Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Geen Stijl" is a communist website!

"Geen Stijl" is a highly controversial weblog in The Netherlands with a right-wing affiliation. US inhabitants that compare it to "Fox TV" might find it liberal, but trust me. If you move any further to the right on the political spectrum in this part of the world you're either burning copies of "The origin of the species" or wearing swastikas on your sleeve.

Recently "Geen Stijl" published an entry on Linux, saying that "Linux is a kind of communist Open Source Operating System and Hugo Chaves, dictator of Venezuela, understands this". Later on it states that "Everyone who uses Linux supports terrorism, atomic weapons, high oil prices and the destruction of the earth".

My goodness! What are we doing? I have to install Windows right away. But I know my people since I've been one of them for a very long time. And I know they're cheap. "Going Dutch" has not become an expression without a reason. So I decided to check up on things. I went to Netcraft and found this report:

http://www.geenstijl.nl was running Apache on Linux when last queried at 27-Sep-2008 18:54:25 GMT
OSServerLast changedIP AddressNetblock Owner
unknownApache/2.2.6 (Fedora)3-Jan-200881.173.64.50GeenStijl

So, what is the verdict? It simply means that "Geen Stijl" is also responsible for "terrorism, atomic weapons, high oil prices and the destruction of the earth".

Absolutely clueless these people.. Professor Hoxha, I guess it's better to get a real degree and research your story before you publish it. Not only is your FUD harmful to a perfectly decent Operating System - it is completely unfounded as well.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The revenge of the Linux munchkins

Working with Linux means being introduced to new environments and techniques all the time and sometimes – after you have been working with a particular program for some time – you think: "This can't be true. This thing was getting so many good reviews but for me it just doesn't work."

Nowadays it is quite easy to vent your anger and write an article on the Internet, explaining in detail what has happened to you and why other users should be cautious. If it is a small project you're commenting on you may get a single comment from the programmer – or may be none at all. But beware when you're writing an article on some major project. The munchkins may come and get you!

We have known about the Microsoft muchkins all our lives. Those are people who are paid to scan the Internet for unfavorable articles and use the comment facilities to do what Microsoft does best: spread FUD. As far as I know there is no such equivalent in the Linux world. It just seems like that.

Linux munchkins are a mixture of hardworking programmers, fanboys and trolls and they will do everything to debunk your article with varying degrees of politeness. Let's make it clear that I don't want to deny anybody the right to comment on an article, especially when he is right. But I doubt the usefulness of some comments. Let me give you a small summary.
I just think your being a sensationalist for your own gain.

How about making sure you install the software properly before telling the world.

I agree with many of the posters that reviews like this do not serve the community well. Your mistakes in your initial installation soured the tone of this review from which it could never recover.

For someone who calls himself a "guru" this is no good promotion for your reputation.

I wish bloggers who play at being journalists had enough pride to actually research something before posting.

And the list goes on. Let me stress that most programmers remain relatively polite, it is mostly the community that acts like teenagers with Britney Spears posters above their bed. Yes, such articles may hurt a project. But if the project is sufficiently good I'm sure there will be other articles as well. If not, it may give a project enough stuff to think about and adjust their course. And what kind of impression do you think you leave? At least that we are infighting instead of discussing an issue. Do you think that helps?

But whatever you think of amateur journalists, they are users as well and I think their experiences are genuine. If not, it is FUD and you can flame that to hell as far as I'm concerned. These users spend time installing a program or research their issue as well as they can – and then they write an article. It all takes time, time they spend on their community, a thing we are all part of.

The community will always benefit from blogs. Maybe their documentation needs an addition or clarification. Maybe they picked up a buzz that is important and needs addressing. Everybody makes errors. Programmers, project leaders and bloggers.

If you are a blogger and you made an error do as the professionals do: write a rectification or followup. Make sure your original blog links to it. Work together with those who pointed out where you went wrong. In my experience most are quite helpful.

But those who consider themselves to be part part of the community I'd like to say, note that publicity and a healthy blogosphere are in your interest too. Nobody is interested in "corporate" and biased communication. Real blogs draw much more attention. And decent, to the point comments make it even more interesting.

Hey folks, let's keep it civilized, huh?

Update: Ten days after publishing this blog KDE e.V. endorsed a "Code of Conduct" like Ubuntu had done a few years ago. It stated: "We do not tolerate personal attacks (..) Disagreement is inevitable, from time to time, but respect for the views of others will go a long way to winning respect for your own view". I'm not as arrogant as to think that this blog had anything to do with that. Sometimes two things just happen at the same time. I'm sure more major projects will follow. Regettably we seem to need a code of conduct in order to survive as a community.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How to create desktop icons in KDE4

If you happened to have read the update on my previous blog, I was contacted by KDE4 developer Aaron J. Seigo. Frankly, he was not very happy with my blog, calling it a bunch of FUD. Well, I'm not in the habit of spreading FUD, I told him, so if my information is incorrect, prove your point and I will rectify it. He told me he would get back to me by Monday and he did.

You can view the screencast he has made available and judge for yourself whether you need to be a rocket scientist or not (as some people have claimed) to get your "Old Skool" desktop back when working with KDE4.

Personally, I'm happy with his clear explanation for now - although it has debunked my previous blog for the most part ;-) If you tend to disagree, comments are always welcome.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Desktops in trouble

The main reason I switched to Linux in 2000 was the availability of a viable desktop, in my case KDE 1.1. The Linux world was very different back then and I was even forced to install proprietary tools in order to have all the functionality I needed. Nowadays we have Open Office, MPlayer, VirtualBox and apart from some Wine emulated stuff there isn't a proprietary program in my entire system. We are inclined to take all those things for granted. The next version of any program is bound to be better than the previous one, so why worry.

Well, there are some disturbing developments and they are happening in the key components of our systems: the desktop. KDE has spawned a new release, KDE 4.x, and although it looked promising at first, KDE is in trouble. People are not only complaining about its instability (which is not a good thing in itself) but also about the direction KDE is taking. It is a change of paradigm. KDE has always been what you wanted it to be. You could install it as is and just use it or tweak it until you were happy with it. Just about everything was configurable and every possible feature was available. That was what the KDE audience liked about KDE.

But the KDE team has taken another path by banning the icons from the desktop, claiming that all that clutter wasn't neat. The folder view was much more powerful, they stated. I won't argue with that. Maybe that one day the KDE audience will learn how to use them properly and won't even blink when that code is taken from the repository. But I don't think this was the proper time to do that.

