Tag Archives: Microsoft

You kids had one job: to make everything amazing

In between me starting to learn to ‘computer science’ and stopping writing compiled code in about 1985/6, the world of information systems moved from punched-cards and teletypes to on-line editing and batch-processing to full screen editing then windows and code management and source-code level debugging. I moved from mainframes that made you choose between upper-case letters or maths, to super-minis and graphical workstations. I didn’t move to PCs because they were so obviously THE WRONG WAY to go. This took less than 10 years.

Shortly after I stopped coding, I became aware that the portability of C and Unix wasn’t just snake-oil, and of the availability of relational databases, network filing systems, the object model and parallel computing: Hoare’s Communicating Sequential Processes.

Later, lost in server-land I became a ‘user’ of hypertext and browsers for documentation, a little later of the Internet. I use ‘social’ tools and believe that they are an enabling tool for a new society based on networks rather than hierarchy. What a pity they’re so clunky.

Inspired to make things better, I decided to learn to code again. It must all be so great by now!
What do you mean, “Do I want to be a front-end or a back-end developer?”
Well, since you ask, I want to be both and sideways and up and down, virtually travelling freely through multi-dimensional networks, working with 3D graphical representations of algorithms and business objects moving in object pipelines, using standardised Free tools in the Cloud, with the display and persistence mechanisms abstracted away, out of sight as implementation details to worry about later, but with automated parallelism and fault tolerance.

What? What’s THIS? Why am I expected to work with a tagging language designed for sequential documents? Seriously, you want me to specify a font? I have to write different code for web browsers or phones?! And where is my hover-board? What the hell have you people been doing?
Did Microsoft lead you into the woods to see their unicorn foals? Were they goats in a dunce’s cap?

Are we all back now? Hold someone’s hand. We can get through this if we all stay together and look out for the traps. Don’t get too close to the googles. They seem friendly but they’ll pick your packets.

My search for a “GNU/Linux ‘Shiny’ OS” to be a minimum-cost competitor to Google’s Chrome OS

I think I’ve made it fairly clear that I don’t completely trust Google not to behave like IBM or Microsoft or Apple (in music), if they find themselves in a position of monopoly power in services. I believe there is a significant possibility that the UK government are soon going to jump out of the Microsoft frying pan, into the everlasting fire of Google services, using support for Free and Open Source Software as their excuse. This will delight their Google handlers and perhaps earn them a tickle of their cash-hungry bellies.

As I pointed out in a recent post, use of the Linux kernel and free-to-use services no longer guarantees you any real Freedom. We face a future where cheap Google Boxes in our houses and Google phones in our pockets/handbags will be the portal through which every message we send or receive passes. It seems likely that Google Chrome OS and Android will merge in some way, into an impenetrable fortress, keeping our data safe for us and Google and our government.

We need an alternative. The Free Software movement seems to be blindly following Google towards a destination of its own eventual destruction. What happened to the community’s ideals? Are we so easily bought?

I’m looking for an alternative way forward. I want a simple web and application server constructed and run on FOSS services, available from multiple providers because “The Market is Good” and “Competition Benefits the Consumer”, RIGHT? I only want to use server software that I could take away and have run elsewhere if I was not happy with my service provider and I want a web-based client that uses entirely open Web standards with no proprietary extensions “for greater power” (see: Chrome.) Obviously, as a Real Linux we have the option to also enable local desktop applications, rather than drive consumers to our company shops.

Please tell me if you think there is an obvious alternative FOSS solution to the Google monLOLopoly. If there isn’t then we need to elect one soon because democracy needs choices to stay viable. Our ‘choice of Freedom’ is at risk.

With Great Power Comes Great Exploitability

Between Christmas and New Year I saw Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies at the RSC’s Swan Theatre. They tell a tale of how low men will sink, initially in pursuit of power, then to hang on to it and finally, just to survive. I’m sure Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft are not Henry VIII but I noted that the only thing the powerful are afraid of is the opinion of ‘the people’. When they lie to us, even to themselves, someone needs to point it out to them. Perhaps their souls might still be saved.

Allow me to take a break from the tale I began in my most recent blog entry, to give a real world example of why open standards matter, while it’s fresh in my mind.

I have a ‘Smart TV’ made by Samsung (which they no longer support.) I have a Samsung Galaxy S phone (2 actually, because Samsung no longer support them either, so ‘normals’ buy a new phone.) I have boxen, in various states of decrepitude, running Linux and I have occasional access to Apple OS X, Windows 7 laptops and a Google Nexus 7. They all connect over a wireless router from O2 and a Wireless Access Point from Netgear. They are not part of the problem.

