Category: Personal

Dear Nokia

Why did you feel the need to develop the very nice looking N900, probably one of the nicest looking smartphone on the market currently and the leaving it with a battery that falls over after listening to music for a few hours. You should be ashamed of charging so much for the N900 when it is frankly a tablet with the worlds longest extension cord. Also it would be nice you realized we live in the 21th century and that designing your software around 90’s concepts needlessly creates a data silo from which I have to pry my information.

Paying for software and supporting Open Source

I am getting a little tired of the accusation getting levelled at me when debating with the anti-Mono crowd that I don’t support Freedom and that I am destroying Linux. I even once got accused of taking a paycheck from Microsoft and/or Novell, but to be clear neither company has ever paid me a dime for any work, in fact no technology company has ever given me a salery. I have taken gifts in return for work, e.g. Novell kindly gave me a copy of OpenSuSE 11.1 and a t-shirt for some bug reporting.

While this types of claims are entirely baseless slanter I think now is the time to come out and say that I love freedom. I love freedom so much that not only have I used Linux for more than a decade as my sole OS but I actively donate to projects and people that benefit our ecosystem.

I am a dues paying member of the EFF, I am a dues paying Friend of GNOME. I preordered the Yo! Frankie game to support open game development even though I never actually got around to playing it but it seemed like a very important missing piece in Open Source to cover high quality open gaming and show that it cam be done with full transparency.

When Richard Hughes asked for money to buy a color calibration thingy, even though I likely have no need for the work he will be doing using it I donated. Richard has donated much of his considerable talent, time and effort to projects such as gnome-power-manager and PackageKit, work for which I am grateful every day and he deserves my gratitude in the ways I can show it and my thanks for improving Linux.

Likewise I am a customer wth Fluendo, not because I feel I have to get around software patents since they are not currently legal in Denmark. However I feel as a software tester that I should test not just the solutions that are kindly available to me but those I advocate less fortunate people to examine. That being said I have actually found the Fluendo codec pack to solve issues present in the open solutions and having a working DVD player is great. I don’t especially enjoy the proprietary nature of these products but I know that much of the money I pay Fluendo will be put directly back into GStreamer development and advocacy for Open Formats.

On the open content side I make sure to buy documentaries and movies such as Sita Sings the Blues, Good Copy Bad Copy and the Piracy Documentary. I also have just signed up for a membership with Magnatune to support their fine service (about which I have have ranted previously).

Most important to me personally though is the time I put into bug reporting and following Linux every day.

All of this can of course be documented, but really it shouldn’t have to be. The accusation that I am destroying Linux is lowbrow attack which is beneath any reasonable argument. Consider this what should be a completely unneeded rebuttal to such claims.

So I ask you, what have you done for Open Source lately. Do you merely rant and leech or do you support with actions, words and wallet when you can?

Call of Nouveau testing reply

Christopher James Halse Rogers asked. I thought I would answer in video format ( – Flash warning).

A full resolution Ogg Theora file is also available thanks to the awesome here.

Also glad to see OMG UBuntu! not only picked up my first video demoing a few of Banshee 1.5.5’a features but also my discovery in the Banshee Community Extensions that UBuntu Mono maintainer and part time superhero Jo Shields is working on an Ubuntu One Music Store Extension for Banshee and in an additional lavishing of much deserved attention to the Banshee project they reported on the merging of the exciting Grid View branch.

YouTube revamp

Apparently Google are planning a rather vast revamping of the YouTube service. Naturally a lot of the rather vocal members of the Free Software minority have managed to push several versions of their HTML5 + Ogg Theora suggestion to the top. However is this a good thing?

Firstly it combines two goals, one Google are invested in and one it argued against. They will be able to dismiss such a goal as having reached 50% by already having invested heavily in HTML5 and using it for other services, YouTube is sure to follow. However they also issued comments against Ogg Theora based on concerns about the quality. Clearly this is where the debate needs to be had and making it as simple for Google as possible increases the chances of success. I would instead support ideas that aim to ensure that YouTube is accessable to everyone as encompassing goal, Open Standards are a natural outcome hereof. Then I would give specific well argued examples, Google are concerned about the quality and performance of Ogg Theora so start with the Xiph rebuttal and fill in the gaps, fix the problems and then what would stop Google from supporting Openness?

