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Changing horses in midstream

August 27, 2014 1 comment

OK, let’s not make a big deal about this.

A few months ago, Christine Hall at FOSS Force asked me if I’d like to write for her site. I mulled it over for awhile. After seeing my good friend Ken Starks get a significant amount of exposure from his regular columns there, I thought I’d follow suit.

So now you’re going to see a midweek item every week — possibly more — from yours truly at FOSS Force. While I will still continue to write this blog from time to time, I’d like for you to follow me over to FOSS Force for some of the best coverage of what’s happeneing around the Free/Open Source Software and hardware paradigm (including the excellent commentary you’ve always gotten here).

The first installment, in case you missed it, is here.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora 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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Toys and tools

August 17, 2014 2 comments

LibreOffice plans to come out with an Android version in their efforts to bring their great office suite to the mobile realm, hopefully aimed at Android-based tablets and nothing smaller than that.

No one else has asked yet, so I guess I’ll have to.

Why?

LJ-Extremist-red-stampDon’t get me wrong. I love LibreOffice and use it extensively. The progress that LibreOffice has made in bringing a viable replacement for what passes as office software out of Redmond is nothing short of remarkable. But I think that moving LibreOffice toward mobile is a burdensome load placed on improving development on more useable form factors — form factors like laptops or desktops, which were designed specifically for programs like LibreOffice.

Allow me to tip my hand and point out that you really can’t get much work done on an Android tablet or a Android smartphone, or any other tablet or smartphone for that matter. The form factor wasn’t really designed for it. For all intents and purposes — and marketing types will back me up on this — a tremendous majority of tablets and smartphones are used primariy for very basic digital functions like Web surfing, e-mail, texting, and watching your favorite movies thanks to Netflix. In other words, tablets and smartphones are toys, and LibreOffice wants folks to use them as a tool.

Aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say, using the LibreOffice word processor on a laptop.

Sure, it can be done: You can use a tablet for word processing or presentation-making, if necessary. But that begs this comparison — you wouldn’t try to cut down a redwood with a pocket knife. With enough effort you can do it, of course, but why would you when you should probably use a tool more appropriate for the job?

It is akin to using Vim or Emacs on Android — it exists and when I had an Android phone, I tried downloading both and using them. Bear in mind that although the phone had a keyboard — a HTC G2 that I passed down to my daughter after getting a ZTE Open with Firefox OS — both Vim and Emacs were hilariously unworkable on such a small form factor. Again, they may work on a tablet, hopefully, but the point remains that if you are doing something important, use the right tools.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora 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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We’re everywhere

August 3, 2014 1 comment

My good buddy Ken Starks is never at a loss for a good Linux tale.

A master at putting Linux boxes in front of underprivileged kids in Texas through Reglue, Ken is also a master of weaving a folksy story in the tradition of other Texas wordsmiths like Jim Hightower (oooh, he’s going to hate me for that), and his latest installment on FOSS Force is one shining example.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait. As is usually Ken’s standard fare, it’s a good story.

LJ-Extremist-red-stampKen’s FOSS Force item puts the exclamation point on the fact that Linux users are everywhere, whether any of us have had direct involvement or not in introducing someone to it. Not only that, it accents the fact that the general reach of Linux is much further than the arm’s length we expect it to be when we hand someone a live disk or live USB stick and give them some instructions on how to use it.

Many of us who advocate for the adoption of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) have been waiting for the day when we can say, “Yeah, we’re ready for prime time.”

So, yeah, we’re ready for prime time.

When the Felton Linux Users Group hosted the table promoting FOSS as “organic software” (no artificial additives or preservatives, all natural 1’s and 0’s) at the Felton Farmers Market in the past, we would encounter many Linux users who were introduced by friends or neighbors. These were people we know from our town — it’s not very big — and for whatever reason they had for not coming to meetings, they used Linux and were happy with it.

It’s not perfect. You still have to pay attention to your hardware and software when using Linux, much in the same way you pay attention to your house as a do-it-yourselfer who frequently haunts Home Depot or Lowe’s. As mentioned with mantra-like frequency in this blog, Linux and FOSS work best for those who consider hardware as more than just a toy or a diversion, and paying even a marginal amount of attention to it, not to mention learning some of the most basic maintenance practices, pays huge dividends.

So we’re everywhere.

ONE MORE THING: Speaking of friends, Don Marti posted an interesting blog item where he asks if you’re seeing buttons on his page. Are you? If you are, you need to get Disconnect or Privacy Badger (Shameless plug: I use Privacy Badger and I think it’s fantastic — thanks, Electronic Frontier Foundation).

As a Privacy Badger user, I get a small button saying “Privacy Badger has replaced this button.”

