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An appeal to reason

March 7, 2012 13 comments

A little over an hour ago, I was giving the final read on what was originally this blog item, under a different title and with a metric ton or two of humor, cutting criticism and the high quality of commentary that you’d expect from this blog. It was in derisive and cutting response to what Mark Shuttleworth considers “innovation” as outlined in this morning’s ZDNet blog item by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Having the ability to use the English language to slice and dice the ridiculous with the accuracy of a Benihana chef with a complete set of Ginsu knives — whether it’s an idea or a person or both — is both a blessing and a curse. The Mark served up some pretty meaty fastballs right in my wheelhouse — a baseball metaphor now that we’re in spring training — and if he puts them where I can hit them, they’re gone. And I tattooed them, right into the next time zone.

But reading the blog item over again before deleting it, I felt like Bill O’Reilly. That alone forced me to take a shower and rewrite this blog item.

In any case, rather than put you through an eye-rolling, arm-waving rant on this screen about how The Mark’s vision of reality differs from — well — reality (to say nothing of his uncanny knack for hyperbole and a penchant for exaggeration, followed by responses to criticism that redefine ad hominem), I’m just going to appeal to reason and let the reader decide.

Quoting Shuttleworth from the ZDNet blog: “Yes, we are moving beyond the desktop, but we are also innovating to make the desktop itself, better.”

No, you’re not, Mark. Here’s why.

Unity: This is a one-size-fits-all solution to a situation that requires a wide range of flexibility, unless of course you don’t consider the user interface for a tablet any different than that of a 17-inch monitor, and everything between. How this can even be remotely considered innovation when, for all intents and purposes, it’s a round peg trying to go into different shaped holes?

Wait for the improvement? No, thanks. I tried Unity for an entire day, and I wanted to like it. I spent a couple of hours tweaking it, reading wikis (thanks, Google) and getting it to where it would best work for me. But it got to a point where its functionality failed on so many levels, in large part to a UI that was not suited to my hardware. I wanted very badly to say something nice about it — “Um . . . it’s a nice color” — but I even couldn’t do that. Unity is a digital cowpie, and no matter how many improvements you make to a cowpie, it’s still a cowpie.

As a result, I’m glad to use Xubuntu on one of the lab’s machines, which is the one distro in the ‘buntu universe that shines.

HUD: Head-Up Display — no, I’m not going to ask “head-up” what? Nope, I’m not going there. Having tried this (HUD, that is, not . . . um, never mind), I can’t see how this is an improvement: I have to type the name of a program I want in order to get the program I want. Couldn’t I do this — oh, I don’t know — from the command line? And if so, doesn’t this make HUD a GUI for the command line?

A more important question: This is innovation? The only way this is innovation is that Canonical had this ill-advised, counterproductive concept of doing things this way before anyone else did. Being the first to do something counterproductive is not innovation; arguably, it’s regression.

If you like Unity and it works for you, use it. Like HUD? Same thing. I have no problem with people using what they want — that’s a key to using Free/Open Source Software — and you should be glad that FOSS provides a wide range of choices on many levels, including the user interface.

But innovation? No, that’s not a good word for what Canonical is doing with Unity and HUD. Or at least it’s not a word that describes it.

(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!

Counting to four

March 1, 2012 8 comments

The recent FOSS hubbub-in-a-teapot has Linus Torvalds ranting about security — again (remember the “masturbating monkeys”?). The rant deals with having to use root passwords on OpenSUSE for basic daily usage, which Linus find a bit much and says so with inspired prose.

Arguably, he has a point, or several. How he makes it, though, is a bit over-the-top.

Pot, meet kettle. I have a reputation for being quick on the proverbial draw when it comes to things that annoy me — to the point where my Santa Cruz Sentinel colleague Tony Solis has made a chart designating the “Larry Threat Level” on any particular newsroom day. And if you permit me a Captain Obvious moment, writing when you’re furious is not the best thing to do. I’ve had to backpedal on more than one occasion because the white-hot prose that flew from the keyboard here sounded great in the fury of anger, but later it paled in comparison.

So I don’t mind so much that Linus went off like a Roman candle about this incident. What I do mind a bit — and I think it’s way beneath him, no matter how annoyed he is — is this line from his “venting,” as he puts it: “So here’s a plea: if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace ‘my kids’ with ‘sales people on the road’ if you think your main customers are businesses) need to have the root password to access some wireless network, or to be able to print out a paper, or to change the date-and-time settings, please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place.”

