Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dell and how to manage GNU/Linux support

Here is an article which talks about the massive response on Dell IdeaStorm to the idea of having pre-installed GNU/Linux on Dell desktop and laptop machines:

Why Dell and other major hardware vendors won't do desktop Linux preinstallation

The article says that Dell are unlikely to do anything serious with GNU/Linux because of certification and support issues and a number of other writers are suggesting the same thing, but I think that's 180 degrees wrong. I happen to think that both certification and support would be quite a bit easier for GNU/Linux than for Microsoft Windows. This is not to say that either certification or support are trivial things.

Certification is made easier because the Dell team get to see all the source code. They can either sign NDAs with hardware vendors or persuade them open source their code. They can choose to go with vendors that make this easier for them. Checking testing and debugging are much easier if there are no black box components in the mix and the level of confidence in the certification can be much higher too.

Now support. First let us understand that Dell is providing support for their hardware, not for operating systems or applications (though I don't see any reason why Dell should not sell consultancy services if that is something the market wanted). What Dell need to do in a support situation is to be able to clearly demonstrate that their hardware is functioning as it should ... or not. The problem that Dell has is that they are invariably trying to figure out the state of the hardware through a very murky lens - the working environment as "enhanced" and "tweaked" by a customer. Support could be made much easier if Dell ship a live CD with every machine. If you want phone support you must first boot the live CD. The live CD would fire up the version of the GNU/Linux distribution shipped with the computer and would enable the support person to confidently work through diagnostics with the customer.

So, both certification and support can cheaper and better with GNU/Linux.

The other question that is thrown up is: what distribution should Dell ship with? Really, we should not care as long as the drivers on the live CD are accessible. If I like the distribution that came installed (or if this is a machine for my mum), I'll go with that. If I want a different disto I will install the one I like along with the drivers from that live CD (these are just Linux drivers, there need not be any distro magic). This situation will encourage a whole range of support options to come along. For example, if SuSE happen the be the distro that Dell go with, I bet Red Hat, Ubuntu etc etc will come up with a very easy way for their customers to install their systems using the drivers from the Dell CD.

So I don't think Dell need to stress out about which distro to go with. Just pick the one that, in their view, is the best fit for their customers and go with that. Perhaps review the choice quarterly or yearly.

In summary, I can't think of a way in which this is not a win win for Dell and anyone who wants to have a Dell system running a GNU/Linux distribution. If Dell are holding back, it can only because political forces are at play.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Software Patents ePetition - No. 10 responds

The Prime Ministers office has responsed to the petition on software idea patents:

softwarepatents - epetition response

The response is very much in the right direction but I have to wonder what the terms "technical field" and "pure software" mean in practice. Are these terms holding the door open for some software to be patented much as has been permitted by the EPO?

The overt message from the PM is very much on target, but I would have liked the response to have been rather more crisp.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

More on Microsoft and patents

Another perspective on Microsoft and their questionable actions regarding document standards:

Microsoft's amusing standards stance | Perspectives | CNET

Friday, February 23, 2007

Slashdot | RIAA Appeals Award of Attorneys' Fees

Are we seeing the last gasps of the "recording industry"?

Slashdot | RIAA Appeals Award of Attorneys' Fees

I do hope so. The *music* industry would benefit enormously from the removal of the RIAA and it's cronies.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Slashdot | Ballmer Repeats Threats Against Linux

I think we can expect much more sabre rattling like this:

Slashdot | Ballmer Repeats Threats Against Linux

Now that the SCO action against Linux is failing Microsoft need a FUD generator to put in it's place, and this patent threat (sadly enabled by Novel) is it.

It's all rather messy and seems to rely on software idea patents, but Microsoft won't say which ones (just as SCO were unable to say exactly what their complaint was either, despite the court requiring them to do so). If the FOSS community knew which patents Microsoft felt were being infringed upon something could be done about it, such as re-writing bits of code or knocking down the patents because they are un-original or fail in some other regard.

But Microsoft don't want to have the problems fixed because that would remove the FUD weapon. No, they want to go on threatening unspecified doom and gloom. This kind of behaviour might even be illegal, but who is big enough to take on Microsoft in court?

But why would Microsoft open themselves up to being laughed at or even possibly taken to court? Because the FOSS community is taking an increasingly large bite out of Microsoft's potential revenue, and they are scared.

Beware the cornered rat.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Popular Stories - Dell Ideastorm

If you want to see a tier-1 PC manufacturers provide machines with pre-installed Linux, give a little nudge right here:

Popular Stories - Dell Ideastorm

Dell are looking for feedback and at the time of writing the top 5 most requested items are:

  • 35,173 votes for a pre-installed GNU/Linux operating system.

  • 18,618 votes to have installed instead of the closed-source alternatives.

  • 15,358 votes for bare machines (no operating system at all).

  • 12,201 votes for GNU/Linux on laptops.

  • 9,892 votes for no preloaded Operating system.

