Linux, a habbit or a cult?

It's no secret that i'm a Linux user. Most of my blog traffic is to Linux related pages. But what makes someone prefer Linux over Windows or Mac? I've debated this with colleagues on many occasions, and there is no clear answer, but there are many outcomes of these debates. Most people i know are Windows users, their main reason being for gaming. Since i work in the gaming industry, this should be no surprise, but with the mass movement toward consoles and away from pc as a gaming platform, the reasons for sticking with Windows are slowly falling. Projects like Wine assist gamers who prefer a free OS, and are only getting better. Why do people who use Linux daily struggle to work on another OS? What is it about Linux systems that make people prefer them. Here's what i've come up with:

  1. Responsiveness: It's hard to describe. At work we started using Macs as we have had a Mac based project to work on. After about a month of not using a single PC running Windows, i booted onto the Windows partition on my laptop ( to check something ) and was swearing within seconds. Desktop was loaded, but i couldn't do anything. Everything i clicked on had to wait for some other process to complete. Everytime i loaded something new i was forced to wait for my application to become responsive. Mac and Linux don't suffer from this. On several occasions that i have had an unresponsive application, i will just often leave it to run in the background while it recovers/dies, and continue work. Unless it's a core process, it doesn't bother me if an app slows down.
  2. Kill: It works. In Windows XP, the End Task is a horrible failure. Yes, there are applications which are a must, like SysInternals Process Manager, that allow an instant kill, but i like an OS that does it without addons. Mac is almost as bad, with its persistent applications, it's sometimes impossible to to kill something properly, and the Kill Application window is still something that needs to be launched. Which brings me to my next point...
  3.  Command Line: I'm far from a hardcore command line user. In fact, if there is a graphical tool for something i'd much rather use it than the command line version. I've written less than 10 bash scripts in 10 years of Linux usage. But i can't live without it. As a programmer and "technical" user of any device, i need that immediate control. In Linux i can kill an application from the command line. This is useful when i've run a buggy fullscreen opengl application ( normally my own ). Just hit Ctrl + Alt + F1 and i have a terminal with which i can kill my rogue app. And almost every core Linux app has command line options, which makes it an OS that doesn't need a graphical server, so if you know what you're doing, you can fix almost any problem without reinstall. Leading me to number 4...
  4. Modularity: I can add and remove almost any part of the OS, excepting the Kernel. A common mistake which has become daily lingo, is what Linux means. Linux is the Kernel. Nothing more. And that's all it needs to be. I can add and remove features as i please. I can change my desktop manager ( KDE, Gnome, XFCE, etc ). I can decide to write my own display manager to use instead of X.org. Almost all of the components above the kernel level can be changed, making it the much more flexible and giving immense choice. This also raises awareness about different products, and allows users to experiment with what they think is best.
  5. Freedom: Beer and Speech. I've never actually bought Windows. I've got it with PCs, or used it at work on licensed PCs, but not once have i walked into a shop and payed for it. And nor would i. The benefits of a commercial OS don't warrant the cost. The only thing that i can do extra, is play some games that don't work on my consoles or through Wine. There are no killer apps for me. In my opinion ( merely speculation ), most people use Windows for 2 reasons. They don't pay for it directly and they don't install it themselves. If people had to walk into a shop and buy a copy of Windows to install on their new PC, there would be a lot more complaints about how complicated it is. The biggest hurdle for Linux, is getting it onto PCs, and so the installation process is greatly simplified, much more so than Windows. Apple have completely thrown this issue out of the door by making the hardware they run the OS on, so you will never have to install the OS. Downloading and installing Linux is one of the freedoms of using it. I'm not tied to anything, i can change distribution and still keep my app settings. I can download and install a new distro every 4 hours if i want. I don't have to consider cost, and i'm not infringing on any intellectual property. I can also change my software without thinking about what it means. Everything i have on my install is free, so i don't have to think about getting that image editor at the store, or paying for that expensive office suite. Furthermore, as a technical user, i can see all the configuration files, and source code, and change it to my liking. There is no EULA or restrictive license holding me back from doing this, and no matter what i do on my OS, i don't have to worry about breaking the law. That's freedom.