The change of a major version number has always been a big deal with KDE. I remember that I continued to use my KDE 1.x long before I finally switched to KDE 2.x, simply because it wasn't stable enough for production purposes. The switch itself wasn't a big deal. Ok, theming was much more difficult than it was back in the KDE 1.x days, but as far as basic functionality was concerned it was pretty much the same thing. Although reports are mixed I don't think that KDE 4.x is production quality right now. Most major distros agree with me: KDE 3.5.x is still an option. Since my hardware is slowly starting to fail I'm afraid I will face that decision as well in the near future. And I've already decided: I'll be using KDE 3.5.x.

If you want to lure your users to a new version the best way to do it is to make sure that everything is the same, but better. The KDE developers have failed to do this and I think that may have been the worst development in the entire history of the project. It's also a breach with the previous KDE philosophy: you decide what is good for you; we won't. Instead of letting the user decide which desktop paradigm he prefers, the KDE developers decide for him. That's a philosophy that sounds familiar. The Gnome boys have been saying that for years. You don't want to tell me that in the end they were right, do you?

Gnome is in trouble as well but for different reasons. First of all, there is the Mono controversy. I could dedicate a blog entry itself on that, but I won't. But it is a major problem. It is no secret that Gnome is closely tied to Richard Stallman and his FSF, so when Stallman himself admits Gnome is in trouble and some parts of it might need to be completely rewritten I guess we have a real issue here. But that is not all. Some people think Gnome has become a dead project, because it has ceased to be "exciting and innovative". Ironically, what is their example? Yup, you guessed right. KDE 4.x.
Now, if the revolutionary features in KDE 4 do not improve productivity and ease of use, then I don't know what else will. Plasma is simply changing the way we perceive a desktop, and I think for the better - the folder view is just one things that comes to my mind, but there are others, like the desktop grid and such.

It is a strange cross-over if you come to think of it. KDE developers are starting to treat their users like mindless children just like Gnome has all these years and Gnome developers are looking at the direction KDE is taking. Is this the prelude to a merger like happened on the 3D desktop front with Beryl and Compiz? A flashy, innovative desktop for dummies?

I know there is an end to the KDE 3.5.x branch and when KDE 4.x hasn't proven itself by then or - even worse - slowly slipped into oblivion for the lack of people using it, I'll be forced to choose a new desktop. I have found myself looking at E17 lately, which is the new generation Enlightenment. It is lightweight and fast and looks pretty neat. But secretly I still hope KDE will get their act together and start to provide what users want. A stable, reliable and configurable desktop. "Klickybunti" is nice, but I also want to get some work done.

Update: I've been contacted by core KDE developer Aaron J. Seigo and he assured me that a classical desktop with desktop icons is still possible. So I've asked him to show me how. If he delivers the goods (and he has), I will publish them on this blog, so it will make a nice tutorial for those who want to have an "Old Skool" desktop and at the same time prove or debunk Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols claims that Joe User will be "utterly bewildered by the process". Well, one thing is for sure: they are still listening.

P.S. Comments are always welcome, but can you please refrain from pushing your favorite alternative?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A day in the life

You know what the difference is between a professional blogger and amateurs like us? They write about the community and we are the community. We can write about things they will never be able to cover properly: our own experiences. A view from the inside. Usually, it doesn't take too much effort to write a blog entry like this, because I love writing about what I do.

I'm the proud maintainer of the 4tH compiler, which I designed almost fifteen years ago. I became part of the community when I decided to release it as Open Source. At that moment I realized that the Internet had changed the world of software development and shareware was simply 'not done' anymore. A few years later, I switched from MS-DOS to Linux. I had never really liked MS-Windows.

4tH is a very small, very portable Forth bytecode compiler. It is written in the sweetest vanilla C that you can imagine. Even the ancient K&R C compiler of the now forgotten Unix clone Coherent is able to compile it cleanly. 4tH itself produces bytecode that you can run unchanged on virtually every platform available, from MS-DOS to AIX.

There have been many Forth standards. It all started with Forth-78 and the newest iteration is called ANS-Forth. The ANS-Forth standard consists of so-called 'wordsets', which are families of related functions. There are wordsets for 64 bit integer operations, floating point operations, local variables, etc. You can have a standard ANS-Forth compiler which supports only certain wordsets. There is no obligation to support them all as long as you document it.

If your compiler does not support all wordsets the chances are you are unable to compile all ANS Forth compliant programs, which is something you want to avoid as developer. But sometimes the design objectives of your project make it very hard to support certain features. Floating point support is one of them.

If you thought 64 bit operations are hard, because you have to take the carry into account, reconsider. Floating point is much harder. A floating point number consists of two parts: an exponent and a mantissa and is in essence an approximation and not a true representation. During floating point operations floating point numbers are constantly rounded and renormalized, so you may end up with 0.9999999999 instead of 1. Most modern CPUs have a floating point unit, but that is not of much use when you go for ultra portability. In short, I had long given up on floating point support.

That is, until I ran into Brad Eckert's floating point library, which was written in high level ANS-Forth. I had just added 64 bit support - 4tH natively only uses signed 32 bit numbers - so adding his library to 4tH was slowly entering the realm of possibilities. But first, I have to tell you something about Forth and its community. Making a Forth compiler is dead easy, so most Forth programmers have rolled their own. Forth is very easy to extend, so most Forth compilers have their own pet extensions or deviations from the standard. And since I'm a Forth programmer 4tH is no different, so I had to convert the library to make it compile under 4tH. During that process I found that my 64 bit library had some serious flaws, which had to be fixed first. But one afternoon when I was least expecting it 4tH properly divided 1 by 7. And that was it.

Or was it? Brad's library supported only the most basic of operations, that is division, addition, multiplication and square root. No equivalents for LOG, LN, SIN, COS, TAN and friends. That was a shame, because I wanted to port Krishna Myneni's "Star Trek" program to 4tH and that needed some trigonometric functions. From Usenet I learned that when Brad had presented his library to the community he had asked for some support to implement them, but for one reason or another it had never come to that. But still, I wanted those functions. Google learned me that no such functions - which are called "words" in Forth - had ever been published. That meant I had to go to work myself. First question, how do you determine the sine?

That proved to be more complex than I thought. There is no simple formula to calculate the sine, but there are several possible approaches. First, you can use the CORDIC (COordinate Rotation DIgital Computer) method, which requires a table. Second, you can use a table straight away and interpolate the intermediate values. Third, you can calculate an approximation by using the so-called Taylor series. With each iteration the error becomes smaller and smaller until you decide that good is good enough. I went for the Taylor series. However, the Taylor series method has one important limitation: it only delivers good results between minus Pi and plus Pi. Albert van der Horst, one of my Forth buddies on the Internet, thought it was a nice, clean solution - "good enough for government work" - but urged me to include range reduction. I wasted a lot of time on that, but Albert was kind enough to help me out. Thank you, Albert! After that COS and TAN were easy.

