I just wanted to take some time to say thank you to all the people in the open-source world who make it possible for me to do so much with my little computer. Maintaining a project is a largely thankless task, with the greatest reward being to have what you want in the way that you want it. I respect your skill and appreciate your willingness to give it as a gift to everyone.
Here are projects that I use nearly daily that I would like to highlight. If you have worked on any of these projects, you have my deepest gratitude:
Linux - This changed everything and let me escape the world that dictated how my computing must be.
libreoffice - It's had many names, but the newest direction of this open office suite continues to be a great resource. I use it constantly and get a lot of work done.
Firefox - It's not the only browser that I use, but I still enjoy Firefox a great deal. The plugability is just so extensible. I even have multiple profiles so I can flavor the configuration to the task.
Pidgin - This little utility lets me keep up with multiple streams of communication in a single interface. It's so convenient!
Thunderbird - Simply a wonderful email application that gets better and better as it goes.
Audacity - An amazing audio editing application that let's me do some very interesting things with music and other sound editing. I get very professional results with this and I couldn't be more grateful.
Cinelerra - Some day there may be a great multi-platform, nonlinear, video editing suite. It may be that when it arrives I will use it. In the mean time, I've been very impressed with what Cinelerra can do. It's Linux-only right now (without jumping through some major hoops), but, say! I run Linux, so that's not a problem!
GIMP - I once used GIMP to repair a photo where a prominent member of a local group had his fly opened. I have been consistently impressed with what can be done with this amazing piece of software.
Inkscape - When I do posters, signs and even business cards I use Inkscape. It's ability to scale everything and fit text exactly the way that I want it has made it so useful.
Scribus - I haven't used Scribus as much, but when the project demands it, it sure makes a difference.
Image Magick - A utility that lets me batch process graphics with ease. Wonderful!
Android - I am writing to you now through the magic of Android, as it lets my laptop borrow its Internet connection.
Joomla - A wonderful, PHP-based content manager that helps me maintain some web sites that I could otherwise never have the time.
Wordpress - Likewise, a great way to help me get information up and out on the Internet in my free time.
These are by no means all of the only things that I use, but I will use almost all of these today. Thanks to all of you who make it possible, whether you are a developer, a tester or an evangelist.
As editor for Linux and Open Source on developerWorks, I sometimes have to go back and dig through older articles as I evaluate new submissions. The nature of these topics means that people are always finding new spins on existing tools and techniques. However, I don't want the new stuff to supplant the existing material if the older articles are still valid. In Linux especially, I'll find that information that is several years old is still valid and useful because the technology improves behind the scenes without messing with the established interface.
So, today I'm going through a proposal for an article talking about approaches to using Snort (an open source network intrusion prevention and detection system) and I find this article from 2008: "Shut down idle computers on your network automatically". This was published in the Linux zone before I became editor there and I just missed it at the time.
That is just cool! What an interesting combination of technologies that combine creatively to solve a problem. To me that's the real world of IT. Even with all of the sophisticated "off the shelf" solutions and custom developement that happens in an environment, the people in charge of getting things done are still going to have to use their own creativity to patch over missing elements. Sure, these functions usually get incorporated into the other tools over time, but this sort of creative solution helps an astute IT team fix things right now. In some cases this sort of solution works just fine and prevents having to purchase an expensive commercial solution when it emerges.
I want to raise a glass in toast to all the people doing the hard work of keeping things running for people. Your work is never appreciated when you do it correctly (everything just works) and you are unfairly maligned when problems do come up. Hopefully these kinds of tools in your toolbox help keep you nimble and make you miracle workers.
When I talk to people about open-source software, one of the sore
points seems to be the perception that open-source users won't pay for
software. Is this true? OK. Disclaimer time:
The opinions expressed in this blog are solely the thoughts of Chris Walden and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the IBM Corporation or its partners.
First, I think there is a category of software users that will not
pay for software. These are people who do not have money. Usually it is
the young enthusiast or the experimenter, the tinkerer, who is simply
seeking to learn about technology. In the past, these people pirated
software, because nothing was freely available to them. Now,
open-source software provides a legally free alternative for people who
want to explore development, security, office tools, art and any number
of things. I think this is good. People learn and no one has to feel
guilty or risk prosecution.