Yes, Linux has its disadvantages. Driver support is a real conundrum, since the kernel supports more devices than any other OS, however the devices it doesn't support are big sellers. With more preinstalled Linux distros and more big companies like Novell and Canonical pumping money into driver development, this problem is slowly going away. There are also apps which people class as killer apps, mostly games. With Wine, Photoshop and Microsoft Office will work, so those are no longer issues, and in my opinion, the free alternatives such as Gimp are just as good if not better in some ways. Slowly these killer apps are falling away, and preinstalled Linux on netbooks is showing that Linux is desktop ready.


Android, the next generation

I have not written this week as work has had its toll on me. The week has however ended on a great note, first snow of the winter here in Rotterdam. I will upload some photos to my public picasa album ( accessable from the right ). Although most of my current development has been iPhone/iPod touch ( and i will highly publicise the games i have worked on when they arrive in the appstore ), the Android platform interests me a lot. Since Google have opened the Android Market for developers, there is clearly a lot to be done! From a professional level, i can't say much, but on a personal level i do have something in the works for Android... just waiting for the G1 to reach Netherlands!

On that subject, the G1 really is a bad show of Android. So, is it really worth the wait. Being an open source supporter, i want an Android based phone. As much as the iPhone is amazing ( and the performance you can squeeze out of it in a 3D game is ridiculous!!! ), it's about as commercial as it gets: NDA's, closed source engines, talks i can't talk about, , etc, etc. So if the G1 sucks, and i want Android, what is there to look forward too?

After doing a little research, this is what i've found:

  • Samsung: Q3 2009 Been in the Android party for a while now, with not much to show. My guess would be that the QWERTY laid out keyboard in the android emulator is something close to the Samsung concept for an Android phone, but i'm very sad to see no "leaked" images.
  • LG: Q3 2009 They have said by early 2009, but my expectation is that they'll release about the same time as Samsung. Again, late to the party considering they were first up with Samsung and HTC.
  • Asus: Q2/3 2009 This is a shocker ( for me at least ). Yes, they have announced a phone based on Android. And, they will probably beat the two manufacturers above to the chase. As i type this from my trusty EEE, i can say i'd get one!
  • Motorla: Q4 2009 ( yes that means Christmas ) Seems that they have just thrown 300+ people onto their Android project. No one has a clue what it looks like, and although they are speculating that it will be ready for Christmas, at this rate it might be early, maybe trying to compete with the LG/Samsung crowd.

So will any of these dethrone the iPhone? I doubt it. Why? Because currently ( sadly? ) an iPhone is the cool thing to have, and good marketing and design is what sells phones, not open source. From a developer perspective, the iPhone is a monster. All i can say is that we've pushed the openGL so far in our games, it's pretty incredible. Again, when some screenshots are legally publishable, this may be the first place you can see them. My biggest gripe about Android is that the apps have to be written in Java, and that makes it inherently slow. The video on the Android developers blog showing off a bouncing ball at 40 fps is kind of pathetic when you get a feel for what the iPhone can do. But that's just part of what makes the G1 a disappointment. Of course there is the proprietary headphone port and the useless 1GB memory card. This really isn't 2004 guys!


Widgety goodness

If there are readers out there that follow my blog, you may have noticed the Widgetize button on the side, and potentially wondered what the frack that is. If you're using the Opera browser, you'll also get a little cog icon in the address bar. These are both links to an Opera widget for this blog!