It should be easy to play content from any of the intelligent devices on any of the display devices. Blindly moving bit-streams over distance is what The Internet was designed for. There is a device discovery protocol called UPnP and a wireless streaming protocol called DLNA that were defined for this. I’m sure you will be amazed to know that it isn’t easy. While AllShare on my Galaxy S plays nicely with it’s cousin the Samsung TV, the software isn’t available for the newer Android on the Nexus 7, nor even on the latest Samsung phones. Neither have Samsung made their AllShare software available for Linux (now renamed ‘Samsung Link’ to reduce irony levels.) Odd, as I thought Google said Android was ‘open’ and Android is built on Linux.

Apple want me dependent on the company iTunes store. Microsoft would like me using MediaServer to ‘keep me’ committed to Windows. Samsung wanted me to use AllShare/Link and Google now want me locked in to Chromecast, so ‘all my database are belong to them’.

I’d like life to be easy. I think most of us would. Apple will sell me easy. Google and Microsoft will sell a close approximation, and cheaper. I suspect Samsung will change their definition of easy every 6 months because clearly everyone should upgrade all their electronic equipment annually. I’m not willing to play this game of ‘1984’ bred with excessive consumption. I suspect DLNA underlies all these ‘products’ and they can be made to work together but an electric fence is still oppressive, even if you only believe it to be turned on.

I want freedom and privacy and I’ve accepted that I’ll soon have to pay for that. If we are in a new services market then I want it to be fair, transparent and competitive. Private protocols should not be used to lock us in walled gardens, however shiny the handles on the shovels.

Social vs Capital Part 1

When I joined ‘the computing industry’ (or was it ‘the data processing trade’?,) there were two kinds of computers: those made by IBM and the others. The others came in two flavours: IBM mainframe clones and ‘trying to be different’. Trying to be different was so successful that IBM were eventually forced to try being different to themselves.  The various hardware families all ran different operating systems. Changing hardware required all your software to be rewritten. Moving from IBMish mainframes meant your data had to be translated into ASCII. The proposed solution to the operating system problem was Unix. Unix was created to give hardware independence, through software portability. It was made easier to ‘port’ Unix by writing it in the C programming language rather than the specific assembly language of the hardware.

This revolution happened within AT&T, a company prevented from competing with IBM by anti-trust legislation. Freed from the profit motive, other than the desire to save costs, they did with Unix what was best for everyone. They gave it and its source code away free to anyone who wanted it. More importantly, they allowed its improvement by universities.

Later, the US government started to allow commercial exploitation of Unix by AT&T. Key source code became subject to non-disclosure agreements and the fastest period of cooperative computing innovation up to that point was closed down.

Two important things came out of this disaster – 1) PCs and hence Microsoft and 2) the Berkeley System Distribution (BSD) of Unix and GNU’s Not Unix (GNU), led by Richard Stallman, whose frustration at not having the source code to fix his own printer gave him such a mighty itch, he kick-started the whole Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement and it’s biggest success, the Linux Operating System, recently made popular by Google. Bill Gates’ biggest competitor was never Steve Jobs; it was an idea set loose by idealistic academics – that people are stronger when they share the product of their labours, that you pay people for producing, not for the product. This was a harmless ideal at first because large organisations owned the computers that were a key part of the means of production.

I am indebted to Robin Ince again, for pointing out in his TEDx Dublin talk ‘The Mind is a Chaos of Delight’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pfOHaWeTr8 that Evolution doesn’t predict only “survival of the fittest” but ‘survival of the just good enough not to die’, which I think explains Microsoft’s success, and for poking me in the profit-motive with his blog entry http://robinince.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/i-was-going-to-jump-in-the-canal-to-save-the-drowning-man-but-then-i-thought-whats-in-it-for-me/, to finally start this troubled tale of open software.

FOSS has been running around in the background, largely unnoticed by the lumbering beasts, much like the early mammals. Apple OS X is built on FreeBSD and Google Android and Chrome OS are based on the Linux kernel. In the long run, Apple and Google may look like the last of the small, fast raptors rather than the first intelligent apes, because somewhere along the way, the sharing became one-directional, and their essentially predatory nature struggled to survive as their more social competitors saw the danger and drove them into the swamp.

In forthcoming posts, I plan to look at the dangers the FOSS communities’ dreams of Freedom are facing in the current collision with Capitalism.