So, how about the rest? I think that a line needs to be drawn here
between purchasing software and paying for it. As a Linux user I have
absolutely zero interest in paying $400 for an office package. I have
multiple open options, including OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice.
However, I appreciate the work that is done on these packages. I will
periodically donate money to the development of these products, like I
do to other social causes that I support. I don't normally send a few
bucks here and there to commercial manufacturers. I may be unique, but
I think there are a number of open-source supporters who regularly
donate to software that they use. I think that if donations were better
promoted that many more would.
An article from the Linux Insider, "It's a Roll of
the Dice for Linux Game Makers," pointed me to a site called "Humble Bundle." This site does
periodic releases of independent games. Users pay what they wish for
the bundle. The last bundle, which I missed by a few days it seems,
sold 372, 393 copies, raising $2,168,941.22. I know that's not much to
some companies, but it's not bad for an independent effort (a
relatively obscure one at that). What interested me more was the layout
of the purchases. Here is a screen shot from their site, taken
I notice here that the majority of purchases were Windows users,
but they had they lowest average for purchase price. Linux and Mac seem
about equal in numbers, but the average Linux donation was around $12!
That's 246% of what came from the Windows group and 156% of what came
from the Mac purchasers. Assuming that the donation averages are based
on money from Linux users divided by the number of Linux users it would
appear that the open-source audience was more generous.
I've put my name in for the next Humble Bundle and I expect that
I'll contribute when the next opportunity comes around.
I think it's also important to bear in mind that an open-source user
may give something besides cash to support a project. Donation of
skills at any level helps keep a project going. These kinds of
donations can be anything from actual coding work to bug tracking and
reporting and assisting others in the help forums. Answering a usage
question on a forum may not seem like much to you, but a software
company pays a lot of money to make that happen commercially.
I think it's fair to say that people who have discovered open-source
software may not be prepared to support commercial software in the
lifestyle to which it has become accustomed. To get them to spend
money, a commercial software company will have to offer more than just
"software in a box." What else? I don't know. Good
service and strong support is always good. Solid connectivity
with other software and services could be good. Perhaps it will
require a look at where these people are
spending their money and why. For the Humble Bundle, I think it
had a sort of altruistic message that appealed to the audience. I
felt good about supporting something that mattered to me. From my
perspective, things are shifting. We'll have to wait and see
exactly where it all ends up.
It's been a little while since I've had a chance to write here. My new job role has been a little disruptive, but I'm hoping to balance it all out soon.
The big news has been that Apache OpenOffice 4.0 released. (If you don't count all the other big news that is going on—some of which is just unspeakably weird.) I'm actually very pleased to see this release. I was an OpenOffice user for years, and StarOffice before that. The mess that occurred was really disheartening and drove me to LibreOffice for personal use. I welcomed the move of OpenOffice into Apache, an organization that I think has had a good track record of caring for open-source projects and making them viable. (Remember how it all started with a web server that had the audacity to go up against the reigning champions?)
At this point I've done little more than install the thing, which was pretty straight-forward on my Ubuntu desktop, so this is not going to be any kind of a review. (I'm actually not really great at doing reviews because I've always had a habit of figuring out how to make things work, so I don't often look at them how they ought to be but just deal with them how they are.) I think that OpenOffice has its best chance of thriving in this environment and I think that having LibreOffice close on its heels will drive some innovation in ways that would not have been possible only competing with Microsoft Office. This could be very good.
Are any of you using OpenOffice? Any LibreOffice converts willing to give it another chance? I'm curious about your opinions and experiences.
Thursday I attended a session with the Austin Forum on Science, Technology and Society, presented by the Texas Advanced Computing Center. I did a video blog, but then wrestled a little with the best way to edit and render it. (I set up a render farm at home, which I'll write more about later.)
Here is the fruit of that labor... a modest video blog. I'll have more bells and whistles later, now that I'm settling on my technologies.
This session was "Using Technology to Refine Physical Education in the 21st Century", by Jen Ohlson, Founder/President of Interactive Health Technologies; Best-selling author; Director; and Producer. Here are the relevant links:
[The ideas stated here are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.]
