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Where Mozilla Ubiquity Failed, Ubuntu HUD will Succeed

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 30, 2012

ubuntuFrom the 'Mozilla Labs is Ok; Real implementation is Better' files:

I'm not easily impressed by 'new' ideas in the Linux desktop space, which is why the Ubuntu HUD is even more interesting to me.

The HUD is based on a concept that I really believe in and supported (though my own usage and newb attempt at script) when Mozilla tried the same idea a few years ago with Ubiquity. Mozilla however has this obnoxious habit of killing projects that I like (or in there parlance - putting them on the backburner - ubiquity, prism, skywriter just to name a few). Ubiquity was supposed to become something called Taskfox in Firefox 3.6 but that never happened.

When I spoke with Canonical last week about why they think they will succeed where Mozilla failed - I got a fantastic answer from John Lea, Ubuntu Desktop User Experience Lead at Canonical. Ubuntu, unlike Mozilla, isn't just a single application.

"We're not limited to one or two applications or to a small scope and we can take this and have a standard systemwide approach for providing the interface," Lea said.

That comment really gave me pause. I spend the vast majority of my day inside the browser (almost always Firefox), but there is a world of apps that live outside of that space, even today in the modern 'cloud' world. Personally, I had never thought of Mozilla being limited, but in the context of having system level controls and visibility, of course it is.

What this means is that with the HUD, Firefox users will get a Ubiquity-like dialogue control - so long as they're on Ubuntu. A hundred million Firefox users on Windows will miss out of course and that's a darn shame. For me, I'm looking forward to seeing the HUD completed, so I can use it on Ubuntu - or even better see it grow and thrive as it's own standalone project. HUD is fully open source it relies on dbus and hey if someone wanted too (i.e me), i suspect I could get it to work on Fedora (typically my main desktop distro these days) too.


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Apache OpenOffice - The IBM Edition?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 26, 2012

From the 'Goodbye Lotus Symphapache open officeony' files:

If anyone had any real doubt, IBM is the one solid reason why OpenOffice still exits. Linux distros big and small have all left for the superior open source experience that is LibreOffice, yet IBM is stuck in the past.

In a blog posting announcing the end of Lotus Symphony, IBM explained that Open Office is the future (as it was the past too for them since Symphony was an openoffice fork)

"Our energy from here is going into the Apache OpenOffice project, and we expect to distribute an "IBM edition" of Apache OpenOffice in the future," Ed Brill, Director, Lotus Software, IBM Software Group blogged.

But there is a problem - since Apache OpenOffice isn't quite the same as what Lotus users have been used to in the past.

"We will not have the ability to embed the Apache OpenOffice the IBM Edition into the Notes client," Eric Otchet product manager for Symphony and the upcoming Apache OpenOffice the IBM Edition commented. "We are looking at how to extend our Symphony LotusScript support to the Apache OpenOffice code in the future."

From my admittedly narrow vantage point that sure seems like a lot of work to me. Why not just team up with the LibreOffice people? I suppose IBM just has too much vested already in its own 'version' of OpenOffice -whether it's called Symphony or Apache OpenOffice notwithstanding.

I suspect that existing Notes/Symphony users will just stick with what they have on a maintenance only basis for as long as they can - or maybe they'll just look for more innovation and make the move to LibreOffice - time will tell.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Did Linus Jump the Gun on a Kernel security fix?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 25, 2012

From the 'Upstream First!' files

On January 17th, Linus Torvalds committed a patch to the mainline Linux kernel for a memory handling flaw. As it turns out the flaw was exploited quickly once Torvalds put out the patch with a proof of concept emerging rapidly.

So what's the problem with this picture?

Linus patched the flaw. His focus is the mainline and anyone that uses his tree has no risk from this issue. That did however leave the big downstream distros including Red Hat and Ubuntu in a bit of bind as they don't patch as fast as Linus does. That's not to say they're slow, but there is a delay.

Which leads to the question - should there have been some additional vendor/distro consultation on this before the Torvalds patch was made public?

I know that in the past there has been the vendorsec list; and i know that Red Hat knows the upstream so well that they could have (or should have) known. But still, this (small) example is a potential area of risk that kernel developers might want to consider from a policy perspective. Any patch that has immediate security implications likely should be co-ordinated with the big distros (when possible). And that's the key isn't it? Torvalds patches as fast as he can, is it the distros responsibility then to keep pace?

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Google Brings Open Source to the Sky - Why Now?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 23, 2012

Google Code DefaultFrom the 'Look Up' files:

One of the very first things that I ever downloaded onto my Android phone was Google Sky. It's fantastic app the lets you just point your phone at a section of the sky to see a map overlay of the stars/constellation above.

It's also a project that is now going open source under the name - stardroid.