Secondly while the use of format and such is important to a large number of users this is a technical decision and likely not what Google are looking for input on. There are a large number of things that do not work on YouTube today, in the user experience and performance of the site that are far more important. There is rampant DMCA abuse and the reaction from YouTube is often wide banning and removal of users without sufficient investigation. You have problems with vote and rating bots. The comment section is in dire need of a serious redesign that will encourage debate and replies both in text and video form. There seriously needs some action taken to eliminate the spam problem. All in all YouTube is becoming less and less a compelling place to participate, occasionally a place that will wrongfully get you into legal trouble, the slip towards more commercial offerings seem to have taken all development interest from the community that made YouTube a success. This all leads to slowly strangling what made YouTube great and instead turning it into a Hulu-like service where nobody but your partners can upload and videos will remain locked by criteria such as region. Google will likely make more money this way but they will cause the creation of fierce competitors and they will very publicly betrayal the orignal voxhall idea that gave birth to YouTube which cannot be good for PR.

Open Standards and formats isn’t all that is required to ensure access for all, e.g. it would be nice if the community was leveraged in creating subtitles for important videos. Lots of people depend on subtitles to access information, this need stretches all the way from being an enhancement (e.g. people learning languages), a requirement (e.g. elderly people, people with reduced hearing capacity, etc.) to a downright legal requirement (e.g. deaf people). It should be noted here that to the best of my knowledge no provision for providing subtitles support currently exists in HTML5 and this definitely needs to be addressed.

It would also be nice if they took the chance to work with the Creative Commons to have them do explanatory video posts as to their licensing and licensing in general (what to watch out for such ensuring that music used can with distributed and where to get such media) followed by defaulting every contribution to a channel setting (default to something reasonable such as the share-alike license). Doing this encourages conversation, it means you open yourself to crticism and it grows the public pool of work which can be used amongst other places in the classroom which combined with subtitles and what other material can prove to be valuable tools in learning. One example of this is Potholer54’s Made Easy series which gives a quick but scientifically valid look at how the universe came to be and offers explanations of evolutionary concepts, the information is freely available and offers an excellent supplement to the traditional classroom experience.

I also think that YouTube needs to make it insanely easy to not just view but contribute to YouTube from outside the YouTube website, there is a growing number of appealing devices such as the (gadget lustworthy) Boxee Box that enable enjoying the multitude of media experiences that your own collection and the Internet offers. It is vital for YouTube to be well positioned for consumption in such an environment. This is another place where Open Standards argue for themselves, new device makers wouldn’t have to pay any kind of licensing to support your product, it would be entirely free and thus lead it being one of the first things to be implemented for such devices.

I believe we should argue for open standards and open formats that are free for all to use, however I think this argument will be the natural outcome of looking at where YouTube, the rest of the Google services and the Internet as a whole must go. From looking at the current problems and the best long term solutions to that. I believe that by flooding the suggestion box we risk drowning serious user issues and misleading YouTube into addressing their problems in the wrong order and in doing so lead them to further endanger YouTube.

We also need to remember that to have YouTube be a good showcase for open standards it first needs to be a good experience, one that users will flock to. It can be ever so free and open, but if it isn’t good people won’t use it and then any effort in opening up the experience is utterly wasted. A poor but open YouTube doesn’t serve you, Google or the Internet as a whole. Keep that in mind.

Does this droid owner have buyer’s remorse?

This is an reply to the story: Will Droid Owners Get Buyer’s Remorse?

I recently bought an HTC Hero and while it is a nice phone I have found it to be slow in use and not really fulfill the promise of being much more than a phone.