Remember when the Internet was just about file downloads and browsing? (I'd expound more but you might accuse me of being an "old guy".) Now the Internet has become a sort of universal channel, like "the network". There has just been an enormous amount of innovation around this concept, with more and more devices climbing on board and finding new ways to communicate with each other. It's no wonder that in this atmosphere that there would appear an open-source approach to improving collaboration.
The Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC) project is an open community dedicated to making it easier to use lifecycle tools in combination with each other. If you think about it, this is such a simple and obvious idea that could make a vast difference to users and developers if put into practice. Standards have always made the difference in how wide-spread a program can be. If you want to own and control everything that a user is allowed to do through your product, then proprietary is the way to go... and if you aren't keeping up with where your users want to go, then you will get left behind. If you use open methods for communicating, then users can combine what rocks them about your application with what they like about other applications. They can create their own mashups of functionality.
In open-source software, this is particularly critical. If applications can talk to each other then you don't need to worry about having all of the functionality in one place. Users can supplement your application with others for a fairly seamless experience. The more applications adhere to the standards, the more elegant this can become.
An example of this concept put into motion is the Lyo project for Eclipse. Its goal is to provide an SDK enabled for OSLC specifications. You can learn more about their specific goals and get involved through that project page. Of course, the OSLC site also has a list of software projects that are incorporating these concepts. You'll find adapters, providers and consumers to play with.
Do you smell that burning? That's all of the passion of people on a US Presidential election day. Pardon us if everyone is a little weird today. Of course, one of the discussions that I find pretty interesting is the "Vote, but only vote for someone who matters" discussion. It contains phrases like "Unless you vote for someone on this list you are throwing your vote away."
No, I'm not turning the blog political today, but I am going to spin this thinking a little. Essentially the idea is that you should only vote for someone who has a chance of winning. Does that mean that if your candidate loses that you "threw your vote away?" You have to vote for what works for you and you run the risk that you might not be in the majority.
Ready for the spin? Here it comes!
I see being a GNU/Linux and open-source software user to be the same kind of thing. I use software to get things done. Sometimes I have a business requirement to use a particular tool, but often the finished product is all that matters. I have consistently been able to explore new skill and do things that I had never tried before simply because I could download an open tool without having to wrangle money or licenses from my organization. It is true that the majority of computing is done on two specific platforms and there are clearly leading tools for specific tasks. However, in my quest to get things done I still have all my choices open. In most cases I'm able to do things in a way that is compatible with people who use commercial tools, so no one has to worry about it. In any case I'm learning about a particular skill in the tried and true fashion of simply exploring.
If you are voting today you should vote your conscience and not worry about whether your vote will count. They all count... even if they are only recognized by the people who received them... a sign that they shouldn't give up their cause, even if they don't win. If you are trying to get something done or build skills and you can't get your hands on the "right stuff" look around for open alternatives. You will accomplish something and either find that it works well enough for your needs or that you can more clearly demonstrate the value of having the tool that you want. "I did this with what I have, but if you buy me that I can do these other things."
Doing something almost always accomplishes more than doing nothing.
There's a Storm brewing
I want to take a quick opportunity to send my heart out to the people who are victims of the storms along the East coast in the United States. Nature is a tremendous force that we do not fully appreciate until there are events like this. I hope your family and friends are safe and unharmed. My condolences to all who did not make it through unscathed.
I'm going to turn to a different storm, now. Twitter has created the interesting phenomenon of a massive stream of real-time data from people all over the world. There is an incredible wealth of information in there, if only you could get it out. One of the tools which might help is Twitter Storm. While not brand new it's a relatively new player in the data space. M. Tim Jones takes some time to introduce it and lead you into the basics in this developerWorks article, "Process real-time big data with Twitter Storm - An introduction to streaming big data". Take a look at it and other material in the Open Source section.
There's a lot going on in 2010. It's a new year, a new decade, and, for me, a new look at my role in developerWorks.
Since 2008 I have been the editor of the Web Development zone, which I have found to be very rewarding. I love being exposed to all of the technologies and potential. I truly believe that what we now think of as the Web is the future of computing and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what will ultimately be accomplished when the whole world is truly wired. However, if you've been following my blog at all you know that I have another passion which I think is changing the world, and that is Open Source.
