Archive for the ‘Open Source’ Category

Raspberry Pi, but not for lunch.

November 11, 2011

There have been whispers about the Raspberry Pi über-mini computer for several months now, but in recent days the project has come out of skunk works and is garnering some press attention. Essentially, the plan is to design and build a credit card-sized, programmable computing device for as little as $25 (around £15). The technology is based around an ARM 11 microprocessor and the GNU/Linux operating system. An SD card provides storage (unsurprisingly at this price there is no hard disc) and a HDMI connection means that a consumer TV can be attached.

The organisation behind it is the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK registered charity that wants to put the fun back into studying computing by manufacturing an ultra-low cost computer and distributing it to schools so that they can teach computer programming to children. Genius. In the late 1970s, people like me cut their programming teeth on similar, although much less powerful, single board hobbyist computers such as Nascom and Kim. With the rise of commodity computing, and brands such as Apple, IBM, Dell and Microsoft, these kinds of machines all but disappeared. The Raspberry Pi team are trying to recreate that spirit of adventure, and as one of the developers, Eben Upton, puts it in a YouTube video:

“Young people don’t have a platform they can learn to program on. I’ve been programming since I was ten, most of my friends who are in the industry have been programming since they were ten, [but] there aren’t a lot of ten-year-old computer programmers anymore. This is going to be an enormous problem for our industry.”

The overall aim seems to be to get these devices into schools, particularly in the UK, and there is talk of a scheme that asks every purchaser to donate one to a local school. As the UK’s coalition government continue to scratch their heads over how to get growth going again it could do far worse than look at this scheme to help fire up the imagination of a new generation of coders.

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Richard Stallman in UK

February 18, 2011

He’s back. Richard Stallman, the digital rights pioneer will be presenting his own unique take on free and open source software at events during March in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Sheffield and Preston. If you’ve not come across his work with the Free Software Foundation have a look my report from his 2008 trip to Manchester. All in all a fascinating, and hugely entertaining, evening. Recommended.

Further details: http://www.fsf.org/events/rms-speeches.html

Microsoft opens up for the next ten years

January 5, 2010

For many Microsoft watchers 2009 was the year of Windows 7 – the latest version of their market-dominating operating system – and Bing, the company’s latest salvo in the continued battle with Google over Web search. But in the background, and little noticed by the media, the company has also been re-thinking how it makes software and these changes are likely to have a more long-term impact on the computer world over the next decade.

Bill Gates has moved on. Ray Ozzie is the new Software Architect and he has brought new ideas about cloud computing, software as a service and, whisper it quietly, open source software. It is the latter that has caused most surprise and in the process has split the free and open source development community. A number of moves made by the company in the last six months have left some in that community talking about a ‘sea change’ and others accusing it of simply using small forays into open source as another form of PR. With this in mind, Oxford University’s OSSWatch service commissioned me to research and write an in-depth article and this has just been published on their website. If you’ve got half an hour to spare before things get too hectic again why not have a look.

Bacon for lunch

November 9, 2009

Last week I interviewed Jono Bacon about his new O’Reilly book, The Art of Community. Jono is the open source community manager for Ubuntu, a popular version of GNU/Linux. As such he has a wealth of experience in setting up and running a virtual software development community. His key argument is that community is essential to the development and sustainability of open source software projects and to achieve that you need to foster a sense of belonging.  His book outlines the practical reality of going about doing that. You can read the interview on the OSSWatch website.

Microsoft tacks the winds of change

November 2, 2009

Microsoft have done two important things this year. The first, Windows 7, you will no doubt have heard all about. Indeed, judging by the number of TV adverts for the launch last week you may be starting to get heartily sick of hearing about it. The second, though, is less well known but much more controversial: they’ve recently committed some of their hand-crafted-in-Redmond code to GNU/Linux. I’ve been writing about different aspects of this for a few people, but the first to publish is Prospect magazine. It’s quite a short piece in terms of the complexity of the issues, but will give you a taster of what’s to come.

The Open Source revolution has only just begun

June 22, 2009

A few months ago I interviewed Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, for a piece for Oxford University’s OSS Watch service. Gianugo is an engaging fellow and clearly passionate about open source software (OSS). For him we are in the midst of a revolution, and, as he told a workshop just before I interviewed him: “revolution is hard stuff. Heads get chopped off. There is violence. There is turmoil. But in the end you get to a new order of stability in which some new things are taken for granted.”

