Friday, August 28, 2009

Linux is hopeless?

The title was just to stir everyone up. Linux is of course a good operating system. There is also nothing wrong with Windows. The main difference is, as the Free Software Foundation would have us believe, all about freedom. With Linux I am free to do as I please. But this time I cry, cry for help.

With Windows I expect to have to hunt for bug fixes. The difficulty is not with Microsoft but the model which drives all the software creators. I expect one product to interact with another and everyone deny responsibility. I do not expect the same with Linux. It is after all a community thing. Everyone working for the good of the community. I have heard such claims before! Politicians all clamour to tell me how they work for the community. Enough said I think.

So, Linux is all about politics? Perhaps I exaggerate. Linux is diverse, especially in its development stage and this in itself can cause problems. It is supposed to be about freedom. This is what all new converts are told. Linux does depend on the distribution but take it from someone who has been running Linux as a user since the mid-1990's that this dependency is minor. If your distribution does it now then they all will within a year.

I run Fedora at home. I keep it pretty up to date. It is seen as a cutting edge distribution by some. I chose it for stability! I have been running Red Hat in various versions from Red Hat 5 and Fedora gave me continuity and methods I knew and understood. I accept that it does choose the latest release for most of the provided software, or the latest it can. I currently run Fedora 11 and will download Fedora 12 at some point soon to test it before mid-November (the planned release date). I will probably be running it live before December. I am that much of a fan of Fedora and Linux in general.

My problem? Things keep breaking! As I install each release things change. Suddenly something that would not work just jumps into life. Unfortunately things also stop working. The parts that suddenly work are fine, they are all documented. Just as with commercial software nobody admits "this fix will stop devices x, y and z from working with this software".

I have not always been careful when buying hardware. My scanner does not work with Linux and my printer is not that well liked. Still that was my own fault. What I was careful with when buying was my laptop, or at least parts of it. One part I wanted to work was the fingerprint reader. It did, without a problem. I have been using it since Fedora 9.

Now, as part of the Fedora 11 upgrade from 10, I am given a better fingerprint reader software and the ability to use a greater variety of fingerprint readers. "Extensive work has been done to make fingerprint readers easy to use as an authentication mechanism" I am told. I cannot tell you because the fingerprint reader does not work any more!

Why not? Because nobody wants to develop the hardware I have, developers cannot get hold of it and other niggles. This is a problem for me. I am told to check up if hardware works and it did. Now it does not.

I used to recommend that companies give up commercial software and go open source. Can I now? I recommend options to companies running 1000's of systems. These systems have to work for years, many are still running Windows NT. That is not a typo XP was not an option as the upgrade is too expensive and will not run on the computers! Enter Linux perhaps? It is difficult to get them to try. My clients are conservative in their purchases. These problems stop them trying it.

My only hope is that when other Linux distributions pick up the new fingerprint software from Fedora, and they will, then they will re-introduce support for the hardware I have. This is not a major problem for me, I will stick with Linux but it could upset quit a few people. Fancy having that very piece of hardware you needed suddenly stop working.

Is Linux ready for the desktop? Of course it is. Where it fails is in the development model which Linux followers like myself think is so good. There are times when the developers cannot not help. These are also the times when a user with more pressing needs will turn around and say that Linux is not ready for his desktop. Over to the Linux community (I think I just passed the book to myself!).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Holiday or Vacation

I have just returned from my annual trip to the seaside. My holiday or vacation is built to refresh me, to recharge my body from the pounding of the last year, to improve performance for the coming year. It got me thinking. Why two words to describe the same thing? There are others often we 'take a break'.

In the UK we prefer to user the term holiday. In the US vacation is the more common term. I am sure that my US cousins are as familiar with the two terms as I am. I am also sure they will stick to using the tried and trusted terms they use, just as I do.

What is the difference? Vacation is the act of vacating! Leaving empty is not a description that appears to fit out modern view of the vacation! But that is just what we are doing, vacating our offices for somewhere more pleasant.

Holiday is a derivative of holy day. Not appropriate you might think but my period of holiday certainly covered one holy day as defined by the Roman Catholic Church. Back in the bad old days when employers had a little more control over their staff they were all you got away from your job.

Both words are derived from old practices or terms and have come to mean something a little different over time. This is how our language develops. There is in the UK a battle by more traditional media against the language developing out of mobile phones, blogs and social networking sites. They dislike the laziness of using terms like l8 or the short form misspelling of certain words, like luv. They complain about the lack of structure or grammar. They do a good job of being crotchety.

I am old but want English to be a living language. Look at the differences between UK English and US English. In the intervening two hundred plus years since the rebel forces broke away from His Majesty's government the two major English speaking nations language grew apart. We both still talk of special relationships, but cannot even agree on the pronunciation of the term. English is alive.

