Use and Misuse of Data

March 31, 2006

I want to remind people to look carefully at the source of your information in order to determine credibility. A recent IDC study, sponsored by Microsoft, found that when most organizations migrate from Unix, they migrate to Windows, not Linux. I have been involved in enough market research to know that the questions asked can have a large impact on the results of any study. Maybe this study is accurate, but I would tend not to rely on it to support any arguments the same way that I would not rely on a report sponsored by a Linux vendor to answer the same research question. The best data comes from un-sponsored research conducted by an independent, neutral third party. Many organizations have a vested interest in open source (positive and negative), and many studies are sponsored by organizations on both sides of the open source vs. proprietary software debate. As a result, it is especially important to evaluate the credibility of our sources.

I am reminded of the famous saying, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”, which has been attributed to various people including Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli.

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Users and Open Source Software

March 29, 2006

Blake Ross wrote an interesting blog entry yesterday about Internet Explorer and Firefox that highlights the chasm between developers and users of software. Many of us think nothing of using the command prompt, FTP, and other utilities that are second nature to us, while some users have never installed a piece software and do not even know what a browser is. They use one and know that they access the Internet; however, some confuse it with a search engine, and others do not realize that it is an independent application separate from the operating system.

One of the challenges of the SpreadFirefox campaign has been in educating these users. “So you can imagine convincing someone to download an ‘alternative’ to a product he didn’t know he used, in a genre of software he never knew existed,” (Blake Ross). Developers and other techies frequently make the argument about technical superiority (it is better, so people will use it). “These kinds of arguments ignore an entire spectrum of barriers facing ‘regular people’ that we developers never contend with, and I think our industry would do well to empathize with them,” (Blake Ross).

If we want average users to adopt open source technologies, we need to remove our techie hats for a bit to help them understand ‘why’ they should use it while talking in a language that appeals to them.

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Open Source Dress Code

March 28, 2006

According to Peter Quinn, the former Massachusetts CIO advocate of the OpenDocument Format (ODF),

“Open source has an unprofessional appearance, and the community needs to be more business-savvy in order to start to make inroads in areas traditionally dominated by commercial software vendors. (Having) a face on a project or agenda makes it attractive for politicians (to consider open source).” (CNET)

He went on to suggest that while the open-source community was slowly beginning to come to terms with the need to dress for success, doing so is a “huge education process.” (CNET)

Yikes. I would like to think that we live in an age where people can evaluate a technology based on its merits and not based on the clothes that someone wears.

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Open Source Confusion

March 27, 2006

This is only slightly related to open source; however, it was way too humorous not to share. The short story is that a slightly clueless local city official (Jerry A. Taylor) in Oklahoma mistook an Apache / CentOS misconfiguration page for a malicious attack against several of the cities web servers. Despite the several threatening and misinformed emails to the CentOS team, a developer at CentOS was kind enough to “help” this man by using standard networking commands (whois, nslookup, etc.) to find his IP address, hosting provider, etc., which for some reason this official was unable / unwilling to figure out on his own.

Here are a few of the more interesting snippets from the email exchange:

Jerry Taylor to CentOS: “Who gave you permission to invade my website and block me and anyone else from accessing it??? Please remove your software immediately before I report it to government officials!! I am the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma.”

CentOS to Jerry Taylor: “I feel sorry for your city. … Please contact someone who does IT for you and show them the page so that they can configure your apache webserver correctly.”

Jerry Taylor to CentOS: “Get this web site off my home page!!!!! It is blocking access to my website!!!!~!”

CentoOS to Jerry Taylor: “It is not a website … it is the operating system. … We didn’t DO ANYTHING … that is what the default apache setup looks like if you are running our operating system (CentOS). So how your configuration file has been replaced by the default one … that is not something that we can do, it is something that might have been done by the administrator of the machine.”

Jerry Taylor to CentOS: “Unless this software is removed I will file a complaint with the FBI.”