Now I became greedy. The oldest surviving program I have written is "TEONW", which stands for "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons". It is based on a report with the same name by the U.S. Energy commission. I had written it in Basic on a PHP-11 when I was a student. At the time, the Reagan administration was planning to station a handful of nuclear cruise missiles on Western European soil in response to the Soviet nuclear threat and like most of my fellow countrymen, I didn't agree. I had written the program to demonstrate what devastation a nuclear missile would cause and ridicule Reagan at the same time. Later, I ported the program to my Sinclair ZX Spectrum and that was it. If I ever wanted to port it to 4tH I at least needed the EXP and LOG functions.

That took quite some research. There were Taylor series for EXP and LOG, but these were only reliable within a limited range of values. By accident I ran into the Henry Briggs method, which allowed me to calculate the logarithm of any base with arbitrary accuracy. I solved the EXP challenge by splitting up the exponent in an integer part and a fraction, approximate the fraction part by using the Taylor series and multiply the results. The Taylor series provide a good result in the zero-to-one range, you see. After that the hyperbolic functions (SINH, COSH, TANH) and inverse hyperbolic functions (ASINH, ACOSH and ATANH) were easy.

Finally, I took a shot at the inverse trigonometric functions (ASIN, ACOS, ATAN). They key function here is the arctangent (ATAN). I used the Taylor series again and applied range reduction. By using the the tenth degree Taylor series I got a good approximation, although the error increases when you move further away from zero. With the arctangent the other functions (ASIN, ACOS) were easy. Hell, let's throw in FATAN2 as well.

Now I had a full set of high level ANS-Forth floating point words, exactly what I had set out to do. They were reasonably accurate, short and comprehensible and would form a nice addition to an already good compiler. Furthermore, I had completed what Brad Eckert had planned to do in the first place. Maybe this was not quite what he had in mind, but still. All source code is covered by the GPL, so the community had benefited as well.

In 1997 Bill McCarthy had asked me to add floating point support. I turned him down for the reasons I explained at the beginning of this blog. In 2002 John Paravantis requested the same and got the same answer. But hey, this is Open Source. If you get turned down, that doesn't mean a feature will never be added. You may have to wait a little while and if you do not want to wait for that long, do it yourself and submit your changes. Or make a fork for all I care.

We, as a development community, resemble the scientific community where people can built upon the work of others. That is why we are able to develop ourselves and our software faster than closed source software. And there are, like in the scientific community, different schools. I think this diversity is an asset. The most important thing is, however, that we continue to share the same ideal, because in the end we all win.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Grand Unification Theory

New comment on 'I like my bazaar!':
"As you said the writer is only partially invalid, having such a huge amount of distro's as the GNU/Linux do creates too many incompatibilities at some point, such as the package management systems. I find it stupid to have such a variety, the major distro's could have agreed on a single one or at least create a new one to suit everyones tastes and optimize it.

Also I'm sure some distro's could merge, not only because they could have similar goals but also because bigger developing teams mean faster and better development. The big number of distributions could mean that something may be developed in many distributions at the same time yet the developers are unaware of the fact thus wasting time by doing twice the work they could have done."

Dear Anonymous,

Let me tell you a little story, before you try to explain "The Grand Unification Theory" to me again. 386BSD was written mainly by Berkeley alumni Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz. After the release of 386BSD 0.1, a group of users began collecting bug fixes and enhancements, releasing them as an unofficial patchkit. Due to differences of opinion between the Jolitzes and the patchkit maintainers over the future direction and release schedule of 386BSD, the maintainers of the patchkit founded the FreeBSD project in 1993 to continue their work.

Around the same time, the NetBSD project was founded by a different group of 386BSD users, with the aim of unifying 386BSD with other strands of BSD development into one multi-platform system. The project began as a result of frustration within the 386BSD developer community with the pace and direction of the operating system's development. The four founders of the NetBSD project, Chris Demetriou, Theo de Raadt, Adam Glass and Charles Hannum, felt that a more open development model would be beneficial to the project.

In December 1994, NetBSD co-founder Theo de Raadt was asked to resign his position as a senior developer and member of the NetBSD core team, and his access to the source code repository was revoked. The reason for this is not wholly clear, although there are claims that it was due to personality clashes within the NetBSD project and on its mailing lists. In October 1995, de Raadt founded OpenBSD, a new project forked from NetBSD 1.0. After all these years, the three flavors of *BSD are still alive. Some users like one, other users prefer the other for reasons only known to them.

Okay, got that? Now let me tell you another story before you go to bed. It is fairly easy to make a Forth compiler. Hence, virtually every serious Forth programmer has written his own. There are fat, tiny, portable, assembler based, meta-, bytecode, native, standalone, embedded, closed source, FOSS and lots and lots of other Forth compilers. They are standard (Forth-78, Forth-79, FIG-Forth, Forth-83, ANS-Forth) or non-standard. There are so many Forth compilers for every imaginable platform, you'd have a hard time to invent another variation. But I did just that. I didn't find a Forth compiler that was just right for me. So I developed my own, back in 1994. And what do you think? After me, others went through the very same process and invented their own.

It is a natural process. Whenever groups are formed, fractions will emerge. And when those fractions unify for one reason or another, there are others who won't agree, stay behind and found new groups. Well, it doesn't happen to closed source companies, you say? Right, but what keeps those companies together? Power. Money. They own you, you know. In Open Source, nobody owns anybody. If you can't find what you need, if you don't agree with somebody, you make your own. There is nothing or nobody stopping you as long as you are willing to comply with the license.

And that is exactly what is happening in the bazaar. Every merchant has its own product and the users decide. Some of us are both merchant and user, so we've seen both sides. Yes, I won't argue that there is a certain rationality in unification, but (human) nature just doesn't work that way. Would you prefer only one kind of car, one kind of television, one radio channel and one kind of cheese, the kind of cheese your neighbor likes and you detest? Of course not! That's why there is a bazaar. And that is why there is more than one cathedral ;-)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I like my bazaar!

In his article "Why the Linux world should embrace the BSD's", Steve Lake proposed a closer cooperation between Linux and BSD. Although I have the utmost respect for BSD and what its developers have accomplished, I don't see what good it would do. I think his reasoning is flawed and the arguments he uses are - at least partially - invalid.

