Innovation

by Miguel de Icaza

Jamie correctly points out that the idea of having the search functionality present at all times without popping up an annoying dialog box predates Firefox, it has been availble on Emacs and XEmacs forever:

Emacs search functionality is also a bit more evolved at this point than Firefox (in an Emacs kind of way). Anyways, I can not wait for more desktop applications to use this model for searches.

Mono's Performance

Gonzalo has posted some details on the evolution of Mono's performance for WebForms and WebServices here.

Summary: Loading a test that shows a directory listing without any caching enabled has gone from 30 requests per second a year ago to 155 requests per second as of Mono 1.1.7. Check the details on the incremental improvements that got that performance.

Posted on 10 May 2005


National ID card in the US

by Miguel de Icaza

Some folks are opposing the national ID card in the US, for more details see the UnrealID.com web site. A FAQ is available from News.com. BoingBoing has a call for action.

To get the law approved, legislators used a clever hack: the actual RealID thing is not being discussed or debated, instead it was just hidden inside another piece of legislation which will likely get approved (some military budget).

Bruce Schneier, security and cryptography expert also has some negative things to say about the plan, but focuses more on the lack of security that this will bring and comments on the legislative hack:

If you haven't heard much about REAL ID in the newspapers, that's not an accident. The politics of REAL ID is almost surreal. It was voted down last fall, but has been reintroduced and attached to legislation that funds military actions in Iraq. This is a "must-pass" piece of legislation, which means that there has been no debate on REAL ID. No hearings, no debates in committees, no debates on the floor. Nothing.

ID cards have successfully been used in totalitarian regimes to impose the will of those in control. Am not saying this will be the case in the US, but I figured I might share some perspective:

  • In Lebanon they were effectively used to identify the opposition and carry massacres effectively (both major groups: christians and muslims).
  • If you saw "Hotel Rwanda" you probably saw the checking of the national ID document to sort out your ethnic affiliation and how folks dealt adequately with people.
  • In Military-Dictatorship Latin America, National ID documents were imposed to keep track of those who opposed the dictatorship: Trouble makers, haters of the freedom to do what they are told (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Franco's Spain).

Of course the situation is not the same in the US. In Lebanon people are pretty much "born" into their political party, as their political party is very much tied to the religion.

Probably other developed nations of the world have National ID documents and they have been very happy with it, I have probably not paid attention to those.

My point is that its a resource easily abusable by those in control. If you care about these issues, you got less than 48 hours to call your representative.

Posted on 09 May 2005


Fafblog and the Medium Lobster on Revisionism

by Miguel de Icaza

Very amusing: the Medium Lobster sets the record straight on the invasion of Iraq.

Also from Fafblog: Great Moments in History: God Hides...

Fun with abused Web Standards

Some people fell in love with the idea of REST-based web services. But they mistakenly confused REST as `encode the operation anywhere you want, send and parse the document in any way you feel, hey we can do whatever we want as long as we use http'.

The problem was that they did not follow the directions in the small print, and the Google Accelerator was the first application to byte them in the ass:

  • Here is what they saw
  • Here is the hillarious I told you so post:
    Well, you didn't listen to me, did you 37Signals? Did you? Now Google releases their Web Accelerator and your application is broken. Apparently you used GET to delete items from Backpack and when Googles Web Accelerator pre-fetches that URI in you web app, items get deleted. Let's make this clear, Google didn't break your application, your application was broken, Google was just the first person to point it out to you. Do you feel the pain? Do you feel it?

This is a good example of something that people predicted would break (Dare has a post here).

Not being a web developer, I just kind of watched the debate without much insight on what was going on until now.

Posted on 08 May 2005


Fork in the Open Source Java world

by Miguel de Icaza

For quite some time there have been a number of open source Java virtual machines implementations, it could be easily understood that each project was trying out different ways of implementing the virtual machine or had different goals, milestones or requirements.

All of these JVM efforts at least shared the class libraries (which is a large component of a Java VM) in the form of the GNU Classpath, and this certainly helped these communities collaborate.