CentOS to Jerry Taylor: “You obviously do not understand what I am trying to tell you, is there no one on the city council or in your building who understands what an operating system is.”

The full email exchange can be found on the CentOS site.

It was also interesting to note that within the past 24 hours, Jerry Taylor corrected several grammatical errors and removed his email address from his online city profile.

This Week in Open Source News Mar 20 – Mar 26

March 26, 2006

Red Hat Releases Fedora 5

Red Hat has released Fedora Core 5, which is based on the 2.6.16 version of the Linux kernel and contains new graphics features, enhanced virtualization, and additional desktop utilities. Red Hat even included three Mono-based applications (Mono is a project driven by Miguel de Icaza out of Novell).

Finland’s Ministry of Defence Selects Novell

Finland’s Ministry of Defence has selected Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for their process management, documentation applications, Intranet portal, and other services. “Our key operational and decision-making processes rely on our ability to access our IT systems 24 by 7, securely and with no glitches. Because of this, we decided to adopt Novell SUSE Linux as the platform for our core applications, messaging and intranet services,” said Antti Nummiranta, an IT designer for the Ministry of Defence. This is not earth shattering news, but like to highlight and recognize areas where Linux and open source software are being adopted.

Other Novell News

Novell’s annual user conference, BrainShare, was held this week and drove a number of Novell product announcements including long-term plans for Linux, Novell’s Market Start program to accelerate open source application adoption, and details about their first Linux Workgroup Suite.

Richard Stallman Talks to Forbes

Forbes interviewed Richard Stallman this week to discuss the GPLv3. Here are a few snippets from the interview:

“Officially, MPAA stands for Motion Picture Association of America, but I suggest that MPAA stands for Malicious Power Attacking All. And RIAA stands for Really Intends to Alienate the Audience.”

“I’m glad that the DRM provisions of GPLv3 have promoted the debate about DRM, but their purpose is not simply to send a message. Their main purpose is to protect the freedom of every user of our software. Free software means that you, the user, have four essential freedoms: 0) Freedom to run the software as you wish; 1) Freedom to study the source code and change it to do what you wish; 2) Freedom to make copies and redistribute them, when you wish; and 3) Freedom to distribute modified versions, when you wish.” (Forbes)

It is an interesting interview, and I encourage people to read it.

Mozilla Firefox on the Cover of Red Herring

March 25, 2006

The new issue of Red Herring featuring Firefox in a feature story about the “browser wars” hits the newsstands on March 27. Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker is featured on the cover with the Firefox logo in the background.

“The browser market has seen some of the bloodiest battles in technology. Microsoft’s victory over the once-dominant Netscape branded the pioneer an also-ran and planted Internet Explorer firmly at the top of the browser market. But Microsoft’s lack of IE development caused the program to stagnate under its inattentive parent. As a result, competitors have swarmed in. In recent years, upstart Firefox and its peers have been stealing users from right under Redmond’s nose. With innovative, customizable features, these programs are making browsing and interacting with the web easier. But is Microsoft poised to squash the newbies just like it did Netscape? The software giant is planning to release IE 7—its first update in about five years—later this year. Red Herring takes a closer look at several next-generation browsers and the challenges they face in this week’s feature story, “Browser Wars,” on newsstands Monday.” (Red Herring)

This issue also features an article on how big companies and VCs are making investments in open source. I am anxious to pick up a copy on Monday.

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Open Source Software as a Tool for Cancer Researchers

March 23, 2006

A team of medical researchers has produced an open source software tool released under the GNU GPL license allowing them to automate the removal of sensitive identification information from medical reports. Removal of certain identifying information is required prior to sharing the data for research purposes. The team chose to release this as an open source tool because there is currently little standardization among reports at different facilities, which requires customization of the software in order for it to be effective. Open source software provides an easy way to allow full customization for other researchers, and this tool will allow researchers to share medical reports more quickly and easily with others.

The tool is written in Java and is operating system independent. For more information, you can refer to the eWeek article, download a detailed report(PDF) on the development and testing of the tool, or visit the project website.