The Java Trap, and what the open source community is doing about it

OpenOffice has raised the ire of some of its community with the news that version 2.0 of the increasingly-popular alternative to Microsoft Office will require a Java(TM) Runtime Environment, or JRE. Tying the primary open source office application suite to Java(TM) is an example of The Java Trap as described on the GNU site. The Java(TM) platform is an excellent one, with a flourishing legion of open-source libraries that can save you many hours of work, but ultimately, all of the beautiful applications you build upon it are doomed from being totally free (as in freedom).

I have held this entry in draft so long that it may be hard for me to convey the spirit of this issue. So there’s all this open source, free code for people to take advantage of and contribute to, but alas, it is ultimately resting upon a foundation that mars that freedom. That foundation, the Java(TM) Runtime Environment, and the Java(TM) Development Kit (JDK), is no small thing; replacing it, or implementing an equivalent foundation in free or open source software is a mammoth task. So, what are we to do? Should we throw up our hands in despair, declare c’est la vie and have another latte?

No. Enter the free runtimes movement. There are a body of open source/free software advocates and developers who have taken on this task, and they have made some quite impressive progress. Projects like Kaffe, GNU Classpath, SableVM, JamVM have taken up the gauntlet, and things are coming along nicely. I regularly compile against these virtual machines and runtime environments and I am amazed at what I find.

I remember the first time I heard a discussion about an open source Java(TM) implementation. The concept was being scoffed at during the time when IBM was calling for Sun to make Java(TM) open source. It was at my local Java(TM) User Group meeting; almost nobody was in favor of the idea of Java(TM) going open source. The Java(TM) community has this strange, dysfunctional relationship with open source. They love to consume, utilize, and demand more from open source, yet the idea of giving back to it or supporting a completely free implementation turns them off. Weird.

Like it or not, free runtimes are a reality, and they are gaining ground on the closed, proprietary implementations. The proven model of bazaar development is yielding some pretty impressive results. If you are into the geek thing, and if you admire the innovations of the computing era like GNU/Linux, Apache, etc. well, guess what? This is the new frontier, kiddo. Want to make your mark? Join us.

Life’s too short to run bad programs, or how to stop abusing Microsoft

I was at a family gathering this weekend and the topic of spyware came up. Being “the computer guy” in the collection of family members assembled, I began to share about ways to deal with spyware and junk mail. I made my usual recommendations for email, browser, and office suite replacements, and most of them were surprised to hear of these alternatives to the non-free Microsoft programs that were all they had really known.

Since I keep recommending these things over and over again, it occurred to me that making a blog entry I could point folks to would be a good idea, so that the links are all in one place.

Here are three things you can do to make your computing experience more positive:

  1. Stop using Internet Explorer
  2. Stop using Microsoft Outlook
  3. Stop using Microsoft Office

Here is how you can do that:

  1. Start using Mozilla Firefox
  2. Start using Mozilla Thunderbird
  3. Start using OpenOffice

The reason to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox is a no-brainer. Sick of spyware? Not only is Firefox immune to most spyware tactics, it also has features we have been asking Microsoft for since 2000. Did I mention the unbelievably clever extensions that folks have developed and contributed for free? Trust me, take 5 minutes to learn about tabbed browsing, then 20 minutes to learn about extensions, and those two things alone will change your web browsing life. Face it, browsing, and computing as a whole, makes up a larger part of your life than it ever has; why have it be sub-standard?

Thunderbird is an email client that is less-resource-intensive than Outlook and has adaptive filtering for Junk mail. You teach it what is Junk mail to you, and it learns to identify Junk mail proactively and move it to a Junk folder. Spam drives you nuts? Try out Thunderbird; it even has a wizard for migrating your Outlook stuff over.

Now, some folks reading this may be thinking, “why would I go to the trouble of using something besides Microsoft Office?” For 95% of the people who say that about their home computer, I will tell you why: you can stop being a software pirate and thief. Almost everyone who says this to me brought a CD home from work or “borrowed” it from someone else. Guess what? That is patently illegal. You are stealing from Microsoft. Do you wonder why Microsoft gets all fired up about anti-piracy and comes up with these Draconian measures to control it like “activation”? It is because people “get it from work” and are stealing from them. So, if you don’t feel that Office is worth whatever price they get for it these days, then get off your butt and evaluate an alternative instead of stealing from Microsoft. OpenOffice leads the pack in that arena; check it out.

I will not yet recommend that people do something so drastic as try to move to a Linux distribution, although those options are vastly improved. Start with these recommendations; it won’t be a huge disruption, and the experience will be mostly all-gain and you can experience firsthand the quality of open source and free software.

Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative – yawn.

Stephen R. Walli, a former Microsoft employee, has an article on the O’Reilly Network‘s ONLamp.com titled Perspectives of the Shared Source Initiative. If you are interested in free or open source software, or if you are a Windows developer, this article is worth a look. Stephen’s article lays out the prospects of Microsoft and open source without the often-clueless marketing spin found in most of the information provided by Microsoft itself.
What I take away from that article is confirmation that Microsoft as we know it would pretty much have to self-destruct in order to move to an open approach to its core products. They are accountable to shareholders who have grown quite accustomed to Microsoft’s consequences-be-damned, capital-mongering behavior. So, hell will freeze over before Microsoft truly opens up of their own accord, and the “Shared Source Initiative” is far from what it was first perceived as. No big surprise there.
As an open source and Linux user and advocate, I can tell you that the realities of Microsoft and their attitude don’t factor into the picture for me. Don’t open it up; I don’t want it, anyway.

So now I am 34

Thirty-four. My 34th birthday has taken place on 03/04/05. How’s that for cute coincidence. Anyway, I don’t feel older or necessarily young, I just feel 34 and that’s pretty good. This is the first entry in the weblog under the new WordPress system. I am still trying to get it to look the way I want, so you may see some seriously mangled stuff over the next few weeks.
Sorry about February; it pretty much didn’t happen as blogging goes. Very busy with open source stuff and other activities in addition to work.