Eclipse wrangling

Sheesh, what a day. Went into the office looking forward to having the place to myself, only to find that the entire infrastructure had not yet been brought back up after a weekend of power testing in the facility. In disbelief I booted my workstation anyway, hoping something might pop up. Nope. I went to the LAN room, and the only thing running were the cooling fans of the cabinets. I pondered powering up the backbone and the mail and resource servers myself, but then thought better of it. That would be a pretty cavalier maneuver for someone who is a guest consultant.

In dismay I headed back to the house with the hope of prototyping some Servlet Filter mockups for the security mechanism I have to integrate into our Spring-based application at work. It was then that I discovered that my troubles last week with Eclipse reliably causing the IBM PowerPC 1.4.2 JDK to core dump were not over. I spent hours trying different options to overcome this obstacle; no luck. I did end up filing Eclipse bug reports #97375 and #97378, which will hopefully help the cause.

You know, I am thankful that the woeful tales of those who do corporate blogging have caught the eye of mainstream media. It helps remind me to keep my mouth shut when I am having days like the last 30 or so at work. 8^)

Perspective on software commoditization

Ian Murdock posted an essay on his blog yesterday titled Open source and the commoditization of software. It was a timely post for me, as I had been asked by someone at work for resources that provided insight on the use and viability of open source as part of an enterprise information technology strategy. For those who know that Ian is the founder of my Linux distribution of choice, Debian, you may be thinking that this is the manifesto of yet another wild-eyed wilderness prophet about Linux overtaking Windows. It is nothing of the sort – in fact, it is one of the most level-headed, well-informed, business-minded takes on hardware and software history and their impact on the current thrust of software commoditization that I have seen.

The essay starts all the way back (relatively speaking; after all, the computer era is rather brief from an historical perspective) at the fullness of mainframe prosperity and moves forward. The juxtaposition of the hardware and software markets is something I had not seen presented in such a clear fashion. The missteps of the UNIX market’s fragmentation and the fortunate standardization of PC hardware (albeit not intentional on IBM’s part) are laid out in an engaging short narrative, followed by Microsoft’s staggeringly triumphant conquest of the then-vacant PC software market. The success of companies who chose to participate in commoditization rather than attempt to stem its tide is refreshing. Participation rather than domination is shown to be the way forward, and Murdock goes on to show that even in the Linux ecosystem, there are those who flirt dangerously with the temptation to control a market through manipulation.

If you’re a fellow Debian or Free/Open Source Software advocate like myself, I encourage you to take a few mintues out to read the essay. You may find it gives a less-rabid voice to your zeal and provides an entry point into our cause for those less persuaded by the principles of the movement(s).

New PowerBook, and then some

So, I decided I was better off selling my two Titanium PowerBook G4 1GHz units and moving to the current top PoweBook model, the 1.67GHz. Not willing to ever pay full price for a Mac again, I periodically peeked in on Apple’s refurbished unit site. About midnight on Friday, May 13th (no, I am not superstitious, obviously) I saw one pop up in the inventory. I snatched it right up, happy to have a US$2300 unit for US$2000. It only had a single 512MB RAM stick and the base 80GB drive, but I could swap out the high-end 100GB drive I had put in one of the TiBooks.

The unit arrived today and I fired it up, letting it boot into OS X. I ran the System Profiler and was pleasantly surprised. This baby had a 1GB stick and the 100GB drive. I gleefully hopped over to the Apple site to find that these upgrades would have cost me an additional US$450 if I had ordered this new. It’s nice when it works out like that; the last refurb I bought had 2 256MB sticks instead of 1 512MB stick.

I am looking forward to getting my Debian stuff migrated over and finding out what doesn’t work yet on this newest model 8^).

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt as Profit Retention Mechanisms

I think my vitriol filter is securely in place, but just in case, have your safety goggles on. Federal Computer Week is a periodical focused on government agency information technology in the United States. The magazine had a considerable portion of the April 2005 issue covering increasing adoption of Open Source applications in government, Linux migration, and the Firefox browser; I read several of the articles and found them surprisingly close to being balanced.

