All posts by Dawn

Open Source User Customization of Gadgets

While reading a recent InfoWorld column by Neil McAllister, I was reminded of another innovative use of open source software. Open source software can be developed to provide additional customization and support of hardware devices. In Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel, he described user developed innovation that is shared with other community members (I highly recommend this for book for anyone interested in innovation or open source.)

In the case of consumer devices, we are typically limited to using the device only in way that the manufacturer wants it to be used; however, some very creative individual can often rewrite the firmware. This is easier if the manufacturer has provided the source code to the original firmware, but the entire firmware can also be re-written from scratch. This allows us to do things like reconfigure the user interface for an MP3 player or add additional features to your router and share these new modifications with other interested users.

Desktop Linux and Fragmentation

In this blog, I have spent quite a bit of time (here and here) talking about the Linux desktop chicken and the egg problem: there are not enough people for application vendors to justify the port to Linux on the desktop; however, users are not willing to move to desktop Linux until it supports the applications they require. I have also talked about the lack of vendor driver support that would allow users to plug and play with any device they happen to buy at the local electronics store (scanners, printers, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc.) The human tendency to resist change is another factor slowing the growth of the Linux desktop.

In an interview with Michael Dell, he brings up another excellent point specific to OEM sales of Linux on the desktop. Right now, the Linux desktop market is highly fragmented with literally hundreds of distributions that could be selected for installation on a new PC. If Dell or any other OEM picks just a couple to install (Red Hat & Novell), people who wanted a different distribution (Mandriva or Ubuntu) will choose not to buy one of Dell’s Linux desktops. If they let users choose any one of the many Linux desktops, the OEM can end up with a support nightmare trying to provide user support for too many Linux desktop configurations.

In most fragmented markets, as the market matures, several winners tend to emerge to narrow the list of popular choices. Until a few winners emerge, we should expect to see resistance from OEMs like Dell; however, if a few winners do emerge, it will become much easier for OEMs to support Linux on the desktop.

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Update to "Did Mozilla Make $72 Million from Firefox?"

According to Christopher Blizzard (Mozilla Corporation board member), the $72 million figure is “not correct, though not off by an order of magnitude.” I see this as a great step forward for Firefox. They have been able to drive significant revenue from an open source product, which will allow them to provide increased resources to further accelerate the growth of Firefox through hired staff, improved infrastructure, marketing programs, etc. Way to go!

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Security and Bugs in Open Source Software

Those of you concerned about using open source software because it may contain too many bugs can now rest a little more easily. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funded Stanford University, Coverity and Symantec to complete an analysis describing the number of security bugs found in open source software. The LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) was found to have fewer bugs than other open source software.

As open source products, like the LAMP stack, stand the test of time, they resolve many of the existing issues and become adept at fixing new problems. This is a testament to the maturity of these products and shows that stable, mature open source software can achieve high standards of quality.

It would be really interesting to see this as a comparison of bugs between open source code and proprietary code; however, most proprietary companies will not open up their code to this type of analysis.

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This Week in Open Source News Feb 27 – Mar 5

Open Source ID Management Solution

IBM and Novell along with Parity Communications and Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society are leading an effort called the Higgins Project to create an open source identity management solution that will compete with the recently announced InfoCard technology from Microsoft. It will allow users to control the personal information shared with sites using this technology. The Eclipse Foundation will coordinate this effort, which will support Windows, Linux, and other operating systems. This has a good chance of succeeding for a couple of reasons. First, Novell and IBM tend to have more credibility than Microsoft for security solutions. Second, by making this technology open source, I would expect more companies to participate in the project in a manner similar to the way that other Eclipse projects have been able to get participation from many key players within the industry.

British Agency Supports Linux Usage

Starting last year, the Open Source Academy (OSA) replaced software on 300 PCs in British libraries with open source solutions made up of Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox and Gimp as a learning experiment and found that the solution was stable, secure, and positive for users of the systems. The OSA, funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, was designed to promote open source adoption in local governments, and other OSA projects involve providing guidance on recycling old PCs, running a testing lab for open source solutions, and additional open source government outreach efforts. This is only one example of a successful government effort to promote open source software. I highlight this not because 300 PCs make up a significant deployment, but because it provides an example to illustrate how open source desktop solutions can be effective and to show how governments can drive open source efforts.

Firefox Announces Extension Winners

The winners of the extend Firefox competition were announced this week. The best new overall extension, Reveal by Michael Wu, provides a way to see thumbnails of session history pages along with a magnifying glass to help you find previously viewed pages quickly and easily. The other grand prize winners included: Best Upgraded Extension, Web Developer by Chris Pederick, and Best Use of New Firefox 1.5 Features, Firefox Showcase by Josep del Rio. For more best in class winners and more details visit Spread Firefox. This is a great example of open source user innovation at work!

Bloggers and Accuracy

In today’s fast paced world of constant information, bloggers can provide a great service by exposing news stories and disseminating information that has not yet been picked up by the mainstream media. People witnessing an event or talking to someone with unique insight can immediately blog about it to quickly provide this information to readers around the world.

However, as consumers of this content, we need to be wary of the source. This recent article on Digg reminded me of the accuracy issues that can occur in the blogosphere and with other user created content. The headline reads, “Open Source Not Ready For Academic Prime Time, Study Reveals”, and it links to a blog, which provides more “details” about the study. As an open source expert and someone who likes to dig into the story behind the story, I decided to read more about this study, since it did not fit with my experiences in the industry.

The study was published by the Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness (A-HEC), and they have already posted several clarifications on their website. Here are the first 2 of 8 points that were clarified:

“There have been several erroneous blogs on the Internet that were created by folks that have not read this study nor understand its focus. Here are a few clarifications:

1. The study is only about higher education use of open source. It does not apply to schools or K-12.

2. The study is not negative on open source. Use of open source infrastructure (Linux, Apache, MySQL) is proceeding quite nicely in higher ed as in the commercial space. The study quantifies that progress. The also study points out that Higher Ed specific open source applications (course management systems, portals, student portfolios) have enormous interest right now. However, the average institution seems to be a long way from adopting these. The study details exactly where we are and why. This information is helpful in addressing these issues.” (A-HEC).

As an active blogger, I believe that blogging is a great way to quickly disseminate information without relying on the mainstream media to report on it; however, the consumer should consider the source of the information carefully and maybe do some additional research before drawing too many conclusions.

Firefox Reaches 150 Million Downloads

I like to celebrate the open source success stories. In earlier blogs, I have talked about how cool it is for a community of people to gain this kind of market traction in a very short amount of time. For anyone who has not yet downloaded Firefox, I strongly encourage you to try it (Firefox works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and other operating systems!)

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Geekcorps Looking for Linux Volunteers

Have you ever wanted to travel to exotic locations while solving technology problems and teaching the local communities to use innovative information technologies? Volunteering for Geekcorps, a U.S. non-profit organization, is one way to fulfill your wanderlust while doing something productive.

“Currently, according to the Geekcorps Web site, the organization needs experts in Knowledge Management, object-oriented programming, C++, and Linux for spring and summer 2006 assignments in Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa.”

“Although the organization would love it if volunteers could stay four months or longer, one-month stints are common. Geekcorps pays the travel expenses and housing and tries to make it easy for family members to come along.”

“‘The people we are targeting to volunteer are employed, might be mid-career and have families,’ Vota said. The median age is 32.”

“Geekcorps can essentially be thought of as a Peace Corps with a focus on PCs. The organization recruits technical experts to conceive ideas for integrating technology into local economies in a self-sustaining way.” (CNet News.com)

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