Monday, August 2, 2010

Linux win / bias: Networking rules

Have to confess my Mac is fighting an uphill battle in turning me over.

The product is part of the "centralist" camp; mega-corp ownership, massive branding, costly etc. And I happen to put my money on a future of more networked technologies: Linux, renewable energy, organic agriculture, new media (whatever it will turn out to be exactly) and ad hoc activism.

I have elaborated on my thoughts on this subject at TH!NK3 in Anarchism 2.0: the open source society. Below is the part about Open source versus proprietary software:

Computer programs are sets of instructions that enables the user to have the computer do things for him or her. However, since computers speak in binary code (0's and 1's) and humans in various languages, programs are constructed using an interpreter (called a "compiler"). Several layers of translation occurs in the process, but any but the top intuitively accessible layer is visible to the end user. Analogically, every single function of any plant is written in it's genes, yet none of them immediately visible to the farmer.

Daniel Geer was fired with haste by security company "@stake" when he in a report stated that Microsoft's sheer dominance constitutes a threat in itself. His argument is that with only one operating system, one email client, one browser etc. any little vulnerability found and exploited by hackers and virus-programmers can be fatal to the entire "field" of machines. Just like a monoculture at a farm will be more "at stake" and susceptible to epidemics than polycultures are. His colleagues still in employment backs Daniel up though; one explains the case: "He was fired because @stake wants to please their masters." The former associate director at @stake even uses expressions such as "the hardware population has too little genetic variation to be resilient." He's said: "No matter where I look in the security debate, I see the word 'monoculture' or others that means the same thing. Even Microsoft knows it."

A huge reason for the success of the open source community was its function as a response to the accumulating examples of proprietary software gone awry: Bugs, back doors, deliberate bulkiness etc. simply alienated the "geeks" to this kind of software in much the same way Big Ag can seem repulsive to an environmentalist. Just like modern organic agriculture is a response to the impacts of expansion and industrialisation of agriculture. Big Ag manipulates genes for commercial reasons, hence prohibits farmers to breed with the species they have tampered with. Similarly proprietary computer code is written for profits and kept a closely guarded secret. To an organic (traditional) farmer the concept of proprietary genes seem alien. Plants are shared and interbred openly, hereby achieving acclimatisation and hardiness through well understood and very reliable methods of reproduction – the natural. By openly distributing the source code along with the compiled and functioning programs between them, the programmers and the users of the programs help each other in perfecting the code – a code that needs to be very clearly constructed semantically or not enough programmers will understand it or trust it, preventing it from progression. Back doors – that is, deliberate security holes enabling others to access your data – are unlikely, as they would be evident from the source code.

Remember the Norwegian teenager DVD-Jon? Perhaps you have heard of this world famous heroic hacker. His case is particularly grotesque. DVDs are encrypted in a format called CSS and originally software for viewing them was solely developed for M$ Windows. But Jon wanted to watch his legally purchased copy of The Matrix without paying Bill Gates the license fee so he hacked the encryption and put his little tool – called De-CSS – on his home page. And for that he was sued by Microsoft and others. Even to this day the legions of Saruman are trying to stop us from watching The Matrix - and failing at it.

Just like a species will go extinct if it is never propagated, the open source programs need you to install, use and advocate them or they will go extinct too.

But please check it out in context.

This is a fundamental part of the reasons I sometimes go the extra mile to make something work in Linux. That being said, however, I often find Windows- or Mac-only users regularly go out of their way to make something work in the system they are used to - without even realizing so.

For example: iTunes. Nice program... except the detail it essentially markets the Apple iTunes store. Horrible. I can't even turn on an AI to log what I listen to and suggest new music for me without signing up for it. No, Apple, I'll never sign up for your store. iTunes is just one example.

And I'm not alone. I don't read Portuguese but what I get from the article linked to with the image below is people are installing Amarok and other opensource software on their iPads. I imagine that requires a few workarounds...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mac win: Dual layer DVDs

Just burnt a lot of photos and video to a dual layer DVD in warming up for upgrading openSUSE from 10.2 to 10.3. Not that I really fear losing the data, not that it's not on a different disk partition than the operating system - just one of those things you have to do every now and then and why not just before changing fundamental stuff.

Burning pretty much anything with K3b is very easy, dual layer DVDs too, I experienced. So far, so good...

The problem came when I wanted to verify the DVD: "Sorry I can't read the media", openSUSE tells me. Seriously - I can burn it but I can't read it!?

Alright, it also tells me: "Would you like to install the software needed?". I click "yes, of course!".

Fail. "I can't find it but you can look for it yourself here". "Here" being a link to a very general page about repositories.

Sorry, openSUSE. This is not what I need. I did look around for whatever it is I need at and with YaST. No success. No doubt I can make it work. (Perhaps even faster than typing this blog post but that's not my point.)

I then put the freshly burnt dual layer DVD with my precious data backed up on it into my Mac. Two seconds later I'm watching one of my videos.

Thank you Mac for doing something that quite obviously should be possible with any computer. Thumbs down to openSUSE for not even warning me of a only partially functional part of my hardware setup during install. Sure hope upgrading will fix it without me having to mess around with the system.

(Disclaimer: If dual layer DVD technology is evil and will never work on open source systems, please enlighten me.)