Non linear presentation based on open standards

If you’re like me you’re going to love Dizzy.js. Like many, I think that PowerPoint and all its clones are very poor tools to express ideas in a compelling ways. A very interesting alternative for me is Prezi, I have two main issues with it: it’s based on proprietary software by Adobe (Flash) and it’s proprietary software itself.

Enter dizzy.js, a Javascript library that enables you to create nonlinear presentations similiar to Prezi but storing data in the SVG-format with the navigation and animation is done via Javascript. Go have  a look at it: it’s good already and I can’t wait to use it.

via dizzy.js – nonlinear presenting.

Gmail Man vs MS Office 365 vs You

Microsoft released a series of videos featuring Gmailman, a nosy mailman that reads your email in order to send you advertising. It would  be funny, if it was a video done by EFF or FreedomBox promoting privacy enhanced alternatives. Instead, it’s Microsoft promoting its ‘cloud’ based product, which is equally bad for its users although for different reasons.

Gmail’s business is about learning who you are, who you correspond with, what you talk about, where you hang out and more in order to sell you to advertisers. Microsoft is in the business of selling you access to their precious golden bits and heavenly bandwidth, tighten your data to them so you will keep paying them because you’ll never be able to take them and leave. Two equally flawed business models.

Facebook’s Awesome Is My Yawn

The Many Faces of A Website
The Many Faces of A Website

Mark Zuckerberg tried to steal Google+ thunder announcing that Facebook would soon have something ‘awesome’. Today the veil was lifted on the new feature of Facebook: video chat. Seriously? I find this boring. Facebook’s videochat only works one-to-one, no group video chat. It runs as a Java applet, nothing cool. It’s not based on open standards, but it’s the same secret, insecure protocol used by Microsoft/Skype.

Compared to Google+ Hangouts, Facebook’s chat is so 2010: I’m not impressed. Are you?

How is Google damaging consumers?

I kept this post as draft since I read Wired’s article about Google and their supposed dominant position. Today I read again about the new investigation of US Antitrust targeting bigG because it holds too much market share in online advertising and advertisers are getting upset.  I can’t understand why an antitrust agency is taking care of this. How is Google harming consumers? This seems to me a totally different case than the Microsoft antitrust judgement. With Microsoft, consumers were being harmed directly left with little to no choice to use their products in order to have ‘compatibility’. At that time, I think that antitrust bodies had a clear case: Microsoft dominance and abusive business practices were removing options to consumers.

With Google the case seems very different: advertisers are free to stop advertising on Google any time they want. Contrary to Microsoft, Google cannot leverage any network effect to keep Internet users (the ‘consumers’) to stop using Google for search. I can go and use Bing any time I want: Google search uses an open standard, it’s a freakin web site. The simplest thing Microsoft has to do in order to take 40% of Internet users’ search is to pay a sufficient amount of money to Mozilla, and voilà: all Firefox users will have Bing as default search engine.

Same thing with many other Googl services. If you don’t like Gmail anymore you can take all of its archive, contacts, and everything else and move it somewhere else: open standards (IMAP) at work again.

And, should Microsoft not want to pay Mozilla, Google’s search engine can start to suck  any time or more privacy issues may arise, and users will move to the next best one (didn’t we all move to Google from Altavista already?)

What am I failing to see in these new wave of antitrust complaints against Google?

How To Read Open Document Format ODF documents on Symbian

My previous post on the topic generated quite a discussion about Open Document Format (aka ISO 26300) documents on mobile platforms. My argument was that ODF support on most mobile platforms is still poor compared to the proprietary counterparts. From the discussion that happened on identi.ca I learned about a quite decent Symbian reader for ODF files, called Office Reader. I tested it using Funambol email push and sync client on my Nokia E71 and the results are quite good. You can see from the screenshots below (taken from a pretty complex ODT test file) that the text rendered correctly.  I’m confident that I would be able to get an idea of the attached document and, if it was a press release, for example, I think I would OfficeReader would present enough information to approve it or not. This is the  if you want to compare to the mobile version. I’ve tested also a couple of ODP presentations and spreadsheets: they are rendered good enough to get an idea of what kind of document it is, but not as well as the text file.

I downloaded and installed OfficeReader directly from the phone’s browser, but of course all other options are valid. Check the FAQ if you can’t install or run it (I had to allow your phone’s operating system to run unsigned apps).

