Monday, February 28, 2011

Open Source Software is not Free

When you have been suggesting free open source software to people as longs as I have you are bound to run into at least a few people believe FOSS is only for "cheap" people (I've found typically these people have Microsoft Certifications). They accuse you of only using free software because it comes at no cost to you. Even if this was the first reason you gravitated towards FOSS, odds are if you are still here after some months there is now more to it than just "free of cost".

One of my favorite quotes is:

Nothing is ever free.

I believe this statement to be true for a number of reasons. The important thing to recognize is that I believe the "free" in this quote and the "free" in FOSS are two different types of "free". In the quote the "free" refers to a monetary value. Even if you pay no monetary value for software - that software cost someone, somewhere, something. Whether that something is a paycheck for the software developer coming from a company backing the project or it is simply a dedicated individual hacking at code during his spare moments - that "free" software comes at a cost to someone.

Now - what do I believe the "free" in FOSS means? Freedom of course! The code is open - you are allowed to change and redistribute it as you wish. Add features, fix bugs, or fork a project all together. You are not tied down in messy, restrictive EULAs - your computer is truly your own. You are not "renting" your software. Because this software is free of cost to the end user you also have the freedom to change at any time. Don't like KDE? Try Enlightenment. Don't like Fedora? Try OpenSUSE. Don't like OpenOffice.org? Try LibreOffice. (This list never really stops)

I've found that the longer most people use FOSS the more likely they are to contribute back to the projects they enjoy. We can all help in different ways - if you can spare a few dollars for your favorite project I'm sure they won't say no - if you cannot there are plenty of other ways to help - code, support, art... If you haven't already drop a message to your favorite open source project and do so to find out how you can help! Without community backing the world of FOSS would not be the thriving ecosystem it is today.

~Jeff Hoogland

Sunday, February 20, 2011

22 Linux Icon Sets that are Great

Once of the best things about FOSS is the amount of customization it allows for! So why leave your Linux desktop bland with the default icon set that comes with your distribution? There are many good icon sets out there, the following are the names and screen shots of the best ones I've collected from around the web over the years (if you use Bodhi Linux you can easily install any of these icon sets via our art page):



Candy

Clarity

Darkfire


Elementary

Faenza

Fast Forward (FFW)

Gartoon Redux

GMetalik

Jungle

LagaDesk

Last Amazing Grays

Lynx Black

Mac

MaXo ReMix

Nuovext2

Oxygen Refit

Ubo

Wood

Forgive me for not providing a link to the last icon set - I can not seem to locate where I had downloaded it from some time ago.

Do you have a favorite icon set on your Linux desktop that I did not list here? If so let me know - always looking for new things to play with on my desktops!

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Version Number Game

We all play it. Every hacker, code monkey, and developer that produces a piece of software - The Version Number Game. Version numbers are suppose to represent the progress of a piece of software makes over time. The problem with this system is that there is no uniformly accepted standard for numbering the version of your application. From a certain perspective, I can understand this. Many pieces of software are different, so to try and define one standard for numbering all of them is a bit of an unrealistic task.

The problem is that even applications of the same function do not follow similar version number releases. If you have been around the Linux world for more than a minute then you have heard of both Ubuntu and Debian Linux. Debian first released almost 18 years ago and they just celebrated their sixth stable release. Ubuntu on the other hand is preparing for their version "11.04" release in a couple months after having existed for not even seven years.

If you have never touched Linux before then two FOS applications I am sure most of you are familiar with are Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome. These are two very popular webrowsers, that follow two very different version cycle releases. Firefox was initially released in the fall of 2004 and nearly seven years later they are on the verge of their fourth release. Chrome on the other hand has been on the market for not even three years and they are set to release versions ten and eleven by the end of the year.

Some developers realize that this is very much a game and they choose not to play it. The Debian team does not plan on artificially inflating their number of versions any time soon (at least as far as we know). Mozilla on the other hand seems to be caving to the pressure, they recently announced that they plan to release Firefox versions 4, 5, 6, and 7 by the end of 2011. Thats right, in the next ten months Mozilla plans to release more versions of Firefox than they have in the last six years. Personally I feel this is very unnecessary, Mozilla's past release cycle has been plenty fine and meaningful - it has accurately represented the progress of the browser.

What do you think of the version number game all our developers are playing? Is it necessary to produce 3+ "versions" of your piece of software per-year just to stay noticed?

~Jeff Hoogland

Bodhi Linux RC2 & Updates

After three weeks of user input and a few bugs reports the Bodhi team and I are happy to present our second release candidate (version number 0.1.6). This version features package updates such as Firefox beta 11 and a number of small changes that make the system feel a bit more seamless. For a full change log see here.

The colors scheme of many things on the disc now matches our new website colors:

Plymouth


Login Screen


We have also improved the process a user goes through when first starting Bodhi. Instead of having a copy of each profile for every theme, a user now selects from our six profiles:


And then choose from one of seven themes:


That means with six profiles and seven themes a user has forty two different configurations to choose from on their fresh install of Bodhi!

