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Pleased to meet you

March 14, 2011 1 comment

Linuxfest Northwest 2011 - April 30th-May 1st I’ll be there. You should be there, too.

One of the great things about living where I do is the people by whom I’m surrounded in the FOSS realm. Each community has their peeps that do yeoman’s work on a daily basis to promote Linux and FOSS, and in the Silicon Valley and “over the hill” on Santa Cruz side, we are stocked with great people who do excellent work.

Grant Bowman, as I’ve mentioned before in past blogs, is one of them.

Grant started a discussion on the LUG mailing lists in the Silicon Valley and concludes with this: Is there a “best” way to introduce people to knowing more about computing without limits? Grant’s e-mail eloquently continues in seeking an answer to how we, as Linux/FOSS advocates, can help those who are Linux/FOSS curious experience what we already know is a better way.

We all know there’s not an easy answer to this, and arguably if you get 10,000 people in an arena to answer that question, chances are you’d end up with 12,000 different answers. However, it’s a good issue to discuss to get ideas regarding how to best promote Linux/FOSS with the proviso that there is not a “right,” one-size-fits-all answer.

Putting aside seeking community — going to LUG meetings, for example, and becoming an active member — I’d prefer here to address the one-to-one issue of Linux user introducing a non-user to Linux.

One basis — not the only one, but my own bottom line modus operandi — for determining how best to promote Linux/FOSS is to know why the potential convertee wants to use Linux/FOSS and how he or she plans to use it. Computer experience at this point in the discussion is secondary, though it is something that needs to be addressed early in the discussion.

So I would break the users down into two basic categories: Changers for philosopical reasons and changers for nuts-and-bolts reasons (and I don’t mean “nuts-and-bolts” in a bad sense: What I mean are those who don’t care if their software is “free-as-in-freedom.” They just want to do what they do on their computers to work as they’re accustomed to having it work).

There are others who might fall between these two basic categories — like those who get the philosophical side but focus on the more basic part of having the OS and software “just work” — but for the sake of discussion, let’s just use these two for now.

The inverted pyramid

In the news field, one of the principles of reporting is known as “the inverted pyramid;” an upside-down triangle, actually, where the most important item of the news story (that is, the widest part of the triangle) is at the top, with less important items following in a desending order so, as far as importance goes, the diagram would come to a point at the end where the least important part of the story would exist. The inverted pyramid’s purposes, in journalistic circles, stems from the fact that when there are space considerations in the newspaper — i.e., when the story is too long for the space — the editor can cut from the bottom and what’s lost is not as important as what stays.

How that affects the philosophicals

In the case of those changers who want to use Linux/FOSS for reasons that have to do with not wanting to be chained to EULAs or for reasons revolving around “sticking it to the man,” moreso than anything that has to do with basic functionality, you can start your inverted pyramid with the wide and lofty ideals of free software and how that works. Then you can narrow your discussion down to other principles and maybe functions of how to go about using a Live CD (if they don’t know how to already) and finally reach the tip at the bottom handing him or her the CD and let them know how to reach you if they have questions.

Meanwhile, back with the nuts-and-bolts crowd . . . .

Let’s say that you’re having a discussion with someone who’s giving you the blank, god-will-this-ever-end glazed-over stare while you discuss some of the concepts of free software. That’s a pretty good indication that he or she does not really care about EULAs and the philosophical side of things, and your inverted pyramid doesn’t have to start at the lofty ideals of FOSS. Here you can emphasize some of the functionality of Linux and FOSS programs, with the proviso that “your mileage may vary” (an important point — remember GIMP may not do everything Photoshop can do, but for the amateur photographer, GIMP works just fine). The concepts that the software is “free as in free beer” may also resonate. From there, you narrow your discussion down to how you can try out using Linux/FOSS on with a Live CD, etc., and so on.

Again, these are two extremes where a lot of new users may fall somewhere in between, but some of the more important aspects of introducing and helping new users know and share what we might take for granted.

But bear in mind that when you’re advocating for Linux and FOSS:

  • Know your audience,
  • Bear in mind that while Linux and FOSS benefits everyone, Linux and FOSS are not for everyone, and some may be hesitant and/or may not want to convert (at least at the moment), and
  • Freedom ultimately means being free not to use FOSS if one so desires, which is akin to leading a horse to water and it’s up to the animal whether it’ll drink.
  • I look forward to further discussion on this, and thanks, Grant, for posting this.

    [FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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    Adieu, Mandriva?