So here's the details. I'm an Opera user, and love a lot of features. One of my new favorites is the user friendly RSS feed viewer, where when you click on a feed, instead of auto trying to add it somewhere, it gives you a really nice layed out version and asks whether you want to subscribe. Another feature that is growing on me, is their widgets. Specifically, the Opera Twitter Widget. Since i'm a twitter user i think it's great, and unlike desktop twitter gadgets, this is more easily accessible ( being another window ). Then i found this, a simple online wizard to widgetize your site! You can set up a wdget for many blogs or even your youtube gallery. So i followed their instructions, and now Opera users can get my blog as a widget.

Well i thought it was cool. What would be awesome is further intergration of widgets into Plasma ( KDE 4 ), by adding Opera widget support... wonder how easy that is.


Web Series, a new Frontier

Streaming media is not even close to a new trend, but amidst the mess that is copyright law in the USA, and the continued annoyance of geeks like myself and my wife at shows aimed at the sub 100 IQ population, a somewhat new trend of free web series is growing. Sometimes they're professionally done, with Hollywood actors, and sometimes not. Some of them have great production quality, and others look like awkward home videos. In general, their market is geeky and tech savvy, which makes great viewing for some of us. I'm a bit fussy about what i watch, and the production quality must be up to a certain level, so these are my top picks:
  •  Captain Blasto: My wife found this yesterday, and what a classic. The idea is simple, but great. He's a lonely comic book geek who lives at home with his mom. One day he decides that he should become a super hero, so he gets his friend to steal something, and he, Captain Blasto, comes to the rescue. A great idea, good production quality, and decent acting!
  •  Sanctuary: Its Amanda friggin Tapping!!! What, you don't know??? Ok maybe i'm a bit of a Stargate fan, but she's Major Samantha Carter from Stargate SG1. Great concept, great production quality, and great acting ( not just Tapping, the others are great too ), an all round winner. Basically, she ( Amanda Tapping ) runs a Sanctuary for mutants and monsters. Great fantasy/sci-fi mashup.
  •  Galacticast: I love satire and parody. I love sci-fi. Combine these two things, and i'm pretty happy. That's exactly what Galacticast does! A lot of the production quality is good ( definitely doesn't annoy me ), and most of the actors are really talented even though Rudy Jahchan tries a little too hard in my opinion. Their spoofs are awesome, and some amazing sci-fi references. This is a must!
  •  Legend of Neil: Ever played/seen/heard of Legend of Zelda? Legend of Neil might be for you. Neil is playing Zelda, and decides to perform auto erotic asphyxiation ( not kidding ) on himself with the game controller cord. Suddenly he wakes up in the world of Zelda. Although there is some "gross humour" in the show, most of it is classic to any one who enjoyed Super Nintendo and Nintendo games. Good production quality, and acting is great, especially with Felicia Day. It's probably second on my recommendation list, closely following a related series. Namely:
  •  The Guild: Felicia day heads up a really talented cast, with amazing production quality. It's about a Guild from some unnamed ( *cough*WoW ) MMORPG. It follows there real lives, and interactions outside of the game. The show is just brilliant in general, and i'd recommend it to anyone who plays or has played games. Top stuff, and we can only hope to see more like this.
  • A few notes: There are some that i didn't mention but know about ( Nocturnal, Tiny Chicken Machine Show, Afterworld ), and i'd appreciate people adding comments with some that they know about and i haven't listed. This is an industry where we are it's primary market, and without our support, it might collapse, as Eddie Izzard says, like a flan in a cupboard. I did NOT mention Dr Horrible. I have seen it, and enjoyed it, but after the initial preview, it was not available outside of USA. This disgusts me, and the creators should be ashamed. Yes, it was good, but in my opinion it falls under that same copyright mess as most Hollywood stuff.


    Free as in beer, but what about the liver transplant?

    When it comes to business, it's all about cost. Software is certainly no exception. From a business point of view, what does free software mean? If it's just free, and i'll maintain the simile of free beer, why isn't every art department using Blender or Gimp? Clearly because in their eyes, the actual cost of using free software is more than purchasing Photoshop or Max/Maya/XSI. So what are the pro's and con's of free software, and how do we calculate the actual cost of software ( off the shelf or from the web ).