I’ve learned from it that I would like something that runs a UI experience that is closer to stock Android since the porting of a large change such as the HTC Sense UI takes a long time to complete as the Android base progresses and improves. Time when the user is deprived of updates to improve the experience and instead of slow incremental changes they get rare large code dumps that likely also changes behavior. This causes issues for users learning the basically new phone all over.

I’ve also learned that I would like a hardware keyboard since I am not cut out for on screen typing. Furthermore I would like to see some of the more logic extensions be made to the platform such as letting known friends addresses appear in the map application.

Skype on Android is utterly crippled, there is some kind of restriction being enforced to disallow the application from using the data connection. That sours the experience quite a bit.

All in all while I bought the phone because I needed one and thus had to pick what I thought was the best phone at the moment. I really wish the Droid had been available to me subsidized as I am not ready to pay for an unlocked phone with the mobile contracts as they are currently since it doesn’t save me money.

The HTC Hero isn’t a bad phone but the realistic competetor available to me at the same price was a new iPhone 3GS 32GB and it is certainly an inferior phone to that on many counts.

If you are thinking of going with the Hero to support Open Source then you should also know that HTC adds a proprietary UI and know that it comes with costs though it provides a very compelling UI.

The perfect Android phone might be closer to the Droid or the Nexus One depending on your preference and use cases. They are still slower on things like loading and rendering webpages than the 3GS but the hardware is solid and should support the platform as it expands. You should expect this expansion to be directly and naturally deployed for these phones an thus be improved with updates regularly considering that they are a very standard Android deployment. You could consider it an investment of trust in the platform, it doesn’t quite provide an experience that really beats the the iPhone solidly yet but it has considerable promise and past performance as an indicator will reach it soon. Bet on it coming to these products soon.

I elected to go for openness regardless, I know I have an inferior phone for it. It’s still a good phone but it’s not more than a phone in any really revolutionary way. It’s for people like me hoping to reduce the amount of gadgets I carry by removing my mp3 player, the Hero doesn’t replace a good camera though. Likewise the experience isn’t bad but isn’t really followed through to it’s natural conclusion to the extend competitors have done. Openness outweighted that, even with the encumberance of the Sense UI, for me. It isn’t likely to be the case for a lot of people.

I don’t have remorse for buying an Android phone but I acknowledge that the competition is overall a superior choice for most people right now.

Why “helping MySQL” reflects poorly on us all

As of late Monty with the support of leading FSF figures has started campaigning to “help MySQL” since Oracle surely will mean it harm. Here is why signing such a petition in my personal opinion is a bad idea.

1) The grassroot movement is basically turning into spammers, going to every forum and other venue they can come up with an posting the same copy and pasted message without providing a reasoned argument for their case in such posts. Signing the petition is rewarding this behavior.

2) This is largely about commericalization of MySQL. Namely the right to monitize from relicensing for commercial clients who do not wish their codebase to be infected by the GPL license for one reason or another. This has nothing to do with the software’s freedom status and given the FSF’s behavior as well as argumentation throughout recent years, the entirety of the inherent freedoms remain intact even when forking the existing codebase, meaning that this is entirely about the right to make money from proprietary use cases of the code. Thus the FSF once again shows that they do not have the moral high ground given their abusive and divisive behavior towards more pragmatic community members arguing for such use cases historically (e.g.: the Miguel de Icaza traitor incident).

3) Outside of the right to monitization for proprietary use cases the only thing lost is the right to use the name MySQL. While there is a significant brand behind MySQL this is not a technical argument against the letting Oracle do with their obtained property as they please. MySQL was sold long ago along with the rights to the name and the copyright and such objections should have addressed then instead of assuming that MySQL would always remain in the hands of those we consider friendly. This is more an argument against copyright assignment than anything, if you do not agree with what is happening to MySQL right now, do not agree to contribute to projects that require copyright assignment. Now is not the time to attack a company for utilizing the rights that come with obtaining copyright assigned code and the people to do such campaigning most certainly shouldn’t be the FSF who themselves require copyright assignment.