For him OSS is much more than a debate about who owns the code and what kind of licence it has. It is a revolutionary new way of working that is about the development of an open and collaborative community centred around that code. He sees this as the profound change that OSS has brought and argues that this way of working is widening rapidly beyond code to cover other information products (such as scientific research). The term Open Development Method has been coined for this and you can read more in the article “Avoiding abandon-ware: getting to grips with the open development method”

Justin Erenkrantz Interview

February 4, 2009

Towards the end of last year I did an interview with Justin Erenkrantz, the President of the Apache Software Foundation. Apache is a non-profit virtual ‘company’ which specialises in open source software projects and is famous for giving the world the Apache Web server (amongst many other things). The interview was for Oxford University’s OSS Watch service, which was hosting the workshop where the interview took place.

The thing I found interesting when I interviewed Justin was how little pieces of open source history came together—how people’s reactions to certain events were key in creating more formal structures. The final piece is called Meritocrats, cluebats, and the open development method and if you want to know why you’ll have to read the piece.

Open source development

January 6, 2009

One of the live issues in the software world at the moment is whether or not open source code can have long-term sustainability. That is, if there is no clear proprietary ownership can a user be sure that the code will be maintained and developed over a long period? Back in October I was commissioned to write up a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s OSS Watch service that looked at some of these issues. The article, “From a trickle to a flood”, has now been published.

One of the big issues is the methods, or models, that are used to create the code. There are a number of models that are being explored by different open source groups but the Oxford event focused on just one: the open (sometimes called the ‘community-led’) development model.

In this model a diverse community of developers and users work together for the longer-term benefit of the product. The argument is that sustainability can be achieved through the development of a wide and diverse community, a kind of eco-system, which nurtures and supports the code over the long term. The model works with what Harvard Internet lawyer Yochai Benkler has theorised as commons-based peer-production, a process by which everyone who contributes also gets something back that furthers their interests. One of the keynote speakers, Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, described it this way: “It is a bunch of folks, working together, with diverse motivations, and who are not bound by any strong tie – we don’t for example work for the same company…” He goes on to say that: “it is not just grabbing software, attaching an open source licence to it and dumping it somewhere. It is more about understanding and working with others. For me, it is the natural way to express oneself in a connected world”.

For people who are not used to working in this way I think these are quite hard concepts to grasp. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that Gianugo was talking from the heart. He really believes what he says and lives the open development method as a kind of credo, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Free Software Foundation takes on Cisco

December 11, 2008

The Free Software Foundation has just announced that it is to take legal action against networking giant Cisco over alleged copyright infringement. The FSF allege that Cisco have taken software available to all under the GPL licence, made some changes, and then distributed the modified code as part of their Linksys range of products. The allegation is that in this process of distribution Cisco has not released the source code of the various modifications, a potential breach of the GPL licence conditions.

Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF said: “In the fifteen years we’ve spent enforcing our licenses, we’ve never gone to court before. We have always managed to get the companies we have worked with to take their obligations seriously. But at the end of the day, we’re also willing to take the legal action necessary to ensure users have the rights that our licenses guarantee”.

Readers of this blog may recall that I interviewed Richard Stallman, the president of FSF, a few months ago. In the interview he made his views abundantly clear as to how important the right to view modified code and make further changes is to a user’s freedoms. Anyone should be able to make use of software released under GPL and modify it as they see fit, but they must respect the provisions made under the licence and release the modifications back to the general public.

Given the FSF’s views on this, the size of the company they are taking on and the fact that they have never resorted to the courts before, things could get pretty interesting down at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Open Source CRM

November 6, 2008

Many people equate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software with the hard-nosed world of sales and marketing. However, setting up and maintaining an on-going relationship between people within an organisation and externally is something that we all need to do, whether we’re public or private sector.

I was recently commissioned by Oxford University’s open source advisory service (OSS Watch) to produce a piece about their experience of introducing a CRM package into their daily work. They are a non-profit service working in the education sector and the word ‘sales’ is pretty much anathema to them. So their experience of using CRM was not straightforward and they were not afraid to say so. The piece has lots of lessons learned for those considering a similar undertaking in the public sector.