For thousands of years, astronomers have shared maps of the sky and it's only fitting that Google has decided to open source their tool. Google's decision though isn't about altruism though, the way I see it, it's more about Google offloading - yet another project - as they continue to trim what used to be Google Labs to nothing.

Don't get me wrong, I think that stardroid being open source is a great thing, but why now? This app has been around for at least three years? Google is just trying to cut their costs here, aren't they?

In any event, the project is going to be driven forward now together with Carnegie Mellon University.

"Sky Map’s development will now be driven by the students, with Google engineers remaining closely involved as advisors," Google Engineers wrote in a blog post.

Don't forget, Google has also done the same thing to the Google Body Browser too - given it to open source. Open Source is the right place for these projects and it's better for the community at large, but let's not forget why Google is doing this now, and no it's not primarily driven by a genuine desire to further open source, but rather as a way to offload projects they no longer want to maintain.


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Linux Continues to Grow in the Enterprise - Is Anyone Surprised?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 19, 2012

From the 'Self-Serving Stats' files:

Nearly every year that I've been writing about Linux, I've seen at least one report (if not more) showing that Linux adoption is on the rise.

The latest example came this week from the Linux Foundation. Yes, their data is self-serving, but the trend is clear and it has been for the last decade.

Linux is on a growth curve.

(and no you shouldn't be surprised).

What is changing are some of the technologies where Linux is being used. For example, the Linux Foundation report found that 72 percent of respondents are using Linux for Big Data (I'm surprised it's not 100 percent).

Another finding that is consistent with other reports, I see year after year is that technical issues related to Linux usage are dropping. According to the Linux Foundation, technical issues cited by
Linux users dropped 40 percent, from 20.3 percent  in 2010 to 12.2 percent today. In my opinion, that's a clear indication of the growth of Linux skills in the market as well as improvements in tooling and user-interfaces for many Linux server technologies.

The other interesting fact that showed up in this report is that 70 percent said that lower cost of ownership was a key driver for adopting Linux. That's right, even after all these years, it's still all about the money.

While it's hard for me to get too excited about these stats, seeing as I expect them, it's still important to recognize the continued momentum that Linux has, year after year.


Linux Infographic

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Who Isn't Talking About SOPA?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 17, 2012

From the 'Fact Checking' files:

There are a lot of BIG tech vendors that aren't talking about SOPA.

Yes, I know there has been lots of noise about SOPA in recent weeks, but I was surprised to discover how few of the vendors that I regularly write about have an official view on the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA).

Here's what various vendors told me (or didn't):

IBM - "We're not commenting on SOPA."

Cisco- "We have not taken a formal position on this legislation and really can’t comment at this time."

Juniper Networks - "Juniper does not have a comment on SOPA; there are still negotiations going on between the senate and the house, and we’re watching it as it evolves."

Symantec and VeriSign spokespersons also told me that they had no comment on SOPA.

Red Hat and McAfee didn't get back to me at all, either way if they have any views on SOPA (and the list goes on and on).

So while there are a number of very vocal online entities (Wikipedia blackout this week!) there are also a non-trivial amount of vendors that are strangely silent. Then again, to be fair, until this past weekend, the White House had not formally voiced it's opinion in strong language either. I also asked these vendor over the holiday period and beginning of the year, (when let's face, no one really wants to work anyways).

Now on the business side, all of the the vendors in my list above are also all infrastructure type players and all of them have large government contracts of some type, meaning it might be politically expedient for them to be on the sidelines (for the most part). At this point, thanks to regular people signing petitions and standing up against SOPA, it looks likely that this will never pass Congress. But it is still interesting to note where everyone stands.


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

OpenStack Doesn't Want Any Forks

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 13, 2012

openstackFrom the 'No Forks Here' files:

The notion of being able to fork a project is core to open source. It's also potentially a bad thing in some cases as it can lead to fragmentation of a user base and compatibility issues.

The OpenStack effort which is currently trying to figure out how to govern itself in a new OpenStack Foundation isn't keen on forks. In a Friday Webinar talking about the goals of the new Foundation, Rackspace VP of Business & Corporate Development Mark Collier specifically took aim at the fork issue.

"It is self-evident that a fork would be bad. We should be trying to make sure that we discourage it," Collier said.

The purpose of the webinar was to help outline how the new Foundation might be structured, but unfortunately there is now easy way to structure an organization to prevent forks.

"There is no magic pixie dust for preventing a fork," Collier said.

Well, actually there is - kinda/sorta in my view a way to mitigate the fork and Rackspace already know this better that I do. OpenStack already has efforts underway that protect the name OpenStack and help to define what is and isn't OpenStack (since there can be different implementation). Sure, you could always just change the name (think LibreOffice); but the OpenStack name as a brand has value today.