    What often isn't counted in the calculation of software costs is support. Big commercial companies love to slander open-source community projects in this regard, especially when it comes to operating systems and database servers. Their main point is, if it breaks, who's gonna fix it? And it's an important point, how does a large business justify getting software when there isn't a way of making sure that when it does break on them, that there is someone to shout at. And in my experience, commercial support doesn't get things fixed quickly.

    In the open source and free software ( as in beer ) world, there are many options. You ( as a business ) can go it alone, just download free software and if it doesn't work, try another alternative or submit bug reports. These often have slow turn around time, and none of the management pressure is lifted since there really isn't anyone to shout at for the buggy program, it is after all free. You can buy paid support from a free software vendor, for example Canonical or Novell. This is normally expensive, and often the cost doesn't justify migrating to a new platform ( all the training costs because most end users actually need to be told by a $200 per hour professional that the menu looks different ). Or you can branch. If the software is under an open source permissive license such as GPL, LGPL, MIT, BSD, or many other licenses, you can modify the source and use the new product. It really surprises me that more companies don't opt for this. Maybe the fear of actually having to work on it is high, but hiring a freelancer is really easy to do these days, and giving them a week to fix a software bug is definitely viable.

    Deciding which of these options depends on the software that we're talking about. For something like Wine, i'd be more likely to pay CodeWeavers to add support for <insert app name>. For something like libpng, i'd probably take the fix it yourself option, since the code base isn't so large and the feature set is pretty complete, so anything i want to add is probably specific to my task. It's also important to take into account that if i'm using libpng, then i'm probably in a development department where people have the ability to fix it. For software such as Gimp, the first option would be the most likely, since the code base is huge, and the feature request list is also somewhat high, although the features that are there are very complete and work well.

    But how do we give businesses a price to attach to these models? If the sales pitch is "Hire someone to fix it because we won't", i can't see big companies who need reliable systems making that choice. No matter what, they will always want to know where the long term benefit of any purchase is. Saving money on free beer might cause more problems in the long term.

    After giving it a little thought i propose an equation to define the actual cost of software. If one already does exist, i'd be interested to know, but this is what i came up with. Some refinement might be needed ( especially since it's purely linear relationships and i might have forgotten something ). So here goes:

    Total Cost = Sum over all features( Need for feature * (1 - Usefulness of software's implementation of feature ) * ( Support Cost of feature + Base Cost of feature ) )

    A bit clearer when replaced with symbols:

    Total Cost = sum( N * ( 1 - E ) * ( Cs + Cb ) )


    N is the Need for that feature between 0 and 1 ( 1 being highest )

    E is the effectiveness of that feature ( where 1 is the most complete implementation )

    Cs is the support cost of the feature over a given time period

    Cb is the base cost of the features ( as part of a complete product ). This is also over the given time period.

    So here is an example:

    Some commercial package

    $3.59 = 1*( 1- 0.9 )*( $5 + $10 ) + 0.8*( 1- 0.9 )*( $5 + $10 ) + 0.6*( 1- 0.9 )*( $5 + $10 )

    Free package

    $2.88 = 1*( 1- 0.6 )*( $3 + $0 ) + 0.8*( 1- 0.6 )*( $3 + $0 ) + 0.6*( 1- 0.6 )*( $3 + $0 )

    In the above example i have given the general business opinion of free software. Lower feature effectiveness with no layout costs, but slightly lower support costs. In my experience, free software's biggest problem is that the interface isn't the same, or as easy to use as their commercial competitors. I have generally found that the features that you find in software such as Gimp or Blender are on par with their commercial counterparts, but the artists i have worked with claim they have no clue how to use Blender ( although i found it pretty intuitive, i guess the programmer mentality came out in the UI ).

    I'd appreciate suggestions on improving my equation, as i do intend to try and put it to use in my own life and work.