First, I don't agree that the cathedral is the best development method. There are many good programmers out there and they should not be denied the privilege to submit code. Note that Linus does not blindly insert all submissions. He or one of his lieutenants judge the code on its merits and decide to include it or not. Since many programmers can work on the code it is obvious that development can take place at a much faster pace. Note how the development of schedulers took place. Several different varieties were made, a lot of testing was done and in the end Linux gained overall. That is a far cry from the handgrenade method which Steve suggests Linus uses.

On the other hand, how many ports of Linux were done? It runs everything from mobile phones to mainframes. I don't see cathedral-developed software doing that (I was proven wrong here; there are 58 ports of NetBSD). From a philosophical point of view the bazaar is more democratic, allowing users to participate on every level and determining largely where development is going (Linus has acknowledged that on several occasions). You may call BSD a meritocracy, but you may also view it as a oliarchy.

Second, to me the BSD license equals to software theft. It is well known that BSD software enabled Microsoft to "steal" several key components, without doing anything in return for the community that developed it. Speaking of "sleeping with the enemy".. To use an analogy, the BSD license equals to a naked woman standing in the middle of skid row at night screaming: "Rape me! Rape me!". I don't mind anyone using my code (including Microsoft), but return the improvements that were made to the community or individual that developed it. My software was used in at least two different commercial products and the developers always submitted their modifications, which resulted in several key improvements. BTW, I use the LGPL - I'm not a Stallman groupie.

Third, I have nothing against a cooperation between both projects, but I do see legal issues. E.g. swapping code can be beneficial to both projects. May be the BSD group can live with the fact that Linus will use the GPLv2 for that code, but I'm not so sure that Linus can live with the fact that his code is published under a BSD license. That is what it boils down to in the end, even after accepting that the BSD and GPL communities have very different philosophies concerning development and licensing.

Finally, I'm desperately trying to see what he is actually proposing. What should this "partnership" do? Should it end in a complete merger of both projects? And why? Simply because "there can be only one"? Why not a merger between Microsoft and the FOSS world? Hell, let's turn over all the code we got! Then there is only one that (should) fit all. So, why not stop this silly game and let there be only Microsoft Vista? Aero isn't that bad..

Your answer will tell you why Linux and BSD should exist beside each other, why there are KDE, GNOME and Enlightenment and why the Tiny C compiler was developed (although a perfectly good GCC already existed). It is the classical error of cathedral proponents. A bazaar means choice, shopping malls, not the bleak shops of the Soviet era and - most of all - no high priests and Politbureau's. Being someone who has seen with his own eyes what dictatorship and elitarism can do to people in particular and society in general, I like my bazaar.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Applications are Open Source too

One of the advantages of combining public transport and mobile computing is that you can spend the time you’re commuting on something useful (if you consider blogging to be something useful of course). I’m using LyX to write this article, but Firefox, GIMP, LaTex2RTF, ImageMagick, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Graphviz, bash, GCC and my own 4tH compiler are installed as well. And no, this is not a Linux laptop, it is a Windows XP laptop. Yes, your deduction was correct, I’ve been providing MS-DOS and MS-Windows versions of 4tH for as long as I can remember, it’s not like Microsoft has recruited me lately. And no, it is not my laptop, it is my employers laptop. Since the Netherlands may be most retarded country in the world where Open Source is concerned it automatically comes with MS-Windows. Fortunately, I was able to install my own stuff as well, because a Windows XP laptop with MS-Office is less than useful to me.

Strangely enough, I get the same remarks from MS-fan boys. They never ask me if there are any useful word processors available (yes, LyX) but if it can run MS-Office. Of course you can using Wine, but there are so many fine other word processors available for Linux. But no, it has to be MS-Word and nothing else. I can understand why. Using another program, even if it resembles the one you’re used to, is like sleeping for the first time at the home of your new girlfriend. When you try to find the bathroom at night the chances are you’ll end up lying face down in the hallway. Of course, in time you will learn to find your way around, but it is frustrating (and humiliating) at first. So when people change Operating Systems the first thing they’ll look for is a way to run their familiar applications. They will only switch if there is no other way.

I remember when I switched from MS-Windows 3.1 to Linux I used Paintshop Pro for a considerable amount of time before I finally switched to GIMP. I used the Linux version of Wordperfect. I updated my diagrams with Novagraph Chartist at work. Finding, selecting and learning Linux alternatives took me a lot of time, time that I could have spent on creating content. Sometimes I was even forced to recreate or reformat content. But once I had familiarized myself with an application I had no reason to switch again. I’m never going to relinquish my LyX, Graphviz or Dia for that matter. In comparison, MS-Visio and MS-Word are applications of a distant past and do not offer me the versatility or comfort I’m used to.

LyX simply works, nuff said. Its format is simple enough to interface with and versatile enough for the most complex of documents. When I insert a picture it stays where I put it instead of jumping to different places or being overlaid with text for no obvious reason. The pages are automatically numbered and adding a Table of Contents is just a few clicks away. Graphviz automatically creates a diagram from a simple definition. I don’t have to place edges or nodes manually and it interfaces perfectly with LyX. Just like Dia, by the way. I must admit, I only use Open Office to read MS-documents, I don’t create too much content with it, but it is a wonderful application. GCC is my compiler of choice, although I rarely need it except to compile my own 4tH compiler, which I use predominantly to write programs. And who doesn’t use Firefox? Only those dwelling in the Valley of the Ignorant.

Some would like us to believe that Open Source applications are lacking in functionality, but I sincerely think they are wrong - or spreading FUD for that matter. I think Open Source offers great applications and I think the community should be more confident and proud of what they have achieved. If you’re using Open Source applications you’re using next generation tools, new and exciting paradigms, which will offer you a headstart once the MS-dinosaur has realized this and has implemented it in its products. And in the meanwhile you will enjoy having the advantage.

I haven’t touched MS-Word for anything serious in a long time - and when I was forced to do it I regretted it every single minute. I’m a writer, not a layout artist. I wanna type, I don’t want to be bothered by adding and maintaining the layout. LyX works like I want to work. This is a chapter, this is a section, this is an enumeration, here comes the Table of Contents - take care of it. And LyX does. ’A’ is connected with ’B’ and ’C’ and ’B’ is connected with ’C’. Put them in borderless, cyan boxes. Now make a diagram. And Graphviz does.

These are the things that make you productive. I’ve never seen anything MS-like do that. They believe in blue ribbons. I don’t. BTW, did you know that you can buy an add-on that makes the ribbon interface disappear and reverts you to an interface that was brand new when the dinosaurs roamed the earth? I guess there must be real market for it.

