Tuesday Oct 20, 2009

O'Reilly's Beautiful Testing (Thanks Adam, Tim, Emily, Derek...)

Emily Chen and I coauthored a chapter in an O'Reilly book entitled "Beautiful Testing" which was edited by Adam Goucher and Tim Riley.

Successful software depends as much on scrupulous testing as it does on solid architecture or elegant code. Beautiful Testing offers 23 essays from 27 leading testers and developers that illustrate the qualities and techniques that make testing an art. Through personal anecdotes, you'll learn how each of these professionals developed ideas of beauty in testing a wide range of products -- valuable knowledge that you can apply to your own projects.

The electronic version is already available here: http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596159825

The bound version should be available in bookstores in the next few days.

Friday Jun 12, 2009

Goodbye to 68 years of NTSC compatibility

Casio NTSC displays PAL program

This is a big day for technophiles as well as technologically nostalgic. An analog TV broadcast standard which has maintained compatibility for 68 years will end today. A B&W TV designed around the 1941 NTSC standard would have been able to display some broadcasts on channels 2-13 yesterday. A color TV designed around the 1953 standard would have displayed some broadcasts in color yesterday. For anyone who appreciates the engineering required to progress technology while maintaining backwards compatibility, the story of the NTSC compatible color standard is interesting.
Some of the disadvantages are unknown, but here are a few problems I forsee:

  • Fewer people will have an acceptable picture. (while the coverage will allow some in suburbs to receive a better picture, rural viewers who had an acceptable analog picture might not receive anything at all.)
  • Portable ATSC TVs will be more expensive and will consume batteries faster.
  • Since battery powered ATSC digital TVs haven't been perfected, they won't work well in weather or other emergencies. This is important because weather radar and other emergency maps provide information specific to a viewer's locale, this is very difficult if not impossible to provide via NOAA or commercial radio. Internet/cell phone services are often the first to go in an emergency and so they cannot be relied upon either.
  • Given the amount of time there was to plan this transition, it was poorly managed.
  • The billions of dollars and years of engineering that went into a slightly higher resolution TV standard could've been been put to a better use. Discounting the money spent by consumers on HDTVs, this project has cost taxpayers approximately $5 Billion. While the recent bailouts make $5 Billion sound like pocket change, this is actually 1/4th the cost of the entire Apollo moon lander program, which was completed in less time!
  • Many devices will go into landfills before the end of their serviceable life. (e.g. almost all battery powered TVs such as the Casio in this photo are impractical to use with any of the Federally subsidized converter boxes.)
  • Newscasters must shave and apply makeup more often.
  • ATSC is heavily encumbered with expensive patents and royalties which, all else being equal, would nearly double the cost of the pocket Casio TV in the above photo. This also means that it may be impossible to create an opensource television or other free (as in freedom) ATSC compatible device (e.g. PVR.)

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Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

SourceJuicer 1.0 is released!


The SourceJuicer team has announced that SourceJuicer 1.0 is now available!. SourceJuicer is a web service which facilitates the building and review of OpenSolaris packages. Its goal is to pave the path between building an OpenSolaris package, (which may only work on your laptop) and publishing high quality packages into the OpenSolaris /contrib repository. Here are some of my favorite features:

  • Sourcejuicer provides a community package review system.
  • It preinstalls Laca's Common Build Environment (CBE) and developer libraries in a build zone so you don't have to track down all of the build tools and dependencies required for common FOSS projects.
  • SourceJuicer examples and automatic validation walk me through the required fields in a spec file.
  • Once a package passes validation criteria and builds, it appears in sourcejuicer's internal /pending package repository and can be immediately installed on a clean QA machine for testing:

    pfexec pkg set-authority -O http://jucr.opensolaris.org/pending jucr-pending pfexec pkg refresh pfexec pkg install {foo}

  • If the package is clean and passes community review, it can be promoted to the /contrib repository.

This has been quite an interesting project and I've really enjoyed working with this team on this technology. Because I was focused on authentication, authorization and the (not yet released) bug management components, I didn't get to use the full system until very recently and I found that it really did remove some barriers to building and testing the 'dillo' browser and Alvaro's 'cherokee' web server.

We're looking forward to hearing feedback as more OpenSolaris contributors make use of SourceJuicer. You can find out more about the progress of sourcejuicer at The SourceJuicer Blog

Monday Mar 16, 2009

Is the recession accelerating OpenSolaris adoption?

This Slashdot article points to an IT Manager survey indicating that Linux adoption is growing during these difficult economic times. It does make sense that companies and governments which normally spent freely on proprietary software might begin to consider unorthodox, but much more cost effective alternatives now. What does this mean for other opensource operating systems such as OpenSolaris? I think the Google trends graph says it better than I could. Anyone looking for the root cause of this economic mess only needn't bother about property bubbles, dodgy investment shenanigans or massive increases in debt. Just look at the trend line of the third parameter in this Google graph ;-)

P.S.: I compared 'opensolaris' with 'economic downturn' instead of 'recession' because the magnitude of recession searches is so much larger that it pushes opensolaris towards the bottom of this graph. A similar scale issue makes it difficult to see that opensolaris seems to be gaining market share against Windows, Solaris, Linux and some of the most popular proprietary Linux distributions.