    PolicyKit, keeping you in check

    On my default KDE 4.1.x ( unstable ) install, mounting DVDs or CDs has never worked. Tonight i decided to find out why. The problem that occurs is that when i insert a DVD, CD or any other removable media, i can't access it ( without doing an old school mount from command line ). When i click on the media in Dolphin, i get and error along the lines of "org.freedesktop.hal.storage.mount-removable no <-- (action, result)". Turns out this is a PolicyKit issue, so i decided to actually find out more... first here is the fix:

    Open up a file editor as root and edit this file: /etc/PolicyKit/PolicyKit.conf

    My file had not much other than a nice little header and the basic xml:

    <config version="0.1">
    Adding the following lines inside of this config tag fixes the problem:
    <match action="org.freedesktop.hal.storage.mount-removable">

    <return result="yes" />


    Another thing that i had to do ( you might too ) is launch an instance of a ConsoleKit session. I did this by running from krunner:


    And that was it, thereafter i could install my newly purchased Command & Conquer - The First Decades DVD ( thanks Wine!!! ). As my wife took control of the other laptop to play the games that i just installed, i decided to find out what exactly this PolicyKit does, and why it is needed.

    What was always my understanding of how Linux systems allow users to access certain devices/services, was by pushing users into a group containing those services. I might be way behind the times on this, since i am an openSUSE user, and the PolicyKit page maintains that Debian systems rely on group membership, while RedHat systems provide a mechanism where a local user can enter a root password to access these services. There are many problems with both of these methods, namely:
    • Group membership is set no matter what. If you are in CDROM group, you have access to everything to do with CDROM, there is no deeper level of control.
    •  Using sudo to access an application means ( sadly ) that all the libraries linked to that application are run as root. Other than needing to store preferences for these libraries as root user, this also might open up some seriously large security holes. Imagine we need to sudo our dvd writing app, and it turns out that its written in GTK using pnglib. Now some issue is found in pnglib or GTK that, if run as root, can really allow malicious code to be executed remotely. You get the point.
    • There are different ways of doing this policy management. Say you're writing a new window manager like, and you need access to certain privileges. But you want your window manager to work on all distributions. How do you deal with the differences, case based programming sucks.

    Enter PolicyKit. It basically defines a way for applications to request access to different services, devices, etc. PolicyKit defines the existence of Mechanisms and Policy Agents. A typical user will interact with the agent. The Agent might request access, through some form of Inter-Process Communication ( IPC ) - now days D-Bus, to a system Mechanism, for example HAL or NetworkManager. The action requested might be something like requesting to mount a removable media. PolicyKit lets the Mechanism know whether the Agent should be allowed this access.

    Another great thing about PolicyKit, is that the policies are defined in XML, something completely underrated and underused. It's simple to read and understand, and very simple to add your own policies. And of course, with libraries like TinyXML, it's really simple to code. You can find more details about PolicyKit here. As systems like Windows start their venture on User Account Control ( and screw it up the first time ), Linux is making a huge move forward to develop a long term, extensible manner of dealing with these problems. The innovation never stops!


    Save the Developer, Save the World Wide Web

    The developers are not saved! Tonight i thought i'd look into adding some more style to my blog, check up some of the code and make sure i still have an "If you're using IE 6, upgrade now to save there developers". A while back, this campaign was launched, an organisation called Save The Developers. They hosted a small javascript file on their server which anyone could link to their site to pop up a warning to users with IE 6. Fantastic idea. As someone who has done some commercial web development, i know the pain and suffering web developers go through to get a site working in Firefox, Opera and IE 6 & 7. I am a firm believer of standards and maintaining a set of global rules for formats and protocols. ISO and W3C don't exist for nothing, and if anyone Microsoft have a reputation for ignoring them. So on my blog had a link to their site, so i thought i'd check it out, maybe they have updates since i was last there, 8 months ago. I was redirected to Microsoft's IE 7 Download Page. Try it here.