    May 10, 2010 Leave a comment

    With not much else to do — I mean, how many times can you go to Best Buy and change all the laptops’ browser settings to open either to Fedora, Ubuntu or FSF? — I thought I’d take a lap around the FOSS news realm. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon this:

    Mandriva is for sale.

    Mon dieu! The times you don’t have a disposable million dollars or two lying around . . .

    My experience with Mandriva is limited — I tried it on several occasions but for some reason it never stuck. Not for lack of quality, of course, but just as a matter of personal non-preference. And I’ve been quick to use Mandriva as a foil in New Years predictions — not out of disrespect but more from the ease of poking fun at the “man” in the name.

    [I found it interesting, too, when I came across why Mandriva changed its name from Mandrake: Apparently it had to do with a conflict with the publisher of the Mandrake the Magician comic strip.]

    Regardless, Mandriva always had a solid community which was very supportive of the Lindependence Project when we did Lindependence 2008 and Lindependence 2009 in Felton. Having worked with people like Adam Williamson — once with Mandriva and now with Red Hat — and Rolf Pedersen, a tireless foot soldier promoting FOSS with Mandriva, I’ve gained a healthy respect for the distro despite the fact I don’t regularly use it.

    One can only hope that the purchaser will continue to allow Mandriva to provide the same quality of distro going forward.

    [FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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    Zonker nails it

    May 6, 2010 Leave a comment

    One of the great things about someone else writing something you wish you had written — other than the fact that you don’t have to write it yourself — is that now, thanks to the Internet, you can just link to an on-line written work and say, “Yeah, what he said.”

    On the issue of getting started with a distro as a contributor — and I hope you are all contributors at some level (and if you’re not, here’s your chance to make up lost ground) — Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier nails it in his latest blog item on the topic.

    Go there now — it’s worth the read. Thanks, Zonk!

    [FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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    Gavin Newsom for lieutenant governor

    May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

    Apologies in advance for this item being specific to the Golden State:

    For those of you who may have missed this several years ago, I ran for statewide office in California. I was the Green Party’s candidate for Insurance Commissioner in 2006 (270,218 votes, 3.2 percent — “What do we have for our departing contestant, Johnny Olsen?”). During that campaign, I picked up the Free/Open Source Software I used for the campaign, as well as the FOSS paradigm which leads me today to be the FOSS advocate that now addresses you as Larry the Free Software Guy.

    So in a nutshell, I gave up partisan politics after that campaign to become the FOSS advocate whose blog you now read. While I have often mentioned to folks — both personally and in correspondence — that I am through with partisan politics in order to promote FOSS, I’m going to change my tune a little this election cycle.

    This year in California, we have a monumentally great opportunity to put a good friend of FOSS in the lieutenant govenor’s office in November (and for Democrats, actually getting him on the ballot during the primary in June).

    San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who fostered an open source software policy in San Francisco earlier this year, looks like he’s heading to become the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor this year.

    As you all know, my voter registration does not affiliate itself with either major political party, and my contempt for many Democrats (see Blue Dogs) is legendary. But Newsom comes to the ballot for lieutenant governor with some serious credentials: As mayor of the world’s greatest city (and it is), he has shown adimrable leadership around environmental and human rights issues, to name two, coupled with guiding The City through some perilous financial straits.

    Plus, he’s a friend of FOSS, who can bring the open source to the halls of Sacramento. What more could FOSS advocates want?

    In addition, the likely Republican candidate — appointed (not incumbent, arguably) Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado — could be second only to Sarah Palin in being the least qualifed person to hold any elected office, let alone one where he’s a heartbeat away from being in charge of California. You’ll not want to get me started on my former state senator. Trust me.

    In any case, if you’re a Democrat, you can vote for Newsom in the primary June 8. Come November, the choice in this race is pretty clear and with Newsom as the candidate for lieutenant governor, I’ll be voting Democrat for state office for the first time in a long time.

    [FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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    And now for 2010

    December 31, 2009 6 comments

    No one is more surprised than I am that in my predictions last year, I actually got one right (namely, Number 9, about Fedora 11 being a great release). But one out of 10 is not a good average and, arguably, I can’t really top last year’s list this year, due to not enough inspirational events on the horizon.

    But will I let 2010 pass without a several timely predictions? Hardly. As 2009 was a banner year for potential happenings that didn’t quite come to pass, this year lacks the inspiration that last year carried. But that would never stop me from delving into a preview into the new year, done again in David Letterman-list style:

    10. 2010 will absolutely, positively, without a doubt be the year of the Linux deskt . . . oh, never mind. The year of the Linux desktop will come along around the same time that there’s a definitive, agreed-upon answer to the question, “What is cloud computing?”

