To iPad or not to iPad (or, why FOSS Activists are poor spokespeople)
Apr 4th, 2010 by scaredpoet

Those of you who have been following my site for a while know that I’ve had a bit of a transformation occur over the past three years in terms of my opinion of Apple products. When the iPhone was first announced in January of 2007, I pretty much vowed that I would never get such a piece of junk. I even re-christened it, in childish anti-fanboy fashion.  Everyone from site viewers to my own girlfriend heard my endless rantings about how this was going to be a totaly flop and why my Windows Mobile device was just fine enough for me, kthnx.

Well, that lasted all of a month after the iPhone actually hit stores.  And ever since then, I’ve paid penance for my misdeed buy buying the newest and coolest iPhone every time Steve Jobs decides to tweak the damned thing.

So, it would stand to reason that when the iPad came out, I would be a little more cautious.  And in fact, I was.   Although I was once again highly skeptical of the iPad, I said nothing on here, and pretty much kept my poker face on until I could get my hands on one.  Sure enough, i fell under Apple’s spell again.  Almost.

I haven’t bought one yet.  But I’d say I’m on the fence about whether I should get one for a very important reason: my Macbook Pro was recently stolen, leaving me (at least temporarily) laptopless.  And now I’m stuck in a dilemna: should I blow a ton of cash, load up the credit card and buy one the new MacBook Pros when they next get a refresh?  Or, will an iPad give me just enough (at considerably less cost) when I’m mobile to keep me going until I’m back at home doing serious computing on my desktop?

One thing is for sure: I am not happy with some of the editorializing people are doing about this product. To whit: this Freetard on Boinboing who is telling people not only why he isn’t getting an iPad, but why you should be a responsible consumer and not get one too.

I believe—really believe—in the stirring words of the Maker Manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Screws not glue. The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better. If you wanted your kid to grow up to be a confident, entrepreneurial, and firmly in the camp that believes that you should forever be rearranging the world to make it better, you bought her an Apple ][+.

But with the iPad, it seems like Apple’s model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of “that’s too complicated for my mom” (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn’t too complicated for their poor old mothers).

This is where Free Software advocates  annoy me, and where they fail in the message every time.  It’s understandable that they have strong opinions and fervently embrace their ideas to the point where it’s a religion.  But calling the people you’re trying to appeal to a bunch of scatterbrained, mindless sheep is not the way to win them over.

I love free software.  When I’m not on my mac, I’m using Linux (specifically, ubuntu, which I highly recommend).  But I also understand that not every single thing that I buy, or that works well for that matter, is going to be completely open and tweakable.  Sometimes the best stuff is designed and built by people, and even business, who intend to make money, and doing that requires at least a partial closing of their architecture to users’ prying eyes.

Some people refuse to buy such products.  More power to them!  I wish them luck endlessly updating their configuration files and recompiling their linux kernel for the umpteenth time.  I on the other, sometimes prefer to use products that allow me to do actual work. And it would appear that Apple’s products, closed as they may be, permit me to do that with a minimum of fuss.  I challenged the free software community to permit people like me to always be able to do the same on their platforms.  After decades of development, they just aren’t there yet,

Linux on your cell phone. Or, is it?
Aug 12th, 2009 by scaredpoet

Android Logo

There seems to be a lot of open source zealotry going on lately over the new crop of “open” touch-screen smartphones coming out. The obvious big contenders are phones that run on Google’s Android, and of course Palm’s WebOS-based Pre. There’s also been a recent announcement regarding LG, and others introducing phones that run LiMo.

So obviously, the big buzz is that all these wonderful phones are running linux now, and all will be right with the world because they’re open platforms and unrestricted and we can write all the wonderful apps we want…. right?

Well, I’m going to make a bold statement here… while a lot of these new platforms claim to be “linux,” there’s more to the story, and users aren’t really using linux.

Saying that Android and WebOS phones are “linux-based” is like saying that the iPhone is “UNIX-based.” In the loosest possible sense you might be able to weasel that into a true statement, but users aren’t truly using the kernel (though you can get some really nice BSD tools running if you jailbreak the iPhone, in which case you probably could truly say you’re using *nix then).

Android boots the linux kernel but then runs the Davlik Virtual Machine on top of it. This is basically modified Java code. It would be better apt to say that Android is more a Java platform than it is a linux platform. The fact that it boots linux is merely a formality, a means to an end.

WebOS is similar. It too boots a linux kernel as a necessary means to get the phone running, but you aren’t truly using Linux. The apps must be written using HTML5, Java or CSS. WebOS would be more accurately called a Web App platform (which is probably how it got its name).

So for now, these aren’t accurately called “Linux” platforms, because users aren’t really using Linux. It’s conceivable that Google and Palm could’ve run their VMs and platforms on top of RIM OS, or Windows Mobile, if that had made sense to them. It just so happens that linux is free and open source and requires no licensing.

Google has been kinda duplicitous on this point. They’ll tacitly speak of linux when they can use that to woo the open source zealots who want to get behind it as a way to strike back at the Big Bad iPhone. But to the general public and the people they want actually using these phones, you’ll hear nary a peep about linux. Google is as it always has been: a company that deals strictly with portable, OS-agnostic web apps, and dreams of an eventual “OS-less” future. Linux just happens to be a convenient tool to get that going for now, and sadly the FOSS community to date has been willing to turn a blind eye to this.

PalmOS on the other hand, calls its platform for what it is: a system that coincidentally boots linux to get up in the morning, but you’re developing web apps and that’s that.

There have been marginally successful true linux-based mobile devices, like the Nokia N800 and N810. They aren’t phones per se, but they do run Maemo, which is based off Debian and runs actual linux apps, including X windowing systems, busybox, Skype, etc.

Linux makes a PR coup
Jan 11th, 2009 by scaredpoet

While the weekend was spent by millions of geeks crushing web servers in an attempt to download the beta of the latest installment of Microsoft Windows, some members of the Linux community got a little welcome PR from the New York Times. Mark Shuttleworth, the CEO of Canonical Ltd., and the guy behind Ubuntu (the linux distro that powers this website), was interviewed by NYT about his alternative OS, which challenges the commercial software model by giving away the store.

Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop operating system, for five years. The result of this multibillion-dollar investment has been a product late to market and widely panned.

Canonical, meanwhile, releases a fresh version of Ubuntu every six months, adding features that capitalize on the latest advances from developers and component makers like Intel. The company’s model centers on outpacing Microsoft on both price and features aimed at new markets.

To those of us who’ve used Ubuntu and other linux distros, the article isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it does give a mainstream public relations polish to Linux, and presents the alternative to those who’ve never really thought that you can run something other than Windows on your PC.

And I love this quote from Shuttleworth:

“I want to find out what it’s like to have a gigabit connection to the home,” he said. “It is not because I need to watch porn in high-definition but because I want to see what you do differently.”

I had always envisioned this guy as some inaccessible, eccentric billionaire. He’s definitely eccentric, but it’s also clear he’s in fact quite human.

...and you KNOW porn really did have something to do with broadband motivations. 🙂

Not so random numbers means linux geeks freak out
May 13th, 2008 by scaredpoet


Well, seeing as lately my blog is geeking-out over Ubuntu, I may as well add this posting to the list, and it’s a doozy.

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Ubuntu vs. the “root” of all evil
May 6th, 2008 by scaredpoet

The contents of this article are probably bound to give certain people in the Ubuntu linux community lots and lots of butthurt.

Oh well. It sucks to be them.

Here it is, for anyone who needs it: How to enable the root user in Ubuntu Linux Distributions.

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