I don’t even think it is the fault of Microsoft. For several reasons it is very hard to change human behavior. Knowledge is valuable. You don’t change from expert to newbie voluntarily. It diminishes your personal and professional value. People want to get the job done. They don’t have or take the time to learn a new tool, even if this investment makes them more productive in the long run. That behavior is one of the most important obstacles in the adoption of Open Source products. People are only willing to change if their applications don’t change. Most of them don’t know what a kernel is and even less why they should care. As far as they are concerned if it runs MS-Word it’s a kind of ’Windows’.

The Open Source movement can use this behavior to its advantage. If people use Open Source applications they will run Open Source operating systems. It is not a question of ’if’ anymore, but a question of ’when’. So when a friend asks you for a bootleg copy of MS-Word, install OpenOffice or Abiword. You can replace Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro with GIMP, Quark Express with Scribus, Visual Studio with GCC and so on. Now that KDE makes the jump to the MS-Windows desktop the choice of applications has become even wider. And then you wait. MS-Windows will fail at some moment in time and you know where your friend will turn to.

Closed source software is a wonderful thing, especially if you have to pay for it. While ’free speech’ is vitally important, I guarantee you that ’free beer’ attracts more visitors. Fortunately for us, Microsoft made it very unattractive to install MS-Windows. First you either have to pay for it or go through a difficult procedure to bootleg it. Second, their main attraction is not so attractive. Who wants Vista? Not even the most fanatic MS-fanboy wants that on his machine. Third, installing MS-Windows is going through hell. If you have old, vanilla hardware, a modern Linux distribution will probably support it. Pop in the DVD and off you go! Where a MS-Windows installation leaves you with a bare bone machine, Linux will already offer you a wide choice of applications. Applications your friend already knows, uses and loves. You don’t break the barrier by tearing down walls, but by dismantling them stone by stone.

There are developers that refuse to port their FOSS software to MS-Windows. There are even developers that deny others the right to compile their FOSS software for MS-Windows. Personally, I don’t think that’s a good idea. First of all from a public relations point of view. If you want to leave the impression that Open Source developers are a bunch of religious zealots whose next move will be the bombing of the Redwood headquarters, that’s absolutely the way to do it. Second, for what? Those who use or are forced to use MS-Windows and have the required know how will do it anyway. And those who haven’t will be frustrated. Nice going. You lived up to your principles and that’s it. Period. Your little pet project is not the killer application that will turn people to Linux. Tough luck. I’m afraid you’ll have to live with it.

What most FOSS fundamentalists seem to forget is that MS-Windows users can be converted to FOSS users. Even better, a large number of MS-Windows users are FOSS users. The simple fact that someone uses a Microsoft kernel doesn’t mean he has joined the dark side. Most people won’t even care. If there is a good, cheap alternative to MS-Windows they will use it as long as it doesn’t cause them too much trouble. Applications are the key factor here. So instead of trying to force people to change their kernels, we have to ease them into using our applications. Yes, maybe some people will continue to use MS-Windows kernels, because it is easier to run MS-Windows applications on an MS-Windows kernel than it is using Linux and Wine. Yes, maybe Microsoft will continue to earn some money by selling MS-Windows kernels. But in the end, when GCC, OpenOffice, Scribus, Inkscape, Dia, Firefox, GIMP and the new KDE desktop have become the applications of choice, who do you think has won?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Stop making stupid lists!

Having had a scientific education I know something about the basic problems of classification. You're facing this enormous variation of a real life population and now you have to recognize and define properties, devise some way to measure them and then group them together in a way that not only makes sense, but gives you some useful insight in the world you're trying to analyse. So welcome to the wonderful world of taxonomy! Originally the term taxonomy referred to the classifying of living organisms; however, the term is now applied in a wider, more general sense and now may refer to a classification of things, as well as to the principles underlying such a classification.

Talking of classifying living organisms, one of the most well known people in this field is Linnaeus. A strength of Linnaean taxonomy is that it can be used to develop a simple and practical system for organizing the different kinds of living organisms. Over time, our understanding of the relationships between living things has changed. Linnaeus could only base his scheme on the structural similarities of the different organisms. The greatest change was the widespread acceptance of evolution as the mechanism of biological diversity and species formation. In short, the properties Linnaeus had chosen to create his hierarchy of species were feeble at best. Even less well known is that Linnaeus originally established three kingdoms in his scheme, namely Plantae, Animalia and an additional group for minerals, which has long since been abandoned for obvious reasons.

Some have argued that the human mind naturally organizes its knowledge of the world into systems. This view is often based on the epistemology of Immanuel Kant. Anthropologists have observed that taxonomies are generally embedded in local cultural and social systems, and serve various social functions. Let's face it, people simply like order. It neatly organizes the chaos around them. Of course this isn't true. The chaos is still there, we just don't see it anymore. Any ostrich will tell you that is a smart move. A good example is our love for hierarchies. In the real world, there are very few real hierarchies. Tim Berners-Lee, arguably the inventor of the World Wide Web, put it this way:
Many systems are organised hierarchically. The CERNDOC documentation system is an example, as is the Unix le system, and the VMS/HELP system. A tree has the practical advantage of giving every node a unique name. However, it does not allow the system to model the real world. For example, in a hierarchical HELP system such as VMS/HELP, one often gets to a leaf on a tree (..) only to find a reference to another leaf (..) and it is necessary to leave the system and re-enter it. What was needed was a link from one node to another, because in this case the information was not naturally organized into a tree."

Accepting that the basic way to order information was a network gave us the World Wide Web and killed off the hierarchy based Gopher. BTW, the term taxonomy may also apply to relationship schemes other than parent-child hierarchies, such as network structures with other types of relationships. Taxonomies may include single children with multi-parents, for example, "Car" might appear with both parents "Vehicle" and "Steel Mechanisms"; to some however, this merely means that 'car' is a part of several different taxonomies. The basic problem is not taxonomy itself; it's the people who devise and use them.

I agree, this introduction was a bit longer than I intended and so far I have only scratched the surface. I will refrain myself from going into the Tractatus of Wittgenstein or any work of some major philosopher for that matter. I just want you to understand that there is a whole world beyond classification. It's not just drawing a few lines on the back of an empty cigar box and scribble some labels above them. I think that is why I rarely venture myself into the field of classification and preferably only if I have to. And even then I'm painfully aware that I'm probably making some pragmatic and arbitrary choices rather than designing a classification that will stand the test of time.