I am so pleased to announce that 2010 marks my move as editor of the Web Development Zone to editor of the Open Source Zone on developerWorks. Barbara Wetmore, the previous Open Source editor is taking over my position under Web Development. We both just realized that we had something very positive to offer to the other zone and so we worked out a swap. I'm very excited to see what Barbara will to do in Web Development. I'm also completely thrilled to be at home in Open Source.
You see, Open Source is not something that I just write about. It's something that I really do every day. I've been a full time Linux user for 10 years. Every computer in my house is based on Linux and running open source software. I am what Stan Lee (of Marvel Comics fame) might call a "True Believer."
It's not just the free software side of Open Source that attracts me, thought I certainly appreciate the effects that has to my bottom line. I enjoy the freedom that open source software offers. I remember what it was like to be interested in technology as a young person in the 80s, and the obstacles that I faced in getting access to the tools to learn. Software was expensive. Equipment was expensive. Today, hardware is a lot cheaper and more readily available. There is also software freely available that I can use to learn about any technology under the sun and moon. I'm not just talking about word processing and browsers. Just take a look at this list, which I mentioned in a previous blog. This represents a tremendous amount of potential for anyone to learn the basics of what a technology can do. Many of these tools are sophisticated enough to do much more than learn. They are capable of doing serious work and they are available to everyone. This means young people who are building knowledge for their future careers. It means people in developing countries who want to take advantage of technology with very low budgets. It means independent developers and smaller companies who need to go up against wealthier competitors.
I think that many people are more aware and more... well... open to Open Source than they have been in the past. But I also find that many still don't know about, or misunderstand what Open Source has to offer. As editor of the Open Source Zone in developerWorks, my goal is to introduce people to more tool and techniques about how to apply open source software. Yet, with such a broad spectrum to choose from, I want to prioritize things according to the needs of my audience, which is you.
So, this is a formal request for you to give me feedback on your interest in Open Source. What sorts of problems are you trying to solve that you think might have and open solution? What tools and techniques do you need to learn more about? What obstacles do you need to overcome to take advantage of open source software in your situation? I want you to send that feedback directly to me, firstname.lastname@example.org. With any luck I will be overwhelmed with email, so please title your email "Feedback for Open Source Zone" so I make sure that I don't miss it. You'll be helping to shape the flow of the Open Source Zone using Open Source methodology... direct participation. I look forward to hearing from you.
He brings up a lot of really
interesting points that I have also observed about how some people
approach open source, and why it may be unwise to believe that you can
really win a siege against it. There is great power in openness and we
are only beginning to scratch the surface.
So, when a nice lawyer-type person in a major corporation for which you work makes recommendations about how you will name your social media accounts what do you do? Do you yell and through things? Do you take the supply cabinet hostage? Do you go and post about how you're going to fight the man? Some might. This guy (call me coward if you must) says "Thank you." and begins to craft a new identity.
What about my free speech, man?
I won't get into specifics about my own situation, but in general when dealing with your social identity in conjunction with your work identity there can be some weird clashes. You may be dealing with trademarks and other things that are much, much bigger than you. Social media is freaking a lot of people out and it's just not worth a big fight about it... at least not to me.
To me it's the same as the lines one draws between personal space/life/rights and the requirements of working with a company. There are things I like to wear that I do not wear to the office. (Though I did wear the kilt that one time. Hey! It was St. Patrick's Day!) There is music that I like that I don't listen to out loud (though sometimes in the headphones). There are references to horror, fantasy, and sci-fi that I don't use openly because people just don't get it. (Gasp! I must be some kind of geek!) I try not to cross those lines (wire?) and it makes things easier for me. I think these boundaries are helpful and respectful.
Was it a pain to have to change my accounts and everything? You bet it was. Some of my things had been in place since before some of the corporate guidelines were clearly defined. In some cases I was not completely aware of the policies. It try to do it all right, but sometimes it's just hard. The upshot is that the person who brought it to my attention was trying to help and there were answers to the problems. Don't shoot the messenger.
Peter Sellers: You're stretching me too thin, Stanley. Who do you think I am? Stanley Kubrick: I think you're whoever I want you to be. Peter Sellers: Then who am I now?