Don't worry if you don't care for any of the default themes on the disc. The Bodhi Art website is now live, it is still being fleshed out fully - but once it is fully completed users will be able to easily find and install a selection of Enlightenment and GTK themes, as well as icon sets and Bodhi wallpapers. Speaking of icon sets, as of the 0.1.6 release the default icon set for Bodhi has been changed to MaXo ReMix:


Our software center recently got a make over as well, it looks cleaner and now features software application sets - so users that are new to Linux can easily have a fully functional Linux desktop with a single click. The software center isn't the only thing that has been growing in the Bodhi community. Our development team is now in the double digits! We are happy to welcome three new team members:

Mark Sumter & Gregory Sandoval will be aiding in disc development.

and

Stephen Houston is the second Enlightenment developer we are welcoming to the team. He is the creator of ephoto and other E-Goodness.

You can find the new disc available for direct download at source forge or via high speed torrent download. Please give the disc a download and let us know what you think by dropping a comment below or by stopping by our forums.

~Jeff Hoogland

Friday, February 11, 2011

Samsung is backing Linux (SLP)

With Nokia's recent news of jumping off the Linux bandwagon, it makes this Linux user wonder if a couple years down the road if we are going to have any choice other than Android when choosing a Linux based handset. I keep fairly current on news in the FOSS world, but I had never heard about the LiMo Foundation until a few days ago. LiMo, which stands for Linux Mobile, aims to be a unifing force in the mobile Linux world, to quote:

"LiMo Foundation is an industry consortium dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices. Backing from major industry leaders puts LiMo at the Heart of the Mobile Industry and makes LiMo the unifying force in Mobile Linux."

The LiMo Foundation has some pretty big backers including Samsung, NEC, Panasonic, Vodafone, Mozilla, and Verizon. Now why is this post entitled "Samsung is backing Linux" and not NEC, Panasonic, or any of the others listed on the members page? That is because in addition to being a member of LiMo, Samsung is developing their own Linux platform - Samsung Linux Platform or SLP. SLP is based around GTK, EFL and a few other open source projects (I guess with Nokia's recent betrayal thats going to make QT the under dog). In Samsung's SLP overview they provide a handy graphical layout of what is going to go into their Linux Platform:


As with Android and Maemo there are a number of closed source components in the system, but nearly half of the system is Open Source. Most notably in addition to EFL and GTK under Application/System you will see DPKG listed, this brings me personally a sigh of relief as I much prefer dpkg to rpm. Samsung is also investing in the open source products they plan to use, they are the ones that have been funding the development of EFL in the past year.

While there are not any Samsung devices currently on the market running SLP, you can still support Samsung and FOSS by purchasing one of their many Android devices in the mean time or their Wave S8500 which runs on the Unix based Bada platform. Personally I am hoping that by the time I am ready to trade up my N900 a year or so from now Samsung will have some of their own Linux based handsets on the market.

What do you think about this? Is SLP useless fragmentation in the Linux Mobile market or is it important that FOSS advocateds have more than just Android to turn to? Personally I believe it is the latter of the two, competition stimulates innovation.

~Jeff Hoogland

Nokia kicks FOSS to the Curb

If you have been by my blog here before then you might know I really like my Nokia N900. It is one of the most flexible, powerful, open source friendly devices on the market. I bought mine and carry it with pride everyday (because I am an FOSS advocate). When Nokia announced they where merging Maemo into the MeeGo project I openly voiced my support. With a corporate backer like Nokia, Meego was sure to quickly become a forerunner in mobile technology.

Today Nokia revoked that backing.

In one swift move Nokia brought Meego from a potential revolutionary piece of technology to being simply the red headed step child of mobile operating systems. To quote Nokia:

"MeeGo will place increased emphasis on longer-term market exploration of next-generation devices."

I believe this is a kindly worded death sentence for the platform - not many developers are interested in writing software for a "longer-term market exploration" operating system. Long term means less profits, less profits means less applications, less applications means less users... It is a vicious path they have started down. One that eventually leads to the discontinuation of a short lived operating system.

What is the cause of this back seating of Meego? Nokia announced today that they struck a deal with Microsoft that will make Windows Mobile 7 the operating system on a majority of their handsets in the future. It seems some of the doubts I had when Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft employee, took over Nokia where correct. Windows Mobile 7 on Nokia devices means they will be just as restrictive as other propitiatory devices such as Apple's iPhone and RIM's Blackberry. Restricted technologies are not the way of the future and Android's explosive growth is proof of this.

I am not just blowing smoke here, lots of people are upset by this. Including many Nokia employees. In fact Geek.com estimates that close to 1,000 Nokia employees staged a walkout today, opting to use their flex-pay days to take the day off work. Consumers also appear to be taking note of this exchange as well and are responding in a similar manner. Nokia's stock dumped nearly twelve percentage points today:


Speak with your wallet folks, the N900 will be my last Nokia product unless the company does (another) serious 180 some time soon.

The biggest joke at the end of all this? We don't even have a set release date for Nokia Win7 devices (and if Nokia's stock continues to dump at this rate we may never see one). Odds are we will not see them till next year, if not later. Remember Meego handsets where first predicted to release Q4 of 2010, which turned into Q1 of 2011, which has now turned into "some time this year".

