La festa della cultura informatica

Sabato prossimo 25 Ottobre l’Italia celebra il LinuxDay, la giornata di promozione del sistema GNU/Linux e del software libero. Quest’anno la manifestazione è diventata tanto importante da meritare l’attenzione del Presidente della Repubblica Italiana! Complimenti a Davide Dozza e Michele Dalla Silvestra.

Sarò all’edizione di Cinisello Balsamo a Villa Ghirlanda, organizzata dal LIFOS parlando di Funambol e del suo modello di business. Nella sessione ci saranno anche interventi di IBM, RedHat e altri molto interessanti.

Software patents will not pass in Europe

The last lesson of the MBA was about patents, how to use them strategically for your business. The professor was really good at explaining all the steps that you must follow before you start any innovation process and what traps expect you at each step you make.’  Funny enough, all his lesson confirmed me that the costs of patenting anything are far superior to the possibility to make money off of them. Probably the biotech sector is different, but honestly I know nothing about that so I can’t decide.’  For the other industries the patent system is like a lottery. And any grad school student knows that the most effective way to win a lottery is to save money not playing.

Some lobbyist in the EU keep trying to pass software patents though, because they represent the interests of the lottery owners: they make money because they are the owners of the casino.’  FFII is the main organization fighting constantly these lobbyists. Support FFII, sign the petition against software patents in Europe. Keep Europe a place where there is freedom to innovate.

How Apple will dramatically increase revenues

My architecture professors repeated ad infinitum that an image is worth a thousand words. Following is a pictures that clearly shows how Apple will dramatically increase its revenues in the next year:

MacBook internals (source: iFixIt.com)
MacBook internals (source: iFixIt.com)

It’s not (only) the cool design or the (un)cool software: it’s mainly the reduced (~60%) bill of material you see in the picture (compare it to an older iBook internals). And the 30% reduction in the packaging volume. The latter reduces complexity in costs of acquisition and management of the parts, plus the servicing costs after the sales. The former means 30% saving in the shipping costs.’  Brilliant.’  This is the kind of sustainable competitive advantage that MBA classes teach managers to aim for.’  I’m ready to bet will make Apple’s revenues skyrocket, even without increasing marketshare or total units shipped.

Firefox 3.1 beta 1 adds support for OGG formats

Big boost to the PlayOGG campaign coming from Firefox:

This is the first beta from Mozilla to include support for <video> and the <audio> elements. This beta includes support for the OGG Theora and OGG Vorbis formats on all platforms.

It’s going to be easier to use this format if millions of users will be able to play it without adding additional plugins. This is really a major milestone for open standards on the web. The pressure on patented formats like the whole MPEG4 family will increase.

More juicy details about FF beta 1 on Firefox 3.1 beta 1 – an overview of features for web developers.

School ending, still little free time

I’m done with class, no more crossing the city to attend lessons. The two years of this EMBA are coming to an end, finally 🙂 I still have little free time, though, because MIP Politecnico in the end is still an Italian school, with the exams happening months after classes have ended.’  I have to prepare a marketing plan for Marketing by the end of October and prepare a brief paper on innovation by early December. In between I have to play a business game, a (silly) simulation where a group of students has to impersonate a CEO and take business decisions based on the budget and the simulated market situation. It’s a silly game, IMHO, and the software runs only on Windows. I’d rather play Railroad Tycoon instead 🙂 If that’s not enough, I also have a project work to deliver.

And if that’s not enough, there are two pretty big projects I’m working on with Funambol. News will come out soon, the first will be next week.

My high priority free software list

Help FSF build the fund
Help FSF build the fund

The FSF has rebooted the list of High Priority Free Software Projects with a $10,000 grant donated from WordLabel.com. The list contains software that is considered useful by the Foundation to keep computer users away from non-free software.

In the past the FSF has maintained such list directly but this time they ask for input by the community. I tend to agree with the priorities set by FSF, only reshuffling some of them and adding a few of my own. Here is my own personal wishlist:

  1. Gnash, the Free Software alternative to Adobe Flash, not only the player but also the authoring tool. Tools for creativity need lots of work, especially vector animation software and CAD/CAM drawing tools.
  2. CAD/CAM tools are way behind proprietary counterparts. It’s not just a matter of incompatibilities with DWG format. We should lobby Google to release SketchUp as free software, as a start.
  3. Video editing can be improved, but the building blocks are already there, so it shouldn’t be very too difficult to progress.
  4. VoIP and videoconferencing tools are still lacking behind proprietary counterparts, despite the fact that all the building blocks (open protocols, free sw servers and client libraries) are available.
  5. Better graphic templates for OO.org and other office/DTP applications. The tools are already good enough for home/small business use and I’m sure that good looking default templates would help drive adoption allowing one-click to create a good looking presentation or poster for local garage sale.

Last but not least, I think citizens of a Free Society need to start thinking of computers beyond the desktop boxes.’  We should invest efforts to develop more Free Sofware mobile applications and devices (like OpenMoko). And in parallel, make it easy to effectively sync between various applications and devices. BTW, did you notice that there is a bounty worth $2,000 to develop a Free Software application to sync Remember The Milk data with Funambol? Let me know if you want to grab that.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (3/3)

After two days bashing Apple, here is the good stuff as promised.

iWorks is good stuff. Keynote is simply amazing: everything is where it should be, the templates are gorgeous, animations are fluid, automatic aligning of pasted items is superb. Pages is beyond any wordprocessor out there. I haven’t used Numbers enough because I don’t have much time to learn it, but it looks amazing and innovative too. Seeing iWorks made me think of the amount of work for free/libre software developers to catch up.’  To OO.org (and koffice) developers my suggestion is: stop wasting time imitatin Microsoft Office, abandon Base (not useful), invest on improving Presenter and new UI paradigm. And get designers to work on good templates.