    I could speculate that they just stopped paying for their hosting and just shoved in a URL redirect, or the conspiracy theorist in me could say that Microsoft shut the down, but i don't know. There is no trace of them. Google searching seems to reveal nothing. Just gone. Obviously something happened, but i'd like to know what. If anyone knows, or if any of the people involved in the campaign are still out there, please let the internet community know what happened.

    A question that i have is, why does it link to Microsoft's IE 7 page and not a Firefox or Opera or <insert other browser that was around when they vanished>? If the campaign was about "Saving the Developers", then why IE 7? It's not as bad as IE 6, granted, but it's far from Konqueror, Firefox, Chrome or my favourite, Opera. I'm also going to put in some effort to publicize the fact that the campaign is gone, and i will make a plan to host a javascript file on my site that behaves in a similar way to the one that they had.

    Maybe concerned people should start a "Find the Developers" campaign, if for no other reason than to ask... Why IE 7?!?

    PS: Found a similar project, and this time i'm going to make sure that i host the code too, just in case they vanish. Just insert one of the following snippets of code in between your <head></head> tag in the required HTML page

    For the code that warns IE 6 users but still lets them browse:

    <!--[if lte IE 6]> <script src="http://sites.google.com/site/dgoemans/no-more-ie/StopIE6_Tolerant.jscript" type="text/javascript"></script> <![endif]-->

    For the code that completely prevents IE 6 users from viewing your site:

    <!--[if lte IE 6]> <script src="http://sites.google.com/site/dgoemans/no-more-ie/StopIE6_NoMercy.jscript" type="text/javascript"></script> <![endif]-->
    I'm using the no mercy script, since i'm sick of being turned away by sites because they don't like Opera.


    The Linux Four and the heat they pack

    It seems that Linux distribution releases are getting closer together, or maybe i'm just noticing it now. Remembering, my compatriot, Mr Shuttleworth's call for coordinated releases, it might be an obvious question to see the differences in packages and their versions. So after doing some research, this is my roundup of the current latest releases or the soon to be released distros. I've decided to target what i consider the big 4. I'm sorry if some other distro you feel should be in there is left off, but these are, in my opinion, the big trend setters, the releases that seem to have the most impact on what everyone else does.

    Ubuntu 8.10

    Mandriva 2009

    Fedora 10

    openSUSE 11.1

    Kernel version















    Open Office






























    N/A: Not available. Sadly neither Mandriva, Ubuntu nor Fedora have a detailed list of all major apps so without actually booting or installing them, i don't have any way of finding the missing details. Web searches tend to reveal more community discussion about people having problems with different app versions than any decent info. So if anyone has the exact versions at release, please do let me know so that i can make my list more complete.

    I'm not going to make any inferences from this data, or shout slander about the lame Ibex, or too much green in the Novell distro, but the data is interesting nonetheless. What i will say is that Fedora has peaked my interest for the first time ever with their improved startup system. Another big appeal for me, is Mandriva's publicized out-of-the-box Asus EEE support, which might be worth a check out ( being my first Linux distro, Mandrake, now Mandriva, will always have a special place in my heart, probably between belgian beer and dutch cheese ). Ubuntu is packing a BBC compatible Totem, which is pretty nice considering that i sometimes listen to BBC Radio 7 online ( it's great british comedy, free to listen to ).

    openSUSE will probably remain my primary distro though, partially because the pull of One-Click install is actually hard to move away from. With a new beta due to be released today, anyone who is interested should check it out. 

    Overall i can see a lot of innovation, all with a move toward smoother booting, and much better end user app integration. It's pretty clear with this round of releases that Linux is far from playing the end user catch up game it used to, Apple and Microsoft really need to start keeping up with the amazing work coming from these pack leaders.

    PS: I'm sorry if the table is broken, but it took me an hour to get it to just appear in blogger's ridiculously pathetic editors. You'd think that pasting valid HTML code that displays correctly in a browser into a raw HTML editor would just work. Blogger really is a bit fail.


