Friday, December 29, 2006

The Windows Experience

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Must Have Applications for Linux Beginners

Switching to Linux is a huge step for those who still have some reservations about taking such a huge leap of faith. To make the transition as painless as possible, often times it simply helps to make sure that the person switching to Linux has a clear comparison of which applications they will be using on their new distribution.

Choosing the Right Software. When selecting an application list, we figured that it might be helpful to seriously look at which applications the average home user might be using the most. With this in mind, here’s our breakdown in no particular order:

Firefox: A web browser that will make sure the user is not feeling totally overwhelmed and out of their element. We would avoid loading it down with tons of extensions, however, just keep it lean and clean.

Thunderbird: Considering the likelihood that said user has been using their ISP assigned e-mail with a program, such as Outlook Express, this should not feel like a tremendous leap. Thunderbird is a rock solid, trustworthy program that can help wean those reluctant relatives over to the Linux side of the fence in no time.

MSN/AIM/Yahoo Messenger(s): Let's face it, the kids love to "IM" each other with every free moment. Our prescription would not be to go with GAIM in most cases though. For those who don't always favor such a drastic change, keeping things simple might be the best bet here. Since all three instant messaging programs have options that can be installed in a Linux flavor, this allows you to offer the user a choice - GAIM for all or aMSN, Yahoo Linux and AIM Linux?

Scanner Software Made Easier: For the most part, we tend to jump onto the SANE bandwagon in hopes that our lack of driver resources will not prove to be too huge of a problem. However, if you have run into the trouble that we have with SANE back-ends, then maybe an alternative is in order: something like VueScan perhaps? This scanning program is both commercial and effective if you are having some struggles with SANE.

Beagle: Until your new convert becomes a little more accustomed to the file system that Linux provides, enabling them to locate their downloads and other goodies without too much frustration may be in order. Beagle allows for this and does it with amazing style. Much like "Google Desktop," Beagle can locate just about any file you might be looking for with the tap of a few keys.

amaroK: By this time, it may be worth it to your new Linux convert to enjoy their favorite tunes. amaroK is a fantastic music manager that is sure to amaze, thanks to its close work with MusicBrainz. It should be said that getting it to just "work" with your iPod, as so many before me have claimed, is not all that easy. Gtkpod is always a wise bet though if fighting with the urge to make an iPod sync a simple reality. In reality, most people ought to be using this as their primary office suite regardless of the OS they choose to run. However, even if the new user you happen to be working with is still a Microsoft Office user, is easy enough to make just about anyone comfortable rather quickly.

Did I Miss Something? Are you finding yourself coming unglued at the prospect of us missing an important application? Not to worry, this is just a starter list and not to be taken as the "only way" to go. See, what is so great about introducing folks to Linux is the ability to set them up with the applications that will best meet with "their" needs; not just the needs that we feel they might have.

What are you waiting for? Grab a LiveCD of your favorite distribution and start pounding the pavement. We mean, nothing says "party" like a Linux installation party, right? Just remember, Linux installation parties are only as geeky as the people that host them. So get out there, install your perfect setup on a friend's PCs and have fun!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Microsoft Office lock-in and the deal with Novell

I can't urge you strongly enough to read the article entitled How Vista Lets Microsoft Lock Users In.

It details how Microsoft has built into Vista the "trusted computing" ability to lock down Office files via DRM such that no unauthorized document reader will be able to decrypt and read them. This is perhaps one of the biggest hidden weapons Microsoft has in its arsenal that could sabotage Linux and if Microsoft succeeds in its attempt to plug SUSE and all Novell's "interoperability" bonuses.

Think of this, if you will, as the Tivoization of Office files, only with malicious intent. Microsoft could, indeed, open up the document format completely and swear before God that it will never sue anyone for patent infringement. However, this does not prevent Microsoft from locking Office files in such a way that only Vista users can read them. No one else will be able to do so without the proper authorization, thus rendering the open format and Microsoft compatibility entirely meaningless -- unless, of course, someone agrees to pay Microsoft for the keys to unlock those files.

The lesson here should be obvious. The FOSS community must avoid - at all costs - the practice of adopting or integrating anything into FOSS that is owned or generated by Microsoft. Ximian, and now Novell, has made it a mission to recreate Microsoft technologies on Linux. I urge the community only to allow Novell to continue to do this at its own peril. It was a massive strategic blunder to attempt to recreate dotNet on Linux as Mono. Microsoft has implicitly, by attempting to make patent deals, acknowledged Linux as a genuine threat. That makes it so much greater a danger to adopt Microsoft practices, whether it involves integration of Office document formats, Excel VBA compatibility, or anything else.