Classifying people is even more dangerous. The best and the worst have tried and failed. Classifying people has been one of the core evils in human history. It has been used as an excuse to murder, deport, mutilate, enslave, exile and torture people throughout time. It's what I've been calling "labeling" all the time.

One of the people who cannot restrain himself to venture in this field is Bruce Byfield, who is an excellent technical writer by the way. And he'd better restrict himself to this field, because his talents on other fields are - let's say - limited. In one of his most recent articles, he tries to classify the FOSS community and consequently fails. I can easily find myself in several categories, which means the classification itself is of little use.

Yes, I do object to Microsofts business practices, which means that according to Bruce I must "hate Microsoft". No, I do not hate Microsoft, because that's an emotion. I merely think that the industry would be better off if its influence would deminish. That's an opinion based on valid arguments, which is by any measure a significant difference. I do use proprietary software from time to time because there is no other way to fulfill my needs. Which makes me a "mainstream advocate". And yes, I find $150 for an Operating System an outrageous high price, which makes me a "bargain hunter". On the other hand, I maintain several FOSS projects, so I'm an "Open Source developer" as well.

I fail to see how of a combination of my spending habits, my hobbies, my attitude to certain business practices and the choice of my software are a valid way to put me in one category or another. In short, I cannot escape the conclusion that this is just another stupid list. It pretends to be a useful aid "to navigate you through the community", but as a matter of fact it is of no use to anybody. And poor Bruce is not alone. Every now and then a blogger, an editor or a writer of some kind ventures in a field he knows so little about.

I have some little advise to you all: read the Tractatus of Wittgenstein for starters, try to understand it and come back later. Having faced your mental limitations will have been such a humiliating experience that you'll think twice before you ever publish such a stupid list again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A brief exercise in FUD dissection

Sometimes you stumble across an article that makes you wonder whether people are spreading FUD or whether they are really that ignorant. When you take it down, bit by bit, it becomes more and more obvious how ridiculous their statements are. This one is from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. It is a well written article and it seems as if he knows what he is talking about. Well, since I have an unexpected free half hour as I wait for a call to be returned, let's take this baby apart..
When you take a copy of Windows XP, Vista or Mac OS X and you install it onto a system with the appropriate system requirements, chances are (..) [it] will work just fine.

That implies that if you install Linux on a system that does meet the appropriate system requirements it will work not fine. Let's see what the system requirements of OS/X are:
Mac server or desktop computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (867MHz or faster) processor; 1GB of physical RAM; 20GB of available disk space.

That's not a vanilla PC, isn't it? It's actually rather particular. Here are the system requirements of Red Hat. Does Adrian Kingsley-Hughes have an example of a system like that that did not properly run Linux?
While Linux communities like to believe that this 0.7 per cent user base is bigger than it is, and some companies are now paying lip service to Linux, no matter how you look at it, 0.7 per cent is a small number. And even with the best will in the world, the amount of effort that vendors can seriously be expected to put into Linux, given the low market share, is not much.

That is true where the desktop is concerned, but it is not true for the server market, which will be a whopping 38% in 2008. The desktop takes the same kind of hardware as the servers take. It has the same architecture. So the knowledge that vendors have can be applied to desktops as well with much ease.
Sure, you can buy software players, some of which are rather good, but the advantage of a free OS starts to be eroded if you instantly have to put your hand in your pocket.

I don't know why the moment you buy a piece of software, all the advantages of a free OS are instantly vaporized. Is all commercial software for Linux that much more expensive than that of their MS-Windows or OS/X counterparts? And I don't see the erosion as well. Are you put on a black list the moment you buy a piece of software, so you have to buy all the software? Is there more and more free software going commercial?

I know what Adrian means. He means to say that you get the Operating System for free and probably your only motive for doing so is because you don't have to pay anything. The moment you begin to pay for software that argument becomes null and void. First of all, I paid for most of my Linux distributions for the simple reason I like shiny CDs and nice manuals. Still, the most expensive version cost me less than half than the most basic MS-Windows version. Second, when using MS-Windows you have to buy a helluva lot more software than when you first login a Linux system. Unless you're prepared to search on the web for FOSS software, of course, like OpenOffice.org and Gimp. Talking about hidden MS-Windows cost ;-). Finally and most importantly, the main reason to run Linux is not because you don't have to pay for it. Security, performance and stability come to mind, to name a few. Oops, I forgot to mention to avoid harassing and spying on your own customers.
You've promised someone that Linux is so much better than Windows. If you get a really obscure error message or particularly weird problem, you could be waiting for help for a long time.

The same applies for MS-Windows. There are numerous examples on the web where people have to wait for official MS-support. When I wrote about this some time ago in a humorous way, there were even people who took it serious because of their own experiences. So, even if this statement is true, the only real difference is that Linux community support is free.
When Apple's ad campaigns focused on the single Leopard version being easier for consumers than the myriad Vista choices, the company was onto something there. Too much choice is a major turn-off.

Sigh.. Why do IT people love monopolies and dictators so much? Do we have a certain "totalitarism" gene that is turned on by default? This statement always makes me think of an extra feature on the Borat DVD, where Borat points out every single brand of cheese on the shelf and asks the stunned grocer whether this is cheese as well. After five minutes Borat blurts out: "Why do you need so many kinds of cheese?".

If you happen to find this funny, you will understand why I consider Adrian to be one of the worlds funniest people, coming only slightly behind the great Borat himself. Allow me to rephrase that: "choice is a bad thing, because choosing is confusing for the consumer". Hmm, I think we should consider another economic model, because Americans are denied the privilege people had in the former Soviet Union: no choice. Now I understand the true meaning of his last words "It's easy to allow that word 'free' to overwhelm the senses" ;-)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Free software, free speech

Although I have never been a member of a debating club, I have debated all my life. It love it, the arguments, the traps, the provocations, the dilemmas, all the instruments you can utilize to win a discussion. If you win, your ego is boosted and when you lose you have at least learned something. But there are a few tale-tell signs that indicate you've reached the end of the line. When your opponent tells you to shut up, he's in fact waving the white flag. When the name-calling starts it means he is out for a final, berserk attack. It's not about the issue anymore, it's about you, the messenger.

I can understand that a teenage, underprivileged geek reacts like that, but not mature people who are blessed with the gift of words and the privilege of a good education. Regular visitors of my blog know that nothing outrages me more than people who apply these guerrilla tactics. Whether it is Ian Ferguson who said that "the flaming Linux bigots should take a backseat", Mohit Joshi, who equaled GNU to communism or the more recently Bruce Byfield, who obviously couldn't take the heat anymore and decided to proclaim unilaterally that all bloggers who don't agree with him are automatically "conspiracy theorists".