PS I took the screenshots with the free software Screenshot application (GPL license but the install screen says ‘freeware -not to be sold’ ?!?).

Mobile Cloud Computing, Part II: Where do We go From Here?

Mobile cloud is going to be big, according to a study published by ABI research. And they’re not the only ones to say so.

In this second part of my thoughts about mobile cloud — which I hope we can all talk about at OSCON — I’ll try to find answers to this question: as a developer commited to free-as-in-freedom software, what would you need to do to get started?

In this who’s who in mobile open source, Funambol and Volantis are shown as the only companies offering service delivery platforms, demonstrating that there are many ways to develop free software applications but only a few solutions to build open mobile services with.

Linux support packages Wind River (also one of the most prominent integrators for mobile Linux stacks), MontaVista
Operating systems for feature phones: Purple Labs; for smartphones: Azingo, Access Linux Platform, A la Mobile, OpenMoko; for MIDs: Intel Moblin, Ubuntu Mobile. Also OKL4 is virtualisation (hypervisor) software for mobile phones.
Middleware GNOME’s GTK+ and related projects (e.g. D-Bus, Gstreamer), the graphics subsystem of Nokia’s Qt and the db4o database engine.
Application environments Google’s Android, Nokia’s Maemo, Nokia’s Qt, Eclipse eRCP, Sun’s Java phone ME, Motorola’s Java MIDP3, AOL’s Open Mobile Platform and Nokia’s Web Runtime
Browsers Apple’s WebKit (on the verge of becoming a de facto standard for web-centric service delivery) and Firefox Mobile
Service deliv. platforms Funambol (consumer email sync), Volantis (content adaptation)
Development tools Eclipse Foundation (manages the Eclipse IDE, used as the basis for Nokia’s Carbide, Wind River tools and many others). Plus RhoMobile – a new set of open source developer tools for creating connected enterprise apps on smartphones.
Industry initiatives Symbian Foundation (EPL license), Open Handset Alliance (APL2 license), LiMo Foundation (open source as it builds on top of Linux), GNOME Mobile and Embedded (LGPL-licensed GTK+ and related software)

On the other hand, proprietary mobile services are blossoming everywhere. Funambol recently listed and reviewed 11 mobile cloud sync services, from Apple MobileMe to Vodafone Zyb.

A minimum requirement are interoperable services implementing open standards, because users’ data must be preserved at all costs. Proprietary walled gardens create small monopolies that sometimes grow big and take away personal data from the users. Two recent cases demonstrated that users of mobile cloud services are exposed to serious problems: one with Amazon Kindle and the other with Palm Pre. Both are mobile devices, both rely on mobile cloud services for most of their usefulness. Kindle users that buy electronic books are realizing that they don’t end up owning anything and Amazon can too easily prevent users from enjoying the books they’ve bought.  The other disturbing news story reports that Palm Pre owners cannot access the music that they bought and stored in Apple’s iTunes: Apple still wants to own the music it sold its users and keep their data hostage.  I think these are just a visible signal of  proprietary services battling to own the users’ data.  If Kindle and iTunes used interoperable and open standards, which could be safely implemented in free/libre open source software, their users would not face much of these problems.

The pure mobile service frameworks available for freedom conscious developers are Funambol, which offers push notification, synchronization and device management, and Volantis, which offers content adaptation to mobile browsers. Rhomobile is another options, a mix between a development tool and a service delivery platform. Funambol is fully based on the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) open standards Data Synchronization and Device Management, therefore services built with Funambol can easily respect users’ rights. The server aspect is complemented by the Java and C++ SDKs to develop native mobile applications for the devices. Rhomobile is based on Ruby and can be used to develop applications that act as being native but use the local web browser.

While Funambol and Rhomobile in theory can be used to develop free as in freedom mobile cloud services, there is still one big issue to solve: locked down devices. Network operators don’t want the users to be too free so almost all of them prevent users to run applications that are not digitally signed. RIM, Apple and to some extent also Symbian devices are all locked down, which renders users’ freedom in the mobile cloud a balancing act: on one hand a developer needs to obey the rules dictated by network operators and device manufacturers; on the other hand the same developer needs to find ways to deliver freedom to the users. In Funambol’s case, for example, the official iPhone client can only sync contacts because the official Apple SDK only allows that. Nonetheless, Funambol client for iPhone can sync also calendar accessing directly the sqlite database, but such version cannot run on the device unless it is unlocked (breaking Apple’s warranty).