As all of this social stuff whirls around with what I thought work was, and the roles and activities all blend together in different ways it can be a little confusing as to what role I'm playing at any given time. I can relate a bit to what Sellers is saying. In this case, I really have changed what people think of as my identity. In most of the cases I was able to change the accounts in place and just change the names, so if you're already following me, you still are. Some of the others required a little retooling (read deleteing or abandoning an account and creating a new one). So, here is the list:
This is just part of the new social media world. It's a whole new opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes. If you are getting into social medial, try to be gentle with people who are concerned about how you might affect the company. Consider drawing clear lines between your personal life and your business life, even if that means having more than one social face (something that social media providers need to respect). If you are dealing with someone who needs to make changes to their social media because they are confusing your customers or management, be gentle too. They may need some help drawing those boundaries. You can always choose to do your business media through IBM's Community as a Service. If you want to learn more, start here.
I'm browsing through the mountain of mail that I receive and find something that's actually pretty cool! It's a solar charger with enough oomph to power a laptop! At 20,000 mAh I'll be able to LiveStream that bear attack in the middle of the woods and email all my friends the YouTube video with my dying breath.
Seriously! I like this. At $200 I'll have to do a little convincing, but it's awfully clever. (Say! A little Google searching found it as low as $147.05. Hmmmm.)
[Remember that even though I work for IBM I am an individual with my
own thoughts and ideas. Anything I write here may not necessarily
represent the views of the IBM Corporation or its partners... though I'm
hoping that's only a matter of time before they catch up.]
This idea of "community" and "cooperation" comes up again and again
when I talk to people about open source. How can you make money by
giving stuff away? Why would you do that? It's really less about money
than it is about value. I attended a scientific software symposium at
Advanced Computing Center in Austin, Texas. A common thread through
several of the presentations was that these people did not consider
themselves to be software people. They were physicists, anthropologists
and other kinds of "ists." They wrote software because they wanted
tools to help them with their work which just weren't available to
them. Being smart, motivated people, they just began to tinker on their
own. As it turned out what they were doing was of value to others in
the community, who also contributed. Some of these people don't
consider themselves developers. The value they receive from writing the
software is a tool which helps to further their science. Science is
their goal... software is a means to that end.
I think this sort of "barter" system of value for value is an
important core concept for understanding the open-source universe. Now,
I'm not some sort of anarchist who wants to abolish money. I would have
to come up with a lot of chickens to pay for my house! However, I do
think that there is a lot of benefit in stepping outside of the
"governmental currency" system when it comes to solving community
problems. Money is a means of exchange for people who don't have
something else that the other person needs.
In the open software world this kind of exchange can come in many
forms. If you have development skill, then that is usually appreciated.
Projects always need help with code. If you don't, there are likely
other things that you can contribute. Have you ever been to a wiki for
one of these projects and not found the information you were looking
for in the documentation? Did you find it elsewhere on a forum? Did you
go back and contribute your answer back into the documentation so that
people after you could find it? You don't have to be a great writer. If
what you contribute needs a little editorial massaging there will be
someone after you who has a passion for grammar who will fix it up.
They put that documentation in a wiki format to remove barriers to
contributions from the community. Honestly, how long would it take to
write a short paragraph about the answer to your question, just to get
There are other kinds of contributions that add value to your
community. IBM does a lot of work in this area, encouraging employees
to be involved in a variety of community programs. Here are a few
- Tryscience is a tool to introduce kids to contemporary science and
technology through on and offline interactivity with science and
technology centers worldwide. It's value is to promote interest in
science and give anyone who is interested the opportunity to experience
that process of discovery. It's a partnership between the IBM
Corporation, the New York Hall of Science (NYHOS), the Association of
Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), and science centers worldwide.
mentorplace - MentorPlace is a volunteer program
that brings adult professionals and students together in online
relationships focused on academics. Employee-volunteers are charged
with providing students with academic assistance and career counseling,
while letting them know that adults do care about their issues and
In case you're beginning to think that this community drive is only
pointed to children, here are some other types of IBM community
Egypt - This site, aimed at all ages, provides a rich, interactive
exploration of the history of egypt. Personally, I think the
preservation and access to history is a critically important part of
culture. An online museum like this brings culture and knowledge to
people who might not have a chance to see these things in any other way.
