March 24, 2005

The Upcoming Showdown Between Open Source and Commercial Software

There is an event on the horizon that is going to prove the first major acceptance test for open source software, and the open source movement has brought it on of its own accord.

Open source has thrown down the gauntlet through its most visible general-use product: Firefox. Firefox's release was so fruitfully timed that it gained unprecendented recognition for an open application, and this recognition went beyond normal rules when it resulted in an ad campaign paid for by volunteers.

One could claim that this ad campaign was a historical first. Sure, non-profit agencies have made ads before, and volutneers have been previously willing to pay to spread a message to the public, but the Firefox campaign is different because its main intention is to publicise an alternative to an existing commercial product. I would argue that there was no social purpose to telling people about Firefox, and thus paying to do this was ultimately a waste. Others might argue that Firefox carries a great social purpose: the protection of innocent people from computer viruses and spyware. The protection of people's data. But this would be hyperbole. Other commercial products were and continue to be solely concentrated on protecting people from Internet Explorer's bugs. The real motivation behind the Firefox campaign was to spread the open source philosophy.

But when I say "social purpose", I don't know what I'm really talking about. Social purpose is not my point; web browsers should not be associated with the term "social purpose". My point is that Firefox must now get ready for a battle.

That battle will be with Internet Explorer 7.

Firefox has brought on the coming release of IE7 itself. IE was quite comfortably sitting there at version six without any development, without any challengers, until the well-timed Firefox strike. It was when people started becoming aware of the challenger that Mr Gates announced his intentions to release a much better browser, better than anything Firefox can be.

Now, I don't know what Internet Explorer 7 is going to look like, but if Microsoft just puts in 80% of its standard research and energy into the product, it will be a very innovative browser. And before I lose all my linux readership, whom this is aimed at, in fact, let me declare that there will probably be a lot of things in IE7 that are going to suck. Let me declare that IE7 will probably approach the unusable, as its predecessors have done. But despite its unusability, its interfering features, its irritation of our daily routine, it will be the most innovative browser existing at the time of its release. I will go so far as to say that Firefox will take up to a year to catch up with some of the features in IE7.

May I re-summarise? There will be certain features in IE7 that suck, and Firefox will spend a year trying to implement them.

And I said at the beginning: I believe that this event will announce the first major test for open source; in fact I believe that this fight will break the open source movement. Because a lot of people downloaded Firefox. And the upcoming competition between Firefox and IE7 is going to show that a product driven by a company with lots of money, which can spend that money on customer research, cannot be paced by an open source product. Firefox does what it does extremely well, but it is founded on imitation. IE7 works Ok... and is often broken, but it is founded on innovation.

Again, some will argue that Firefox has many features that IE does not, and I must reply that Firefox imitated the Opera browser for all of them. There is nothing in Firefox that Opera does not do better. And Opera is a commercial browser.

Commercially-driven products are always based on innovation. Even when they must sacrifice some elgance and security, they are forced to impress the user with something new, something visibly new at every turn. Open source products take the innovation in commercial products, and concentrate on fixing their bugs. Since open source does not get paid, it thumbs its nose at impressing users with new features. You won't see a feature like SmartTags in open source until it has gone through years of trial and refinement in the world of the commercial.

And for all those people to whom Firefox is the first foray into open source, the upcoming release of IE is going to prove this once and for all: open source might be secure, but it's old and ugly compared to what Microsoft can do.

I am a Microsoft and open source user. I prefer open source for its stability, its compatibility, its frequent improvement. But I like the "revolution" in Microsoft, even if I hate the new colours and have no idea why a paper clip is interupting my video chat with my grandma.

Open source can never survive on its own. Without its idol and competitor, open source would itself remain in idle, and we'd be stuck typing commands to a black mouth.

March 23, 2005

Content Specification? for the Inverse Relationship Between Responsibility and Ideas

To avoid responsibility, I take refuge behind ideas. It seems to me, that although I am using these two terms in two different contexts, there is nevertheless an inverse relationship between the productivity of ideas and the effort of responsibility.