Good exercise, Don. Thanks for posting it.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora 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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Looking out over the horizon

July 6, 2014 3 comments

The last couple of weeks have been filled with resume-sending, waiting by the phone for the resumes to do their trick, and a trip to Arizona for a plethora of family reasons (wife went to do some New Age thing in Sedona while daughter visited friends in Phoenix — heck, I even got a phone interview with a tech company there). But while I was driving around the Southwest, a few things crossed the proverbial radar that deserve special mention, like . . .

Congratulate me, I’m an “extremist”
: And give yourself a good pat on the back, too, because if you’re a Linux Journal reader, the NSA thinks you are an “extremist,” too. Kyle Rankin reports on the site on the eve of Independence Day — irony much? — that the publication’s readers are flagged for increased surveillance.

LJ-Extremist-red-stampThat includes — oh, I don’t know — just about everyone involved to some degree with Free/Open Source Software and Linux (and yes, Richard Stallman, that would also include GNU/Linux, too), from the noob who looked up “network security” to the most seasoned greybeard.

Rankin writes, “One of the biggest questions these new revelations raise is why. Up until this point, I would imagine most Linux Journal readers had considered the NSA revelations as troubling but figured the NSA would never be interested in them personally. Now we know that just visiting this site makes you a target. While we may never know for sure what it is about Linux Journal in particular, the Boing Boing article speculates that it might be to separate out people on the Internet who know how to be private from those who don’t so it can capture communications from everyone with privacy know-how.”

So, a quick note to our friends in the main office of the NSA in Maryland, where someone has drawn the unfortunate assignment of reading this (my apologies for not being a more exciting “extremist”) because . . . well, you know . . . I’m an “extremist” using Linux. Please pass this run-on sentence up your chain of command: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That’s the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in case you hadn’t noticed.

One more thing: Linux Journal webmaster Katherine Druckman (sorry, the term “webmistress,” as noted on the LJ site, needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history) says that, yeah, maybe readers are a little extreme and asks readers to join them in supporting “extremist” causes like Free/Open Source Software and hardware, online freedom, and the dissemination of helpful technical knowledge by adding the graphic featured above (it comes in red, black, or white) to your site, your social media, or wherever you deem fit.

On a more positive note . . .

Introducing Xiki: Command-line snobs, welcome to the future. In a Linux.com article, Carla Schroder introduces Xiki, an interactive and flexible command shell 10 years in the making. It’s a giant leap forward in dealing with what some consider the “black magic” of the command line, but Carla points out another, more significant, use for the software.

Carla writes, “When I started playing with Xiki it quickly became clear that it has huge potential as an interface for assistive devices such as Braille keyboards, wearable devices like high-tech glasses and gloves, prosthetics, and speech-to-text/text-to-speech engines, because Xiki seamlessly bridges the gap between machine-readable plain text and GUI functions.”

It could be the next big thing in FOSS and deserves a look.

Another day, another distro: Phoronix reported last week a peculiar development which either can be considered yet another Linux distro on the horizon or a bad joke.

According to the article, Operating System U is the new distro and the team there wants to create “the ultimate operating system.” To do that, the article continues, the distro will be based on Arch with a modified version of the MATE desktop and will use — wait for it — Wayland (putting aside for a moment that MATE doesn’t have Wayland support, but never mind that). But wait, there’s more: Operating System U also plans to modify the MATE Desktop to make it better while also developing a new component they call Startlight, which pairs the Windows Start Button with Apple’s Spotlight.

The team plans a Kickstarter campaign later this month in an attempt to raise $150,000. A noble effort or reinventing the wheel? I’d go with the latter. Our friends at Canonical have dumped a ton of Mark Shuttleworth’s money into trying to crack the desktop barrier and, at this point, they have given up to follow other form factors. Add to this an already crowded field of completely adequate and useable desktop Linux distros that would easily do what Operating System U sets out to do, and you have to wonder about the point of this exercise.

Additionally, for a team portraying itself to be so committed to open source, there seems to be a disconnect of sorts around what community engagement entails. A telling comment in the article is posted by flexiondotorg — and if it’s the person who owns that site, it’s Martin Wimpress of Hamshire, England, an Arch Linux Trusted User, a member of the MATE Desktop team, a GSoC 2014 mentor for openSUSE and one of the Ubuntu MATE Remix developers.

Martin/flexiondotorg says this: “I have a unique point of view on this. I am an Arch Linux TU and MATE developer. I am also the maintainer for MATE on Arch Linux and the maintainer for Ubuntu MATE Remix.