Time Machine is another masterpiece: that’s how backup and restore should work on all systems. I’ve always dreamed of having something so simple on GNU. All the tools are already there, but nobody ever designed such a beautiful and simple to use interface. I should probably talk of ‘experience’ instead of simply an interface because Time Machine barely has an interface. To backup you simply plugin an external disk and all the job is done without a question asked, magically. To restore you simply click on the Time Machine icon and you’re brought back in time with the interface of the software you’re running. It’s too difficult to explain, you have to watch it live. GNOME and KDE guys: please, learn from that.

Finally the hardware: bad keyboard, but amazing case. I love the magnets to hold the screen down, very very convenient. And I love the power plug. If Dell or HP made gorgeous GNU/Linux compatible machines, especially desktops that you’re not ashamed to put in a living room, I’d spend extra bucks to buy them.

So in the end, I’m happy I tested Apple’s system but I wouldn’t buy one for me: it’s too expensive for what it gives back to somebody like me that already knows how to use well a GNU system.’  Considering that GNU learning curve is so much less steep than it used to, I really don’t see many reasons not to start walking it today.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (2/3)

Yesterday I described the bad things I found with my year experience with a Mac. Today it’s the day of the ugly stuff.

The ALT-TAB (or CMD-TAB, in Mac world) has the stupidest behavior ever. It cycles through the open applications, not the open windows. For being an OS based on the documents, not the apps, it’s disappointing, at best. It’s also annoying that if you have minimized a window, CMD-TABing won’t bring it back in foreground: you have to go on the bar and click! Dude: that’s silly!’  I know you can install third-party apps that restore the common CMD-TAB behaviour, but that’s not the point: the system should work well out of the box, as claimed.

I tried plugging in my Samsung MP3 and OGG player and the first time I did that the kernel crashed. Now, after 5 major updates, there is no crash but only a message saying ‘Cannot read this disk: eject or ignore?’ Lame Apple, lame. Especially since the same player works perfectly on OS X 10.4. Reporting the bug didn’t help (almost one year has passed).

But wait, it gets worse. Quicktime player doesn’t play DIVx and other formats out of the box!!! WHAT? The first and foremost complaint I’ve heard every time I tried to defend my GNU systems was that there are no codecs for movies. And I get this expensive computer only to find out that I still need to download VLC to watch my collection?

So, in the end, any GNU system is not different from Mac: you need to hack your box to make it work how you want it, you need to install software, you need to put codecs. Free software comes to rescue the Mac, with VLC, Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird, MiroTV, Cyberduck, Adium, OO.org ecc completing the otherwise very limited experience. But all this software is already available out of the box on any GNU/Linux system: why pay more and use the same programs?

Disclaimer: I’m not adding any rant about the defective, DRM crippled iTunes simply because I never used it. My collection of music is in OGG Vorbis format and iTunes is of no use.

Mac OS X vs GNU: my personal summary (1/3)

When I started working at Funambol, Hal asked me what kind of computer I wanted, PC or Mac? At that time I had suffered some frustration with my usual setup, using GNOME. I was especially frustrated by the mail program Evolution while using GnuPG encryption and its lack of support for ‘discussions’ like Gmail. Also, I was very curious to see what innovations happened in the past 6/7 years since I last used a non-free operating system.’  So, without thinking too much, I answered ‘I want a Mac’. I have a white MacBook with Leopard installed.

Now I’ve been a Mac user for almost 1 year and I’m ready to summarize the experience. Keep in mind that I’m comparing the Mac to GNU/Linux as an experienced user that, despite not being a developer, walked the whole learning curve during many years.’  This is a series of three posts: the bad, the ugly and the good things.’  Today I start with the bad stuff.

I use the MacBook to give presentations at shows and events. The guys at Apple decided not to include the connectors for VGA or DVI in the box. Those are sold separately for €19.’  That, IMHO, is cheap (not “affordable”).

Spaces brings multiple screens to OS X. Doh! Amiga had those in 1985 (even at multiple resolution) and *nix had them forever. This is such a new thing to OS X that they work in a very chaotic way. Microsoft Office goes totally crazy with it (I’m told it’s Microsoft’s fault for using their own graphic libraries) and the management of focus between applications on different screens is confusing at times.

Apple Mail still doesn’t work well with GnuPG encryption and doesn’t support any of the good features that Gmail has. Plus it crashes way too often. And why does it store attachments in a folder on the filesystem? What happens if I accidentally delete the file: will it disappear from the email box?’  And if I delete the email message, will it delete the file too?’  It’s a very very basic email program.

iSync is neat, but it’s not compatible with latest phones. Just like I would do with GNU desktop software you need to google around to find a solution, or wait for next release.

iPhoto only syncs to Apple .Mac/MobileMe site. Right, like I want to hand the keys to my personal history all in the hands of any random dude. For me that’s unacceptable, so I had to google around to find a gratis plugin that makes iPhoto compatible with Flickr.’  I’m keeping my personal photos on my other computer running f-spot: it feels safer.

At home I have an HP all-in-one printer and scanner psc 1210: I couldn’t find a way to print in B/W only (if there is it’s well hidden.) And the scanner is not recognized by the Image Aquisition software bundled with the system. I should probably google or ask an experienced friend to find an answer (tipically: install this 45mb software by HP that invades your system with useless crap, when all you need is a simple driver).’  On GNU you would have to do the same (google and ask peole) with the difference that if you need a driver, you get a driver.

That’s it for now, tomorrow I’ll tell you the ugly bits, before going to the good stuff (there is some, I promise).