A new push for OpenStack public clouds?

Monty “mordred” Taylor just announced that he’s leaving HP and going to work at IBM. Usually something like this wouldn’t deserve more fanfare than the twittersphere explosion already in act. In this case, I think the announcement is more important than just an OpenStack board member and technical leader changing employer.

Monty says on his blog that he is leaving HP because he wants to build public clouds, implying that he can’t do that at HP. At IBM instead he’ll be focusing on a strong OpenStack-based public cloud, to compete head-to-head with Amazon (and surpass it).

His words confirm the impression I had when analyzing the competitive landscape of public clouds for DreamHost. HP clearly is targeting the enterprise market, with their public cloud used mainly as a supporting mechanism for the private clouds.

I think OpenStack will benefit from more focus on public clouds: I have the feeling those are taken for granted, since there are working groups for pretty much anything but for public clouds. And all operators running large clusters have nightmare stories instead. Hopefully lots of positive changes aimed at public cloud users will keep going upstream (and we can avoid creating yet another working group in openstack-land).

Pimp your addressbook with Avatargrabber

Who said that syncing is boring? Alfredo Morresi developed the ultimate time-wasting-syncing-social-tool to pimp your addressbook. Did you know that your phone and desktop addressbook can associate an icon to any of your entries? But, honestly, who has ever wanted to spend time associating a name with a picture? I didn’t, until Avatagrabber was released, that is. Now it’s become a perfect time wasting machine. All you need is a myFunambol account (or another SyncML compliant server). Here is how it works: Avatargrabber grabs the list of contacts from myFunambol; you can pick a name you want to ‘pimp’ with an icon and let Avatagrabber scout the web in search of images of your contact on various social networks or Google image. It’s only a matter of seconds before you become addicted :)’  Not bad for a Funambol Code Sniper application. Grab it here: isn’t it cool?

Everybody loves forums… or do they really?

I often find web-based forums difficult to participate to. Most of the times the graphic interfaces are too rich, clogged with unnecessary information, visually tirening and distracting. Usually they have too many categories to chose from the start page, threads are difficult to follow, most of the time you can’t really tell who’s answering to what. And they force to stay online to interact with others, there is no ‘offline’ support.

Method of Ubuntu Community Support
Method of Ubuntu Community Support

Compared to a local email archive from mailing lists I think that web forums are suboptimal for collaboration. That’s one of the reasons why I like Collabnet’s discussion services (as in Funambol Forge), that integrate a mailing list with a simple web forum UI: you can have the best of the worlds.

Reading Canonical’s Survey Results I was surprised to notice that their community prefers to use web-based forums to mailing list for community support. Is that because Google indexes forum archives better than mailing list archives? The’  Ubunty forums entry page doesn’t look too inviting, so I imagine that the most common entry point is a search. From there on the user is engaged and starts posting. My feeling is that web forums have a lower barrier to entry and mailing lists have a higher retention rate of contributors. Does anybody have pointer to scientific studies about this topic?

The iPhone killer existed before the iPhone

And Nokia didn’t know about it. The Linux-based Maemo platform had all the potential to radically change the cell phone landscape long before Apple came out with the iPhone. But Nokia preferred to be ultra-conservative and marketed the Internet Tablet devices such as the Nokia N810 as a toy for geeks.

Maybe this strategy has paid off since now Nokia is hiring those geeks to work on the Maemo software platform. This is a good sign for the free software movement because Nokia is flexing its muscles in the business arena pushing both its free/open source platforms: QT/GTK+ Maemo and the upcoming open sourced Symbian.

Way to go Nokia. Only be fast because I need a new phone and I have decided to buy one that comes with freedom attached, no strings.

Are you a developer? Apply here: Nokia – Apply Your Imagination.

Is GPLv3 doomed on mobile handsets?

Short answer: no, I don’t think so. But it will take lots of efforts for GPLv3 software to diffuse on handsets, too.

Longer answer. For us at Funambol it’s quite clear that not all of the Funambol clients can be distributed as binaries under the same AGPLv3 license that regulates the source. That’s because for platforms like BlackBerry and iPhone the binaries must be digitally signed with a developer key in order to be executed and run.’  GNU GPLv3 and its sister license Affero GPLv3 require that the recipient of binaries receive from the author the complete and corresponding source code:

Complete Corresponding Source Code also includes any encryption or authorization codes necessary to install and/or execute the source code of the work, perhaps modified by you, in the recommended or principal context of use, such that its functioning in all circumstances is identical to that of the work, except as altered by your modifications.

That is, Funambol cannot distribute the BlackBerry or iPhone binaries under the AGPLv3 without distributing also its own private dev keys, something that clearly cannot be done.

Now many people believe that since handset manufacturers and cell phone network operators are used to keep strong control over their hardware platforms and over their networks, then GPLv3 software will never be able to diffuse in the mobile environment.’  This criticism is not new and has also been discussed during the GPLv3 drafting process.’  But GPLv3 is not necessarily incompatible with embedded devices and with business models attached to them.

Most of the criticisms are either plain FUD or old habits (“that’s how it always was and will always be”). For example, one argument is that regulators like FCC mandate that devices that emit radio signals should not be modifiable; therefore hardware vendors refuse to release software for wireless systems under a free software license.’  Another is that network operators don’t like to give possibility to execute any software on their networks for fears of malware and lawsuits from their users (example: if a program gets out of control and starts sending thousands of sms from a cell phone, who’s going to pay?)

