Archive for July, 2007

Vladimir

If you type владимир (vladimir) in Google and let it guess the popular queries, then Vladimir Putin is second and Vladimir Vysotsky is first.

Thank God.

The Future

Where does the computing world go? I’m not talking just about Free Software, but about the whole industry. Even Microsoft is in trouble here.

What more can we do with computers? What will computers do five years from now that they can’t do today?

Writing documents and university papers can’t get much better than MS-Office, OpenOffice, TeX and DocBook. Each of them caters rather well to their respective markets (except some interoperability issues, which are really rather minor if you put the bizness bullshit aside.)

Music, Movies, Animation? You can’t improve this field much more in the home market, and the high-end market of professional artists and studios is rather narrow. (Although ideas expressed in Lessig’s Free Culture can make it wider …)

Business v1.0 software – databases, billing, CRM, ERP? It is a market of reliability, not innovation.

Websites, communications and social networks? True innovation in that area hit a glass wall long ago, if you ask me. Some websites make up nicer AJAX tricks, but that’s about it.

So i thought that the really innovative thing that can useful on a major scale may lie in the field of Linguistics (disclaimer: I am studying for a B.A. in Linguistics). Speech recognition, text-to-speech and automated translation – all of them are related to Linguistics; none of them can be done right without proper scientific Linguistic preparation.

Microsoft puts “improved” speech recognition into every version of MS-Office, but it is very far from doing it right. Xerox and IBM tried something in their respective (and respected) research labs, but it didn’t see the light of day (at least yet). Google are rumored to be doing something with statistics-based automated translation.

But no-one has anything finalized.

The first one who does it right will rule the whole market for years to come. Of the current players, Google seems to have the best chances to succeed, but it can also be a startup company created by an anonymous undergraduate Liberal Arts student in India, Nigeria or Ukraine. Or Israel?

(Originally published in Bug #1.)

Reality – The Brand, part 2

Institutional cocoa

“Elite. Institutional cocoa.”

Sometimes branding is funny. And sometimes people just give up on branding completely, although i thought that it happened only in Soviet Russia.

It’s decreed the people rule

What do you know – my little campaign for free-as-in-freedom hardware bears its first fruits.

I sent a few messages similar to the one that i posted here recently to forums concerning Linux, gNewSense, Ubuntu etc. I have also posted a few comments* to the post on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog, where he announces the first developer release of Gobuntu, the “radically free” version of Ubuntu.

Surprisingly Mark himself replied to me in the comments of Bug #1. That’s nice, but not too notable on a global level.

But today something bigger happened: Mark announced that he sets up an initiative to pressure laptop manufacturers into building the perfect free-as-in-freedom GNU/Linux latpop – one that can be used with only purely Free Software drivers. He didn’t mention me by name, but i really don’t need this.

So there you go: One of the good things about Free Software projects is the openness of the development and the project management.

Most Free Software projects have open access to their mailing lists and bug tracking tools. Every user of the program can, nearly anonymously, enter a bug or a feature request into the database (Bugzilla, RT, Launchpad, SF.net etc.) and then track its investigation and fix.

It is not a requirement of any license; it just makes sense! For most users this is even more important than being able to read or modify the source code. Even a reply like “Duplicate bug” or “Works for me” is far better than nothing.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the proprietary software world.

Sure – you can send an email with a bug report to Microsoft, Oracle, CA, HP etc., but it is unlikely that you will know where did it go, unless you have a personal service agreement. It’s just “fire and forget”. And you surely won’t get a personal reply from Mr. Gates.

Yet in the Free Software community the user has the full power to influence the project planning of the core development team.

So – thank you, Mark, for this initiative.


* Some people that read them badly misundestood what i was trying to say. I have made some mistakes too; i really should have known that being sarcastic in writing is much harder and more dangerous than when speaking in person. Joshua Gay, Andrew Fenn, if you are reading this – please accept my apologies again for any misunderstandings.

Search and destroy – new page

WordPress has a nice feature – it is possible to see what did people look for in search engines when they find my blog.

I am creating a new page for the most interesting of them, which will be called “Search and destroy.”

MY EARS!

I went to The Stooges concert on Saturday.

The show was excellent. Iggy did all his crazy antics without a shirt. Mike Watt was super-cool and had a little anchor pendant (he comes from a family of sailors).

But the sound was too loud. I didn’t feel it for the most of the time, except the end. But after the show my ears started ringing. Which is perfectly after a rock show. But they keep ringing until now – two days later. A lot of people are complaining about it – see the talkbacks on NRG and YNet.

No more rock shows without earplugs.

I always thought that only wussies put earplugs on a rock show. From now on i strongly prefer to be wussy than to have permanent damage inflicted on my ears. I really hope that this will pass.

An open letter to Richard M. Stallman

Hello,

I am shopping for a laptop computer and i would like to buy one that is truly free – one that is able to run GNU/Linux without any restricted drivers, binary blobs and proprietary firmware.

I’ve been looking for such a laptop for almost a week now, and unfortunately couldn’t find it. I’ve tried asking about it on Ubuntu and gNewSense forums and local (Israeli) forums of GNU/Linux and Free Software experts, but the best reply i could get was that finding a perfectly Free laptop is just too hard and that at this time i should just give up! That is what Mark Shuttleworth himself said, even though he claims that he is also concerned about the issue of “radical” hardware freedom (see discussion at the bottom of Bug #1).

Why is it so hard?

For example: The hardware database at the FSF website has a list of network cards that support Free Software; This is informative, but in practice i couldn’t find anywhere on the Internet a way to search for laptops that have these cards. A lot of laptop vendors don’t even bother to list the manufacturer and model of the network card in the details of their laptops’ components, because in Windows they all just work and Ubuntu makes it relatively easy to install restricted drivers.

The above is also correct for video cards, DVD burners, etc.

So, apparently, most people – even Linux users! – don’t care about free firmware. I do care, and i tried my best to do something about it, but my wife urgently needs a laptop to write her thesis, so unfortunately it seems that i’ll have to buy a (partially) restricted system after all.

I thought that you would like to know that there are people that care about this issue, but find it hard to do something about it in practice.

If you do know about a laptop that is fully usable with purely free drivers, please tell me.

Thanks!


N.B.: I have great respect towards Mark Shuttleworth and i believe that he is doing his best to help and fix this issue. I regret using the word “claim”, but i already sent the letter to RMS and wanted to post it here without changes.

Born stubborn me

Some people say that i am stubborn.

Do they think that it is easy?



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