    9. MySQL gets a name change: With the purchase of Sun by Oracle, MySQL won’t be yours, or mine, or anyone else’s SQL for that matter. If anything is certain, it is the Oracle CEO’s now, which is why in 2010 the name of the world’s most popular open source (until recently?) database becomes LarrySQL.

    8. Mr. T tosses his last grenade for World of Warcraft, converts to Battle for Wesnoth: Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a transcript of his side of the phone conversation — “Of course, sucka . . . Mr. T really is a hacka, fool, when he ain’t doin’ cookin’ shows . . . Ah pity the fool who plays World of Warcraft now that I’m into Battle for Wesnoth . . . Sure, I brought along my Mr. T grenade, ’cause I make this game look good!” Murdock!

    7. OpenSUSE changes reptiles: The GEICO gecko replaces the long-standing lizard as the OpenSUSE symbol, and becomes its reptilian spokeslizard. The German distro gets an Australian native in an effort to foster true internationalism.

    6. Linux Mint goes upscale: Having gotten tired of the minty freshness and looking to appeal to more cosmopolitan tastes, Linux Mint will change over the course of the year to something a little more contemporary. It becomes Linux Merlot, with a bouquet that resonates from the north side of the vineyard slope. The distro will go a lot better with most cheeses.

    5. Also, Linux Mint forks into a smaller distro: Linux Mint developers who don’t drink wine, or anything else alcoholic, will fork the distro and make a version that will only run on thin clients, making it . . . say it with me . . . Linux Thin Mint. Monty Python fans continue to roll on the floor at the mere reference.

    4. A farm version of the OLPC XO is developed: The One Laptop Per Child project provides a new version of the nearly indestructable XO laptop that is specifically geared toward those children who live on farms. Rather than calling it the XO, this version is called the EIEIO.

    3. Mandriva creates an educational version: I missed by a mile last year on the prediction that Mandriva would explore its feminine side and release a more sensitive, nurturing distro called Womandriva. So shoot me. This year, Mandriva releases an educational version called Childriva. Count on it.

    2. Sugar on a Stick expands: Sugar on a Stick, otherwise known as the Sugar Learning Platform, leaves the realm of simple USB sticks and thumb drives, and will provide its desktop atop Fedora on other types of “sticks,” like hockey sticks, incense sticks and fish sticks.

    1. The Free Software Foundation expands, finally, into brewing: Walking the walk after talking the talk for so many years, the FSF has always had free software covered, so finally they brew Free Beer (cc) in 2010, a fine Boston lager with a recipe that is released under the GPL. While free as in freedom only — it’s comparably priced with other fine beers — all those free-as-in-freedom microbreweries can fork the brew under their own label, so long as they release their recipes under the GPL.

    Happy New Year to all.

    [FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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    My shortest entry ever

    May 12, 2009 1 comment

    What she said here I completely agree with.

    +1

    [Thanks, Carla]

    [FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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    Hackers: Good – Crackers: Bad

    March 25, 2007 Leave a comment

    It’s interesting how those urban stories become urban legends (no, Bill Gates is not going to give you his fortune if you pass on that e-mail — sheesh) and how myths become become truths when repeated often enough.

    Last week, the paper at which I work had a headline on a story that said that the U.S. had the most hackers in the world. Under my definition of hacker this would be welcome news, but the article continued to implicate those who “hacked” as people who did illegal things via computers.

    Those aren’t hackers. Most of you know who Eric Raymond is, but for those of you who don’t, the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” — arguably a defining book regarding open source software — has something to say about hackers; real hackers, that is.

    Raymond says that hackers — “a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing mini-computers and the earliest ARPAnet experiements” — originated the term as a positive one. Hackers built the Internet, Raymond continues, made Unix what it is today, run Usenet, and generally make the World Wide Web work.

    He continues later to say, “There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren’t. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers . . . . Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them . . . .”

    Raymond continues later: ” . . . [B]eing able to break security doesn’t make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer.”

    Hackers build things, and crackers break them.

    I think about this every time I look at the Free Software Foundation business-card disk that doubles as my membership card, especially at the signature by Richard Stallman (I asked him to autograph it, sheepishly, after the stellar speech he gave at the University of California last month) which says, “Happy hacking!” To be a hacker would be a badge of honor I’d gladly wear.

    [FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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