This is an ironic twist, to say the least, after all the fuss Microsoft made over the viral nature of the GPL. Microsoft, through Novell, is attempting to infect open source with hooks it can use to profit from the success of Linux at the expense of Linux users' freedoms.

By Nicholas Petreley

Thursday, December 21, 2006

An Early Christmas...

For an early Christmas this year, my ex-wife (the somewhat dear) purchased a week of personal training at the local health club for me (yes, we still get along). Although I am still in great shape since playing football 20 some-odd years ago and climbing the Sandia Mountians since 1989, except for the last five years or so, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try.

Called the club and made my reservation with a personal trainer named Cindy, who identified herself as a 26 yr old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear. My Ex seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started, since I wouldn't be bothering her! The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.

Last Monday: Started my day at 6:00am. Tough to get out of bed, since having a few cold ones while watching the game, but it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Cindy waiting for me (OMG). She was something of a Greek goddess -- with blonde hair, dancing eyes and a dazzling smile.

Woo Hoo!!!!! I feel like I'm 28 again....

Cindy gave me a tour and showed me the machines. She took my pulse after 5 minutes on the treadmill. She was alarmed that my pulse was so fast, but I attributed it to standing next to her in her Lycra aerobics outfit (once again, OMG). I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which she conducted her aerobics class, it almost gave me a heart attack.

Very inspiring, Cindy was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time she was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week!!

Last Tuesday: I drank a whole pot of coffee (and a few no-doze), but I finally made it out the door. Cindy made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air, and then she put weights on it! My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. Cindy's rewarding smile made it all worthwhile. I feel GREAT!! It's a whole new life for me, I think I found my next future ex-wife.

Last Wednesday: The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. I parked on top of a GEO in the club parking lot.

Cindy was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members. Her voice is a little too perky for early in the morning and when she scolds, she gets this nasally whine that is VERY annoying, and you wish you had duck-tape.

My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Cindy put me on the stair monster. Why the hell would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Cindy told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy life. She said some other shit too.

Last Thursday: Cindy was waiting for me with her vampire-like teeth exposed as her thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being a half an hour late; it took me that long to tie my shoes.

Cindy took me to work out with dumbbells. When she was not looking, I ran and hid in the men's room.. She sent Andy in to find me, then, as punishment, put me on the rowing machine -- which I sank.

Last Friday: I hate that bitch Cindy more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the his tory of the world. Stupid, skinny, anemic little cheerleader. If there were a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat her with it.

Cindy wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps. And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the *&%#(#&**!!@*@ barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich.

The treadmill flung me off and I landed on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director?

Last Saturday: Cindy left a message on my answering machine in her grating, shrilly voice wondering why I did not show up today. Just hearing her made me want to smash the machine with my Laptop. However, I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel.

Last Sunday: I'm had the Church van pick me up for services so I could thank GOD that the week from Hell was over. I will also pray that next year, my ex-wife (the bitch), will choose a gift for me that is fun like root canal or a vasectomy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

If you thought Novell partnering up with Microsoft was shocking news,

then you probably don't want to read the rest of this story. Just remember, we warned you.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a non-profit organization that provides pro-bono legal services to protect and advance open-source software, filed a brief today with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Microsoft's appeal of a software patent decision. Yes, Microsoft.

In the case of "Microsoft v. AT&T," the SFLC is asking the Supreme Court to decide against U.S. patents applying to software that is copied and distributed overseas. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialized patent court known for allowing patents on software and business methods, originally decided in favor of AT&T. In that decision, the court said that U.S. software patents applied even if the violations happened outside the U.S.

Microsoft appealed the decision and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The SFLC explains in its brief that its unlikely championing of Microsoft's cause in this case is because the "SFLC has an interest in this matter because the decision of this Court will have a significant effect on the rights of the Free and Open Source Software developers and users."

In its brief, SFLC argues that software copied and distributed outside the U.S. cannot infringe U.S. patents. The brief also argues that the Federal Circuit's decisions declaring software to be patentable subject matter conflict with Supreme Court precedent, and thus should be overruled.

In a statement, SFLC Legal Director Daniel Ravicher said, "I expect many people will be surprised that the Software Freedom Law Center has filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of Microsoft. In this specific case, Microsoft and SFLC are both supporting the position that U.S. software patents have no right to cover activity outside of the United States, especially in places that have specifically rejected software patents."

In Supreme Court decisions, the explanation for deciding a case is almost always more important than the outcome of the particular case at hand. In this case, the Court's decision will determine whether U.S. software patents can be used to restrict software development, distribution, and use throughout the rest of the world. While it's only a distant possibility the SFLC hopes that a Supreme Court ruling might even find that software patents are illegal.