So all of the top 5 are asking for fredom of choice in various forms with a total of ~50,000 votes for GNU/Linux, ~25,000 votes for a bare machine and the orthogonal ~20,000 votes for

... and those totals are zooming up!

Will Dell respond to this customer demand?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Vodafone caves in to Microsoft IM | The Register

Only yesterday Microsoft was complaining that IBM was slowing the progress of the Microsoft XML document format through the standards process. Today we see Microsoft's more typical behaviour towards standards:

Vodafone caves in to Microsoft IM | The Register

Microsoft's monopoly is weakened by standards because standards mean that people can choose the tool they want to use - and they may choose a non Microsoft tool, which in the Microsoft world is unacceptable. This is why Microsoft break standards (c.f. Embrace, Extend and Extinguish).

In the above case the standard that both Microsoft and Vodafone should be adopting is XMPP. But as this would let people choose all kinds of (non-Microsoft) cool tools on all kinds of (non-Microsoft) platforms Microsoft will do all it can to foist it's own closed alternative messaging protocols on the world at large.

Microsoft understands that standards are widely viewed as being a good thing, and so does not openly declare war on standards. Nonetheless, war it is. Look at what Microsoft do, not what they say.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Microsoft™ Vista™ fails to sell as expected. Wow.

Not at all surprising as it offers so little and what it does offer has been done better by others already.

Microsoft's operating environment monopoly will survive for a while because of momentum (e.g. Dell), but the market will ultimately respond to the poor value proposition offered by the gloss-and-little-else Vista.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Post Office where are you?

I got a card through the door from the Post Office today. Someone had sent me a letter with too little postage paid.

I could either mail back the card with stamps attached to the value of £1.03 (the owing amount + £1.00 admin fee) or visit their office and pick the item up. I'd have to visit a post office to buy stamps so I decided to go and collect the item.

The instructions for collecting the item read (in part):

Bring this card to the address overleaf and pay the charge
Please remember to bring proof of your identity ...

OK, so where is the post office I need to go to? Here is the "address overleaf":

Royal Mail
Mount Plesant EC1 Delivery Office
Farringdon Road

Hmmm. This is not a street address. Farringdon Road is a very long road and the "Delivery Office" for EC1 could be anywhere along it.

I used Google Maps UK (works really well with post codes) to get an idea of where the office might be physically located and set out to the closest part of Farringdon Road from home and walked north. I came to a post office on Farringdon Road and thought that it might be the one. There was no sign outside to say what the name of this post office was. Inside there was no information desk, just a long line of people waiting in a queue - so I joined the queue.

20 minutes later I'm facing a guy who said "Oh, this isn't the delivery office. We're counters, not delivery. "Look" he said, pointing to the address on the card. "So what is this office called?" I asked. "You need to be up the road" he replied, "but what street address am I looking for?" I asked. He pointed to the card again, and the door, and Farringdon Road.

OK, up the hill. The Mount Pleasant facility is a bit like Mos Eisley Space Port in Star Wars. It is huge sprawling complex with Mount Pleasant written in very large letters on a face of the building overlooking Rosebery Avenue. Right under the sign is a Post Office. Yes!

I hurried in, and saw a queue even longer than the last one I was in. Wait a minute, I thought, this looks like "Counters" to me. So I went back out and further along Farringdon, 'cos that was the address I was given, right?

I came to a very wide gate with red Post Office vans zooming and out in great numbers. I scooted across to the gate house and waved my card hopefully in the air. Here I was on Farringdon Road right next to a part of the Mount Pleasant edifice that was most definitely not "Counters".

But to no avail. I was directed back down Farringdon Road to turn right past the "Counters" office and then down a side street, and there I would find the Deliveries Office. So I did that - and there it was, sitting on a small side road called , wait for it, Mount Pleasant. No, really, it was.

So why the hell could the card not mention the street the Delivery Office was actually on? Hmmm?


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Des. Res. SF

We lived in San Francisco for several years staying in a rented flat in a complex called Bayside Village. Just across the street from us was a restaurant called the Delancy Street Diner which was rather good and very popular.

The restaurant was in the corner of a large complex much like Bayside Village in many ways though it looked nicer, more "upscale" as one might say in San Francisco. It was only later that we found out what the building was and what a superb job it does in a broader sense as explained in a BBC article on the Delancy Street Foundation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

See Smalltalk 80 run

Smalltalk 80 came out of the labs at Xerox Parc. This video made for ACM SIGGRAPH in 1983 gives a good introduction.

The system you are looking at brought windows icons and mice together for the first time. Not the Mac and not Windows. It was Smalltalk.

Licensing eats into IT budgets

According to a report in the analysis section of Computing (dated 8 Feb 2007) and citing information in a Forrester report it seems that license fees will consume 30% of IT budgets in 2007. If that were not bad enough, an additional 18% will go on subscription fees. The report lumps together something called license maintenance and code maintenance at 26% leaving the remaining 26% for application development.

With the costs of just getting permission to use closed source software at 50% or more of IT budgets, the scope for releasing value through the use of free and open source software has never been greater.