Sunday Nov 18, 2007

Thunderbird annoyances - 1, 2

I spend a lot of time dealing with email, so Thunderbird's limitations are literally in my face. I thought I'd start cataloging them, with an eye to eventually sending them on to the T-bird community. I'm publishing them here first so people will have a chance to tell me if they are actually due to user error. Don't want to waste the T-bird developers' time!

Annoyance 1: Loss of context. If you move a message to a folder from your inbox, then move another one, the dialog box makes you start at the root of the tree all over again. On the other hand, The High-priced Product handily defaults the tree to the last folder you moved a message to. Since one usually moves several messages to the same folder, this is a great time saver.

Annoyance 2: If you sort on an alpha column, such as Sender or Subject, you have to manually scroll down all the entries to the place in the alphabet that you want. The High-priced Product handily takes you there when you type the first letter of the section you want to go to. Since this feature is part of most drop-down lists on the planet, it's hard to understand why it's not in T-bird.

To be continued....

Wednesday Oct 24, 2007

Grooving at GOSCON

I was up in Portland, Oregon, last week attending the Government Open Source Conference put on by Oregon State University. This was my first Open Source convention, and it was a hoot. Sun and were ably represented by featured speakers Erwin Tenhumberg, Doug Johnson and Louis Suarez-Potts, so all I had to do was hang around and absorb the atmosphere.

There were some rather heated debates, including one I witnessed between Jason Matusow, Microsoft interop guru, and Arnaud Le Hors, IBM Open Source maven, on the merits of Open XML versus Open Document Format. Fun stuff! I was also impressed by the keynote by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, who bears a striking resemblance in mannerisms, accent and intelligence to my hero Sen. John Edwards. Who knew Open Source could be so slick?

More than one speaker made a critical point that I think deserves some intensive thought. There are plenty of government agencies that would like to use Open Source software, but that are prevented from doing so by the procurement processes they have to follow. Typically, they have to issue a Request For Proposal that must be filled out by all interested vendors. These things often run to 100 pages of detailed questions. Microsoft and Oracle have whole teams dedicated to filling out RFPs. The Open Source world has no one. Result: the Open Source product doesn't get selected. There's got to be an answer to this. Maybe some civic-minded foundation would like to dedicate some resources to promoting the use of Open Source in government by responding to RFPs? Seems like a great way to save the taxpayers some big bucks.

Thursday Aug 30, 2007

Free software and the Blade Runner strategy

Now that I am part of the services team, I've been thinking more about free and open source software, and about intellectual property in general. Clearly, one place where free software has the potential to help people is in the Third World, the developing countries where increased access to software and the Internet is a vital component of the effort to lift whole societies out of poverty. Ironically, experience seems to show that free software has not had the impact that it should have in the Third World, and the reason is that there is another low-cost alternative: pirated copies of Windows and Microsoft Office. 

My son in Shanghai told me about going to a black market technology bazaar right out of Blade Runner or Neuromancer, where hundreds of tiny shops were busily constructing whitebox desktops, and happily loading them with bootleg Windows. A similar black market exists in Mexico City, and I'd be willing to bet that one exists in most countries outside of the First World.

Piracy is obviously wrong, but it's also clear that failing to enforce intellectual property laws is a workable development strategy often pursued by countries to spur economic growth. When Taiwan was struggling to develop, it refused to sign international copyright conventions, making it possible for students to buy pirated technical books very cheaply. Back in the day, my brother brought me a bootleg technical manual from Taiwan that cost maybe a tenth of what it would have cost in the US at that time. As it grew richer, and sought to join the World Trade Organization, Taiwan brought its intellectual property laws into line with the First World. Perhaps enforcing copyright is a sign of a country's increasing economic maturity. Morality is for those who can afford it.

This suggests that free software may actually play a greater role when a country rises a bit above complete poverty, and starts to crack down on piracy in order to enjoy the benefits of more trade with the First World. At that point, free software will have more of a price advantage over the outrageous monopoly pricing imposed by First World software companies operating in the Third World.

Tuesday Aug 21, 2007

Is OpenLazlo the wave of the future?