Eben Moglen, SFLC's executive director and well-known free software attorney in a statement, noted that "in contrast to the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court has maintained limits on patentable subject matter throughout U.S. history. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that algorithms and mathematics cannot be patented. Since software is expressed as mathematical algorithms, it should not be patentable."

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Software and Community in the Early 21st Century
Keynote by: Eben Moglen

Monday, December 04, 2006

Microsoft's Courtroom Flashback

Even as Microsoft executives tout Vista as the operating system of the future, operating systems of the past continue to plague it.

Last week in Iowa, attorneys have once again taken Microsoft to court over anti-trust charges associated with its Windows operating system. In addition to the age-old complaints about squeezing out competitors and price-fixing, there is a twist: This case alleges that by bolting together Windows and Internet Explorer, Microsoft produced software that gummed up people’s computers.

The case promises to be a textbook contrast between the ponderous nature of the legal world and the mercurial nature of technology. Thanks to long hours of arguments by lawyers on both sides, the entire first day of the case was filled by Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg, who read through 110 of the 120 pages of instructions given to the jury.

That’s just the beginning. The opening statement by Iowa attorney Roxanne Barton Conlin is expected to last three to four days. She plans to show the entire 10-hour deposition given by Gates in 1998 to attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice and will introduce some of the 25 million pages of documents gathered from other actions against the company.

Unless the parties settle, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer will be called to take the witness stand, possibly as early as January. Complaints about lack of choice and high prices have been the theme song of most of the legal complaints against Microsoft. The Iowa case also alleges that Microsoft’s software caused “drained memory, decreased speed and an increased incidence of security breaches and bugs” in its customers’ computers.

The plaintiff lawyers contend that Iowan customers of Microsoft are entitled to as much as $329 million in damages as compensation for Microsoft overcharges between May 1994 and June 2006. The lawyers are also seeking compensation for the time people have had to spend repairing security breaches--a figure that they put at a minimum of $50 million. “The illegal bolting of Internet Explore to the Windows operating system created a larger ‘attack surface’” and made the operating system more vulnerable, asserts Richard Hagstrom, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The damages are based on what people need to do to protect themselves from security breaches.”

Although few consumers would disagree with the charge, it may be tough to prove that buggy software is an anti-trust violation. “They’re trying to hold us responsible or make us pay damages because someone out there is violating the law and writing viruses,” says Richard Wallis associate general counsel for Microsoft. “We’re not writing any viruses, I can assure you.”

Since the U.S. government won a 2000 anti-trust decision against Microsoft, the company has fought a rash of more than 200 anti-trust class-action lawsuits throughout the U.S., starting with a California suit. All but two--this case in Iowa and another in Mississippi--have reached settlements or preliminary settlements.

Although the government--and Microsoft--spent millions of dollars to wage the anti-trust court battles, the direct benefit to consumers has been minuscule. All told, Microsoft has had to earmark $2.4 billion for settling these suits. In most states, consumers who purchased Microsoft software in the past are eligible for vouchers for modest refunds when they buy new computer hardware or software. The settlements range in value between $5 to $29 per purchase. Consumers in California (which reached the first settlement in January 2003) wrung the best deal out of Microsoft. An appeal by an independent California attorney held up the settlement, California residents only began receiving their vouchers this past August--three and a half years after Microsoft reached a deal with the plantiffs.

Only a portion of vouchers are likely to be redeemed. In California, eligible businesses and consumers have applied for approximately 30-40% of the alloted vouchers, according to Microsoft. The experience of other mail-in rebate programs suggests that only a portion of those vouchers will ultimately be cashed in. Low-income schools will eventually receive a portion of the money that is not redeemed, although the precise amount varies across settlements. Microsoft repockets the rest. By contrast, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated more than $230 million to U.S. libraries since it began its program in the late 1990s--which happened to be the same time anti-trust concerns were cresting.

Most of plaintiff’s petition reads like a history lesson in Microsoft’s anti-trust woes. The case aims to follow well-trod legal ground, revisiting the damage Microsoft inflicted on long-extinct competitors, including Netscape Communications, Be and Go, along with Novell's DR-DOS and IBM's OS/2. Among the witnesses who will testify are former Novell software developers and a former product manager for computer maker, Acer.

“I think Microsoft is as strong as ever,” contends Hagstrom. He helped lead a class action case against Microsoft in Minnesota that spent six weeks at trial before the parties settled.

“All this fanfare about Vista--it seems like it’s just going to be ‘Windows XP.1,’” he contends. “They’ve had to pull back on a lot of the features they said they’d have. Where’s the innovation?”

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs point to the resurgence of Apple Computer, Linux, and and Google's $150 billion plus market cap as signs that consumers value new approaches to software.

Elizabeth Corcoran