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Passing it along

September 1, 2013 14 comments

Last week, one of my news colleagues posted on social media that her laptop had died, and her two boys were in need (so said their Silicon Valley school) of more than just the cheap tablet she had bought recently at a local big-box electronics store.

About the same time I read of her situation, I had been working on a ThinkPad T30 with a misbehaving wireless card — no, “misbehaving” is too kind, as it was definitely on strike — and I thought it might be a good idea to pass along this old guy, adding an old-school PCMCIA wireless card, so the boys would have something to use for the upcoming school year.

Calls were made, thanks were given, and my colleague — a columnist who works from home “over the hill” in San Jose — will pick up the T30 on Wednesday.

This old T30 was once my “road warrior” before I got the ThinkPad T60 that now fills this role. I think of the T30 in the same way that Neil Young thinks of his instrument when he sings “This Old Guitar” — “This old guitar ain’t mine to keep / It’s mine to play for a while” — and while the T30 may not be ideal for a couple of kids going back to grade school this month, it’ll do until something better comes along.

So I added memory I had lying around, wiped the drive and set out for a distro that I think would be good for them. Knowing they have used Windows before and are used to icons and drop-down menus, I counted out both Unity and GNOME desktop environments right off the bat. Also, while splitting hairs here, I also passed up CrunchBang, which is Debian under the Openbox window manager, despite the fact I think beginners would easily adapt to it.

I’d like them to have a good Linux experience right off the bat, so I thought a lot about what to install on the T30.

I finally decided on, wait for it, Fedora 19 Xfce.

Why? A couple of reasons right off the bat: First, I get that I’m quite possibly the only person on the entire planet that acutally doesn’t think that Fedora is solely a “bleeding edge distro only for the most brilliant and cutting-edge Linux users” — I firmly believe that anyone with a few IQ points to rub together, to say nothing of bright kids, can use it. Second, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to give the boys something with icons and menus; in other words, something that was not entirely foreign to them.

Choosing a desktop environment was not easy. Though I only have it on one machine in the lab, I like KDE and all the great developments KDE brings to FOSS. But I am way more familiar with Xfce and have used it more often; my second distro back in 2006 was the Dapper Drake version of Xubuntu. So it’s a matter of convenience: If anything goes wrong, I’d be able to help quickly. I also installed Flash — Fedora doesn’t come with it natively, to their free-software credit, but it’s necessary especially in a school setting until Gnash is up to speed — a necessary evil maybe, but still necessary. So it’s there.

So on Wednesday, the cat’s out of the bag: They get Schrodinger’s Cat with the Xfce desktop on a T30 with a collection of stickers on it that rivals any NASCAR racer. They’ll get the SELinux lecture upon my handing it over to them, and a few tips about how to handle the the flashing light of the Automatic Bug Reporting Tool.

I’m also going to give them a copy of “Snake Wrangling for Kids” with the hope that maybe one of them will like Python enough to start fiddling with it.

Let’s see how this goes.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

The new cool

August 25, 2013 2 comments

[First things first: Some consider today the 22nd "birthday" of the Linux kernel, or at least the anniversary of the legendary e-mail from that Linus guy holed up in his room somewhere in Helsinki. What started with that announcement, augmented by subsequent kernels coupled with various GNU tools added to the mix over time, brings you today to the operating system most, if not all, of you are using right now. So feel free to take some time to keep this in mind today.]

While much of the FOSS world over the past few weeks was either spellbound or insulted by a doomed-to-fail crowdfunding campaign by a large company for a concept smartphone/computer combo, a significant event took place earlier this month that, for all intents and purposes, flew under the radar.

That may have been by design, for reasons I’ll get into later. But various birds-of-a-blue-feather flew in to Charleston, South Carolina, a few weekends ago for Fedora Flock.

For the last eight years, Fedora users and developers have gathered at the Fedora Users and Developers conference, or FUDCon. As an aside, this acronym always grated on my nerves — I get the concept of Con = anti, thus the anti-FUD, but I always thought it sounded goofy.

They’ve taken the concept of gathering together to uplift FOSS a step further at Fedora. Flock is essentially FUDCon 2.0, a brand new conference where Fedora contributors can come together, discuss new ideas, work to make those ideas a reality, and continue to promote the core values of the Fedora community: Freedom, Friends, Features, and First. But in this manifestation of the event, Flock opened up not only to its own community, but also opened up to a growing open hardware community in an effort to create better things together.

Clearly, a gathering of this magnitude only helps to promote FOSS development which in turn helps the wider FOSS community when the results of its development are readily available for use. In addition, the face-to-face aspect should never be discounted, and there’s clearly much in the way of value when you can talk to a team member in person rather than through the ether of an IRC “developer conference.”

That’s where Fedora’s coolness comes in; a cool that’s always been there, but one that should be getting the recognition it deserves.

One of the telling aspects about the increasing coolness of Fedora (and one that made me regret not being in attendance) was this tweet, from Michael DeHaan (the retweet arrow, of course, is mine):

flock

As I mentioned earlier, how did this happen to fly under the proverbial radar?