When you do not want to take responsibility for something, you have many creative ideas to enlarge the scope of what you have to do into someone else's responsibility. Notice that I am now using the term "you", because I believe that this happens often in large companies that talk and talk and talk but never produce any actual work.

When I have to make a difficult decision, I am very capable of thinking of more and more improvements to my work until it becomes so big that I can't possibly take responsibility for it. And I tell ya - these are fantastic improvements, fantastic in many senses of the term.

I really belong in some huge company.

March 11, 2005

Our Daily Breadth

I read an article about David Johnson, the president of The University of Waterloo, in which he stressed the importance of giving students a "broad education".

When he went into detail, he explained that students needed to realise the importance of the maths and sciences. It is math and science, then, that constituted the missing "breadth" in education for Mr. Johnson.

In my mathematics faculty, "breadth" in education always meant taking arts courses. Isn't Arts the very definition of a liberal education? Isn't Arts what we usually mean when we say "breadth"?

Interesting that Johnson, the head of a university ploughing through the future on the basis of math and science programs, considers that math and science are still missing from the common curriculum.

I suppose I got a skewed view in mathematics. We had an inbalance to one side, so naturally we regarded the other side as "the breadth". And I suppose numerically, it may not be surprising, as the arts faculty is still the biggest at Waterloo. (Although probably not bigger than math, engineering and science put together.)

Still, I found it strange that this man of education would use the same term in the opposite sense that I had always thought of it. I would have thought we need a bit more arts in life.

March 10, 2005

Mikes

Douche-bag emceees will be like Yikes

When I roll into their momz shower in my Benz.

They'll be like fuck this, I'm watchin Friends,

Frenzy ensues on the wannabe like Mikes. [sample: "Better eat your Wheaties"]

March 09, 2005

Content Specification for Sell to Unborn

[ introduce the man ]

  [ guess how much you've heard about this man ]

  [ give his age; describe his background ]

[ introduce his idea ]

[ describe his idea ]

  [ contrast pre-cursory ideas ]

  [ narrate what he was involved in before having his idea ]

  [ narrate the situation that prompted his idea ]

[ transcribe his praise and predictions for his idea ]

[ analyse the potential impact of his idea ]

[ narrate the stories of two to three individuals that bought his idea ]

[ list investors who have jumped on board with the idea ]

[ list imitators that are already proposing modified, improved, or pared-down versions of the idea ]

[ quote his opinion about his idea in the face of these competing ideas ]

[ predict how much you will soon know about this man ]

March 02, 2005

They like the snow here, but they're not prepared for it. It's funny how it upsets their routine. At about 9.30 AM today, as I was about to walk through a courtyard on my way to work, I found my way barred an account of a bit of snow.

It's really just the tiniest amount of snow.

This courtyard contains a little park: a little playground with a couple of benches and some lawn. Today, there was a sign on it that said "Closed for reasons of public safety." There was a dusting of white powder on the passage. The gates at both ends were locked.

As I arrived near the gate, there happened to be a maintenance truck pulling up and some city caretakers were emerging from it. I didn't want to walk all the way around the block, so I asked one man if they were going to open the gates now. He replied no.

"Too bad," I said, and walked all the way around the block.

But it was really just the lightest dusting of snow. As I was walking around the block, I passed a guy with a bucket of salt and a shovel spreading the grains out over a section of the sidewalk. At the rate he was going, it would probably take a year to finish the neighbourhood.

I've never seen anybody salting a road or sidewalk in Canada. Unless, in the pre-dawn surrealism, on a dreamscape drive to some airport, it has been the three mountainous silhouettes of snow-ploughs that have usually come and gone before you have gotten out of bed.

It is the difference in the infrastructure that is astounding. Canada is ready for huge piles of snow. Here, a couple of centimeters can really cripple cities.

I really mean cripple. This morning was funny, but the stories can be sad. A few years ago a tiny bit of dandruff flies around, and, honestly, people almost starved. All traffic stopped on the highways, and they had to wait in the cold for nine, ten hours to get back from shopping.

I feel Canadian today, since I like those occasional slips on the ice, when just for a moment your body is no longer walking, but falling forward. But it's amazing that everybody's late for work because of it.

Oh, but that's not the ice--it's the strike. That's another story.