What actually shocked me is that this attack came this time from within the Open Source community. What shocked me even more is that there were people that actually agreed with him! If free speech disappears, what does free software mean? "Free" like in "free beer"? Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of our modern civilization. This right has been laid down in the American Constitution. It is called "The First Amendment". And it is not the first one for nothing. I cannot imagine that there are actually people who would applaud the repeal of the First Amendment. It would be a return to the dark ages.

The Internet made it possible for many people to express their views and make them known to a large audience. The lack of moderation on the other hand results of course in a wide range of publications of various quality. In the end, it is the reader who decides what is worth reading and what not. Information overflow may not be the best thing, but I think we can agree that an information monopoly is worse.

Those who are professionally involved have a special responsibility. First of all, their words are taken more seriously than the ones of an occasional blogger, just like the judgement of an MD is taken more seriously than the one of a quack. Consequently, I expect people of the free press to defend the right of free speech, not to call for its restriction or abolishment. Second, their words have more exposure than those of an occasional blogger. If you express an opinion there will always be someone who doesn't agree with you. If he's a mature, well-spoken and educated man you will get a civilized response. If he's not, you won't. In Dutch there is a proverb that says "Hoge bomen vangen veel wind", meaning that the more important you are the more criticism you get. That comes with the trade. That is professionalism. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Every single blogger - whether professional or amateur - has to face the music. If you write, you get flamed. Swallow your professional pride and listen; you might learn something. And if you do, there is no shame in admitting you were wrong. It's a humbling experience, but also a valuable life lesson. If you do not win a discussion you may be defeated but that doesn't mean you have to be a loser.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A little respect, please!

It is quite commonplace to talk about "the" FOSS community, but like I've stated so many times, there is no such thing as "the" FOSS community. As a matter of fact, there are many communities.

To me, that is the logical result of the bazaar model we adopted. And like any bazaar, there are good merchants and bad merchants, may be even crazy merchants for all I care. But there is one thing they all have in common: to satisfy their clients needs by making better and better products.

Every merchant will tell you that it's only possible to sell a product when you properly market it. So when your competitor uses FUD, you will have to do something. The first one is to disprove his claims, which is perfectly acceptable - although it is not always that effective. The other one is outrage, which is less acceptable, sometimes effective and sometimes not. Depends largely on who you are addressing. The final one is spreading FUD yourself, which puts you on the same moral level as your competitor but may have the same effectiveness.

Because we're a bazaar, not each and every merchant will choose the same strategy. It's a matter of personal choice, like the programming language we use, the way we indent our sources or the editor we use. And we're all human, that's why we discuss and will continue to discuss those matters. That is good. Discussion may open up new points of view and clarify the choices that we make. Even in how far we are willing to sleep with the enemy is open to discussion.

There is a large body of people who can be considered to be part of our community. Users (yes, even MS-Windows users to some degree), programmers, translators, writers, bloggers, you name it. Some are paid, but most are doing this in their free time, simply because they are passionate about providing the best software to our users. Because that is in the end all that matters. And those people deserve respect. No matter whether they are professionals with a hobby or simply amateurs. It is the end result that counts. The visitors of the bazaar are the final judge.

There is a lot of respect among the people that form the community. You may or may not agree with Miguel de Icaza, Richard Stallman or Linux Torvalds, that doesn't mean you have to call him a fruitcake. Because that hurts. Even more when it is coming from within the community itself. Disqualifying entire parts of the community by suggesting they are fruitcakes is unheard of.

You may expect such a thing from a rogue FOSS fundamentalist, who cherishes each and every pure GPL line, but not from someone who made it his profession to give the community a voice. It's about the software, man! You may earn a living writing about it, but your only purpose in life is to inform and serve us, who make the software. And because we make the software, we have every right to write about it in any form or shape we see fit. You do not have that monopoly, even if you consider yourself to be a professional and we're "just" amateurs.

If we choose to research our blogs, you do not have the right to call us "obsessive". If we are concerned about the FUD that destroys our work, you do not have the right to accuse us of "extreme paranoia". If we are attacked and we react, we do not suffer from a "lack of civility and a quickness to give and take offense". If we feel that "there can be no truce with [insert object of obsession here]" we have every right to vent that opinion. Or was the First Amendment repealed while I was sleeping? "Many of the sort of people I'm talking about know that 'conspiracy theory' can be negative term, and are insulted if you apply it to them". Well, doesn't everyone?

Some may think that I have a grudge against each and every editor I've met in my life, but that is not true. I have to deal with editors every single month and for most I have the utmost respect. That may have to do with the fact that I feel respected by them too. I simply demand the same courtesy from this journalist. Not only for me, but for all my fellow community members who create software, translate messages, write documentation and blog about the things we feel are important. Even if we sometimes disagree about the details..

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sounds like another fanboy rant to me

I found this comment while I was browsing through an MS-Windows oriented site where a blogger said something nasty about Microsoft. It isn't even worth to refer to the link, because it has nothing to do with this story. It's about the name-calling these Microsoft fans do. I heard 'zealots', 'bigots', 'advocates', the whole lot. Words I never knew before, because English is not my native tongue. I don't mind to be called a fanboy, because that is what I am. What may be not too clear to these Microsoft zealots is why I am a fanboy. It's not because I really dig this "free the software, free the world" ideology. That came much later. It's because I like this "gimme the source" idea.

My computing career started at the teletype of a PDP-11. I was studying biology and every now and then I was allowed to work for 20 minutes at a stretch on this ancient beast. I typed in commands I never understood until much later, edited and ran my BASIC programs and stored them on a 8" floppy disk.

When I had finished college, I bought myself a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. My own computer! That was a thing. I may have been one of the very first people in my village who had his own computing power at the time, because nobody understood why you would need a thing like that. After a few years, the thing had grown into a relatively sophisticated beast with two 5.25" floppy drives, a color screen and a matrix printer. I did all the things that I still do today with exception of data communication. Yes, games, word processing, development, databases, you name it. An IBM compatible was much more expensive and could not do much more.

However, when I changed my job my employer could not offer a computer. Working without a computer was unimaginable to me, so I bought a Toshiba portable with two 3.5" floppy drives. Well, it actually had one, the other one was external. Still, I could do all the essential things. My father came up with a pirated copy of the Turbo C compiler and I learned C on the beast. Compilation was really something. The drives started revving and whirring and after some time you had an executable on one of the disks. At home I hooked the thing up to an old green monitor and I could work fairly comfortably with it.