It is clear that the purpose of the OpenStack Foundation will be to make sure that OpenStack remains freely available, no changes to the Apache License are coming and the community is all about being open.

It is possible to be open, encourage discussion and still remain a somewhat cohesive whole without forks-- just ask the Eclipse Foundation, they've been doing it for years.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Mozilla Plans for Firefox Enterprise - Will it Slow Innovation?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 11, 2012

firefoxFrom the 'Lowest Common Denominator' files:

One of the perceived shortcomings of Mozilla's rapid release cycle, with new browsers every 6 weeks - is that enterprises couldn't keep up.

So now Mozilla has officially embraced a plan for an Enterprise release version of Firefox dubbed Extended Release Support (ESR). Personally, I don't think it's a great idea. In fact, I think it could hurt Mozilla's mission for improving the web for us all.

Today, Mozilla already has an extended support version in all but name - with Firefox 3.6, which was first released back in January of 2010. To be fair, Mozilla has updated that browser multiple times for security - and yes some features too. But, I've never heard anyone ever complain of being able to support Firefox 3.6 in an enterprise. So that's two years of support for a release.

The new ESR will come out only once a year, implying only 1 year of support, which again to be fair - is better than the 42 weeks of support that Mozilla initially suggested in September of 2011.

Adding another layer to the ESR situation is the fact that true enterprise vendors like Red Hat for example, support their software for much longer periods. In Red Hat's case, they've told me that they just cherry pick fixes from Mozilla and then update their build. So yes, if you want an enterprise support long term version of Firefox TODAY, just use Red Hat Enterprise Linux (or get their binaries).

And if you're an enterprise using Firefox 3.6 today (and not on Red Hat), you're still going to have update more than you're used too for major releases.

Having the new ESR release, IMHO will only serve to confuse regular users and small businesses that otherwise would run the rapid release. By not running the latest rapid release, users will not benefit from the latest feature and HTML/CSS enhancement make and that's a big problem. Web Developers have long adhered to a philosophy of supporting the lowest common denominator when it comes to standards and specs. That's why having IE6 around for so long was such a pain right? If enough users stick with the ESR it could hold back the embrace of new standards.

As well, with the upcoming silent update feature, Firefox updating will be non-invasive and easier then before.

That said, having worked in enterprise environments, I understand the traditional sensitivity toward change and change management. I have felt the pain of a broken, mission-critical app because a new browser no longer worked.

I also know that the good people at Mozilla are really just trying to strike a balance and they also have alot of users to satisfy. My only concern is that in satisfying the enterprise, the rest of us are held back. I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Ubuntu Bringing Linux to your TV

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 09, 2012

ubuntuFrom the 'Linux Everywhere' files:

Canonical is pushing Ubuntu Linux onto TVs. That's the big push for the Linux vendor at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that starts this week.

Ubuntu TV is an effort that pushes the Ubuntu interface (Dash) for TV's as a way to get content, including shows, movies and TV programming content. There is a whole new site setup for those of us not at CES to see what it's all about at: http://www.ubuntu.com/tv

Linux on TVs is nothing new and shouldn't come as a surprise. If you've got a DVR device, a Texas Instrument chip, an 'enhanced' media device (WD, seagate, boxee etc..) you've already got a Linux TV. What Ubuntu is doing here is associating their brand of Linux (and make no mistake about it, Canonical is doing its best to push Ubuntu as a brand) for consumer electronics vendors.

Will it succeed?

Truth is that most (if not all) consumer electronics vendors use Linux today. For those that have their own development experience and teams, it's unclear of Ubuntu will have a chance. It will ultimately come down to cost..if all the Ubuntu TV development stuff is free and open - with Canonical backstopping the effort for support and professional services..then maybe.

It's also unclear how much of a pull-through the Ubuntu brand has with consumer electronics vendors that are all working on wafer-thin margins as it is, and are all trying to do whatever they can to differentiate themselves when possible.

Looking beyond just the TV, Canonical is trying hard to push Ubuntu as a consumer brand overall. That includes computers, TVs, tablets, phones and even cars now too. When looking at the consumer space, Ubuntu is no longer competing against the enterprise juggernaut that is Red Hat, they're now in the embedded space where vendors like Wind River and MontaVista have long dominated.

Linux is everywhere, we've all known that for some time, and now Canonical with Ubuntu is trying to be the vendor that is pushing Linux everywhere too.


ubuntu tv

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Ubuntu Linux Files Lands on Apple iOS

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 05, 2012

ubuntu one files  From the 'Linux on the iPhone/iPad' files:

Canonical has finally landed Linux on Apple's iOS kinda/sorta.

A new Ubuntu Files app officially debuted in the AppStore today. This goes beyond the Ubuntu One Music app that has been available since last year providing Ubuntu One users with the ability to store and move files.