The Apache Foundation is now starting up a new effort (Harmony) to put together a virtual machine and its class libraries under the Apache License. The FAQ posted is a bit short on the motivations for this effort. I can only speculate that this was done to avoid the side effects of class libraries licensed under the GPL-with-exceptions or the LGPL which make people nervous.

Depending on how this process is managed, this could either become a big delay in bringing a full free software/open source Java implementation (as people take sides on the licensing debate) or if managed properly could make open source java more viable.

The challenge that the Harmony project faces now is significant. They need to convince enough of the existing open source Java developers that they should abandon the current GNU classpath effort and either relicense their code to be Apache-license compatible, or that they should rewrite their code to assist this new effort on the grounds that the Apache License is better. This last point does not seem to be very well articulated in the FAQ which merely dances around the issue. The FAQ at this point seems to mostly focus on spinning things positively while not explaining the rationale for this split, as can be seen by the first follow ups.

If they are not able to bring these existing contributors over they are going to have to grow this codebase from scratch and depend on member companies to contribute code to the effort. IBM might be interested in donating parts of their code (assuming they are allowed to) and might even be behind this split.

We have been working on the open source Mono for almost four years now and it has helped me put things a bit into perspective. I can not blame the Apache folks for going down this path. This should have been sorted out a long time ago in GNU Classpath land, but am fairly skeptic about the viability of Harmony's class libraries.

It is hard to tell what will happen, but without the endorsement of the majority of the GNU Classpath developers this is a major setback for open source/free software Java. It might be a necessary step, but am skeptical of its success possibilities.

In the meantime, gentlemen, you can start using Mono with its lax license today! Get it while its fresh!

Mhm, sorry about that. I just felt like plugging Mono again. Lets move on.

Class Library Licensing

Licensing wise, we went through a similar issue in the early days of Mono. Our class libraries used to be under the LGPL license. We switched the class libraries license from it to the MIT X11 license in response to comments from our potential users and contributors. Of course the MIT X11 license has pros and cons. On the pro side, it imposes very few restrictions on the users and its very easy to mix and match, and in general people feel comfortable with adopting it. On the downside, it is possible for companies to "appropriate" the code and never contribute anything back.

Certainly people have copied the Mono class libraries into their proprietary products and not given changes back (mostly people find Mono components easy to reuse on the Compact Framework that lacks plenty of functionality), but even the GPL and LGPL would not have changed things dramatically in this case (only the receiving end would have the right to the source, and for Compact Framework users, even more irrelevant than desktop users).

When it comes to large users of the Mono class libraries, Mainsoft is probably the largest consumer of it. Mainsoft has a product that turns CIL bytecodes into JVM bytecodes and allows users to port their C#/.NET code to a Java VM. Mainsoft could have chosen to make a proprietary copy of the class libraries, improve their copy and ship that to costumers. But instead Mainsoft has chosen to become an active contributor to the project, and is relicensing its own code under the same terms, the MIT X11.

There are a number of reasons: it is simpler to get new improvements from the community into your own code base, you can drive the direction of the project, and they have created a great aura around their company in the community: they are not only socially responsible contributors, but the world can see that their contributions are top-notch. In addition, their customers get access to the code and can benefit from the shared knowledge pool of the resulting code.

I mention this because a common reason to use the GPL and the LGPL, as opposed to a more lax license like the MIT X11, was that third-parties would tend to keep their improvements to themselves and that only a license with stronger terms could get them to contribute back. A few examples are usually mentioned: the X11's own failure in the 80's to get vendors to share their improvements and the success of GCC in forcing the C++ front-end to be released.

Maybe those examples did apply in a poorly connected world and much smaller ecosystem of the 80's, but none of the two previous scenarios necessarily apply today for horizontal software. The Mono class libraries have demonstrated that companies are willing to contribute to the class libraries and that collaboration will help them reduce the cost of development.

I am now less convinced that forcing people is the best way of achieving collaboration. The GPL has certainly played a role in educating people about free software, but for the most part people who contribute to nascent open source/free software projects have done so do for a plurality of reasons that have nothing to do with being forced by the license, including shared R&D costs, joy, need, curiosity, challenge, sense of community, social responsibility, or fame.

