Reminder: new blog and feed locations

Effective January 1, 2010, my blog is split into current and archived versions.

Current blog

Please update your bookmarks and feed subscriptions as follows:

The address of the current blog is http://www.sutor.com/c/.

The link to the blog feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/BobSutor.

The blog comments feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/CommentsForBobSutor.

Archived blog

The address of the archived blog is http://www.sutor.com/newsite/blog-open/.

New locations for Bob Sutor’s blog

I’ve been extensively reorganizing my website and effective January 1, 2010, my blog will be split into current and archived versions.

Current blog

Please update your bookmarks and feed subscriptions as follows:

The address of the current blog is http://www.sutor.com/c/.

The link to the blog feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/BobSutor.

The blog comments feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/CommentsForBobSutor.

Archived blog

The address of the archived blog is http://www.sutor.com/newsite/blog-open/.

Some favorite 2009 blog entries on open source, standards, and cloud computing

I’ve been doing some year-end maintenance on the blog and in doing so put together the following list of blog entries that are among my favorites on the topics of open source, standards, and cloud computing. I could have also done a similar list for gardening and carpentry, but I restrained myself …

My WordPress theming wishlist

Effective January 1, 2010, this site does not use Drupal and instead uses only WordPress.

As I’ve mentioned here ad nauseum, I use both WordPress and Drupal for this website and though I’ve managed to find a WordPress theme similar enough to the Drupal Garland theme, it’s still a pain in the neck to use both technologies. I would like to switch to one or the other and simplify my life, which is a fine resolution with 2010 just days away.

Here are some of my considerations:

  • Two MySQL databases need to be maintained and backed up.
  • Two installations and updates need to be maintained. WordPress is much easier in this regard.
  • While the themes I use for each system are similar, they are not exact.
  • The Drupal theme is visually nicer and provides good default CSS for printing. The WordPress theme does not come with printing support.
  • There are fewer than 20 Drupal pages in production use on my site.
  • There are more than 3050 WordPress blog entries and more than 3040 comments.
  • It would be stunningly non-trivial to import the WordPress blog entries into Drupal and create redirects for links to those blog entries.
  • WordPress themes are stunningly blog-oriented and seem to think that pages should pretty much just look like blog entries, though I think they pretty much want to look like static web pages with their own widget sets, if any.

Numerically it would appear that if I could figure out a way to get those 20 Drupal pages into WordPress and look good, then I should do so. This would involve just a few redirects that I could hand construct. After that’s done, I could delete the Drupal installation and just use WordPress.

Note that I’m talking about an existing website with a very large WordPress blog. If I were starting from scratch, I would definitely consider Drupal for it all, though I would wait to see exactly what Drupal 7 is going to look like.

The major problems regarding moving WordPress over mostly involve themes. Once everything is in WordPress, I want the freedom to change to new themes, so while I could hack a theme to do exactly what I want, I know from previous experience that ultimately that’s a dead end. I need to stick to pre-designed themes and (mostly) only use the customizations available within them.

Therefore, respectfully, I would like to see the following added for building standard themes for WordPress:

  • Separate widget configurations for posts and pages.
  • For three column themes for posts, a way to have two columns for pages since they typically have longer content and don’t need as many widgets referring to comments, archives, etc. This might be able to be done using custom page templates.
  • A standard admin page option that allows including a link to a CSS file with custom definitions. I know there are plugins that can help here, but it should be in the core.
  • Default CSS printing support built in that gets rid of sidebars, headers, and so forth.
  • First class CSS printing support in the best themes.
  • A visual editor that does not discard things like iframes.

Handling mobile users thematically in a smooth way would also be great, but I’ll take the above!

Topics on open source for college classes

I’ve been asked several times for some ideas about topics on open source that would be suitable for one or more classes at universities. While I know there are curricula out there, here are some specific discussion areas that could be covered in computer science or business classes:

  • Open source vs. traditional software: What’s the same and what’s different?
  • Software business models: where does open source fit?
  • Open source licenses for the ICT professional
  • Building an open source community: it’s more than just coders
  • Innovating within an open community
  • Organizational governance of open source
  • Procurement: open source and traditional software, and services
  • Leadership models to maximize open innovation
  • Merit-based vs hierarchical software development leadership
  • Case studies of successful companies using open source

Microsoft survey on “perceptions of interoperability”

Microsoft appears to be running a survey on “perceptions of interoperability.” I’ll let you decide for yourself whether this is phrased in a completely neutral and objective manner, but you might want to weigh in if you feel you want to help separate perceptions from reality.

