The move is getting real. I put down a deposit for the movers this morning, and shortly after that purchased Amtrak tickets to get us to NYC. I closed out my local bank account yesterday, canceled my local voter registration this morning, and have read all the requirements for getting a New York driver’s license. And the realtors are calling pretty regularly asking to show the place. Crazy.
In the past year, I’ve given a few talks. In roughly reverse chronological order, before I forget (yes, I’m using the blog as a purely personal CMS :)-
- the closing at GUADEC 2006, aka the ‘gnome is people talk’. PDF here; people mosaic here. (More pictures/mosaic versions coming soon.)
- an intro to stopbadware.org, given at the Asilomar Microcomputer Workshop. ooo-html here.
- a talk on open standards at LWE. News Forge reported decently on it, but I did not have any slides so nothing to put up.
- I moderated a panel on Patents and Open Source at the annual JOLT symposium. I have not yet watched the webcast but really should.
- Spoke to a small learning technology group at HBS about the Berkman Center- the kind of outreach within the Harvard community that Berkman should do more of. The host and organizer, Denis Saulnier, wrote up some notes on it.
A finnish fairy brought me a 770 at guadec, and it is pretty slick. Very useful under certain circumstances, and will be much more so if i ever get a cell that can share a network connection with it. Couple negatives amongst the overall utility-
• needs something like ubuntu universe, or fedora extras- all the cool, non-official packages in one easy-to-enable location. Am very frustrated that i can’t find a working irc client package right now, for example. That should be trivial.
• am a little frustrated at the text entry. I really miss graffiti from my old palm.
• we really need cross-device settings roaming- having to re-enter all my web passwords is teh suck.
All in all, though, a pretty awesome little device. I think it will significantly delay my plans to purchase a tablet PC- at least a full semester.
Luis’s Portland Project In A Nutshell (Your Opinions and Mileage May Vary):
Given two mediocre ISV platforms*, and a finite amount of time and money, why spend that time and money to fix one ISV platform to kick ass** when you can spend the time and money to add a third mediocre ISV platform instead? Yay!
This is not a new thought, but it just came up over and over again at GUADEC, and I figured it needed to be recorded.
NB: This is me speaking privately, and is not the Official Opinion of the GNOME Project, or even a significant minority of the GNOME Project; my overall view is slightly more nuanced, etc. But damn… this is silly.
* If you think either GNOME or KDE is better than mediocre, compared to the options on other platforms, you’re fooling yourself.
** see guadec thoughts #2
[Wrote this months ago when I was looking at DReaM, never quite finished, but figured I’d flush it from the queue. I was a much better-behaved blogger when my blogging tools didn’t let me save drafts…]
Let me preface this, again, by saying that Sun’s DReaM is quite likely the best option out there for DRM/CRAP. [Lessig apparently agrees.] So much so that I’d actually like it to succeed. The following commentaries should be taken, then, as constructive, fixable criticism.
- I mentioned yesterday that I found the use of ‘Life’ to describe a market segment just… gross. Today I find that in Sun’s specs, they refer to this segment as the ‘personal-content/life’ category. Getting there. I’d much prefer ‘Personal Content’, since they are primarily aiming at specific use cases around personal, shared content- i.e., I want to share pictures so that only family can see it, for example. I tend to prefer the more open declarative living model, but I can see how this would be useful to a lot of people, and ‘personal content’ seems to nail the name on the head.
- The DReaM MMI Spec (the one I had to register to get) has a full-page EULA. All things considered, it is a completely reasonable, non-evil EULA, so I can’t necessarily blame Sun completely, but it does point up the need for something like clearware.org’s attempts to make EULAs more standard and more human readable.
- I mentioned yesterday that a requirement for a locked down client OS would make DReaM… well, unpleasant. It seems that at this time DReaM punts the issue, saying that ‘robustness requirements/rules for a DReaM-MMI client are not specified in this document.’
In the category of things Sun probably can’t fix, but is mostly out of their control:
- The MMI spec pays lip service to fair use by mentioning it at all, but then says ‘it would be much simpler if there were a crisp, clear answer to what constitutes fair use… The over-arching vision of Project DReaM is to respect the rights of content owners…’ In other words, ‘fair use is hard, and realistically, our sponsors are content providers, not fair users, so we punted it.’ Not unexpected- it is pretty impossible to even dream of a DRM system that actually respects fair use- but I’d love it if a DRM implementor had the balls to step up and be honest about it. It might provide the motivation to actually get some motion going on clarifying the situation.
