elliot's blog

Back from abroad

My trip to OSBC went well, and the conference was very enjoyable. I plan to write a report for my organisation's website, once I get round to it. I also have a ton of photos to put online, as I got a chance to have a look round San Francisco before the conference, and did some exploring. It's a great city. Busy this week, as I have a seminar to give this evening, and a training course on Thursday and Friday, so might have to wait until the weekend.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 and FOSS

OpenOffice.org 2.0 has increased its dependency on Java. For example, one of the key killer features in the new version is an Access-like database called Base; this is built on top of HSQLDB, which is a Java database. The problem is: Java is not open source, which means it isn't included in pure open source distributions like Debian. So distributions have several options:

  • Don't ship with OpenOffice.org. This is the stance taken by Slackware.
  • Ship OpenOffice.org with Java features disabled. Debian have gone this route in the past.
  • Attempt to get the Java features running using an open source Java (e.g. GCJ). RedHat has taken this approach.
  • Ship full versions of OpenOffice and Java. Commercial distributions like Suse have done this before.

But all these strategies are less than optimal. It would be a shame to see the adoption of OpenOffice stall because of licensing, or because it cannot be installed as a standalone product (instead requiring a separate JVM download). I'm hoping that Sun will eventually see the light and open source Java: we've already seen applets fail, and J2EE floundering in the face of LAMP, and I'd hate to see OpenOffice suffer for the same reasons. For Java to reach its full potential, it needs to be included in every distribution, the same way Python and PHP are. This requires a proper open source license so it can penetrate into every open source developer's toolkit.

Microsoft's Grand Plan To Go Vertical

Microsoft is planning to shift its focus to vertical markets (solutions) rather than horizontal ones (products), according to this article. Perhaps Bill has realised he won't be able to sell many software licenses in a few years' time, as open source penetrates further into other parts of the software market (moving out of the server room and onto desktops).

Technical support for the neighbours

This story from the BBC describes an experiment to find out how much work there is in computer repairs and who's doing it. The author found that his phone never stopped ringing once his advert went up in the local newsagent's, and is dismayed at the number of people who are reliant on "unqualified amateurs" to "fix the most complicated pieces of equipment that have probably ever existed". Well, at least if I'm ever out of work, I could put up a card in the local shop.

Open source cars

The GPL has played a significant role in a US court case, and has stood up to scrutiny. Drew Technologies, Inc., a Michigan Engineering firm, developed some software under the GPL; later, their work was "claimed as a copyrighted work" by the Society of Automotive Engineers (standards organisation for the automotive industry). The case ended up in court because the SAE was trying to charge Drew Technologies to use the very technology they had developed, claiming that the software was "an unauthorized 'derivative work' of an in-progress technical standard of the SAE".

To sum up: Drew Technlogies won the case, and retain the right to publish their software under the GPL. The full story is at the link included above.

As mentioned in the article, the wider issue is the right of consumers to have "open" cars. Cars are getting so computerised that the only people who can fix them are the dealers for that brand of car. If the software and standards which the car depends on can be copyrighted or made into trade secrets, the situation can only get worse. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association has the right idea with support for the Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair act: this "prevents vehicle manufacturers and others from unfairly restricting access to the information and tools necessary to accurately diagnose, repair, re-program or install automotive replacement parts".

I think it's about time we saw something similar for software. This week's Computer Weekly has an article (p.18) about escrow agreements between customers and software suppliers, which stresses the importance of source code being available to a firm if their supplier goes out of business. In effect, firms need a Right to Repair their software if their supplier disappears. Perhaps regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley will encourage firms to insist on their suppliers open sourcing code which is vital to their business.

Feral Robotic Dogs

Marvellous. Hacking toy robot dogs to sniff out chemical contaminants. They even plan to unleash a pack "into the wild".

Mac OS X Will Become a Target, Symantec Warns

This article notes that Mac OS X will become a target for hackers before too long and (heavens above!) someone has already written a rootkit for it. I wonder when Symantec will be releasing their "Mac OS X Protector Enterprise Security Blanket" product?

Popularity comparison of CMS tools

This is an interesting survey comparing popularity of open source "community platforms". To summarise:

  • Use of open source CMSs is accelerating rapidly.
  • phpBB is the most used.
  • Mambo and Wordpress are the fastest growing, with Wordpress set to become more popular than Mambo before too long.

Patch accepted

At the weekend, I had my first patch accepted into the Drupal project (not the Drupal core, but a contributed module called Webform). Nice: means I don't have to maintain it any more! Does this mean I can put "Open Source Developer" on my CV now?

WordPerfect < MS Office < OpenOffice

In an article about why IT consultants should jump on open source, the author mentioned how WordPerfect had been eclipsed by Microsoft Word. While working out when this happened (could be a useful example of how products are eclipsed by newcomers), I realised how this kind of micro-history, of the movement of product popularity in IT, is relatively under-documented. But this is where something like Wikipedia really comes into its own: I found a whole entry on the history of WordPerfect. It turns out WordPerfect was overtaken by MS Office in the early 1990s (which sounds about right to me). Is OpenOffice.org waiting to do the dirty on MS Office, the way MS Office did on WordPerfect?

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