4) The superior technical solution will eventually unseat MySQL and we already have several forks in progress including Monty’s own MariaDB and Drizzle, their respective developers will have to rewrite the code to clear the copyright ownership and learn from this incident or simply find other ways to pay the bills than selling rights to use the code under a different license than the GPL. Meaning the GPL isn’t a suitable license for such projects especially when combined with copyright assignment. In the grandest of traditions in Open Source this will spur competition and open the market to a compatible but commercially more paletable solution, unseating MySQL from new code (or existing “non-encumbered” code such as PostgresSQL) rather than a fork of MySQL. Futher underlining that this is an argument from people with a vested interest in reverting their own mistakes of the past.

5) While this is not the sole reason for the EU and similar governmental agencies holding back agreeing to Oracle finalizing their purchase of SUN it certainly isn’t helping. While this deal is in limbo, SUN is bleeding money and laying off many fine employees, in the progress directly hurting the Open Source community by removing valued contributors. Consequences for which the FSF nor Monty or any other party involved in this campaign has expressed the slightest remorse or concern. If they want to claim the moral high ground they should at least address this, apologize and amply justify their actions to the people who are left without jobs in an already hard pressed market and economy. I do not believe they are in a position to do so as they themselves are to blame for creating the situation.

In short, my opinion is that supporting this campaign makes the Open Source community look like offended children who would rather take the ball they already gave away and go home than live with their decision. It is our own failing that caused this situation and instead of attacking Oracle over it while people are losing their jobs and the Open Source community loses valued contributors we should review the road that led here and consider adding a freedom from copyright assignment clause to the list of inherent freedoms that needs protecting. Futhermore we should encourage a wide sweeping review of our existing projects and see which are in danger of ending up in the same situation as MySQL. Any action taken to deal with these situations should be above all be calm, polite and non-confrontational. if any projects show as currently being in danger and action might be needed should rational evidence based argumentation fail to work with these projects or they ask us to not argue against their policies, competition should be assumed as the natural outcome.

In the interest of intellectual honesty, the other side of the argument is available here.

What’s in a name?

For a while now I’ve happily used the name GNOME commentary, because as a GNOME user and a person who follows development I wanted to provide an outlet for news and exciting looks at what the future holds. However looking back upon the last years postings I haven’t actually done much to fulfill that intend.

I do tend to post on things that interest me, commentary on legal and social matters, distribution specific updates and issues of technology in general including my surprisingly popular article on the Acer Aspire Revo r3610 which have drawn more traffic lately than all the other articles put together. It was also one of the most fun articles to write as for me it was a time of making the most out of what few resources I had and being pleasantly surprised at just how far it could take me. I am glad you all seemed to find it useful.

So here is the question, is it time to change the name of the blog, if so to what and does it even matter? Most people likely come here from aggregators which just displays my name rather than The GNOME Commentary.

The reason I ask is that for 2010 I have set the goal of returning to more active blogging, I won’t set a specific goal of posting once a day since I always felt more comfortable writing when I have something passionately urging to get out and I would rather continue to produce such articles than fulfilling a daily goal by issuing vapid non-sense. Writing an article often takes me a couple of hours, longer if I have to track down links and other resources for people to use as resources for the article and to dig out further data. I realize that personal disappointments in the past year including my decision to leave Fedora has left me without the desire to blog and without such work also arises a feel that there somehow is less material to work with. This will change, I feel energized and have several ideas I want to explore, hopefully I can turn 2010 into a productive and fun year of blogging.

Is there an acceptable level of DRM?

I have been giving DRM some consideration lately, specifically with deals such as the Zune Marketplace free pass to millions of songs at 14.95$ a month with 10 free keepers a month would there exist and implementation of DRM I would accept as a requirement for access. While I generally hate DRM and think it punishes paying customers, could one envision an implementation that would be fair?