Also see from this blog:

Webcast: “Smart Business Development and Test with IBM and Linux in the Cloud”

On Thursday, December 17, IBM will present a webcast entitled “Smart Business Development and Test with IBM and Linux in the Cloud.” From the description:

More than just a presentation, this webcast will take you from the theory of cloud computing to practice in a few simple steps and give you the confidence to explore cloud computing further, with the IBM Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud.

  • Better understand the IBM vision of cloud computing and some of the benefits.
  • Combine Linux and IBM middleware for an ideal infrastructure for developing solutions in both private and public clouds.
  • Learn how to get started using cloud computing with the IBM Smart Business Development and Test.

Click here to register.

Speeding up the site

At various times I’ve been concerned about the performance of this website. That is, how long does it take to serve up web pages from WordPress or Drupal and how much load does it put on the server? Reducing bandwidth used is always a good thing as well.

A couple of  years ago I needed to opt for a higher CPU form of web hosting with HostMonster because all the PHP activity was shutting down the site until it cooled down. To keep the site up and running, I also did two other things:

  • Turned on FastCGI to not start and stop the PHP so often.
  • Use the WP-Cache WordPress plugin to serve up saved versions of pages previously requested.

Both of these worked well. I initially had cache pages expire after 2 hours but I’ve since reduced that to 90 minutes. Blog pages will refresh themselves after two hours via

<meta http-equiv="REFRESH" content="7200">

so these values appear to reduce the load while ensuring that the pages are kept relatively fresh for those sitting on the site. (I suspect that is just me, though!)

Lately I’ve been thinking about performance again and so used the YSlow and Firebug extensions for Firefox. It complained that I had too many CSS and javascript files, and not everything was compressed. I know that the WP Super Cache WordPress plugin uses GZIP compression, but did I really need it?

One of the easiest ways to see if your site is delivering compressed pages is via the GIDZipTest page. Pop in the URL, press the button, and you’ll find out. Evidently the main files are compressed but a few others are not.

A WordPress plugin I have installed but hardly ever use is WP-Polls and this was the source of a lot of the extra files that YSlow complained about. I deactivated it and my speed grade jumped from a D to a B. I can live with that, and without WP-Polls.

I still have some work to do to get under some other performance curiosities, but a few minutes of research and testing improved things quite a bit. In the process I removed some other unused WordPress plugins, so I get extra points for configuration hygiene as well.

Firefox pulls ahead of Microsoft Internet Explorer in Germany

Der Spiegel Online has a chart showing that use of the Firefox Browser has now pulled ahead of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) in Germany, 45.6% to 44.4%. While these numbers are close and the margin of error is probably bigger than the difference, I don’t think the significance of the crash of IE share is lost on anyone.

Also note the rise is use of “other” (“andere”) browsers, most likely Safari and smart phone-based browsers. So IE has been successfully displaced in Germany by a multi-flank attack, which is often the best way to compete against an opponent with dominant market share. Well funded dominant players can usually always take on a single attacker, but it is much harder when opponents are hitting on many sides in many creative ways.

Life with Linux: Google Earth

As I continue to work and play with Linux on the desktop, I try new things, keep a few, and toss out even more. Here’s a keeper.

I started using this on Windows (ancient history), then on the Mac, and now on Linux under Ubuntu 9.10. It’s available from the Google Earth web site, as you might expect.

After downloading the installer (mine was called GoogleEarthLinux.bin), you need to run it. Open a terminal shell, change to your download directory, and then do:

chmod a+x ./GoogleEarthLinux.bin
./GoogleEarthLinux.bin

There are other less geeky, command-oriented ways of doing it, but that gets the job done. You are telling Linux that the file should executable as a program, and then you are running it. Once Google Earth is installed you can delete GoogleEarthLinux.bin.

Also See: Life with Linux: The series

On tagging, especially for photos

Several years ago after my mother died, I started a big project to get all the family photos digitized and online. Since then I’ve done the photos for our immediate family, but I still have more to do, especially on my wife’s side.