Apparently that open-mindedness needed to be countered with a dose of good old Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD).

Where the buck stops: Accountability and risk in considering open source is an article that attempts to scare IT decision-makers in the U.S. government IT arena with the by-now-altogether-tired question of “who is going to support open source?” From the article:

In the case of open-source vendors, there is limited or no indemnification protection. CIOs must determine whether the low-cost solution they are considering might later become costly. If anything, indemnification and ongoing technical support for open-source solutions should be an important part of any discussion about risk assessment or licensing.

Brilliant! What keen-minded editor of this periodical has penned this fine work? Surely one of the balanced, fair-minded technology pundits has been hired to provide an insightful, unbiased take on assessing the risks assumed in using Open Source software?

Hm. Stuart McKee. Doesn’t ring a bell? Yeah, me neither. Stuart is Microsoft’s “National Technology Officer”, and formerly served as the CIO for the state of Washington. So, the person writing an article on assessing the use of Open Source software immediately following an issue of this magazine largely focused on Open Source usage is the individual who heads “National Technology” for Microsoft, headquartered in the state where he formerly held the position of CIO? This scant, one-page article gets mentioned on the cover?

Who will support Open Source? The people who write it and use it, that’s who. The free support offered on forums, mailing lists, and IRC outshines every experience I have had with scripted, ass-covering, mind-numbing support experiences I have had with any and all levels of support contracts. I cannot even number the times I have been in meetings where I have heard “[insert corporation here] has confirmed that this is an issue”, sometimes followed by the equally-anemic “but it should be addressed in the next version”. I have written about this before.

The article also attempts to distinguish Open Source from open standards:

Open standards should not be confused with open-source standards. And the movement toward open standards has led government interoperability efforts. For CIOs, the result has helped save increasingly scarce resources taking advantage of industry’s investment in creating uniform technical specifications.

OK, right. Open Source standards are not the same thing as open standards. But, since Microsoft has had little to do with either of these things, this is kind on non-sequitur, is it not? If anything, Microsoft has an embarrassing track record of attempting to muck up open standards and ensure lock-in. Perhaps the open standards reference implies contributions by IBM in recent years.

The last paragraph is the clencher:

The market ultimately will determine a particular model’s success or failure. If that model, however, fails to offer customers an integrated approach to innovation while ensuring that liability resides with the software maker, additional strains will be placed on government resources in the long run, increasing life cycle cost and impeding the interoperability agencies are demanding.

I agree, I think the market will decide; in fact, I think it is deciding. And one verdict is that closed software and standards have had more than enough time to squelch alternatives. But, apparently, there are a number of individuals and organizations who see open source as a quite desirable alternative.

Shame on you, Federal Computer Week, and shame on you, Stuart.

Reflecting on pace and zeal in Open Source participation

The recent O’Reilly article Trust and Zeal in Open Source advocacy caught my eye, and it comes along at a time when I am pondering the topic of participation in Free/Open Source Software. Sure, any of us can have a 6-month or 12-month spurt of productivity, but what makes for long-haul, year-in, year-out staying power?

Since I haven’t done that yet, I can only speculate. Right now I would have to say that two key factors in consistent, long-term advocacy and participation are internalization and resolve. If the principles of free/open source software don’t click for you, long-term participation may seem more like drudgery. Hell, even when you are passionate about this movement the work of it can be tiresome and at times thankless. So, if the ideals of free and open source software don’t strike a chord with your spirit, maybe your time would be better spent elsewhere.

As for resolve, I suppose it’s the same as with any long-term commitment. In spite of the hardships, the sacrifices, and yes, even at times – the boredom, you remain fixed in your commitment. You know the alternatives, and it only takes a brief pondering of them to remind you of why you made the commitment in the first place.

Huh, lots of parallels to marriage; coincidence? 8^) Open Source – the closest you will come to marriage without sex or intimacy. That’s my cue to stop while I am already behind.