Brilliant Ideas

This must be obvious to every Firefox user now, but am still amazed at the simplicity and the beauty of Firefox's search design.

Ever since I can remember GUI applications, searching has been implemented as a popup box that pops in the middle of your document covering the text you want to search. Descriptions on how to float these dialog boxes and the discussion about how to create these non-modal dialog boxes is present in most GUI programming books that taught these principles to developers.

The beauty of placing the search at the bottom as opposed to using a sidebar is that the document is almost never reformatted.

I find myself missing this interface on my applications. Evolution for example still has the old-school search dialogs:

The new Adobe Acrobat pops up a small enough window with only the basics: the text to search for, backwards and forwards button, and configuration options are done from a button on the left:

An improvement, but not as good as Firefox.

That being said, the places where I miss search the most in my applications are:

  • GAIM: At some points during the day there are too many people logged on, and I would like to search for specific users online by typing on an incremental search box.
    Update: I know that I can select the list and start typing on the treeview, but the search is only done on the visible strings, not on other elements. So for example, someone's nick name might be "Arturo", and extra information from the messenger service might be that his full name is "Arturo Espinosa", and I have aliased him to "Pupilo". I can only search on the "Pupilo" string, not on the "Arturo" or "Espinosa" strings. Hence the need for a search feature on GAIM.
  • Evolution: the filters dialog box and the folders list. Like in the case before, I do not want to only search on the text string shown to me, but in any other strings that might be part of the filter criteria:

    It should be noted that this dialog probably needs some love anyways.

Posted on 07 May 2005


The Genesis of a Free Software Hacker

by Miguel de Icaza

Alex Graveley's story. An interesting read

Posted on 06 May 2005


Ajai Raj at University of Texas

by Miguel de Icaza

Ajai Raj attended a presentation from Ann Coulter in Austin, was arrested for swearing and being lewd. A very articulate article:

So yes, the Q&A session came around, and it was pathetic. Her slack-jawed fans got up and licked her face so she could pat them on the head--one schmuck offered to be her bodyguard, and she smiled, doubtlessly making a mental note that she wouldn't touch his nether regions if she were King Midas. Liberal protestors posed well-intentioned but woefully timid questions and got shot down in a hail of ignorant shitfire from the She-Dragon. Standing in line awaiting my turn, I watched her send a moderate Republican, who had questioned the sheer incendiary magnitude of her rhetoric, walk away in tears when she tore him apart for daring to question her.

So yes, I saw my "opportunity to say something lewd and offensive." And I took it.

But the whole blog entry is worth reading.

GanonScandal

The Ganon scandal is getting more spicy. Using the Freedom of Information Act, a couple of members of congress obtained the records that show entry time and departure of Jeff Ganon, the fake reporter into the White House.

Most of the records are normal, but there are a number of inconsistencies: multiple-entries with no exits recorded; Multiple exits without an entry recorded; Extended stays and double visits after press conferences.

Speculate away.

Iraq War: Fixing Facts

The famous memo is here:

SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY

DAVID MANNING
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002

Greg Palast says Impeachment Time and Tom Paine publishes Ray McGoverns' explanation

Iraq Taxi Rides

From Tom Tomorrow a transcript from Meet The Press about how things are getting better:

MR. FILKINS: Yeah. There's actually a company in Baghdad that does nothing except offer rides to the airport and back. They've got an armored cars and some guards. And they charge $35,000 for...
MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-five thousand dollars?
MR. FILKINS: ...for a ride to the airport. And I think you know, if you miss your plane and you have to come back, it's another $35,000. But...
MR. RUSSERT: How long--is it six miles?
MR. FILKINS: I think it's about six miles, yeah. It's not a happy six miles. So, you know, they earn their money.
What's striking about this is that if you read the entire transcript, both of these reporters actually seemed to think that things are generally improving in Iraq--proving once again that everything is relative...

Posted on 05 May 2005


Switching to Mono

by Miguel de Icaza

A Java developer talks about his migration to Mono: he needed a cross-platform GUI framework and good database support. He goes on to describe his experience at length on his `Mono for Fun' article.