E.g could one envision a business build on free streaming of DRMed files and DRM free files for purchase so that they allow reasonable access to listen and learn new music but if you want to access the files and do with them what you wish – say use them offline, use excerpts of for a review or a composite video (adding a touch of music to a video project, like a review YouTube show or as a music interlude in a podcast). Would it work and what problems would there be with such a model?

Well first up the technological problems inherent to DRM won’t go away, if the DRM server is down or is removed as has been the case with a number of services already. Then your content stops working, however this would only affect the streaming service as songs you bought and own would be DRM free. Free services disappear all the time for many reasons so I don’t see this as specifically a DRM problem but a consumer support problem, if we don’t back the model then the service will go away. Magnatune runs a streaming service for all their music and the only price you pay for this wonderful access is listening to a little blurb at the end of each song, this works well for independent artists. However I don’t see e.g. Parlophone being ready as a corporation to grant the same level of access to their catalog with the only protection from being ripped off being “trust the customers not to abuse the service and save streams, remove ads and building a full copy without giving us a dime”. That is just not the way they have grown use to doing working and expecting them to attain enlightenment overnight is more than dangerously naive.

I think Magnatune deserves a lot of credit for taking that risk and I am hopefully that it is paying off for them. I think a lot of such a success can be traced back to their stated mission of not being evil, I think customers respect that and having it be highly visible and transparent, such as can be seen in their simple profit sharing that your money actually goes to the artists. As such Magnatune’s “pay what you want” system often is above the minimum of 5$, in other words people aren’t cheap when they feel they are being treated fairly. I have to admit that while there are no limits on the files and I get them in the format I desire even lossless I am still amazed when they encourage me to share my new music with 3 friends. They could have politely asked me not to do that to protect their business as well as their artists and I would respect it because of the beyond fair treatment they give me otherwise and instead send friends to their streaming service to sample my amazing new finds.

Another problem with any technology designed to limit your use of content is that what you will accept now isn’t always what you will accept in the future. E.g. a user might go an buy an iPhone today and not think twice about the limits Apple ensure using lawyers and technology to lock out 3rd parties, if that user some time later elects to move to Linux or just move away from iTunes the consequences of that acceptance hits. Nor did I when the DVD player came out give much thought to the protection schemes built in and how they affected me and I started building what has now become a huge collection of movies and TV shows on DVDs. Not for a second did I consider that the region coding meant that taking my DVDs with me out of Europe would render them unplayable. After all I thought I would live in Denmark all my life and it didn’t limit me then outside of buying DVDs from the US that weren’t available in Denmark and here all players are basically region code free so it was a non-problem. As my situation now might call for a move to Brazil or where ever my fiancée finds the perfect Ph.D. project this might come back to bite me in the nether regions.

Another problem relating to the DVDs is that the CSS protection, is being heavily protected by lawyers, limits my OS of choice from shipping support, I can’t view the content I paid for on my desktop out of the box. While the laws in Denmark would seemingly allow me to break the protection, making such code available could land one in serious trouble of the lose your house flavor. This also means that while he rest of the software stack in Linux is very advanced, DVD support is lacking since no company will risk helping out as it would make them a target, no distro can ship the code leading to the feature being under maintained and under tested. I might legally be able to install such support but frankly it’s in a poor state and close to uselessly broken in some cases for no good technical reason, all of which makes me a sad panda.

Why is this a problem? Well I would like to do to my DVDs what I did to my CDs. Keep the originals safe in a box and access my content the way I please on the devices I please. I would love a way to easily and quickly put my movies on a NAS and let them be transcoded for use on my portable devices, viewable on the TV and other such things. I might even want to use little snippets easily in other projects, like this blog. When I started building my collection a DVD was probably so large that the idea of fitting hundreds of movies onto a harddrive seemed a bit far fetched, not today though. The hardware is cheap and available anywhere, now it’s a good time to do something like this and I can’t easily.

The point is you will agree to some limitation now that might come back to haunt you years from now, if it is enforced by DRM then your only choice is to violate the law to access and enjoy the content you bought the way you want. There are risks involved with this and you cannot be sure that software to do such alternation will be available as companies like to sue those who enable you to do these things.