Look at French. It is desperate to remain as it is, the government has attempted to force the French to see standard French rather than English derivatives. English does not need a Toubon Law! We are happy to announce before a meal 'bon appetit' (even though the spell checker is proud to highlight our fault). The French media used to avoid le weekend and le fortnight to avoid Anglicising their language but there are no French words for these two important periods! Usage has won out and French is a richer language for it.

The Internet if altering language faster than anything else. Blog is still rejected by spell checkers, even those built to edit blogs. Twitter has taken on a new if not entirely different meaning. SPAM is not a tinned meat promoted by Monty Python's famous song. The list of new words and altered meanings is very long. These additions to language make it richer and easier to communicate not only on the world wide web but in our everyday life.

No language should be impervious to change. Usage needs to be tempered with sense. My own spelling and grammar are appalling. However, I still bemoan what appears to be the death of the apostrophe. I would like to know what is correct so that any deviation from the standard is known and understood. More than that I would like my language to the one that gets its message to the most people.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shoot the messenger?

In my spare time I take snaps, photos. I have an interest in photography that goes back to my early days when my father taught me how to develop black and white films myself. It was also Dad who gave me an interest in technology for its own sake. He is probably the reason I ended up working with computers, rather than people.

My interest in photography is not for the photograph but the technology that surrounds it. Silver Halide was a difficult medium, you worked blind. You needed hope and skill just mixed with a small hint of inspiration. Each frame you shot was at a cost. It needed to be correct. I have spent hours waiting for the correct light, taken much of the time just to measure the exposure. I waited and hoped, as each exposure cost me money.

I now have a digital SLR and all the modern wonders that an amateur photographer needs. I am not restricted by the 36 frames of a 35mm film but the 500+ shots I get on my 16Gb memory card. OK, I can do several thousand, if only I would shoot jpeg. Do I shoot more frames? No. In a way that only the cantankerous and crotchety can, I will not submit to the enhanced abilities of the new technology! But is it cheaper? No, see what has to say on the subject! OK, the article is a little out of date but it takes about 3 years for digital to beat film on cost! I guess that I need to take similar care with each frame.

Do I show off my work? No. I keep it hidden on my hard disc, only for my eyes. I am perhaps over critical of my work. I think that it is not good enough to show, yet when somebody bursts in and sees the pictures on the screen they usually want to see more. I have posted a shot for you to see. Now everyone is laughing at my abilities.

Why are my pictures just not good enough? I may not take thousands of photographs like some but I am just as careless! The framing is wrong, the exposure is out. It is just not what I wanted to produce. As much as I edit them in the Gimp I cannot get them to my look as I want. This does have the advantage of reducing my costs, I don't print them saving me a lot of cash and time.

What to do? I guess I go with the flow and get some decent workflow software for Linux. This is bound to help. New technology always makes me feel better. The photographs? They will remain private, adoring only my desktop as that is all they are worth. This allows me to kid myself that my very expensive DSLR pays for itself when compared to my old film camera!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Free Software?

Have you ever read Eric Raymond's book The Cathedral and the Bazaar? Have you ever read any of Richard Stallman's many articles on the subject of Free Software? You are probably aware that free is as in speech not as in beer. There are however a huge number of 'free' software licences available. Each has its own little clauses to catch us out. My problem is what is free!

The Free Software Foundation, an organisation that promotes and holds copywrite and started by Richard Stallman, provide us with a great starting block with the GPL. There are restrictions in that licence as there are in many others. These restrictions cause a lot of hot air. For example with the GPL if you use the code then you have to release your amended code under the GPL. This is not a restriction of the BSD licence that covers the underlying OS Apple used for their systems. The Open Source Initiative have listed a lots of them here. A quick glance will show you how fragmented the free software movement is (and yes even Microsoft have a couple of listings).

What does free mean to me? What do I want?

It happens that I run Linux, but not because I have any great belief in Freedom. I run it because I happen to like it. Freedom is important, as is Free (as in beer) but what matters is that it suits me. What I do not understand is why there needs to be so many free software licences.

Why are there so many licences? The only reason I can think is the lawyers! Lets face it they get everywhere. Can they sniff the money available in the potential fights over patents? Where there is an attorney there is cash. Whatever the reason the lawyers are gathering, we would be better freedom fighters if we created a scheme of free legal aid rather than software.

Strike me down! The chaps at the Software Freedom Law Center appear to be doing for law what the FSF does for software! And President Obama picked David Kappos as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Mr. Kappos, a known supporter of Open Source software, is now in charge of enforcing Software Patents. Are we seeing a change? Is Freedom more important than Free (as in Beer)?

My own view is that Free is only worth while when it is Free (as in choice). I for one prefer to have the choice of two or more products. The price can help the choice, as can other Freedoms to do as I please. Most of all though I want to feel that the products I use were chosen for my own reasons (the best reasons).