Category Archives: open source

Internet Blackout Day, Jan 18, 2012

Today is “Internet Blackout Day” (Jan 18, 2012: http://wordpress.org/news/2012/01/internet-blackout/).

For anyone not yet familiar with the SOPA / PIPA legislation currently being promoted by lobbyists to implement Internet censorship in the U.S. (in order to protect certain vested interests in the U.S. — similar to schemes used to protect certain vested interests in certain other countries, resulting in suppression of free speech and economic development), here is a short reading list explaining why you should be contacting your Congressional representatives to oppose it in totality:

For broader insights into the problems generated by lobbyist politics and vested interests, see many of the writings by Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School, who more recently was focused specifically on election reform initiatives.

Narrowness in business

A friend at Intel used to say, “no matter how narrow you make something, once you get close to it, it looks pretty wide.”   My goal in 2012 is to get a sufficiently narrow web application business off the ground by myself.  No venture capital, no angels, no recruiting, no house of cards.  I’ve done that all before, but today it seems like a) it’s best to be able to move quickly and b) virtual private servers are very inexpensive.

Meanwhile, my narrowness guidelines for 2012:

  • Focus on providing a communication channel that is new, simple,  predominantly mobile, and “obvious in retrospect.”
  • “Faster, better, cheaper” rather than “brave new world.”
  • Browser-based (forget about web apps on Android and iOS).
  • Focus on feedback mechanisms and monitoring tools.
  • Avoid developing new domain knowledge.

Narrowness in software

It’s a joy working with software projects, but there always seems to be half as much time available as estimated and what’s to be done always seems to be twice as much as estimated.  And that’s in the good cases. No matter how narrowly you think you’ve defined a project, it tends to fractalize.  If you can reduce at the outset — and even seemingly unnecessarily — the number of new things that have to be learned or dealt with in a project, the probability of getting it functional increases.

In the recent past, I’ve tried to stay up on a way larger number of new things that are bright and shiny than I can really deal with.  Time to toss a lot out.  Narrowness in software, goals for 2012:

  • Python 2.7.2  <– avoid diversions to learn more in Ruby, Javascript, JQuery, bash, Java, C++, Erlang, php, etc,. and put off Python 3.2+ until Django runs on it, which seems roughly one year out.
  • PostgreSQL <– MySQL.  Took a while to get comfortable in pg but seems reasonable now.
  • nginx and uwsgi <– ok, need Apache and mod_wsgi in two ongoing projects.
  • Django 1.3 <– avoid diversions to learn other frameworks, enjoy the fruits of class-based generic views in 1.3, look forward to 1.4 fixing some things.
  • Ubuntu 10.10 on laptop and 11.04 server on servers <– 11.10 still has “classic” option, though not installed by default; avoid investigating proliferating hubris of Mint, Ubuntu, non-Ubuntu UI options.
  • git <– lots of good documentation; if I force myself to use git every day I might actually start needing to consult the docs less.

Android un-Marketing vs. iPhone Marketing

The biggest difference so far in Google’s Android business development strategy vs. Apple’s iPhone business development strategy is that Google has un-marketed to experimenters, developers, and companies, while Apple has spent heavily on image-based advertising to techies and early adopters, and taken advantage of brand extension from other Apple product categories.  Android has a great spec sheet; but not much of an image.

The iPhone capitalized on the opportunity for iPod brand extension in Apple’s retail presentation and word-of-mouth. The iPhone is not a ‘better’ cell phone — the cellular service providers and handset vendors had commoditized the category, and smartphones were still struggling to be taken seriously; there is nothing that can be spectacular or distinguishing about a cell phone now, except maybe negatively — if too big and heavy, or its battery doesn’t last long enough. So the iPhone is instead a cool expansion on the iPod that includes cell phone capability.

One of Google’s biggest advantages with Android is its portfolio of partners that includes everyone from China Mobile and NTT DoCoMo to HTC and Motorola.  It’s also one of Google’s biggest challenges. Even if one of these partners were to introduce an Android phone that one-upped the iPhone with cooler hardware, it would not be a complete product (in the classic marketing definition of Bill Davidow) like Apple’s iPhone.

Maybe Google’s best bet is to re-define the competition by having not one complete product (and image-anchored) Android that is better, but thousands of tiny, splintered, un-marketed, open-source ones.