It's a good idea and an obvious extension of Ubuntu One for files. For those that are already Ubuntu users on the desktop this one is a no-brainer.

Ubuntu One in the larger context however faces competitive challenges against rivals such as box, dropbox and others that seem to come out of the woodwork every other day. Apple has it's own iCloud service too...but few of those services work on Linux.

There is also OwnCloud, which is real open source goodness (Ubuntu One has a tonne of proprietary code) if you want to do it all yourself. OwnCloud doesn't have an iOS app yet though. The biggest challenge with all iOS syncing type apps is what they actually sync. For example, don't expect to be able to use Apple's Pages app to save and open docs from UbuntuOne.

But hey with 5GB of free storage and easy syncing with an Ubuntu box, the new iOS Ubuntu Files app is likely going to only help Ubuntu grow its UbuntuOne user base, regardless of all the competitive pressures it faces.


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Mozilla Updates License - Does it Matter?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 04, 2012

From the 'License Renfirefoxewal' files:

The Mozilla Public License is one of the most influential software licenses in recent memory. In many respects, it is the basis for alot of modern idea about open source, as opposed to just Free Software and the GPL.

This week, the Mozilla Public License 2.0 was officially released - and to be honest, I was caught a little off guard. I've known that work was in progress since at least 2008. In 2010, Mozilla Chief Mitchell Baker let us know that the new MPL 2.0 would remove references to Netscape in the license.

Even with that three years of work, there just didn't seem to be the same level of ...controversy..that existed in say the GPL 3 revision process.

That's probably a good thing too.

MPL 2.0 is an evolution, not a revolution. It's about cleaning up and accounting for 10+ years of changes in the tech world. It's about finally coming to terms with the reality that MPL should be compatible with GPL.

Mozilla's own What's New page does a great job of explaining the differences between MPL 1.1 and the new 2.0 license, but the explanation of the GPL language is my favorite bit.

Providing an explicit mechanism by which MPL and GPL code can be distributed together has several significant benefits:

  • It allows elimination of the common dual and tri-license approach, which reduces license proliferation, since (for compatibility and proliferation purposes) each dual-license and tri-license is a separate license.

  • Along with Apache compatibility, it creates a series of upwards-compatible free software licenses covering much of the world's free and open source software.

  • It helps protect the original licensor's ability to reintegrate modifications made downstream, by requiring that the initial distribution of changes occurs under both licenses and not just the GPL.

I never really understood the whole tri-license approach and now, I don't really have too since compatibility is built in moving forward. While the MPL is used for and by Mozilla, it's important to remember that others have used the license too.

The 'funny' thing to me is that a couple years ago, the most common type of license that new open source startups liked to use was a MPL plus attribution type of license. That has now fallen out favor (though there is the CPL which is the same thing). I see alot of GPL and alot of Apache licenses but not nearly all that many new MPL licensed projects.

Time will tell whether this newer, kinder, gentler MPL 2.0 will be widely adopted beyond Mozilla. I personally think that ship has sailed though, but hey it's not as if Mozilla doesn't have a pile of its own interesting projects and effort that will now benefit from the MPL 2.0.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Android Set to Return to the Linux Mainline. Will it Succeed?

By Sean Michael Kerner   |    January 03, 2012

From the 'We Can All Get Along' files:

One of the more surprising Linux controversies of 2010 (for me at least) was the removal of the Android drivers from the mainline of Linux.

The 2.6.33 kernel released in February of 2010, dropped Android and it has not been part of the mainline of Linux ever since.

At LinuxCon Boston 2010, there were some really heated debates about why Android devs didn't mesh as well as they could/should with their upstream peers. It has a lot to do with power management (Wakelocks). There also seemed to be some organizational challenges within the kernel community and Google for resolving their differences.

Now almost two years later, a new effort that seems to have the backing of the Linux Foundation is aiming to bring Android back to the mainline. The project is officially titled the 'Android Mainlining Project' and was announced at the end of 2011 by Tim Bird Architecture Group Chair, CE Workgroup of the Linux Foundation and Senior Staff Engineer, Sony Network Entertainment.

While I personally think it's a good idea - initially (and sure I know it has been the holidays..) the initial interest on the project's mailing list doesn't seem to be all that impressive. Even more surprising to me is that I personally have not seen a high-profile Google person on the mailing list, or in fact any Google people stand up and say this is something they support too.

Reality is that Google doesn't need to be part of the mainline, they've existed outside of it for a year and done quite well on their own. Of course, the benefits of being in the mainline are tremendous,improving maintenance for Android (and Linux too).

Back when Android was split from the mainline, nearly everyone I spoke with, thought that the day would come when the two come back together. That day is now nearly here.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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