Google trends is an amazing tool, but it can't answer all psychohistory questions. Trends for some topics such as 'great depression' and 'great gatsby' are common topics in standardized U.S. school curriculum and therefore searches for these closely follow the school calendar. You'd think with so many students learning about Gatsby's 1920s hedonism and its unravelling during the 'Great Depression', it should be impossible to repeat this history.

Monday Nov 24, 2008

Good news about a bank

We often teased the shyest member of my family by reminding her of the bad joke about the kid who didn't speak a word until he was eating breakfast on his 7th birthday when he said, "My porridge is cold!" When asked why he never spoke before, he said, "Up until now everything has been alright." This is how I felt about the silence which followed my work on a project which installed and provided support for over 7000 opensource JDS desktops at a bank.1 We called the customer occasionally to see if everything was O.K. We helped them through one upgrade which was necessary because the Linux kernel needed to be upgraded to support modern hardware but didn't have a stable ABI so the entire application stack also had to be upgraded. After the upgrade, one of our customers gave us some upgrades/minute statistics that were well beyond what is possible given network bandwidth limitations so I'll just say that the upgrade went well.

Shortly after the upgrade, we helped solve a peculiar focus bug whose root causes were spread across gtk, Java, Firefox and Star/OpenOffice. But overall things were very quiet. Sun was also quiet about this deployment, first of all because we hadn't yet finalized the disclosure agreement and later because Sun decided to drop our Linux-based desktop product and focus on OpenSolaris. So between our "are you still there?" pings to the customer's 2 person technical support staff, I was left wondering if no news is good news?

Then when I gave my presentation at the Irish Opensource Technology Conference, I noticed that two knowledgeable IT managers from this bank were giving presentations on their opensource desktop (a.k.a. JDS) roll out. I finally had the opportunity to be the "fly on the wall" and hear how things really went. I don't have links to their presentations, but these gentlemen said that the project was a success, that the deployment saved money and IT support costs compared to traditional Microsoft Windows based desktop solutions. They said the project completed ahead of schedule and under budget and that they were telling other banks the secrets of their success. I don't know if the other banks were paying attention to the potential savings in deploying opensource alternatives back when easy money was still flowing, but I would think they should take a hard look at such cost-effective alternatives now. In any case, it seems likely that the number of successful cost-saving "invisible" opensource deployments is understated.

"The art and science of interface design depends largely on making the transaction with the computer as transparent as possible in order to minimize the burden on the user" -- S. Joy Mountford

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic!"
-- Arthur C. Clarke.

1 The deployment was of Sun's linux based "Java Desktop System." If we were to do it now, the obvious choices in Sun's product portfolio would be Solaris 10 or OpenSolaris. Since the customer's network is now fast enough to support Sun Ray over WAN, we could potentially save them another $500,000 in annual electricity costs by deploying their desktop via Sun Ray clients instead of X86 PCs.

Tuesday Sep 09, 2008

Is Sun behind more than 1/2 of all corporate OpenSource contributions?

Corporate FOSS Contributions
The EC's Study on the Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU is an interesting document. I was fortunate to attend a presentation by one of the authors at an OpenIreland event a couple of years ago. The above StarCalc graph uses corporate FOSS contribution numbers from this document. A picture is worth 1000 words, isn't it? This study was published in November 2006, the same month Java was GPL'd so I doubt the Java codebase was included in these calculations. The open sourcing of Solaris was also in early stages. Add these and the MySQL code and it wouldn't surprise me if more than 1/2 of the corporate contributed OpenSource code is from a division of Sun Microsystems. I know we can do better. But quite a few big FOSS consumers (e.g. those selling beautifully branded FreeBSD or web services) are notably absent from the top 10 corporate contributor list. What percentage of corporate FOSS contribution would quench some of the hottest alternate kernel fanboy flames? 60%, 75%? Is it sufficient to contribute to the whole software ecosystem Joe sixpack thinks of as "Linux" or do you have to commit directly to Linus's kernel? What does it take to be cool? Are we there yet?

Friday Jun 20, 2008

My OpenSolaris for Developers talk at the Irish Opensource Technology Conference

I should thank the sponsors and organizers of the Irish OpenSource Technology Conference (IOTC) for giving me the opportunity to present OpenSolaris as an Open Source Developer Tool to some of Ireland's brightest and most energetic open source developers. There were quire a few university attendees and Barry was able to bring in people from small and midsized Irish companies such as openApp and hosting365 as well as multinationals such as Microsoft, IBM, RedHat, Sun and AIB (more about this later!)