    RSS and your daily news

    I was going to post the next in my programming series tonight, but i haven't had time or access to the laptop with CodeBlocks on it. I'm also off to an iPhone developer conference with work tomorrow, so i can't stay up too late blogging. It will be posted sometime during the week provided work doesn't take up too much time. So instead today i pose a question to an y readers that might follow my blog. And if you do follow my blog then i'm certain we share some interests, so the question is this:

    What RSS feeds do you read?

    This is my list:

    1.  Slashdot: almost every geek reads it. General news about science, computing and sometimes other big world news. Lately i find they are a bit slow on the up take, and the community tends to be like reddit or digg, but with geeks. All pushy and don't let any external news get in. But, still good enough news to warrant an RSS.
    2.  OSNews: simple site with a focus on latest operating system news. Often has the latest tech stuff a day before Slashdot. The continued updates about a lot of interesting OSes is always good, since i'm always looking for new stuff to try.
    3.  A few of my favourite things: A great blog about sci fi and science in general. Often has the latest Stargate and Lost updates. Also has some really interesting links and stories.
    4.  Worldly Weasel: A good world news blog, with good humour.
    5.  xkcd: An awesome web comic. I love geeky jokes, and as someone who majored in math i really enjoy some of the hardcore math humour.
    6.  Indexed: Another geeky comic, but very different to xkcd. Always graphs or ven diagrams, often making great social comment.
    7.  Boy on a stick and slither: yet another web comic. Somewhat cynical and dark, just my kind of thing
    8.  Explosm: A really disturbing web comic. Sometimes i ask myself why i read it, and that day will be a really great hilarious strip.
    9.  The Daily Mash: fantastic satire site, mostly making direct comment on stories published that day by the BBC. Some stories are really hilarious, but some required more knowledge of Britain than i have.
    10.  Wine Project: being a big fan of the Wine Project, i like to know when a new release is out so that i can download and install.
    11.  Digsby Blog: Updates from the Digsby project. An awesome free IM client, which i only use at work until the Linux version comes out. But it's more feature packed than any im client i have used, and doesn't feel bloated in any way.

    Thats it. I didn't realise i read so many feeds, but its great to catch up with what's happening out there over my first morning coffee. Please do post a comment with any feeds you might get, or check out ones that i read to see if you like them. If you're using Google Reader to check out RSS feeds, it's great to share feeds if you just want interesting info from feeds your friends read.


    Cloud Computing, drifting back to the future

    Cloud Computing is a buzz word at the moment. It's a method of the future, and the past. What a lot of big trendy "tech" news sites and even more mainstream news media don't realise is that Cloud Computing is Mainframe computing on a larger scale. And the only reason they're making a big deal out of it now is because Microsoft, Apple and Google are making a big deal out of it.

    Online services have been around for a long time, but the main stream of internet users haven't paid any attention to the inevitable wave of modern centralised computing. I could list a large group of people that i have worked with directly in the programming industry who don't use RSS Feeds, have never synchronized browser bookmarks or never use online apps such as Google Docs. And those are tech savvy people, who have just chosen to ignore web services. But what is new about the concept of online services? Surely it's similar to the old concepts of a mainframe, but on a larger scale? All "Cloud Computing" does is shift our applications from our computers to the web, when back in the 70/80's the applications were on an application server.

    It's an old concept, yet now it's becoming a buzz word ( i hate buzz words ). The cause of this? Mostly due to Microsoft making a Windows Azure announcement, and the continued hype of MS Live services. Of course Google and Apple have a play in this too, Google's App suite has been around for a while, and due to Microsofts pricing structures, it hasn't been doing to badly. Apple have been launching more online services, iTunes is heavily web integrated and they also have an iDisk in OSX 10.5. So what's the big deal? Why can't people just start using RSS feeds, Web Widgets and online services? Why does it have to be formalized with closed platforms that are not that exciting. 