Posted on 04 May 2005


Making Gnome Fun

by Miguel de Icaza

Like everyone else, I have been thinking about Edd's blog entry as well as the follow up from Mikael.

My feeling is that the Gnome Desktop itself is fairly complete at this point and that is why we have seen people invest less into the actual infrastructure on the desktop and a lot more on getting things right. Am personally very happy with the incremental goodies in Gnome 2.10, it continues to be a pleasant upgrade every time and it is a good direction to polish and improve while some of the fundamental components of the desktop are sorted out.

In my opinion infrastructural hacking can be fun and its important, but the easy stuff is done, and the more complex issues can take years to get to the point of being fully baked and wildly deployed.

This is why casul developers or those who do not happen to be working for companies that can do multi-year commitments of work on a single direction have turned their attention to create independent applications in Mono or Python. The activity in GnomeFiles is a proof of this. As it happened in the past, a lot of the new Gnome-based and related developments and activities are happening outside realms of Gnome. It would not hurt to create bridges to these projects.

There are important pieces of the desktop that will bring considerable upgrades to our developer offering: Cairo, the new vector-based Gtk+ toolkit, GStreamer, The GL-based X server, Luminocity and D-Bus to name a few.

But these technologies will take a few years to be completely baked. Cairo has been under development for almost three years and D-Bus under development for two and none of them are available yet in 1.0 form. And once they are ready, it will take sometime before these technologies are wildly available.

In the meantime, there are a number of easy things that we can do to improve Gnome:

  • Desktop Improvements: both Windows and OSX have raised the bar in terms of what users expect from a desktop.
    Photo management, video editing and audio production are no longer vertical applications, this is a standard feature that every OS needs.
  • System Configuration: the Gnome System Tools have finally made it into a real distribution (Ubuntu), and its architecture is useful for both large-scale management as well as creating multiple front-ends (GUI, Console and Web).
    We should do a push to expand the scope of these tools and bring or port existing configuration tools from other systems.
  • Keep up: OSX just came out and it has a bunch of new and interesting ideas. We do not need to start with the huge pieces of OSX, we can start with the small increments, very much like we have done in the past to bring the best in them.
    We have also quite a few bugs open in Bugzilla that could use some help.
  • Evince: Probably one of the most important efforts in Gnome right now. What they have achieved so far is great, but it needs to keep up with Apple and Adobe's offerings to be a full replacement.
  • Web applets: Like every other user out there, I want to get the OSX dashboard widgets into my desktop. It should not be hard to modify Mozilla to provide the same functionality and even be source compatible. The core is there already.
    Probably the most important element of Apple's Dashboard is the fact that it basically runs full-screen: so there is no need to write small controls or make them tiny or try to get creative about showing them or hiding them. Its basically a full new screen where you can use the space effectively.

We continue to maintain Evolution but we have also branched and started a few new desktop projects, this time built with Mono and Gtk#: a new GUI designer for Gtk+ (Stetic), a personal photo management application (F-Spot), disconnected file sharing (iFolder), desktop search (Beagle) all pieces that we consider important for the desktop.

I believe these components (and more) should be part of a standard desktop offering. Whether they become part of the standard Gnome offering remains a political issue, but at least Novell, Mandriva, Debian and Ubuntu are making these available in one form or another (wink, wink).

In my opinion, Mono is in a strong position since it provides the same libraries that have been developed for C# developers to be consumed by other languages (of particular interest are Boo and the renewed IronPython) and because it has opened the doors to the Windows developers which are now starting to get their feet wet on Linux, Open Source, Gtk and Gnome.

Posted on 02 May 2005


Jeremy Allison

by Miguel de Icaza

Jeremy Allison has now joined Novell as well. He will be in a number of conferences in Germany this week.

Posted on 29 Apr 2005


John Pilger Documentary

by Miguel de Icaza

Am a big fan of John Pilger's articles and books. And while doing my daily delicious popular browsing I found a torrent for Pilger's Palestine is Still the Issue documentary.

The documentary aired in the UK, and I had read the blurb on his web site a few years ago.

Posted on 28 Apr 2005


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