Because I wanted these photos to be self contained and not require extra files for metadata such as tags, I devised a naming scheme that included the basic information about the photo.

Continue reading

Sunday morning WordPress installation maintenance

Effective January 1, 2010, this site does not use Drupal and instead uses only WordPress.

WordPress logo

This site is a merge of WordPress and Drupal, with the former handling the blog and the latter everything else. I use variations on the Garland theme originally developed for Drupal to try to make the combination appear as seamless as possible.

Though I sometimes think about going with just one or the other, all those links into blog entries make me very cautious of going just with Drupal. I’ve also liked the way Drupal handled more general content management, though now that WordPress was given the Overall Best Open Source CMS Award in the 2009 Open Source CMS Awards, maybe I should rethink that.

Continue reading

3 days, 3 photos of Boston

I spent parts of Wednesday through Friday this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and never really went into Boston except for getting to and from the airport. Nevertheless, since the two cities are separated only by the Charles River, Boston was never far away.

Here are three photos made with my iPhone from my hotel window of the skyline of the city of Boston.

Boston skyline
Wednesday evening at dusk

Boston skyline
Thursday morning

Boston skyline
Friday morning

Fedora 12 released

Fedora 12 logo
The onrush of cool new Linux distributions continues with the availability of Fedora 12. From the press release:

The Fedora Project, a Red Hat, Inc. (NYSE: RHT) sponsored and community-supported open source collaboration, today announced the availability of Fedora 12, the latest version of its free open source operating system distribution. Fedora 12 includes a robust feature set for desktop users, administrators, developers and open source enthusiasts alike. New enhancements available in Fedora 12 include next-generation Ogg Theora video, virtualization improvements and advancements to NetworkManager, among numerous others.

The embarrassingly large list of improvements and new features is on the Fedora wiki. Download Fedora 12 from here.

The cost of Fedora 12? Free. $0. After your special discount, the price is $0.

Compare with Windows 7:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium $119.99
  • Windows 7 Professional $199.99
  • Windows 7 Ultimate $219.99

OFE objects to EIF 2.0

In a press release, OpenForum Europe (OFE) has reacted rather strongly to the latest draft, presumably leaked, of the European Interoperability Framework. From the introduction to the document:

Brussels, 9th November 2009 – OFE has reacted strongly against a leaked draft of the revision to the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), expressing deep disappointment with the new wording and serious doubts about the transparency of the process that led to it. Letters have been sent to the responsible Commissioner Kallas and Director General Garcia-Moran, and to the CIOs of all Member States calling for a withdrawal of the document. It has also contrasted it to the statement made by the Swedish Presidency last week.

In particular, OFE objects to the diminished role stated for open standards for interoperability. If you are European, I recommend you make your voice heard, one way or the other.

Also see:

Operating systems: upgrade or reinstall? guilt or pleasure?

Through the years I’ve run many versions of Microsoft Windows. For the last two and one-half years I’ve had Apple Macs, so I’ve used both OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard. I don’t even know how many different desktop Linux distributions I’ve installed, but I’ve certainly installed Linux at least 20 times, maybe as many as 40.

When I was an active Windows user, and I now count my yearly usage in minutes, I would do the requisite big upgrades between versions, but not too often otherwise. Sure, when I had a hard drive crash, I would have to reinstall it, but that was unavoidable. Afterwards, the machine would feeler fresher, and newer, and just faster. Sure, I was probably putting in a faster drive sometimes, but I think the real advantage was that I was getting rid of all the crud that had accumulated in the registry and elsewhere. Formatting or reformatting the disk also took care of any defragmentation problems, also speeding things up.

Continue reading

Working with Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala: initial impressions

Ubuntu logo

I’ve been playing with the latest Ubuntu desktop release, 9.10 Karmic Koala, since the first beta and I’ve now been using it full time for business work for three days. Here are my impressions and comments:

  • For some reason, the beta seemed much more stable than the Release Candidate that followed it, but the final version is best of all. A lot of magic and smoothing happened after the RC.
  • The few glitches I’ve seen tend to involve dialog boxes: there is a check box but I just can’t get it to check. This might be an application problem or something else, but I attribute it to early versions of software running on 9.10. (Something to do with the latest Gnome?)
  • The Remix version works beautifully on my little Asus eee 4G Surf netbook. In the installation menus some of the very bottom of the buttons are cut off, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Wifi works very well on the Atheros chip, something that was not true before 9.10. I now have a usable machine again. (My experience with the beta and mistakes in making a proper bootable USB stick is here.)
  • I haven’t tried to get it to work under VMWare Fusion on my Mac. I will one of these days.
  • The standard 32 bit desktop client works beautifully on my Thinkpad T400 laptop. When I installed the beta, I made a dual boot environment. For this final Ubuntu 9.10 release, I gave it the whole machine.
  • I’ve added my usual list of applications. See my blog series “Life with Linux” for details.
  • I don’t just add applications, I remove some that I don’t use as well. Why? Because I can and I want to, since they are unused. Examples are Tomboy and Evolution. Though I mostly use GMail, I did install Thunderbird from the Ubuntu Software Center.
  • It should be less trouble to install Adobe Reader and Adobe Air. Right now it is a very manual process.
  • I’m really trying to use workspaces more since I use the equivalent on my Mac. Whereas Alt-Tab cycles among the windows in a given workspace, Ctrl-Alt-Tab cycles among all windows in all workspaces. Workspaces make it easier to keep together related applications. They’re those rectangles in the lower right corner of your desktop.
  • I use XMarks to save my Firefox bookmarks remotely and this makes it very easy to set up my browser environment for new machines. I want more than this. For the browser, I want to be able to save the list of addons remotely and quickly reinstall them on a different machine. For my Gnome desktop, I want the configuration of the panels saved as well as the list of applications I’ve installed. Maybe this is a future feature of Ubuntu One?
  • Incidentally, I think we’ve about exhausted the things that should be called “So-and-so One.”

Running quickly, driving slowly

Here’s something I think about when I’m driving, particularly when I’m in a slow 30 miles/hr speed zone: how fast in miles/hr does the fastest sprinter run?

Usain Bolt of Jamaica currently holds the world record for running 100m in 9.58 seconds. In rounded numbers, we have the following calculation

  • 100m in 9.58 seconds means
  • 1000m = 1km in 95.8 seconds, but
  • there are 60*60 = 3600 seconds in an hour, so we have
  • (3600/95.8) * 1km in (3600/95.8) * 95.8 seconds = 1 hour, so we have
  • 37.6 km in 1 hour, but
  • 1 km = .62 miles, so 37.6 km/hr = 23.3 miles/hr

That is, at my 30 miles/hr, I’m still going faster than the fastest human can run, by a non-trivial amount. It still feels slow to me.

Starting an open source business: preliminary thoughts

I’ve been very surprised as I’ve looked around the web that there doesn’t seem to be very many good guides about the nuts and bolts of starting an open source business. There are odds and ends, yes, and conferences that have sessions here and there, but given all the thousands of general business books and “how to” resources, none seem to focus on open source businesses in particular and at length.

Part of the reason, I think, is the never ending discussion of business models and whether open source is a business model or not. Also, there is no one way to start and run a business that involves open source. For example, you could produce and sell a piece of consumer hardware and all the contained software might be open source, probably unbeknownst to the purchasers and users. The breadth of it today is pretty much as wide as all software in all businesses.

Other open source businesses are more obvious, such as those based a well known project such as Alfresco, SugarCRM, WordPress, and Drupal. There are also many businesses related to Linux distributions such as Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical/Ubuntu.

Here’s some advice to get you started in thinking about starting an open source business. Some of the questions I pose may sound negative, but they are intended to make you think and generate answers you can support.

Don’t quit your day job, yet.

Do your research and check out a few books on the general topic. Make sure you know what you can do about starting the business within the parameters of your current job. For example, your company and its attorneys might look askance at your doing an open source version of the proprietary software you develop during the day.

Find an existing open source business that does something similar to what you want to do and learn as much about it as you can.

Investigate what open source license they use, how they support development, how their community is run, how their sales force works, and how they structure and charge for services. You could do worse than copying the model of a successful business.

Remember that an open source business is a business.

The basic principles around revenue, profit, loss, taxes, payroll, overhead, accounting, sales, incorporation, health care, and human resources all apply. You can be a starving open source software entrepreneur as easily as a starving proprietary software entrepreneur. No one will excuse basic business failures and screw-ups just because you use open source. Make sure that you will produce a product that people want and in some way will pay for, no matter how indirectly.

Learn about copyrights and open source licenses.