If that’s the strategy, Google is going to have to be a lot more aggressive in pushing an open source strategy.  Recent introductions like a limited Python, Lua, (soon Ruby) programming framework with Google’s Android Scripting Environment (see reality check blog post by Mike Riley at Motorola), or a Native Development Kit (some C/C++ programming and library access for focused performance re-coding of Java apps) on top of Google’s Android Java platform is effort in the right direction. 

Google will know it has momentum when there are open source developer forums and wikis that are driving Google’s Android work, rather than the other way around.

Ok, ok, so maybe un-marketed doesn’t really mean there is no marketing strategy and tactics, but, like un-conferences, it does mean that everything happens with far greater leverage and focus, and in a fraction of the cycle time.

See also “How do you sell an Android phone?” on http://counternotions.com/2008/09/15/android/

Dirk Hohndel on Open Source Software in China

Dirk Hohndel, Chief Linux and Open Source Technologist at Intel, gave a talk centered on the evolution of open source in China for a lunch meeting of the China Business Network of the NW China Council on December 3.   Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian has coverage on his blog, so I’ll try to complement what he had to say about it.

Dirk emphasized that he was representing his own views; not Intel’s.  They reflect his involvement as a committer to Linux and related open source projects since 1991, his frequent participation in fostering open source in China over the past several years, and a clearly articulated vision of open source as a natural continuation of the way humanity has evolved the state of knowledge over the past 300 years by building on the work of peers and predecessors. 

From this perspective, selling software executables without access to source, which started in the late 1970′s, was an aberration not only from the previous practice of delivering source code with the sale of computers, but also from a longer history of the progress of knowledge.

In China, there was initially a perception that open source software was almost too good to be true by people looking for short term profit.  They could include it for free, bundled with a computer or other device they charged for, or just put a “brand” on a disk and sell it.  According to Dirk, for example, there were many failed attempts to put a brand on the code of the open source OpenOffice.org project and sell it without source as a cheaper flavor of Microsoft Office. 

Within the past 3-4 years, Dirk said, there has been a change in China to true open source participation for the long term by companies, organizations, and individuals, as they have learned that open source creates more value when you do not disconnect from the value chain. Now companies like Red Flag, CS2C, and Sun Wah have become active in open source; and Chinese government ministries and universities have started to become important Linux and open source drivers.

Initial Impressions: iPhone 3G

Rather than a general review, these are initial impressions on some aspects of the new iPhone of particular interest to me and also relative to the competitive market context.

U.S. TV ads during the Olympics have been touting it as twice as fast, which probably is a good, uncomplicated message for that audience, but maybe not quite what was hoped for (EDGE is around 160Kbits/sec and “3G” on UMTS phones you would hope to be running 1-2 Mbits/sec, so 6-12X would be a lot nicer).  Twice as fast basically means you’re still looking for wifi access (see my previous iPhone 3G posting for discussion of Apple’s coup with AT&T wifi at Starbucks), unless you’ve just got to have that email or web page, so most people I know are turning off “3G” (Settings -> General -> Network:  3G -> off) to save power.

The iPhone 3G system software is somewhat more sluggish and the Safari browser more prone to crashing than on the previous iPhone, but neither of these things is a major problem.

My favorite two innovations are downloadable apps and the multilingual operating environment.  The first thing I downloaded was a WordPress client (no, this post is not being written on the iPhone.  Desktop typing is faster than for an 親指俗人 oyayubi zokujin (“thumb tribesman”) using the phone.  But that brings me to the language part, which actually means the system language, the keyboard, and the region.  For example, switching to Chinese (mainland characters or traditional) puts most everything in Chinese and then you can set the region as China, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.

The keyboard, in the case of Chinese, can be “pinyin” (typing in Roman alphabet, which is contextually converted to Chinese characters) or “handwriting.”  These techniques have been around for a while but work great implemented on the iPhone 3G.

I have to admit I naively thought there was no way that handwriting was going to work with a finger tip dragging across a capacitive-sensitive screen rather with a stylus on a touch sensitive screen (like my previous favorite cell phone, the Chinese Motorola A780 — see way below).  I’m not sure why I thought that, because a common way to clarify to someone which character you mean (in a Chinese language context) is to “write” the character you mean with your finger on the palm of your hand so they can “see” it written. Well, contrary to what I thought, it works great!