My talk seemed to be well understood by the audience and I managed to empty out a heavy backpack full of ¨Free as in Free" OpenSolaris 2008.05 CDs afterwards. I didn't have enough time to talk about SMF or PKG(5) in detail, but I did spend some time on ZFS and Dtrace; both of which I'm certain would be useful to any Open Source developer. Even if your pointy-haired boss demands that you must code your application in VisualBasic and deploy on Redhat 3.5 via Wine, you can sneak OpenSolaris onto one of your QA department's test boxes and run your software in a zone where you can dtrace it. Or you could set up an OpenSolaris file server with ZFS snapshots as frequently as necessary (perhaps every keystroke for some UIDs?) I won't tell anyone... honest ;-)

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Monday Jan 14, 2008

OpenProj 1.0 project manager runs on OpenSolaris Nevada!

OpenProj on Solaris Nevada build 80

I must confess that I've used Microsoft Windows at work a few times in the past 6.5 years. Three MS Windows only applications have occasionally been part of my job. The first was a proprietary browser test suite which is now very outdated, the second is a CD/DVD burning server which would definitely be more usable on a stable OS such as Solaris or NetBSD, and the third was Microsoft Project, an application favored by project managers. Now thanks to the people at OpenProj, I hope the Sun can set on Microsoft Windows at least within my daily work life.

I first learned about OpenProj from my friend Ron at inventors garage. OpenProj is "A desktop replacement for Microsoft Project. It is capable of sharing files with Microsoft Project and has very similar functionality (Gantt, PERT diagram, histogram, charts, reports, detailed usage), as well as tree views which aren't in MS Project." OpenProj is a Java/Swing application but a minor incompatibility between the Solaris and Linux tail command prevented the OpenProj launcher from working on Solaris. When I mentioned this, the helpful people at Projity fixed it a few days before OpenProj 1.0 was released. Thank you!

[Read More]

Saturday Aug 18, 2007

Google trends, ODF vs OOXML

I was wondering whether Microsoft's OOXML was as popular as the Open Document Format (ODF) in the U.S. I expected that since Microsoft's market stranglehold is more complete in the U.S., OOXML should be more popular in there but less popular in Europe and the rest of the world. But according to Google trends there are very few people searching Google for OOXML anywhere. Counts of files on the web also show that beyond a few odd websites such as Microsoft.com, very few people are publishing documents in Microsoft's OOXML format but hundreds of thousands of documents are being published in the open ODF document standard.

I wonder why Microsoft is going to all of the trouble of creating yet another open document standard when a very popular one already exists which can be made compatible with Microsoft Office by simply installing an ODF plug-in?

Wednesday Mar 07, 2007

OpenIreland's Open Source Briefing

I attended OpenIreland's Open Source Software Intelligence Briefing last Friday. (The linked brochure document is a PDF which became an open standard in January 2007. If you aren't able to open this document with Adobe's proprietary acroread product, try open source evince.)

Rishab Ghosh gave some interesting highlights from the FlossImpact report released for the E.C. last autumn. I understood his explanation that Sun's contribution to opensource may be overstated because some OpenOffice.org code was developed outside Sun and retains a Sun copyright. But since these statistics were gathered, 10 million lines of OpenSolaris and I don't know how many millions of lines of Java were open sourced. I think it's a safe bet that Sun still comes out as the leading contributer to the free and open source software movement.

If Douglas Heintzman faithfully represented IBM's philosophy towards open source in his "The Reality" talk, we are very close to the same wavelength. Who can argue with the fact that very few are making money selling packaged software? I believe those few profitable shrink-wrap software companies represent monopolies in their particular market. Who can argue with the fact that software was free long before "open source" became a popular buzzword and long before the Linux kernel was a gleam in Linus's eye? Who can argue with the fact that encoding important Government documents to a proprietary format controlled by a single company is an issue of sovereignty? Shortly before this conference I trolled E.U. and Irish government websites for documents in proprietary Microsoft formats. It's scary how much is locked to one company, especially when the goal is to have these documents viewable 100 years from now.

Who can argue with the fact that too many standards is a bad thing, which is why I hope neither Microsoft nor IBM take advantage of open sourced Java and create their own incompatible releases. I was aware of enormous opportunities for document indexing and display technologies now that we aren't tied to a closed binary format that lives and dies at the whim of one company, but I wasn't aware how far remote collaborative editing and role-based access to portions of an ODF document has progressed. This would fit in well with Sun's role-based access control and trusted JDS desktop. (Which if you think security is a good thing, could be the most under-marketed Sun product since Sun Ray.) I was happy to hear that Mr. Heintzman was impressed with Sun's accessibility demonstration in Germany. Imagine if the important content of business and government documents could be viewed regardless of whether you are a sighted person on a Linux, Microsoft or OpenSolaris desktop or a blind executive viewing the document on a Nokia phone.

I also spoke with employees from OpenApp who were doing really cool things with open source geographic database software but who understandably wondered why Ireland, which has become an IT powerhouse, is so slow to accept the open source paradigm. I also spoke with some very good people from the Blackrock education center. OpenApp and Blackrock worked together to develop the first European Computer Driver's License (ECDL) training material for OpenOffice.org. I gave them copies of Solaris Express Developer Edition. If open source continues to gain acceptance in the E.U., training companies such as Blackrock will play a crucial role in helping people learn new ways of increasing workplace productivity.




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