I honestly though don’t think I can find a single major thing to object about with a scheme which sole purpose is to prevent saving a stream, there will always be people for whom this isn’t enough or people who will be break the protection to keep the content they get free access to. I have no problem going after these people, I really don’t, they have the option of using the entirely free access (perhaps with ads, lower resolution than would be available to buy DRM free), I see no moral argument one could present for doing such a thing. Well there is one, provided the access isn’t equal, then they would deprive users of say Linux from using the free option thus forcing them to buy without trying.

Even an truly dogmatic FSF supporter wouldn’t really be able to argue this is directly evil, while the specific component that unlocks the DRM is very likely to be proprietary (giving you the content, the means to unlock it and the key – that is free access which is unlikely to happen) you would still have the option of playing the content using nothing by ideologically blessed software, provided you buy the content.

Assuming the blob is well written as well as supported on any platfrom and some entity such as the Linux Foundation has access to the code under NDA so we can get an opinion as whether or not unlocking the DRM is all it does. I wouldn’t feel bad about installing such a thing by default on users desktops (again, if you don’t like it, remove it and live with buying your content). We could even restrict the binary with things such as AppArmor or SELinux to ensure it’s not given all out access to reduce the security concerns.

Lots of maybes and assumptions but I think such a scheme would work and hopefully as time progresses, with the support of customers it could be shown that customers can be trusted to not abuse such restriction-less privileges. As for the realism inherent to such an idea, I doubt you’ll get record companies and movie studios to agree to this but on the other hand what Spotify is doing today if I understand it correctly (sadly there is no Spotify in Denmark yet) in the countries where they have gotten the licenses isn’t that dissimilar to the streaming part of the idea, adding a DRM free store wouldn’t be a far stretch.

I think when it comes to DRM free content customers also need to realize that they are asking companies to run a risk of losing revenue, something that is very scary to them, it’s a big shift in the way they have grown used to working and they need to be convinced by the bottom line. They give you an awful lot of power which can be abused and we need to show that the limits they put on content is harmful to paying customers, it holds back creativity and new business models but in return we have to reward them for trusting us by not abusing that trust once they put it in us. Even if we are justifiably angry over past transgressions, the way to settle that anger is not to rip them off when they change for the better.

DRM Free, to paraphrase that cliché from Spider-Man, comes with great responsibility.

Why I will be returning my HTC Hero

Recently I bought an HTC Hero to replace my old broken phone and to bring me into the smartphone era, something I have been looking forward to for a while. For the most part I have been fairly pleased with the phone as such but it is a device with issues.

1) HTC it ifself

Don’t be under the impression that Android phones magically keep themselves updated over the wire, you have to flash the damn thing. However HTC doesn’t support Linux (nor Mac OS X for that matter). They aren’t even shy about it when I asked tech support how to perform such updates under Linux.

Thank you for your enquiry about the HTC Hero.

Unfortunately we do not support Linux and MAC operating systems but we recommend to query local community forums in the internet dedicated to the Linux platform.

If there’s any other enquiries, please let me know by responding using the link provided and I will be happy to check for you.

So they don’t provide the tools to do the job, but I am welcome to ask the community. On one hand their support department is quick to respond, on the other hand their reply is a worthless pregenerated non-answer. The end result is that Linux and Mac users will be left out of important updates which fix issues, including one might suspect security problems. Thank you HTC for entirely missing the point and endangering your customers.

The wonderful bit of irony here is that the phone underneath is running Linux, so they basically deem that it is good enough for their hardware, but not mine.

2) Performance

I’d heard bad things about the Heros performance in reviews but when I played with the store model I didn’t see any lag. However the lag very clearly appears after a night of idleness and it makes the interface nearly unresponsive. Reviews claim that a firmware update fixes this, however do to Linux being unsupported for the flashing this opens up a whole new dimension of hurt. I finally broke down and acquired access to a Windows XP machine and spend a couple of hours hunting down issues with their flashing tool (which turned out to be rooted in a broken driver for the Android phone as a USB device). After performing this gutwrenching update, the performance issues remains present, on the plus side the interface is no available in Danish which was lacking in the device as it was sold.