Twitter posts in many languages, yes!  Once I started trying some Twitter posts in Japanese and Chinese from the phone, I moved on to German and French, which are almost as cool because predictive interpretation and correction are used there, too.  You type “sein konnen” and it’s changed, like “fail whale, oder warum Twitter Posts trotzdem toll sein können.” Same thing with French diacritics and accents.

In the competitive context (writing as I watch a Verizon ad with an LG iPhone-alike being rolled out and pasted on the side of a building out my office window), adding downloadable webbish apps like WordPress almost, almost, quasi open sources the iPhone, which I think is a key strategic front on which a competitor “could” make their offering(s) bigger and broader (maybe Android phones or Ubuntu on Intel MIDs as they evolve into cell phones will have an opportunity here), and adding lots of languages that work extremely well (esp. Chinese with 600 million cell phone users) both are going to put the iPhone brand just way out there in a way that took the iPod much longer to accomplish.

Barcamp Portland – May 2008

Notes on everything in which I participated at Portland’s latest session of the international, self-organizing “unconferences” organized by techies for techies that occurred at Cubespace in Portland on May 2-4. (I link to notes if I could find them.)

- Haskell programming language: promising for multicore programming.

- Online Community Management, led by Dawn Foster, who has that role at Jive Software. Mostly I think this was a comparing notes kind of session.

- Calagator is an online calendar of Portland technology events and also a community-programmed Ruby on Rails project. See calagator.org..

- Time-centric social networking: for some participants the answer to how to do it already exists: Twitter.

- Options for Inexpensive Web Presence, esp. for small non-profits and startups: a session that Jim Tyhurst and I led. Least expensive ($0) is WordPress hosted on WordPress (don’t even need to know HTML). The next level ($20-$40/month) is a VPS (Virtual Private Server, which requires having someone who can put togther environments like WordPress, MediaWiki, Drupal, or Ruby on Rails applications on a server. The next level ($100/month) is a collocated server at a service provider, which has programming requirements similar to VPS but also means putting effort into supporting the server.

- Distributed Collaboration Tools for Software Development: For me, the best thing was finding out about Gobby collaborative text editor.

- Migrating from MySQL? Try Postgresql. By Selena Deckelman of the PDX Postgresql User Group. People are evaluating moving from MySQL to Postgres because the latter is a community-driven open source project and has had some important database technology longer than MySQL.

- Wagn: described as a database-like wiki on Ruby on Rails.

- Using WordPress as a Content Management System. Well, you can. Bottomline: Once there is much content, better off moving to Drupal.

- What’s the Web Missing for Bike Culture? Portland-based project to provide Google Maps-style street level views and optimal routing that does not include sending a bicyclist onto the freeway.

- Drupal. Overview of a widely-used content management system in PHP on MySQL. For me, I learned I probably would be well advised to stay away for a while, because there are too many modules and options to deal with and also the transition to 6.0 has created some bumps in the road.

Startupalooza

The Saturday, March 29, 2008 Startupalooza event at Cubespace in Portland (thank you, Todd Kenefsky, who organized it, and Eva and the rest of the Cubespace hosts) was the lowest BS-quotient startup confab I’ve ever seen.

The format was PowerPoint overviews, mostly of what companies or projects were doing, but instead of puffery and pitches, the approach was almost from the perspective of a confessional. Pretty much everything was interesting and well done, but most memorable for me were GarageGames (evolved from game software contract work to web-based distributed games building platform) and Jive Software (evolved from Jabber-based chat to a broader platform solution for customer communications – see Matt Tucker’s XMPP posting from January on Jive’s potential direction), as well as projects, like Unthirsty.com (happy hour mashups on Google Maps), which spawned Knitmap.com (same idea, but for knitting supplies).

It was striking that none none of these had been successful on the first go – sequential failure (or maybe I should really say “less than complete success,” “aborted success,” “undermined success,” “unleverageable success,” etc.) over many years was the norm – not that I’ve experienced that :). Also, none were heroic solo successes. Each was driven by multiple people who had somehow found others that complimented themselves.

A few weeks later at an Oregon Entrepreneurs’ Network forum, I couldn’t help thinking that the contrast with Startupalooza was like the contrast between 90′s, Microsoft-like software and 00′s open source.