Month: September 2007

Sorry Mac users, it’s Linux time!

It has been a while since Linux became more popular among the non-hackers. Projects like Ubuntu, OpenOffice and Firefox really brought the spotlight to Linux as just another option for your desktop, but it’s hard to compete with money-driven brands such as Apple’s Macs. Not anymore!

According to the register, “Versions 2.3 [of the OpenOffice] is available for Windows, Linux, and Solaris, but Mac mavens won’t get an update until sometime next year” [source]. Funnily enough, IBM’s symphony (their office suite) which also uses the same Open Document format as OpenOffice “is available free of charge to Windows and Linux users” [source].

So, now… what about Mac users? Why should they have to wait that much more to have something that is clearly multi-platform and intended to anyone in the world, for free? Is it that more difficult to develop Mac applications? Well, thank god Linux is the best development environment and it may not touch you (if you’re a non-hacker) but the benefits are showing up these days…

It’s time for non-hackers to start thanking us with our complicated Linux boxes because they will be using them (much simpler than we did) in the very near future.

Apple is current Microsoft, who’s next? Google?

A friend sent me a link about the new monopoly/patents bastards: Apple Inc.

Apple was never worried about open standards, never tried to hide their intentions to block the Mac market by building a closed architecture-operating system-applications scheme. In that sense, Microsoft is almost open source. They were the first supporters, together with IBM, of the open architecture, the PC. In the past, it was quite easy to develop programs for DOS (using the magnificent Borland’s Turbo C++) etc, it was, in a sense, an open world.

I may say, in fact, that Microsoft tried to become the new Apple and failed miserably, to our own sake, because Apple never had much advantage in the market, only to those few posh non-hackers or weird designers. Today, Microsoft is being forced to open it’s servers’ protocols, more and more third-party compilers and IDEs (good free ones) are being added to the list, etc. It’s not a closed world in the strict sense, at least not as closed as the Mac world is.

But Google, always defender of freedom, openness, transparency (?) and good craftsmanship, fighting hard to end with the awkward and stupid patent system in US here and there ended up filling their own patent.

What happened? Not enough resources? Or are you playing on their (MS/Apple) own terms? Apple think the latter is more probable, so do I… They are now in direct competition with Microsoft, desktop search, Google Docs (with presentation) and they must fight in a field where MS and Apple dictate the rules and the rules are monopoly and patents, unfortunately…

Well, lets hope that the part of Google that wants to break with patents win before the other part (that are filling patents) get more damage to freedom…

Fingers crossed!

Thanks again, Microsoft!

The first big favour Microsoft did to the Linux community was to delay Windows Vista over and over (and over) again. That put into highlight some Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. Not that it was the only reason, of course but it did help a lot. Ubuntu got many deals, in special with Dell, selling per-installed Ubuntu systems to the general public.

Now it’s even better! They’re (thinking of) using a black screen of death security system that if your copy is not legal it’ll lock your computer and die. Pretty much what used to happen with the previous blue screen of death, only intentional.

It’s a mighty gift, much better than the One Ring to Boromir, it’ll force all people that use pirate copies of Windows (the vast majority) to buy legal copies or crack the system.

Now let’s be serious, how many people you know will actually buy a real copy? If you live in the US, most. In Europe? Some. In the third world countries? One or two… A hack will eventually be available but the more they force people out of piracy the more people will be using Linux, and that’s the best scenario for us, freedom supporters!

They are so dependent in piracy (and they know it) that the less piracy there is, less market they gain, less people the get brainwashed, less of a monopoly the industry becomes, the more freedom we all have… It’s a bless!

Again, thank you very much!

Do you know a place…

… where developers can use the full power of their creativity to produce only 10% of good stuff (good enough to pay for the remaining 90% or more)?

… where politics is left to the politicians? Where money if left to the money-makers? Where personal marketing, boot licking and gossip are not encouraged nor accepted?

… that values work and creativity much more than media and publicity?

… that invests in new ideas, where people are not afraid of the certain failure most of them will lead? Where investors understand that ideas are a high risk investment rather than a 1 year payback savings?

If you answered ‘yes’ to at least one of the questions above, you’re a lucky guy/gal!

Quantum laws in Brazil, where DRM and freedom are together

In the country where the joke is always ready, here comes another one: Quantum Laws: In Brazil, there is no right OR wrong but right AND wrong.

According to the constitution, broadcasts must be free (as in beer AND freedom) but the minister of communications himself is trying to impose a major DRM system with national coverage that will force everyone to buy an official box where you can’t do what the constitution allows you to.

Because who is pushing this change is the government itself, they must be relying on some sort of quantum effect where you can superpose two states at the same time and still run things smoothly. Weird enough, Brazil is full of those little quirks and it’s still going… only they will find out to where a bit too late…

Sources:
icommons.org
Folha de S. Paulo (pt)
culturalivre.org.br (pt)
Andreum’s Blog

My first Linux virus?