What used to drive me up the wall and across the ceiling when I was a Fedora Ambassador years ago was the fact that Fedora has never trumpeted its accomplishments as much as it could; in complete contrast to the me-first, us-uber-alles, history-rewriting distro with too many of the same vowel in its name. My guess is that it’s not ultimately important to Fedora to self-promote, but rather it seems what’s important to Fedora is to get things done.

So Flock was promoted within the Fedora community, and with a round of various reports on social media and a couple of stories in the FOSS press, that was the amount of the publicity.

But the real story was that work got done — important work, and work that will benefit everyone across the FOSS spectrum and across software-to-hardware boundaries.

And that, more than anything, is the ultimate in cool.

=====

Well, because I mentioned, at least indirectly, Ubuntu Edge at the beginning, it is my sworn duty to post this. Now that many of you are getting your money back from the failed Ubuntu Edge campaign, why not give a donation to a project that really makes a difference? Give instead to:

Reglue (especially Reglue, which is creating a new generation of FOSS users as you read this sentence)

Partimus (bringing Linux boxes to classrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area, or any other project like it)

CrunchBang (or your favorite distro, if it accepts donations)

Tux4Kids (the folks who bring you Tux Paint and other educational FOSS programs across platforms)

Or even taking a look at the list of projects at Software for the Public Interest and choose one of those.

One more time, with feeling: The final round of FOSS Force’s Best Personal Linux and FOSS Blog poll ends tomorrow. So, if you haven’t done so already and are so inclined, vote here. It’s an honor to be in such great company on this ballot, and I hope when comparing blogs you’ll find this one to be worthy of your vote. Thanks.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Tempest, meet teapot

July 16, 2013 5 comments

Yes, I can read a calendar. I know it’s only Tuesday, not Sunday, but I thought this might not wait until Sunday.

The “Linus being Linus” issue comes up occasionally, and often with a hue and cry about how mean, nasty and ugly he can be. I’ve called him on things in the past — not that he cares (he doesn’t), but at the time I thought it merited discussion. But back to the latest edition of the blow up, which can be found here, here and here, and you’ll see wherein lies the rub.

Tempest, meet teapot.

This morning on a forum on which I’m a moderator, this issue came up with a statement that Linus Torvalds is “not the hero we may want, but the hero deserve.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do want to talk a little bit about the “hero” thing.

First, in the links above, I can see the merit to both sides of the argument. I fully agree with Linus when he says, and I’m paraphrasing, that we’re not here to please others but, in fact, to do a job and we’re not all here to make each other comfortable. Be who you are and I’ll be who I am and let’s get this done. I can also see Sarah Sharp’s point where behavior interpreted as intimidation and verbal abuse have no place in the process.

It’s a tough call.

So it brings us to where “hero” enters, or doesn’t enter, into it. I respect and honor Linus Torvalds for what he has done, but he’s not my hero (neither is Richard Stallman, but we won’t be dealing with him here). Linus is just a really smart guy who, apparently, has little time for petty nonsense; you might find how he handles that is unsavory. But I don’t because he wants to get things done. He’s not perfect, but he lives with whatever flaws he might have (as we all do, or at least should) and moves forward.

Let’s not forget we’re all here because of what he did in 1991, and that has made all the difference in the world as far as Free/Open Source Software is concerned.

Seriously. Think about the time when some people 22 years ago considered the Linux kernel to be nice, but a stopgap solution until Hurd gets developed.

Then ask yourself this: How utterly, completely, royally, painfully and absolutely fucked would we all be — the entire digital world groaning under the oppressive yoke of Microsoft for loss of a free alternative — if the “prevailing wisdom” had been to wait for Hurd, which finally might be ready, if Debian Hurd is any indication? Arguments for any of the *BSD variants swooping in to save the day in Linux’s place are welcome, but the point remains that without these viable alternatives the entire digital world, and arguably the real world as we know it, would be far worse off than it is now because of Linus’ kernel.

There’s a misconception that the FOSS world is one big kumbaya with hugs all around, daisies floating down from heaven and endless Grateful Dead concerts where Phish or Widespread Panic open for them. Nope. It’s a better world, true, but it’s still the real world where things have to get done and sometimes motivation — even if it’s portrayed as a in-your-face, boot-to-butt modality — still needs implementing by people who have no time for nonsense.

There are thousands of heroes in the wider FOSS realm. They are those who do the work, those 10 percent who chop the wood and carry the water, in a digital sense, for the other 90 percent who range from not ready to contribute — but ideally and hopefully will once they are up to speed — to those who are too lazy to contribute. Today’s heroes in FOSS are not only those in the panthenon of Linux or GNU/Linux — not only the Linus Torvaldses, not only the Richard Stallmans, and certainly not the Mark Shuttleworths (especially not the Mark Shuttleworths) that get put on pedastals by themselves or by others — but those who get the job done. They are far too many to mention here, but you know who they are by their actions, not by the hype.

Want to find a hero? Look in the mirror, and contribute to your favorite project or projects if you’re not doing so already.

See you Sunday.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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