- The spec provides for the transmission of location information. I am inherently opposed to the notion that people should have different rights to information because of where they live, but that’s already ingrained in the systems we have, so I suppose Sun gets to either do that or obliterate any chance of actually getting deployed. Maybe when Sun goes live the FSF needs to fork it and provide a morally upstanding version of DReaM. :) [I know the FSF is inherently opposed to DRM, but I do think that as more and more of life goes on the web individuals will need restrictions management tools, and that seems like an important individual choice that Free Software may want to enable, while ensuring that such choices don’t enable governments and others to make choices like region encoding.]
Seeing so many of us using proprietary software for some of our most treasured possessions (our pictures, in flickr) has bugged me deeply this week. Just as bad, it strikes me as a fairly large and self-sustainable business opportunity- a small but growing number of people are willing to pay for services which give them the kind of control that flickr and others can’t or won’t give. Further, 37 Signals and other things has convinced me that it is possible to build small, basically self-financed web businesses. We now have millions of GNOME users out there; just 100,000 (hell, 10,000) GNOME users paying $5 a month for hardware, bandwidth and some software would finance a lot of software development. So I believe firmly there is a big opportunity out there for someone to do a free software based for-pay web service that integrates well with tools like f-spot, gnome-blog, evo, gossip, ekiga, nautilus, etc. It should be easy for GNOME users to sign up for one account, pay a small monthly or yearly fee, and be able to easily (no further configuration) publish their photos, blogs, etc., and communicate via email/jabber/voip/etc. Could be a small for-profit (like 37 Signals) or it could be the funding source for the first free-software cooperative. Either way, the opportunity is there for someone to do some agile, rapid development and have this in place soon.
Someone who I respect a lot told me at GUADEC ‘open source is doomed’. He believed that the small-ish apps we tend to do pretty well will migrate to the web, increasing the capital costs of delivering good software and giving next-gen proprietary companies like Google even greater advantages than current-gen proprietary companies like MS. (I’m vastly over-simplifying his complicated argument, but bear with me :) I’ve had a half-written essay on ‘why web apps suck and they are beating us anyway’ on my drive for a while, but this conversation at GUADEC made the light switch on for me.
Three big things:
- Web development/deployment is easy, and desktop is not.
- Web development makes certain things easy; primarily location independence and collaboration.
- Desktop development has advantages web devel does not (rich inter-app integration, localized search, etc.) but taking advantage of them is a PITA.
Or more simply- our biggest competition in the developer space is not microsoft, and it isn’t apple. Our biggest competition in the developer space is php, rails, and the web client-server paradigm. C# and Java are great, but as long as they are pretty wrappers on the same style of development we’ve always done, they are lipstick on a pig. We need to take the plunge and fundamentally make development more web-like while also leveraging the strengths of the client, or else we really are in trouble.
So, what’s the constructive takeaway that became clear to me at GUADEC? Our developer platform (really, any developer platform that wants to be relevant in 3 years) needs to be:
- braindead easy to start with: if you can’t have an app running in an hour, you’re in trouble. 80% principle applies here- the rails people say ‘we don’t care if you can’t build Amazon with rails’; we should probably say ‘we don’t care if you can’t build evo with g-rails.’ If we can’t make developing a desktop app as easy as a web app, people will develop web apps. Simple as that.
- dead easy to ship, deploy, and update: probably impossible to be easier than the web here, but we keep saying ‘apt is better than windows install tools’, which isn’t relevant- that’s like saying your car is better than a horse and buggy. Might be true, but the web’s install/use experience is a formula one car. You must beat that, not the horse and buggy. This is something I’m sure others have realized forever but I never did.
- building a collaborative app must be easy: I have been using writely instead of abi at work because I can trivially and transparently collaborate with my co-workers. The development platform must have collaboration as an easy-to-use part of the platform or the web will wipe us out on that feature alone.
- easy/powerful integration with search: search is really just the canonical example, for me, of things that are easy do across a desktop but which are hard for, say, GoogleOS to do. Obviously google can make it easy for me to search across all google properties, but never (or at least painfully) across flickr, delicious, etc. Our development platform should make it trivial to automagically instrument your files and let beagle know about them.
- easy/powerful integration with hardware: another thing desktops can do well and web apps can’t- our platform should make it easy to take full advantage of webcams, microphones, etc. Of course, like many of the other things on this list, this goes way beyond GNOME, but we’ve done that before, and must keep doing it. [Ed.: added later. I knew I’d forgotten something ;)]
- identify the web’s weak points, and go after them: search is just one example of things that local, client apps can do easily that web apps cannot. Development platforms (and apps) should be brainstorming hard about all those things, prioritizing them by user impact, and doing them. Every advantage of things you can do that the web can’t should be made trivial to develop and brought to users quickly.
Anyway… I guess that’s just a rant. But it was something that I hadn’t fully known how to say until a conversation or two at GUADEC.