What is your take on all of this, is Nokia shooting themselves in the foot with this union or could is possibly yield something good?

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Listen to your Package Manager - It Knows what it is Talking About!

Many people instinctively click through any popup window that appears on their screen when they are trying to accomplish a task. A good deal of these people do not even read the message that is presented to them, they simply look for the Close/OK/Next/Yes button so they can move on with what they are trying to do on their computer. I am fairly certain this behavior has been ingrained into the minds of the masses from having to deal with popup windows when surfing the internet, popups are distracting and are almost never useful.

Almost never.

There was an issue with one of the repositories that Bodhi uses this week. Even thought we are based around Ubuntu 10.04, some of the backporting the team does causes some core Ubuntu packages for 10.04 to no longer be compatible. Not a big deal, we roll our own for these few packages.

One thing we had not counted on was the few backports Ubuntu provides to it's LTS releases and this week one of these backports was the package xserver-xorg-video-geode. As you might have guessed this is one of those packages that is no longer backwards compatibly with Bodhi. In fact, if you went to upgrade this package via apt-get or one of it's GUI front end such as Synaptic you would be presented with a warning message telling you that installing this new package may break your system along with a list of conflicting packages that would be removed (nearly the entire system).

Thats a pretty good warning message, I wasn't terribly concerned about getting this one package corrected right away - I had other more pressing things to work on.

Boy was that a mistake!

Even with the cryptic message about the package possibly breaking your system and only to proceed if you knew exactly what you where doing - I was contacted by half a dozen people who where all wondering why their system was no longer functioning. I didn't realize what they had all done at first, but once I pieced it together I decided it was worth the half hour it was going to take for me to get a Bodhi compatible version of this xorg package into the repository.

The moral of my little story here? Listen to your package manager! (that and I need to stay on top of the lucid backports a little bit better) Whenever you are doing anything on a GNU/Linux system that requires the root password you should be sure to understand everything that is going to be done to the system before agreeing to it. This can save you a lot of headaches and broken machines down the line!

~Jeff Hoogland

Friday, February 4, 2011

Simplifying Offline Application Installation on Linux

I love package managers, they are a fantastic tool that allow systems to save space by having libraries shared between multiple applications and allow the system to be easily updated. Something that can be excessively difficult on many Linux systems is installing software on a computer without an internet connection. If you have never had to do this, I've found it typically goes like this -

1.) Acquire a computer with an internet connection

2.) Download the .deb/.rpm package for the application you want to install. Then download the .deb/.rpm package for every dependency for your application. Then download the .deb/.rpm package for every dependency of the dependencies of your application. Rinse and repeat.

3.) Take the tens of package files you have downloaded and bring them over to your offline system with a flash drive.

4.) Install the packages in the correct order so they all configure/setup properly (you remember which packages depend on which other packages right?)

My question is this: Why is this headache necessary? Simple, it isn't!

One of the things the Bodhi team and I have created are neatly packaged offline application installers. These ".bod" files are a combination shell script and tar archive that when run neatly unzip all the necessary dependencies of a given application and then install the program (and it's dependencies) via the system's package manager. What used to be a giant headache has been simplified down to a few clicks and the entering of a password:






What do you think - something interesting/worthwhile?

~Jeff Hoogland

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Help a Needy Child get a Linux Powered Computer just by Clicking Your Mouse

Today I would like to take a moment to talk an organization that I believe performs a fantastic service to it's community:

The Helios Initiative
The slogan of this group is something I believe in:

"A Child's Exposure to Technology Should Never Be Predicated On The Ability To Afford It"

The Helios Initiative is a not for profit organization, based out of Austin Texas, that restores old, donated computers and gives them free of charge to those that are in need of them. Instead of using costly, restrictive, proprietary software to restore these computers the Helios Initiative uses free open source software.

The donated computers are powered by a Linux based operating system and the latest open source educational software. Technology is essentially in this day and age for a child to be able to exceed at school - I can say with 100% certainty that I would not be the person I am today without the access to computers I had from an early age. I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that could afford such technologies - not every child is so lucky.

Now - to the point of this post. The Helios Initiative has been nominated for an event called "Rock a Charity". Essentially this could be an easy way for the Helios Initiative to earn some extra funding with just a little bit of help from the rest of us. Here is how it works:

"Non profit contestants will have their Facebook page monitored for "like" clicks for a 48 hour period beginning on February 1st at 9 AM CST. At the end of that 48 hour period, the top three charities with the most likes will then be invited to a party on the 18th of February. Any clicks prior to or after this 48 hour window will not count. The contest ends at 9 AM CST on Thursday, February 3rd."

All you have to do is click the Helios Initiative like button on the right side of my page here at any time during that 48 hour period to help out (please note I am posting this at 7am CST). Please spread this to your other facebook friends and via twitter - lets make sure they end up in the top three charities for this contest. It could be the difference between a child having to be embarrassed when they don't know how to use a computer at school and them confidently during in a paper typed in Libre Office.

If you want to be a little bit more active in your support of the Helios Initiative see here.

Many Thanks!
~Jeff Hoogland