3) Poor quality slightly hidden

The Hero feels good in your hand, it has the right weight and size to be comfortable to use. The headset that comes with the package is sufficient to enjoy music or conversation. However the insides aren’t beautiful at all, the GPS is off by several kilometers, the camera is slow and produces blurry pictures. The touchscreen keyboard has keys roughly 1/3 the size of any normal fingertip and the spell checking will constantly replace words like “you” with “joo” unless you specifically stop it.  It’s slow to type on, the response of the device is sluggish and overall it just feels cheap in use… for a device that is supposedly the top of the line model, and at a price that would make even Bill Gates blush I definitely didn’t expect this.

4) Strange arbitrary limits on the software

I really need Skype and I need it to be portable. However on an Android phone it seems that the software is both in beta and from on high is prevented from using your 3G/wifi connection to make calls. There is no technical reason for this to be so, in fact my old phone supported Skype directly and it integrated with my contact list. This appears to be a problem rooted in cell phone providers and Google setting up this requirement which is despicable behavior that leaves my expensive phone less capable than it would be for no good reason. Further research shows that iPhone users are in the same boat but with different limitations (I believe they can only use Skype over a wifi connection). This kind of abuse of power makes smartphones far less appealing and limits application developers creativity and user freedom.

5) There is no easy way to exit applications

As part of the design Android applications never seem to quit, this means that as a user you have to remember to check the browser, close all your additional pages and reset the page that you cannot close to something you are comfortable seeing because the next time you hit the browser icon, this is what will pop up. There is a means of killing applications but you have to dig through multiple hidden menus and enter the castle of slow that is “manage applications”. This is a design decision but given the already sluggish performance, ones impression of the device isn’t exactly enhanced by leaking applications which over time makes the road to recovery a Windows style reboot. You know that you designed a piece of crap when the way to get it back to a useful state for a few hours is to reboot it.

There are good things to say about the device, the Sense UI is beautiful and overall the device is pleasant to the eye with glittery candy being spread for your enjoyment. I’ve had it for a few days now and I have to admit that the calendar application with it’s synchronization to Google Calendar is a wonderful tool that has improved my life leaps and bounds. The screen might be small but it’s clear and very readable, I have found myself enjoying checking Google Reader from my bed and marveling at the power of the mobile webpages as well as the speed of the browser application. In fact I am so impressed by the mobile webpages that for 99% of use I go to these rather than the specially crafted applications for things such as GMail since it’s faster and provides easier access to labels.

You only have about a day and halves worth of battery power so use it wisely, luckily the recharge time is short and since it is done via USB you can be assured access to a source of power pretty much everywhere even without carrying a hefty recharger. The agreement to use USB charging for all modern phones really is one of those no-brainer decisions in retrospect, for years every time you switched phones you got a new brick to carry and nobodies chargers were compatible (often even within different models with the same vendor). The amount of waste and idiocy saved by this is measurable in the real world. It fills my heart with joy to think of, and as a bonus the power brick that is supplied for when a USB port is unavailable has a clever design where you can replace the plug to suit local standards. If only the rest of the device shared this clever engineering and design – verily I submit onto you, the HTC Hero would be a worthwhile investment.

Never the less, today the HTC Hero is going back to the store. I can’t stand the sluggish interface, HTC’s swamy non-support and delivering a frankly broken Skype experience really pushed me over the top. For something I spend this much money on out of pocket not to mention the costs I tied myself to for the “unlimited” data plan I really expected better.

The importance of Open drivers and openness in general

An interesting question was asked on the Ubuntu Forums regarding openness and why some people were reacting the way they are on the issue of proprietary software. The example given was the driver Nvidia provides for their videocards. I wrote this as a response, instead of going into ideologically definitions of freedom I feel that new users might like to see the real world measurable advantages.