Criticisms like these may be hard to confute, but they must be fought back because we can’t let people believe that things can and should not change.’  We need a more focused effort.’  OpenMoko demonstrates that most of the concerns come from laziness, old habits. FSF can have a stronger role even if RMS doesn’t use a cell phone.

When you renew your support to FSF this year add a request for the High Priority Project: a fully free OS for cell phones. We have the OpenMoko hardware to start hacking, we have lots of software to get started. Lets make it better and put the Freedom word in mobile, too.

New MacBooks are Defective by Design

The new MacBook not only have reflective screens and miss a FireWire prot, but they also hide a stupid DRM locks in the video signal called HDCP. CrunchGear reports:

What is HDCP? It’s essentially a digital standard that tells your OS what you can display content on. If you connect your device to a project, as one high school teacher discovered while trying to play an iTunes video, the HDCP system will stop video from streaming to that device. If you connect it to an HDCP-compliant monitor then you’re in luck.

This means that even if you buy legitimate content but your TV is not HDMI capable you won’t be able to play the movie on it. The solution? I wish I could say simply ‘buy a GNU system’ that is cool and well designed, but I still haven’t found something I would tell my friends to put in their living rooms (I have my own custom made set-top-box, but it’s ugly).’  I cannot see why Dell or HP don’t bet on VLC+Elisa, which are 100times better than iTunes+FrontRow or the MS Media crap. So for now I’ll repeat what Crunchgear said:

Do a quick search on ThePirateBay. I’m sure you’ll find it in non-HDCP encrypted format.

Support Defective By Design campaign, donate to FSF

CrunchGear » Archive » MacBooks enter a golden new age of anti-piracy cruft: HDCP for all.

Funambol’s first developers conference

Funambol’s community has grown so much that it deserves its first developer conference. We’re hosting this one day event on November 25 in Milan, at Politecnico di Milano.’  It’s very exciting for me to see how rich is’  the agenda: Funambol’s Engineering team will explain the structure of the various components and, more importantly, illustrate the roadmap of each main part: the sync server, the connectors and the clients.’  Bianka Busch of 1und1 will give an interesting overview of how they integrated Funambol with OpenXchange to deliver a MobileWe solution to their customers. Roberto Polli di Babel will be talking about integrating Funambol server with CalDAV and LDAP. Mike Taczak of Mailtrust will explain how they have worked with a commercial free software company to integrate the AGPLv3 code into their proprietary backends. Phil Shotton of PSJ Solutions will share his experience developing and maintaining the connector for SugarCRM: integrating two commercially successfull free software projects to power his own business.

Since the meeting is at the Politecnico, I encourage also the students to participate. Funambol offers paths to get in touch with the dazzling world of free software, with the Sniper Programs being the first and easiest ones (Code Sniper, Phone Sniper and Lion Sniper) and then maybe a carreer, too. Candidate funambolists are welcome to save the date now.

Are Apple fans too cautious or is Apple evil?

Is Apple evil or do people fear them?
Is Apple evil or do people fear Jobs?

The iPhoneDevCamp was a great experience for me.’  Lots of developers, lots of new ideas, lots of fun. I found it surprising though how many people still develop on this platform despite how badly Apple behaves towards its community. In San Francisco at iPhoneDevCamp there were about 500 developers that played for two days delivering an incredible amount of software (46 projects, in total), some of it of incredible value and power.

For me, used to the open exchange of information between free software crowds, it was very surprising to see how much iPhone/Apple fans love their gadgets. Despite the tight NDAs they need to sign, they’re still happy to code for free and give lots of value back to Apple. It makes me wonder.

Open Mobile Exchange speech at OSCON2008

OpenMobileExchange room at OSCON2008
Usually it’s the speaker that is photographed, this time I took the chance to take a picture of the people listening to my speech at OSCON2008 for Funambol. Quite some people where there and they seem interested into “Leveraging Mobile Open Source for New Wireless Apps and Services”.

It was a very interesting session, Surj Patel and Raven Zachary have put together an amazing panel.

Legacy is good, but change can be hard

The new Funambol Forge opened registration to new members. It’s based on Collabnet, as other big free software projects like OpenOffice.org, NetBeans.org, java.net and eBay Dev. I feel comfortable and in good company 🙂

Funambol has a very big community with lots of people that contributed to the project over its many years of life. Its legacy is vast, made of 3 mailing lists spread in 2 SourceForge projects and one Yahoo! Group, one main project on OW2, many other contributed projects in the most disparate places (SF, GCode, self hosted), web pages of the free/libre version on the .com site and much more. All this deserves to be in one place. In a binary world things should be easy: move from point A to point B, delete duplicates and you’re done. But real life is harder because of one commandment of community management:

thou shalt not upset your community members

Changing a website can be very upsetting. You must give your users a good reason to change because it’s not just a matter of updating bookmarks. Your community members will have to register into a new system, change their habits, learn a new user interface, adapt their email filters.

I believe that the new discussion services on Collabnet are a fairly good reason, as will be the use of subversion (expected in July). Be delicate, be gentle and involve your community in the process.

Three projects have already decided to move in the new Forge: the SoGO Connector, the Google Connector and the Jajah Connector have a new house. I hope that more will join us in the next weeks.