My buddy Tony Vigna, uberconsultant and bleeding-edge CIO, has become quite enamored of OpenLazlo as a platform for building rich, interactive Web 2.0 applications. I've been checking out their site, and also Lazlo Systems, the commercial startup that produced OpenLazlo. I like their business model, which is to sell support and commercial applications based on the open-source OpenLazlo that they have released under the Common Public License. I also like their endorsement of OpenLazlo on the front end, Java on the back end.

I also signed up for a free LazloMail account, and I really like the rich browser-based experience. Other web-based mail systems I've tried have the look and feel of a washing machine control panel. LazloMail feels like a thick client, yet it's delivered in a browser. OpenLazlo definitely seems like a technology to watch.

Friday Aug 03, 2007

Score one half point for Mozilla Thunderbird

When Sun took over SeeBeyond, they eventually switched us all from Microsoft Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird for our email client. I found T-bird to be pretty good, but it always bugged me that the blazing white background color on messages was hurting my eyes. When using Outlook, I had been able to pick up the nice neutral gray that I had set for the general background color on my PC. I was thinking about writing a nasty blog entry about how T-bird was slowly blinding me, but then I discovered this morning that there is a facility on the T-bird Tools/Options menu for setting the background color for messages. Excellent! Now if I can just figure out how to set the background color for the message list folders, I will be fine. So I can't give T-bird a full point yet, but this is a great improvement! And a good lesson to not be too hasty to criticize open source stuff as not being user-friendly.

Wednesday Jul 25, 2007

One Laptop Per Child is here

This thing is amazing. What a wonderful gift to the children of the world.

Instead of simplifying existing technology, they added innovations we'll all be using.

Sunday Jun 03, 2007

Free and Open Source License Comparison

You can use this chart to compare the major attributes of the most popular Free and Open Source Software licenses. I have been researching the major licenses, and it's hard to keep the differences between them straight, at least for me, so I prepared this chart that you may find useful. Those of you who know about this subject, please feel free to offer comments. I will revise the chart from time to time in the light of what I learn from you.


Project-based File-based Permissive

Licenses: GPL 2 LGPL 2.1 MPL 1.1 CDDL 1.0 CPL 1.0 ECLIPSE 1.0 APACHE 2.0 NEW BSD MIT
You may:

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Link to other programs under at least some circumstances without creating a derived work

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
As an original author, specify that the same license version be used for future releases, rather than allowing them to use new license versions


If you distribute you are required to:

Make source code available
Yes Yes Yes Yes

Display copyright notice
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Provide copy of license
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mark changes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Disclaim warranty
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disclaim liability
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
License modified files within the work under the same terms (“weak copyleft”)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

License larger derived works under the same terms (“strong copyleft”)
Yes Yes

Indemnify earlier contributors when you offer a warranty of your own

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Grant licenses for all relevant patents you own

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

If you distribute you are prohibited to:

Assert patent claims against the work
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Assert patent claims against contributors' other software


Use the names of original authors or contributors in advertising without permission

Yes Yes
Distribute if doing so would be subject to a third-party license
Yes Yes Unless you disclose

Distribute if doing so would conflict with law or regulation
Yes Yes Unless you disclose


GPL 2: GNU General Public License, Version 2
Disclaimer: This chart is designed to provide information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is to be understood that the author is not engaged in rendering legal or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a professional person should be sought. This chart is in no way intended to convey the official position of Sun Microsystems with regard to any software license.
LGPL 2.1: GNU Lesser General Public License, Version 2.1
MPL 1.1: Mozilla Public License, Version 1.1
CDDL 1.0: Common Development and Distribution License, Version 1.0
CPL 1.0: Common Public License, Version 1.0
ECLIPSE 1.0: Eclipse Public License, Version 1.0
APACHE 2.0: Apache License, Version 2.0
NEW BSD: The BSD License, 1999 version
MIT: The MIT License

Update 6 June 2007: In response to the kind comment from Mads I have removed the "specify the same license version" clause as an attribute of the Apache License. I am beginning to think that Apache should really be classified as a Permissive license.




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