Looking at the proprietary closed source nvidia driver which is currently needed for supporting 3D acceleration and many other features supported by this range of hardware. I would like to specifically point to these 4 arguments.

1) Security

It’s several megabytes of code running in your kernel with access to all kinds of things. You can’t see what it’s doing and it has been subject to at least one major security issue. We can’t fix it, if Nvidia doesn’t find the problem worth the effort then we either have to remove the driver or leave users vulnerable to attack as a distribution.

2) Portability

The nvidia driver only runs on the platforms Nvidia deems they can support. This means e.g. that right now PS3 owners who wishes to run Linux on their machines (a fully supported feature from Sony btw. though not on the Slim models) are left without such things as 3D acceleration and video codec acceleration.

3) Stability

Looking over the top kerneloopses a clear trend is that kernels with the nvidia driver (and the ati proprietary driver) are high scoring components of these and related problems. Users can (and have) experience crashes in applications, problems for which the root cause is in code in these modules. Such problems we can’t fix since we aren’t privy to the code, we are depending on the vendor providing such support in a timely fashion. As a Linux distribution you might also encounter problems with users getting a poor experience and thus losing customers – meaning Nvidia in theory could hold distributions at ransom till an open alternative appears with the same functionality or we do as they tell us.

This scenario though due to the public backlash it would cause seems absurd. What isn’t though is that Nvidia has their own development schedule and if we want to develop our software stack we occasionally have to make changes that change APIs and thus breaks the nvidia driver (this has happened). This forces us to either break this piece of the functionality for users when we import the new underlying stack or hold it back till Nvidia decides to release a compatible version. This effectively lets nvidia dictate the development pace and release process of a large part of Linux.

4) Support for outdated/unavailable for sale hardware and saving the environment

Nvidia regularly moves older devices into a subset of their driver called legacy. This driver isn’t well maintained, on purpose to lessen their support burden and naturally to sell new videocards. We thus can’t support users existing hardware, therefor we (though in reality Nvidia) force them to upgrade their machines or stay on their existing platform. Preventing distributions from gaining users and thus also potential customers. It also lessens the applicability of the age old benefit Linux always was known for, running on an old clunker and give it new life.

E.g. I participate in a project that sends old hardware to Africa to use in schools. When the time comes that the machines that come in through the door contain Nvidia chips that aren’t supported we give poor African children machines that do less than they can, are less fun, will interest them less. Making school a less exciting break in what must otherwise be a pretty bleak day.

Yes, I did just manage to invoke starving African kids while making an argument on software. Please do not see this as an emotional argument but rather a matter of making education as appealing as we can to everyone and thereby encourage more people to get engaged. The positive effects of education are hard to deny and pretty much any effort being made to increase the likelihood that people will enter into such programs should be welcomed.

Every time you are forced to upgrade perfectly working hardware to get to a supported version of Linux (even Ubuntu’s Long Term Support releases are only supported for 3½ years on the desktop) you are left with spare hardware. Often this ends up getting thrown out, replacing it thus forces upon us amongst others the following problems:

- Needlessly depleting our natural resources more

- Needlessly imposing more waste which contains toxic chemicals.

- Wasting production capacity

- Wasting money

With Open Source drivers we have the means to take these problems into our own hands.

I hope this is helpful in providing arguments for open drivers. This is a complicated area where we need to convince vendors to work with us and we need to understand that we are asking them to change their culture. They are used to sharing coming only with the exchange of large sums of money in the form of licensing agreements. We cannot expect them to change overnight but we can inform users of the arguments for openness and then together do our best to work with vendors towards greater cooperation on terms that serve the user.

It’s not just a Linux issue, even Microsoft is faced with downsides of not having access to the driver code and being able to update them at will. A study showed that 30% of Vista crashes where caused by drivers from Nvidia. Vista was notoriously poorly received for many complex reasons, it’s is just one problem area.

This is not to pick on Nvidia specifically, I use them as an example as this is a situation that is fairly well documented and many people use this driver.


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