Early decisions about who owns the copyright to your software and which open source license you use will affect how you can earn revenue. If you don’t own the copyright to the software, you can’t dual license it in an open source way and a more traditional commercial way.

If you plan to incorporate existing open source code into your own, you need to understand the licenses and what you are permitted to do. Yes, open source can be about freedom but it should also be about flexibility. Here again, look at how successful open source companies have used licenses. Did they start with the GPL, BSD, Eclipse, or Apache licenses? Are they still using them? Why or why not?

Come up with a good answer regarding why you are basing your business on open source.

Your initial answer might be personal or philosophical, such as “I just believe it is the right way to do it” or “I support freedom,” but you might need more detail if you have to go to an investor. Within the general context of why you are starting the business, what market segment you will serve, how you will attract and keep customers, how you will develop your product, and how you will grow revenue, you need to make your open source decision explicit.

How strong a case do you have for your business whether or not open source is involved? That is, don’t let open source cloud your analysis and presentation of your business plan, but by all means make it integral to what you say if it is a solid strength of what you plan to do.

Think about community first and foremost.

Do you plan to have all the developers who work on your open source code for your business on your payroll? If not, what will motivate them to participate? If so, why are you making your code public? As above, it’s ok to say “that’s just the way I want to do it” but understand the pros and cons in detail. There are many more aspects to having an open source community than just having some coders work on software. You have to deal with governance and conflict resolution, not to mention technical topics like choice of programming language and system architecture. How much control do you need to have?

Your community may eventually need to include graphic designers, web designers and administrators, evangelists, and community leaders. Be very comfortable with all this before you jump into an open source business.

Understand your exit plan.

You may plan to run this company for the rest of your life or you may decide to sell it. This is normal business, but understand how open source may affect your opportunity to be acquired. Is the provenance (code origin and history) of your software murky? Are you violating any known patents? Is your chosen license “friendly” to your most likely acquirers? What exactly would be acquired if the code is open source? (Note above mention of copyrights.)

-o-

If you ultimately decide that you really just want to contribute to an open source project rather than start a business, that’s just fine. Starting and running a business can take you a long way from the joy of programming and design as you deal day to day with staying afloat and driving revenue. However, if you are careful and work out a preliminary plan for easing into things, that open source project you start today could be a business for you and others next year.

Learn about business, learn about the software business, learn about “the” open source software business, and then make the jump if you are ready and it’s the smart thing to do.

Also See:

A catch-up weekend

I’m sitting here on Sunday night watching the NY Yankees play the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the 2009 baseball World Series. I usually only watch the Series if the Yankees are in it, and then only when they are winning. It’s a stress thing. I pop in to the tv room from time to time and stay if the Yankees are up, especially if they are up big.

This weekend was the first whole weekend I’ve been home out of the last three. Half of each of the last two weekends was taken up with a business trip to Europe, so I was looking forward to sleeping late and getting some things done inside and outside the house. I was really pretty successful in both, though with the game running late tonight, I’m not going to start the week feeling fully rested.

Outside, my main accomplishment was rearranging the garage so that we could fit one of the cars in it. What we call the garage is really more of a converted carriage house, it so can only fit one car. The complicating factor this year was that I got a tractor for the lawn plus a trailer. Somehow I managed to squeeze it over to one side. While I can continue to get clever about how I arrange things, I really need a bigger, real garage. A workshop in it might be a nice touch too …

Inside it seemed like I did or fixed a hundred things that have been bugging me, such as doing some mortar repairs in the basement floor and moving my tie rack from one closet to another. A whole lot things meaningless to most people, but to me it meant getting my life in slightly better order and knocking some items off my unwritten todo list. It’s nice to be home.

Novell’s John Dragoon on “Battle Of The OS Titans” in Forbes

Photo of Novell's John Dragoon

Novell’s CMO John Dragoon has a very nice article over in Forbes called “Battle Of The OS Titans” that emphasizes many important points about the changing desktop operating system scene. He says, in part:

Gone are the days when the one-size-fits-all, monolithic operating system approach makes sense. Users are driving a new evolution in computing where the operating system becomes transparent to the user. Computing environments are being customized for specific platforms and devices to address specific user groups (mobile businessmen, desk-bound office workers, students), and even down to the individual user. This is opening up opportunities for new players.

Recommended.