    Of course maybe they just don't excite me. Maybe its because services like eyeos have been around for a few years now and you can even try out their online trial here. This interests me. It's a full operating system platform where you have access to an entire application suite from your web browser. You can use it online, or download it and deploy it to your local webserver. Imagine a company run where the pc's booted only into a web browser ( from bios, splashtop style ),  and offered you a login within 2 seconds to your OS. An OS that remembers your settings, saves your files and even allows you to play a game or two if the system admin allows. This is what excites me about Cloud computing. It's the freedom to do stuff like this, not to have locked down commercial platforms. The move to online services is about consumer freedom. It's because we don't like paying for MS Word, and Google  docs allows me to continue writing my document on my netbook from a Cafe in town. It's because i might want to know what my friends back in South Africa are doing ( especially the <insert slander here> that never email me ) and Twitter is great for that.

    So what are my "Cloud" picks? Well this is what i use and why:

    1.  Google Reader: RSS is amazing. i no longer waste time browsing sites for stuff i want to see, i can now just get info from where i want it. it's also brings you new stuff so you don't have to check for new stuff. Comics like XKCD appeal to me, so instead of remembering to look at it every other day, i just get a feed. Why Google reader then? Because its a social app. I share feeds with friends, and they share with me. It means that i get new info from my friends and its always good to see what they read. I also follow feeds from my wife's blogs, and if any of my friends had, i'd do that too. The fact that its online means, i can get it everywhere, instead of having to have new app installs on every device. If Opera added a sync feature to it's RSS reader, i might just use it, although the lack of "share" support might be a deal breaker.
    2.  Twitter: although i stated above that i might use it so i can see what those "we don't keep in touch" friends are doing back in SA, thats not why i use it. None of them use Twitter. But, i do use it to keep up with the Opera community, KDE community, follow one or two interesting people, and my wife and some of her friends. It also introduces me to new concepts ( something i love ) and i find out so much from Twitter.
    3.  Google Sites: it's not a really well known one, but with your Google account you can create a wiki style web page. I use this mostly for sharing files and info and if i have something to upload, i'll put it here so that i can download it in a different location. It's easier that mailing it to myself.
    4.  GMail: i almost sound like an add for Google, but i only use their stuff because its good. When the first android phone becomes available here in the Netherlands, i'll definitely be inline to get it! GMail is, in my opinion, better than most other web based mail services. Yahoo! and Hotmail are atrociously interfaced with adds everywhere. Fastmail was great in South Africa because of the useless internet speeds, but no longer appeals to me, due to the lack of online space. I don't have my own server so there is no option for local mail, and i like to have access to the same mailbox everywhere, so when Opera's mail client offers account sync under Opera Link, i might just consider it.
    5.  Opera: why specify a browser? The browser is the portal into which you have access to all the online services, so why not! Opera is my personal preference as a browser because it's quick, and has the most up to date features. On install i have mouse gestures, trash can, history indexing and speed dial. I never need to search for plugins to do what my browser should. Furthermore, it offers some services. The Opera Link allows my bookmarks, speed dial, typed history and notes to be sync'd wherever i use Opera ( mobiles included ). I use this on a daily basis, moving from home laptops ( 2 running openSUSE ) to work ( Mac and Windows computers ). Imagine having to manage bookmarks, notes, speeddials all manually?

    If there are any more online services that any of the readers use, please let me know, because i'm always interested to find more information. I'm especially interested in finding more open online services that might be competition to the big friendly search giant.

    Note that i didn't mention Google docs on purpose. Don't get me wrong, its great, in fact the entire Google app suite rocks, but the only reason i ever would use Google Docs is where it sucks the most. Posting to this blog. The formatting is killed instantly, and i blame it on Blogger, but i'm disgusted that Google can't integrate 2 of their own services properly. So instead i installed AbiWord on my Asus EEE, and am going to start saving it in HTML format and pasting that into my Blogger HTML editor and hope like hell i don't have to work for an hour fixing it.