Community Grid - World Community Grid's
mission is to create the world's largest public computing grid to
tackle projects that benefit humanity. It makes technology available
only to public and not-for-profit organizations to use in humanitarian
research that might otherwise not be completed due to the high cost of
the computer infrastructure required in the absence of a public grid.
As part of our commitment to advancing human welfare, all results will
be in the public domain and made public to the global research
There are other examples which can be find
on the IBM Corporate Citizenship page, a somewhat stuffy
title for the good things that IBM is contributing.
I guess my point, to all of this is that
if our community fails, where does that leave us as individuals? I'm
all for personal responsibility, but I like living with the other
humans. We all have talents to contribute, whether it is technical
skill or another kind. In some cases what we get for those
contributions is money... a generic exchange. In other cases we get
smarter kids, more beautiful environments and neighbors who contribute
to our well-being. Surely that's value for value.
Just a quick one today: One of the problems that open source software has in gaining traction is that it's not plastered through magazines, billboards and television commercials. Be snide about it if you want, but most open source projects are about getting the software right in-spite of the lack of commercial resources. The result is that a lot of very worthy projects escape people's notice. Awards can help that. Award events generate news. People want to learn more about an "award winning project." Yet, in true open source tradition, many of these awards are not chosen by a panel of the elite. They are chosen by the people.
Take a moment and add your voice to the upcoming Open Source For America (OSFA) awards. The nomination form is available to anyone. There are three categories that you can nominate: Individual Contribution, Open Source Project and Open Source Government Deployment.
The open source movement is a meritocracy. Help your favorites gain the recognition that they deserve.
Today I got a tweet from Mark Fernandez pointing me to the article "The Disappearance of Open Source?" It was mildly depressing. Basically it affirmed a concept set forth in everything from "The Little Red Hen" to "Atlas Shrugged" that says those who can do for themselves and those who can't sit around until its done and then whine about it. I hate saying this, because I am a true believer in the value and concept of open-source, even when it's not free as in free beer. If you haven't read it, perhaps now is a good time for you to read Eric Steven Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar".
My rant is essentially this: If you are reaping the benefits of open-source software, especially if you are getting it for free then you should be grateful. The world has not always been this way. It is not an entitlement, but a gift from people who are willing to solve their own problems and then make the solution available to you because they think such things should be shared. They don't owe you a gorram thing! (a little Firefly lingo, there... See how I am right now?)
If you can create your own solutions purely with open-source software and don't need any outside help then go for it! Be proud. You are in an elite minority. You are someone with knowledge, drive and determination to pioneer. You deserve every benefit you can gain from that. You are one of the haves.
If you cannot do this because you lack the skills or don't want to take the time and you need someone to fill in those blanks for you then you are one of the have nots. You have a few options:
Do without. You've lived without it until now, maybe you can get along without it.
Wait until it's easy. Open-source projects evolve and it's likely that over time the problems you have now will be resolved by others who have stuck with the project during the rougher times and given it some polish.
Get help from one of the haves. Find someone with the knowledge and experience to carry you through the problem.
If you choose option 3, you should bear in mind that the person helping you is going to need some motivation. That may require some paying. Don't like it then you really ought to go with option 1 and 2. If you act as though you are entitled, if you criticize and complain while demanding help then you really need an attitude adjustment. At first that will be tolerated, but eventually the "haves" will realize that there is no value in what they are doing and that they should focus on solving their own problems rather than yours. Eventually this will leave you only with option 1 - do without.
Open source culture provides a great deal of benefit by removing barriers to people who are willing to work and learn to use technology. It provides an unblockable path for people who are have nots to become haves by putting in the required work to reap the benefits. (Did you read "The Little Red Hen"?) Those who are willing to take that road will find it remains open. The licenses However, you can create a situation where no one will give you a map, nor directions, nor the time of day.
Companies having to de-emphasize their open-source qualities in order to not confuse customers is troubling. If you are one of the ones who makes them feel that's necessary then you need to walk away from open source and go invest in some very expensive solutions. Open source just isn't for you. If you understand the value of Open Source and you know people who seem engaged in this struggle, then please try to help them to appreciate its value.
Right now I'm going to go make a donation to some open-source projects that I used today because they need the love.