This is only scratches the surface of the mobile cloud services for the freedom-concerned developers and users.  There are further issues to talk about, including:

  • device management,
  • how to push software updates to the devices,
  • security of data (since people tend to lose their phones),
  • how to keep data secure while transfering.

The free software movement should take the lead to address and solve these issues. I hope we can spark the discussion at OSCON. I’ll be available all days ping me any time. Follow me on identi.ca or twitter.

Two days to comment on TLS-authz standard to IETF

Patent encumbered standards are the worst because they seem legit, but instead they can easily become incompatible with Free/Libre Open Source Software.’  Free Software Foundation campaign is alerting the community to act fast:

Last January, the Free Software Foundation issued an alert to efforts at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to sneak a patent-encumbered standard for “TLS authorization” through a back-door approval process that was referenced as “experimental” or “informational”. The many comments sent to IETF at that time alerted committee members to this attempt and successfully prevented the standard gaining approval.

Unfortunately, attempts to push through this standard have been renewed and become more of a threat. The proposal now at the IETF has a changed status from “experimental” to “proposed standard”. The FSF is again issuing an alert and request for comments to be sent urgently and prior to the February 11 deadline to ietf@ietf.org. Please include us in your message by a CC to campaigns@fsf.org.

Read more: Send comments opposing TLS-authz standard by February 11 – Free Software Foundation.

Architecture, Politics, Internet and Open Standards

I still have Obama’s inauguration’s speech in my mind, so full of passion and hope. It’s such a powerful word, hope.’  What most impressed me was his call to politicians to stop bickering and get to work to reform politics.’  This morning I read a post of Mitch Kapor, about the interconnection between politics and architecture. This paragraph connected in my mind Obama’s speech and the Moonlight/Silverlight fiasco:

The decentralized architecture of the Internet minimizes the role of central authorities and maximizes the ability of any participant to offer or receive any information or service and to develop new capabilities and services. What keeps the Internet from descending into chaos and anarchy is not centralized authority, but that its activities, while decentralized, are highly coordinated through adherence to collectively developed open standards.

Emphasis added. So, just as to have a democracy you need a system architecture that is accountable and transparent, to have a democratic Internet you need to keep its decentralized architecture based on open standards.

Moonlight/Silverlight and Flash are neither open nor standards: they are tools developed by corporations to take and keep control of the Internet.’  They are gates put in place to discriminate who, when and how we, the citizens, can access the digital archives of knowledge. They are like books written in obscure languages that can be translated only by holy scribes. They’re bad for Internet, they hurt freedom of the citizens.

We need to refuse Moonlight/Silverlight and Flash, we need to reclaim our right to read the books on our own. Because we can! The alternatives are just there, ready to use, developed collectively by the same people that made the Internet, the W3C. The new HTML5 standard is being held back by, quoting Obama’s inauguration speech, “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” I wish one day we can too proclaim an end to these and have an Internet powered only by real Open Standards.

Cross-platform and interoperability is the key

When it comes to connecting people, the first thing you need to do is use the same language.’  That doesn’t mean force everybody to use your language, because that’s what dictators do (and dictators are wiped out by history). To connect people you have to adapt to people’s language, eventually learning many of them.

This post describes a user experience with new services launched by Nokia and he highlights the major issue I have seen with most, if not all, of the services offered by the big guys:

Nokia Chat I can appreciate because it’s cool new tech — but unless it’s going to support those cool features on a wide range of devices, including non-Nokia ones, it’s pretty pointless for me.

That’s hitting the nail on the head: how can somebody design a chat system that is not interoperable with the rest of the world? It’s the abc of networked economies. Like the fax machine or the telephone itself, more users more (squared) value.

Thinking that everybody will want to buy a Nokia (or Samsung or iPhone or you-name-it) to be able to chat with other that have the same system is arrogant, to say the least. Nonetheless, it’s a mistake that many incumbents are making and one that Funambol is trying hard to avoid. By releasing clients for all platforms Funambol demonstrates that it believes in cross-platform, open standards and interoperability.