After a while I got tired of being a disk jockey and wanted to add a harddrive. That search was fruitless, so I bought a brand new Vobis 386sx - very cheap! - that I smuggled from Cologne to Delft. There were still border checks at the time and I didn't want to pay taxes. I finally had a hard drive. Of course, it ran MS-DOS. What else? MS-DOS was quite reliable and when it crashed it only required a quick reboot. No harm done. It was not too different from my Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Sometimes the Spec went into this "let's do some modern art" or "black screen" mode - people who had one know what I'm talking about - and you had to pull the plug, since it didn't feature a power switch.

After that, my Vobis 486 came. I had to learn Unix for work, so I bought Coherent. It was a neat little Unix system, requiring only 40 megs to run. I wasn't able to port my C programs, because for one reason or another, the C compiler didn't take my code. An expensive call to the American servicedesk learned me that it only took K&R C. An ANSI-C compiler was extra. Rewriting my C programs was cheaper. I also began to make some money with the machine making highly specialized utilities, like a Betadisk-to-Spectrum-emulator converter. Shareware was becoming quite popular by then. I didn't gain too much from that hobby, but it was enough to pay for my cigarettes.

Then MS-Windows came. At first it was just a nice toy, but the moment it took off it quickly became a horror on its own. Sometimes the thing froze and you had to reboot. Sometimes I had a BSOD and I had to reboot. Sometimes it refused to start for no apparent reason and I had to restore my previous copy. I still remember the day I went to visit my parents and was afraid I couldn't get the thing working again. Needless to say I wasn't very talkative during that visit. My mother began to think something was very wrong. But I just couldn't wait to get home and repair the $%#* thing.

When they wanted to introduce MS-Windows at work, I told them it wasn't ready for production. I had said the same about MS-LAN manager. We had taken Novell instead. I still consider that a very reliable system. Hey, a fanboy! No, I had judged both on their merits, because I didn't even run Linux then. That came much later.

My good old Pentium wasn't up to the task anymore and I wanted a new computer. But what to install. MS-Windows NT had just been introduced - I had escaped MS-Windows95, because I didn't want to combine the disadvantages of both MS-Windows 3.11 and MS-Windows NT - and I thought it might be time to switch. Coherent wouldn't install on the newer computer, so maybe I could use Linux as my toy-Unix. Dual boot was possible. Then one day I picked up a copy of the German PC-Praxis magazine and learned Linux could really be used for serious tasks. It featured a GUI, word processing, development systems, everything I needed. It could even reside beside my old MS-DOS. Cool! I decided to give it a go.

I took a day off and that morning I inserted the installation CD. February 2000, I still remember it very well. At the end of the day, Linux had taken over about 80% of the functionality of MS-DOS. I had installed a lot off stuff I'd taken from the Internet and to my surprise it never went down. A few months later, I upgraded the system with a CD I'd gotten free with a German magazine. The sound system broke, but was quickly fixed. I bought a VCD software player - yes, closed source commercial software - and played my VCDs more reliable than ever before. When I ran them on my MS-Windows machine I was always worried I would miss the end of the movie and was in for another restore. I hardly ever booted to MS-DOS. Only to do an occasional scan or play an old game. And the reasons for keeping MS-DOS diminished with the day.

I had always heard burning CDs was hazardous. The software was difficult to install and when you were burning a CD you'd better leave the machine alone. Don't touch a key! I had installed XCD-Roast, it asked for my drives, I selected to copy a CD-ROM and a few minutes later I had burned my first CD. Nothing to it! Later I got a little more reckless and maybe clicked a window during the burn. Then I quickly ran a program. A few months later I was writing an article while burning a CD. It never missed a bit. That was quite different from the coasters my MS-Windows colleagues were telling me about at work.

In the meantime I was starting to feel guilty. I was having all this for free and I didn't pay anything back. That was the moment I decided to stop writing shareware and adopt the LGPL. For me, this was a way to return something to the community that was giving me all this wonderful software. No more pirated copies, I downloaded my RPMs from the net and - voila - I had a new package. All perfectly legal - and very comfortable as well!

Sometimes I had to look for ages to find someone who was in the possession of this highly wanted, but far too expensive program. You needed to have something to trade as well. Sometimes you needed a serial number and in some cases you even had to buy the beast in order to get it. Partition Magic comes to mind. A program you sometimes desperately needed, but rarely used. Very expensive..

All that was past tense. An enormous repository was at my disposal. And I used it whenever I needed it. Strangely enough, my MS-Windows colleagues hadn't moved on. They were still trading disks and serial numbers. When they came to me, offering me this cool program I just shrug my shoulders and continued drinking my coffee. I understood I wasn't part of that community anymore. When people attacked my favorite Operating System, I wrote angry comments and ended up writing a blog myself, because I was determined to tell the world the truth. I had become a fan.

Fans are not fans, because they are part of some malicious conspiracy. No, they have become fans, because they like what they see. "A fan, aficionado, or supporter is someone who has an intense, occasionally overwhelming liking of a (..) company, product, work of art, idea, or trend", according to Wikipedia. But this liking is not disconnected from the experience. I would probably never have started to blog when I wouldn't have gotten tired with the FUD. As you can tell from this story, I'm quite pragmatic. If Microsoft had delivered a decent product for a reasonable price, I would not have switched, I think.

As a matter of fact, I think that Microsoft itself has created the "Linux fanboys" they are complaining about, just like all the legal trouble they have found themselves in the last few decades. In Dutch there is a saying "wie goed doet, goed ontmoet", which means that all good things come to those who make them happen. I think the reverse is true as well. So next time you call me a "Linux fanboy", remember why I became one. To all those "Windows fanboys" I'd like to say, I've become a Linux fanboy because I have used Linux for a long time. Have you? I know first hand what MS-Windows is all about..

Nowadays I consider fanboy a "geuzennaam". Geuzen (French: Les Gueux), or "the beggars", was a name assumed by the confederacy of nobles and other malcontents, who in 1566 opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands. The leaders of the nobles signed a league by which they bound themselves to assist in defending the rights and liberties of the Netherlands against the despotism of Philip II of Spain. Finally, permission was obtained for the confederates to present a petition of grievances to the regent. The regent was at first alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her counselors was heard to exclaim, "What, madam, is your highness afraid of these beggars (ces gueux)?" The appellation was not forgotten. At a great feast three days later, one of the nobles declared that if need be they were all ready to become beggars in their country's cause. Since then every insult that is turned into a party appellation is called a "geuzennaam" in the Netherlands.

I am a fanboy. ;-)