Wandering around my Linux filesystem I found a weird directory in /home …


drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2007-08-19 12:03 eb588afc0325b12eeb074fd6

Ok, I thought, I didn’t create that. If it’s a virus, it’s the most stupid virus in existence, but, we never know… Then I got inside and see what files it had, and found this:


$ l eb588afc0325b12eeb074fd6/
total 956
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 865822 2007-08-02 21:41 mrt.exe._p
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 96216 2007-08-02 21:34 mrtstub.exe
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 45057 2007-08-19 12:03 $shtdwn$.req

Mamma mia, if it really is a virus, it’s even more stupid trying to put .exe files in my Linux box! Anyway, The Oracle would know the answer… Searching for mrtstub, the first hit is this page, directly from the enemy’s site. Not too far I found the origin:

mrtstub is part of the Malicious Software Removal Tool. It is responsible
for copying mrt.exe to the correct location and launching it.

Long story short: I have dual boot (which I never use but my son plays sometimes) and my Linux home directory is mounted using an ext3 driver for Windows. Microsoft asked me to install this Malicious Software Removal Tool which I denied 10 times asking every bloody time NEVER TO INSTALL IT IN THE FUTURE until the 11th was my son that wasn’t even asked but turned it off as he always do and Microsoft stealthily installed this piece of crap in my computer.

That’s enough, I’ll spend a fiver and buy a cross-over software to run my son’s games on Linux and remove this crap out of my computer once and for all.

Why are we so lame?

It has now passed almost 170 years since the first programmer did the first code in the first analytical machine and yet we are so lame I can barely be proud of what I do, professionally of course.

Coders are now among the richest people in the world, programs sell more than bananas nowadays and the investment in technology is considered now one of the basic blocks of modern society and still we can’t build a piece of software that lasts for more than 5 years without being completely scraped.

The open source community is probably the biggest anarchist movement in history with all the good and bad things we all knew about anarchy and for the surprise of capitalists it’s working far better than big technology companies (check IBM’s OSS support and Vista’s problems in the general news).

Of the hundreds of open source softwares that emerge only a very small fraction have success but yet they manage to stay for longer in a stable status and growing smoother than paid software.

Companies are so worried about money that even tech companies can’t write proper code. Scientific institutes are so worried about doing the perfect way every time that they re-write everything everytime and still need to re-write from scratch next time again. Money and ego are the villains in our industry and unfortunately most of us are affected by at least one of them.

Case studies

Banks, for instance, focus on what works instead of what will last. The result is a complete mess (our beloved ball of mud) that eventually have to be re-written in the future and replaced by another ball of mud with bits of the legacy balls (just in case something breaks). If customers could see the code that run a bank before opening an account they will never open it, in ANY bank.

Internet companies have the same problem but a few more, it must look good and it must be new. It doesn’t matter if the code is good, or if someone really need that feature, but the more features it have the better. (Not) Maintaining that in the future is a completely different problem.

Big companies only follow standards when it’s not needed, like writing core libraries in PHP because that’s the company’s default language or sticking crappy systems together with tape just because they’re the standard libraries used worldwide.

Scientific institutes are not free of problems too. Money is much less a problem but the ego is so big that it can be even worse. Everyone wants to re-write everything their own way and no one disagrees and just shake their heads and wait years to have another non-working beta system to maintain alongside with all other systems made by people that left the institute decades ago but there is still one person using (and normally afraid of moving as it’s not his code as well).

So, why?!

Simple: ego, fear, pride and prejudice.

Not many programmers really care about money, as much as they care about their own ego. The money problems in private companies is institutional and not personal. Our problem is personal.

Most CTOs, CIOs etc know about all problems of taking the actions they take but they’re often afraid of taking radical decisions (even when it’s for the better) or their ego demand them to change something that is working well just because it was someone else who did it.

Most programmers will have a huge pride of their systems and consequently an even bigger prejudice on the others’. Reason can’t work where pride and prejudice rules, nothing good can come out from an environment as bad as that.

Now take those four problems and you know why are we SO lame!

This is also the same reason why open source software is not as lame as closed source. Programmers still have ego and pride but code is pure logic. When your code is exposed you won’t be proud of a bug and if someone points you to one in your code you rather fix it than yell at him/her. In this case your ego and pride will not save your job but make you loose credibility in the community and your project will be put aside and other will arise, so if you don’t cooperate, you die.

Open source promotes dialogues, refining code and algorithms, finding bugs and fixing them the best way possible. It might be (arguably) slower than big companies but still the overall local quality is much better.

What to do?

It’s not just a matter of solving one or other problem, as the environment is already filled with rubbish up to the top, it’s a matter of acting different, from scratch. (my ego is working now)

If you know something is wrong, report it. If someone says it’s impossible to do, demand proof. If someone takes actions based on ego, fear, pride or prejudice, open your mouth and speak loud.

You might loose your job but I’d rather loose my job than work on such a lame place and today, unfortunately, it quite difficult to find somewhere not lame.