“None of the indivuals involved with Operating System U have approached Arch or MATE, nor contributed to either project, as far as I can tell. I’d also like to highlight that we (the MATE team) have not completed adding support for GTK3 to MATE, although that is a roadmap item due for completion in MATE 1.10 and a precursor to adding Wayland support.

“I can only imagine that the Operating System U team are about to submit some massive pull-requests to the MATE project what with the ‘CEO’ proclaiming to be such an Open Source enthusiast. If Operating System U are to be taken seriously I’d like to see some proper community engagement first.”

Proper community engagement — what a concept!

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora 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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Start spreadin’ the news

June 7, 2014 2 comments

I want to be a part of this, New York, New York.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos recently introduced the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) that, if passed by the City Council, would require the City to look first to open source software before purchasing proprietary software.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and chairs the Council’s government operations committee, also introduced the Civic Commons Act, embracing the notion that government should be sharing technology resources by setting up a portal for agencies and other government entities to collaboratively purchase software.

“Free and open-source software is something that has been used in private sector and in fact by most people in their homes for more than a decade now, if not a generation,” Kallos said in an article on the political Web site Gotham Gazette. “It is time for government to modernize and start appreciating the same cost savings as everyone else.”

If FOSS can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.

The Web site nextcity.org outlines some of the legislation that’s currently on the New York City Council radar, with some insights from Kallos as well.

Like, “Our government belongs to the people and so should its software.”

European cities like Munich and Barcelona have already shown the benefits of using FOSS in municipal governments. While he was mayor of San Francisco, California’s Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also got the ball rolling for FOSS in the City by the Bay. There are numerous other examples of how the free/open source paradigm has provided a shift — hugely for the better — in the societies it touches.

These two bills — FOSSA and the Civic Commons Act — hold huge promise not only in the wide range of benefits that FOSS will provide the local government, but it will also show how important to society, generally speaking, FOSS is to the wider world.

Their adoption and implementation in New York — perhaps the world’s greatest city — would signal a quantum leap for those who advocate for the free/open source philosophy and strive for its implementation to create a better world.

So thank you, Councilman Ben Kallos, for going to bat for Free/Open Source Software, and you have my support from 2,967 miles away. Consider done anything I can do from such a distance, if anything.

It’s up to you, New York, New York.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora 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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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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    Another Saturday Night

    August 14, 2010 1 comment

    Amid the recent — and completely minor — hubbub around politics injected into Linux User Group discussions on the Berkeley LUG mailing list, it’s interesting to see how FOSS and GNU/Linux can bring people of different political stripes together.

    Exhibit A: Ken Starks and me.

    Ken and I put together Lindependence 2008, an effort that brought Linux and FOSS to Felton, California, through a series of miniature GNU/Linux and FOSS expos at the Felton Presbyterian Church hall in July of 2008. Various distros — Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu and Debian, to name four — had tables set up at Lindependence, as well as FOSS programs like OpenOffice.org. Representatives from each of the distros and programs had representatives on hand, and the idea was to convert the town to Linux and FOSS.

    Ken, a Texan, is an Operation Desert Storm vet and as Rebublican as you can get; a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Those who know me know that I’m an unapologetic lefty no longer affiliated with any political party, and many of you are already tired of hearing me tell of my Green Party candidacy for statewide office in California (for those who aren’t keeping score at home: In 2006, I was the Green candidate for Insurance Commissioner and got the most votes of any Green statewide that year — 270,218 votes, 3.2 percent).

    But recently, I was looking at some clips from video that a San Francisco filmmaker, the Digital Tipping Point’s Christian Einfeldt, shot on Lindependence 2008 featuring Ken and me, and thinking about how despite our differences, those of different political views can work together for FOSS and GNU/Linux, even though each is approaching it from different directions — ranging from either from a purely libertarian (small “l” to describe the philosophy, not the capital “L” political party) perspective to from the anti-corporate, anarchist (in the true sense of the word) paradigm.

    [Ken and I, of course, fall somewhere in between, far from either end, of both extremes.]

    In watching some of the clips that Christian had shot at Lindepdence 2008, I found one where I said something to the effect that I would never talk to Ken if it weren’t for our shared passion for FOSS and Linux, as he would say (GNU/Linux as I would say), because of our political differences.

    I’d like to publicly take that back.

    Thanks to this experience, I have since been convinced that you can work across political divisions to achieve a common goal, i.e., Linux and FOSS adoption, and as a result I welcome the opportunity to work with those with whom I may not share a political philosophy.

    Despite our political differences, Ken and I worked well in getting Lindependence 2008 going. Further, I’m proud to serve on the board of a project that Ken chairs, the HeliOS Project, which provides Linux-based computers to underprivileged kids in the Austin, Texas, area.

    In conclusion, there’s a lesson to be learned here, for the observant.

    [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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