote free software principles at all? If you do believe them; then why the hypocrisy? That’s a social element which basically boils down to fear being the greatest eroder of principle and it’s fear of being out-competed on the Ubuntu platform which keeps it closed.

I actually find this pretty insulting from the people that complain about it. Canonical gives out Ubuntu for free, provides 2 GB of free cloud storage which, mind you, is not forced on the user, and provides the client side in full open source.

The 2GB is a loss leader, it’s only partly there to improve the Ubuntu desktop as a feature. It’s a win-win and besides you couldn’t sell anyone music if they needed a paid for account first.

The thing that showed the worst side of UbuntuOne service was the decision to hide the purchased music folder instead of using a standard FreeDesktop.org sub folder for it. There were technical reasons and design reasons but I and others are still uncomfortable with the lack of access users have to their music files and the ability to move them out of the UbuntuOne cloud.

Actually, I think this would be a great idea for any cloud-based open source service – let the parties that participated in developing the server code keep it for a competitive advantage, and provide the client in full open source. It’s the service that’s important anyway, and this way you have a chance to recoup on your development costs by providing the service first for some time (until the other interested parties get their server code and modified client code ready).

I’m generally not fond of cloud based services, I think they’re needlessly grabby with people’s data and access rights. The first priority must be for the user to weigh up the cost of doing it themselves with the cost of loosing control. The one good thing I can say about online services is that general users tend to recognise that trade-off better than with normal software.

It’s frustrating that users consider a lack of control over their own computer to be something to be agreeably ignorant about. Users weighing up and making an informed decision about how to solve a practical immediate problem with a solution that may have bad long term implications is better. At least with online services it’s more likely users will be burned earlier and in a recognisable way that makes them cautious.

What are you thoughts dear reader?

1 I’d be happier if Canonical just asked for money to work on user feature requests and bugs, but hey I’m just not in a majority on that thinking yet.
2 A known bone of contention; general thinking is that creating space for a marketplace is a good thing that attracts investment. But I feel sometimes that Canonical is more concerned with filling all holes with it’s own services than opening up the market and really benefiting Ubuntu.

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Hold on Tight to Principles

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Hat Talk, Philosophies, Politics, Sociology, Ubuntu on October 2nd, 2010 by doctormo

I wanted to take this comment I made in an email and post it to my blog. I’m fairly principled and I try my best with all sorts of things. There is something about principles which I think is not well understood and I’d like to offer a tentative explanation:

Principles are a view of the world which can be seen to be idealistic, they are in their nature the very way in which given the way you understand the world to work you could see things being made better and more ideal. Ideals are not always practical, you have to deal with real world issues that are not ideal.

Practicalism isn’t a principle, it’s the ways real world problems can be solved. You use your principles to weigh up the cost of actions that solve the problem. You do _not_ replace your principles wholesale with a view that cheapens and makes light of principles in general but instead use them to dialectically make new and creative solutions to the problems.

Free and Open Source as a principle: It’s both a long term practical benefit (investment) and a universal social good which respects users and brings down the cost of computer software development. I would say that FOSS is one of those unique common sense type principles that have immediate and far reaching effects. The difficulty with spreading the ideas and philosophies are not due to the general public not being able to understand, but instead relate to how tightly vested interests hold onto their own principles about the appropriateness of their product’s terms.

All these things have cultural and political consequences in my view. You don’t have to be a raving supporter or a crazy Ubuntu advocate. I think just being more aware of exactly what the proposition is and why proprietary software is very costly and not worth your time would be very valuable in bringing about a cultural shift.

Thank you for reading my ramble, what are your thoughts? Am I talking out of my hat again? Should I be less concerned with the adoption of practicalism as a principle?

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Ubuntu Made Art in August 2010

Posted in Art and Creation, Ubuntu on August 13th, 2010 by doctormo

It’s time once again to show off some of the great art being made using Ubuntu and the wonderful tools we have available to us:

Also check out the Cartoon TV show made using ubuntu and blender: Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Robots vs. Cowboys (in Portuguese)

This is my top 10 for August, if you want to see more of the amazing art being done using Ubuntu, check out the full gallery.

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Free at the Point of Download

Posted in Economics, Free and Open Source Software, Politics, Ubuntu on July 22nd, 2010 by doctormo

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.

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Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

Posted in Critique, Economics, Free and Open Source Software, Ubuntu on July 21st, 2010 by doctormo

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?

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FOSSed Notes

Posted in Education, Ubuntu on July 10th, 2010 by doctormo

The FOSSed conference was certainly very interesting and although the heat was almost unbearable, the sleeping and presentation rooms un-air-conditioned at least the event fed us well (a little too well as I note by budda belly this morning) and we got to talk with some very interesting people with a different take on Ubuntu and FOSS.

First of all there are plenty of people using Ubuntu, both strait up and as a basis for educational distributions. But almost everyone at this conference was using an Apple Mac, it’s something a lot of schools have invested in. I maintain that the bastards are going to be Apple in this and upper-middle class residential markets.

One sys-admin was explaining to me how their school is ditching Ubuntu in favour of Apple Macs because he (as a sysadmin) is not paid enough to do his job properly and just doesn’t want any more work to deal with. Of course far be it from me to suggest that doing a job at all is worth doing right, but I can’t imagine how a fleet of rented Apple Macs could be easier to manage even on a larger scale. I chalk this one up to professional folly and lack of imagination.

There were plenty of positive thinkers too, lots of people really wanted to learn some of the available programs in depth so they could go off and teach other people. this is great and it’s certainly something we should be doing more of. I know Inkscape has really good how-tos and guides available to download in manual format.

In the end though we got to talk a lot about all the challenges, politics, dumb decisions and rotten thinking that goes on in education. There was certainly a lot to complain about, most of the time it didn’t seem like it was malicious, just that old problem of pushing incompetent people further up stack into management instead of firing them. Of course I also remember being told: “No one likes being their own boss, because suddenly it’s hard to tell yourself just what a dumb boss you really are to yourself”

Your thoughts?

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