Calling security-obsessed programmers “masturbating monkeys” is one thing. Suggesting suicide for something that, at best, is an annoyance that can easily be fixed is akin to spraying down someone with automatic gunfire after they kick you in the shin.

Truth in advertising: I have a stake in this, sort of. Years ago, a friend of mine had a spouse who commited suicide. On a variety of levels, it was extremely traumatic for family and friends, and it’s not something you fix from the command line or by writing better code. It’s permanent.

When things annoy me — which is more often than I’d like — I go walk in the woods. Fortunately for me, I live within walking distance of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where I go to put things in perspective; 200-foot trees can do that. Linus, I know redwoods are native to northwestern Oregon, so a walk among the trees might be good idea before hitting the keyboard to vent. Or dive, since I know you’re a scuba diver (the Pacific is not far from Portland, if I remember correctly).

So Linus, and everyone else, it’s also good to take Mark Twain’s advice: “When angry count four; when very angry, swear.”

(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!

What I do

February 23, 2012 3 comments

Yesterday started out in uncharacteristically annoying fashion and, to be honest, I was counting on it to make a thrilling comeback to become a typically normal day sometime before mid-afternoon.

No such luck.

One of the several things that made it a day to shake one’s head at and try to forget as soon as it’s over is a form letter I got from the Linux Foundation rejecting my request to attend the Collaboration Summit. “If you would like us to reconsider our decision, please email us at and provide more specific details about your job function and why you would like to attend.”

Email? Oh, I’ll do one better, Linux Foundation.

In reality, Linux Foundation, if you think that there are others more worthy than me to attend the Collaboration Summit, I’m completely OK with that. Additionally, not going to the Collaboration Summit — as much as I’d like to attend — allows me to rearrange time that I can put toward attending another Linux event elsewhere in the country.

But here’s why I think I should be allowed to attend the Collaboration Summit, and I’d be grateful if you’d keep this in mind for future applications for other Linux Foundation events.

I started using Linux in 2006 — the PowerPC version of Debian on an Indigo iMac G3 — while campaigning for Insurance Commissioner in California as the Green Party candidate. You can blame Cameron Spitzer, then the Greens’ IT guy, for showing me Linux and the Free/Open Source Software paradigm.

Since the end of that campaign where I just missed being elected by a paltry 47 percent of the electorate, I have been an advocate for Linux and FOSS. I formed the Cabrillo College GNU/Linux Users Group in 2007 while attending school there. In 2008, I organized an event called Lindependence in Felton, California, where the town had three opportunities in July of that year to try out Linux. We gave away 300 live CDs of various distros in the course of the month and we estimate that we could have converted between 30-40 people to the ranks of the Linux users.

The offshoot of Lindependence — the Felton Linux Users Group — thrives in our area, and is a regular attendee at farmers markets in the Santa Cruz County area, providing “organic software” free of proprietary additives and preservatives.

In 2009, I formed a partnership that became Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy providing Linux and FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. Our client roster is small — an asbestos abatement company, two restaurants, an electrical contractor and a grocery store — so we don’t pull in Gatesian or Jobsian numbers on our ledger. But we do OK.

There are other things I do on behalf of Linux: I’m the publicity co-chair for the Southern California Linux Expo, the largest community-run Linux show in the country. I held what others (not me) describe as a “leadership position” in the Fedora Project, including serving as an Ambassador mentor. These days, I primarily work with a distro called CrunchBang, a Debian derivative, which I find provides the best Linux experience for any user choosing to try it.

I also write this blog, “Larry the Free Software Guy,” and its distro-specific sibling, “Larry the CrunchBang Guy.” The former is commentary on FOSS issues of the day, written with what I hope is always a high degree of insight and humor.

That may not be enough, but that will have to do. I also have a family — my daughter, now 14, has been giving Linux presentations for two years as well — and a full-time job, so I make no apologies if this does not clear the proverbial high bar set for Collaboration Summit admission.

Again, I don’t mind if you want to give the pass to the summit to someone you think is more deserving — and there are thousands of folks out there in the FOSS world who are more deserving than me. I get that, and I would completely agree. But you should know that I’m not your standard-issue casual Linux user, either.

Oh, and one more thing, Linux Foundation: Thanks for all the great work you do.

[EPILOGUE: The address events@linuxfoundation.org -- which is included in the email sent with the rejection as a link at which to appeal the Linux Foundation's decision -- does not work, and I have the bounced e-mails to prove it. Is it events@linuxfoundation.COM maybe? Maybe.]

(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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